What Is Social Media Marketing and How Should My Food Business Use It Effectively?

It’s so important for food businesses to be fully invested in their social media strategy, to raise brand awareness and build an audience.

It can be very easy to use social media incorrectly. We’re here to give you some tips on what social media marketing actually is and how to use it effectively.

What Is Social Media Marketing?

It’s hard to remember a time when social media wasn’t part of our everyday lives. A new platform seems to pop up every couple of weeks, but only a few manage to stick around long-term.

There’s now also more and more overlap between the different sites. For example with Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat all using ‘stories’, which are you supposed to choose?

It can be beneficial to have many platforms to utilise. It can also be confusing if you take on too much and aren’t sure how to manage each one.

From hand-picked Twitter hashtags to choosing the perfect Instagram filter, we all have a vague idea that social media can be powerful in the business world – but what actually IS social media marketing?

The Definitions

There are many definitions on the web.

For example, TechTarget define social media marketing as “a form of Internet marketing that utilizes social networking websites as a marketing tool. The goal of social media marketing is to produce content that users will share with their social network to help a company increase brand exposure and broaden customer reach.”

This is all true, but while producing and sharing your own personal content may be the obvious thing to use social media for, it is certainly not the only thing that you should be focused on. We’ll discuss this in more depth later so keep reading.

Investopedia describes social media marketing as “the use of social media websites and social networks to market a company’s products and services. Social media marketing provides companies with a way to reach new customers, engage with existing customers and promote its desired culture, mission or tone.”

This definition adds a new dimension to the mix as it mentions engaging with customers. This is something that many definitions of social media marketing fail to highlight. The Investopedia definition also mentions promoting a specific tone of voice across all social media platforms. This is extremely important for brands.

At Sapling, we think of social media marketing as “using carefully chosen social media channels to share a brand’s messages, ideas and values through a consistent tone of voice. Social media marketing includes producing and sharing relevant content that the audience will value, starting conversations and engaging with followers.”

The Thing That (Almost) All Brands Get Wrong About Social Media

So what’s so different about our definition then?

We believe that the aspect of community and engagement is just as important as the content when it comes to social media.

Anybody can queue a few posts broadcasting their latest blog post or new product. But all brands with really successful social media accounts have one thing in common.

They listen.

And when they’ve listened carefully, they respond to keep the conversation going.

Yes they still share their own content. But they also listen, start conversations and build relationships with their followers as well as other relevant businesses and influencers.

The clue is in the name “social”.

No one likes the person who just talks about themselves at a party. Don’t be that person on social media. Everyone loves those who listen and show an interest in them, so making sure you do this on social media is really important. It’s an incredibly simple but often underutilised way of building your brand a reputation of being reliable, relatable and trustworthy.

How to Use Social Media Effectively

So now you know what NOT to do, how can you use social media in a constructive and useful way?

Build Brand Awareness

Once you’ve specified your target audience, the next step is to research where they hang out and what they’re talking about. Also, pay close attention to the kind of language they use so that you can slot right in to their pre-existing communities.

Engaging with the type of people you want reading your content through following, liking and taking part in conversations is a great way for them to get to know your brand. Reaching out and engaging with relevant influencers will also increase your reach.

It’s best to choose just a small selection of social media platforms to focus on in-depth so you can really get to know specific audiences. This also means you can take the time to go through your feeds, and like and share content from other accounts to give your brand a community feel.

Also make sure you’re posting appealing (but relevant, on brand) videos and photos so that your feeds aren’t just walls of text. This will keep visitors interested.

Share Relevant News (That’s Not Always About You!)

As well as your specific brand message, it’s good to share news that your followers will find interesting. This should be related to your to niche but can occasionally go wider or broader for variety. This will bring in a wider audience and will get discussions started around topics people have an opinion on.

Sharing news from other sources, as well as engaging in discussions on news shared by others, will increase your reach and has the potential to grow your following. It will also show that your brand is ‘real’ and has worthwhile values and opinions surrounding important topics.

Show Your Support For Important Causes

As well as sharing and taking part in discussions surrounding relevant news, it’s also important to show that you’re interested in causes that align with your brand’s values. Again, this will build trust with your audience as a brand who cares and aren’t purely motivated by profit.

