By now, most brands are rightly viewing social media as an integral piece of their overall marketing strategy. However, many still hold the incorrect notion that injecting more money into social media is the only way to build and nurture an online fan base.
In reality, there are several standout social media marketing tactics that can mobilize an enthusiastic audience while remaining cost effective, and the food industry has consistently been a leader in this department.SEE ALSO: 8 Best Practices for Food Brands on Pinterest The most successful brands are discovering three truths about social media marketing. First, food brand marketers know that in order for a fan base to talk, it needs something to talk about. Second, they understand the need for conversations to go beyond company products and services. They get that without appealing to consumers' broader interests, a brand's social media presence tends to intrude, rather than engage. Third, they know they don't need millions of dollars to succeed online.
Here are five food brands that prove a company can build social media buzz without draining the marketing budget.
1. ChobaniChobani Greek Yogurt is an innovator among health food brands. While many competitors in the industry were utilizing social media to blather about the benefits of their products, Chobani employed a different strategy, tapping into the lifestyle of its consumer base and joining conversations that were already happening on social media. Knowing their target's social media habits led to insight on what interests the target and elicits engagement. These insights led Chobani to provide specific content to its consumers, which included recipes, snack ideas, and tips on staying fit.
Chobani also wasn't afraid to follow consumers to niche social platforms, being the first yogurt brand to join the young, predominantly female target on Pinterest, as well as the photo-sharing phenomenon, Instagram. This move established Chobani as a thought leader on these networks, staking claim before competing brands with bigger budgets followed. On places like Facebook, Chobani openly aligned itself with other, non-competing brands that were popular with its target demographic. Take a look at Chobani's likes, and you'll find companies like NPR, SELF Magazine, and Oreo.
Lessons: Look to your target consumers' social media conversations to lead strategy and know that letting consumers take the reigns on content development is a cost-effective way to keep them engaged.
2. Whole FoodsWhole Foods shines when it comes to giving users something to talk about. It does so by not talking down to consumers, realizing that many of the grocery store chain's shoppers are already quite knowledgeable about the wide array of products the company offers.
Instead of focusing on a product's features and benefits, Whole Foods shares content that encourages consumers to talk about what they can accomplish with a product. For example, instead of using Twitter to mention a type of wine's characteristics, Whole Foods designates a separate wine-focused Twitter account to suggest what dishes the wine would be best paired with. This strategy addresses and responds to consumers as peers, connecting with them on an emotional level while offering value-added advice.
Whole Foods also willingly decentralizes its social media presence, encouraging individual stores around the world to begin Twitter and Facebook accounts to let customers know about promotions happening at the local level.
Lessons: Respect your consumers' intelligence and conversations over social media, and when appropriate, take an extra step with your content development to offer tips and advice where appropriate. This will help your brand get more bang for its buck with community management. Also, if your brand has multiple locations, creating individual social media accounts is a cheap way to speak more directly to consumers.
3. ChipotleChipotle employs a highly responsive social media strategy by using multiple community managers. Although they attribute all tweets and Facebook posts to a specific community manager, they have managed to maintain a consistent, helpful, and jocular voice. This strategy is a great way to establish a brand as customer-service oriented. It's also a great way to emphasize the individual personalities of its employees.
In addition, it can be a thrill for consumers to be directly mentioned over social media by a brand with 80,000-plus followers on Twitter and 1.7 million Facebook likes. This responsive social media strategy has helped Chipotle forge genuine relationships with consumers online, turning casual social media fans into brand evangelists. This has helped Chipotle harness social media's power as an effective channel for digital word-of-mouth marketing.
Lessons: Consumers appreciate the opportunity to connect with the community managers behind a brand, and adding attribution to posts and responses is an easy and free way to foster these connections. Don't be afraid to engage with consumers directly. As you get to know them, you'll find consumers will want others to get to know you, spreading your brand messaging and, in a sense, doing your work for you.
4. Kraft Macaroni & CheeseLast year, Kraft Macaroni & Cheese made headlines for hiring Ted “Golden Voice” Williams as the product's new TV spokesperson. A social media celebrity, Williams rode a wave of fame when a YouTube video exhibiting the then-homeless man's incredible pipes went viral. By hiring Williams over a more costly Hollywood celebrity, Kraft tied itself to someone with existing social media equity, and then used the online buzz around Williams to support the brand's traditional marketing. Kraft Macaroni & Cheese continued to use Williams in their digital marketing efforts, employing his talents in the brand's “Golden Voice of Love” Twitter and YouTube campaign this past Valentine's Day.
Kraft Macaroni & Cheese also used social media to support its TV advertising in another way, taking Twitter users' tweets about the product and turning them into ads. Using this user-generated content, Kraft produced three 30-second TV ads, one of which ran during the prime-time broadcast of Conan on TBS. In doing so, Kraft used social media content to generate traditional media content, using consumers' ideas to direct the brand's own. The television spot may have not been free, but the tweet that influenced it was.
Lessons: You don't need a big budget to hire someone with existing social media clout. Aligning your brand with a person or thing that has already built social media equity can be an effective tactic for boosting your marketing on social and traditional media. Social media conversations and user-generated content also can be utilized as a content farm for developing marketing concepts that connect with consumers who are already talking about your brand