Supporting relevant petitions or crowdfunders not only raises awareness of worthwhile causes, but also encourages discussion and engagement. People tend to be very opinionated when it comes to causes they believe in.

One brand that does this well are Numi Tea. They regularly discuss causes that are important to them such as reducing waste and the lack of access to clean water. They also back this up with their product offering. Their tea is organic, non-GMO, Fairtrade and they raise money for charity. This all shows that the brand is genuine. It’s vital not to just pretend you’re interested for show.

Schedule Social Media Posts (But Not Too Strictly)

It’s important to have a schedule for social media so that you’re prepared and always have something ready to post. It’s also important to have different schedules for different platforms. Ten tweets a day is more acceptable than ten Instagram posts a day.

Tools such as Buffer and Hootsuite are great for scheduling tweets in advance and making sure there’s always something ready to go out.

But it’s important not to think that you can just schedule a bunch of posts and then not look at your feeds until you next need to schedule.

One of the amazing things about social media is how quickly news can come and go. Your brand won’t look as authentic and reliable if you’re never having any real-time discussion. If something groundbreaking or dramatic happens in your industry, or if it’s a special holiday, it’s no good queueing a post for a month’s time as nobody will be interested by then.

If you want your brand to be valued and be relevant, you have to take part in discussions as and when they happen.

Deliver Exceptional Customer Service

We’ve all been there – desperately frustrated and in need of an urgent reply from customer service.

You could make the world’s BEST product, but if your customer service is awful, nobody is going to buy it.

Customer service is even more important in the always on, hyperconnected world. People are more likely to send your company a message over Facebook or Twitter rather than calling in and being held in a queue. This means people expect almost instant replies. It also means all those customer complaints are being voiced in the open. If you don’t respond quickly and effectively, other customers may see this and get a negative impression of your brand.

customer service

People need to trust your business and feel able to ask you any questions they may have. This is especially true in an age where consumers have far more choice, and are more aware of ethical purchasing and eating.

For example, if you’re selling a snack bar, a customer may need to know if it contains an ingredient they’re allergic to. If you take too long to respond, they’re bound to go with another company that has already answered them.

Snact, for example, are quick to respond to queries and comments on Twitter in a friendly and sociable manner (also making good use of emojis!). This sort of customer service leads to long term customer loyalty and re-purchasing.

Run Contests and Giveaways

If there’s one thing people like more than food, it’s FREE food. Or free anything to be honest.

Running contests and giveaways where your audience can win by engaging with your social media accounts is a brilliant way to increase your reach and followers.

Partnering up with another brand with roughly the same, or a larger following, for a competition can help increase your reach and offer a bigger prize. It allows you to share each other’s audience and build a name for your brand in the industry.

Be Part of the Conversation

Going back to our earlier emphasis on engagement and conversations, there are a few ways to get involved and be seen on social media.

Relevant Twitter chats are one popular way to be seen by like-minded businesses and potential customers. A great example of this is the weekly #EthicalHour, where business owners, bloggers, and social enterprises discuss all things ethical. Reaching over a million people every week, this is just one example of a Twitter chat which could really give your brand a boost.

Facebook groups are another way to get your brand seen. Facebook groups are a good place to share tips, news and start discussions on topics specific to your areas of interest. Just make sure you’re not always posting about yourself.

A great example of using Facebook groups effectively is the pebble community Facebook group, where members discuss all sorts of things to do with sustainable and ethical living. If you’re looking for a community of other food founders and entrepreneurs, a great group to join is The Food Hub.

So Where Do I Start?

There’s endless information and tips we could give you on how to use social media. But when it comes down to it, carrying out your own experiments (testing a hypothesis, measuring data and making your own informed decisions) is going to teach you what works for your specific circumstances.

What works for one company won’t necessarily work for yours, and that’s half the fun of it!

With that said, the general advice here is true for any brand on social media. Using it in your own distinctive way is what will make you really stand out.

To summarise, here are our top five social media marketing tips:

  • Don’t use your social media just as a broadcast channel
  • Make sure you engage with others and join in conversations
  • Share relevant industry news that your audience will be interested in
  • Schedule posts in advance but also be prepared for real time discussion
  • Recognise the importance of good customer service through social media

If you’d like some more specific and targeted help with your own social media marketing, get in touch and tell us what you’re looking for. If we’re a good fit, we’d love to help make your social media dreams a reality.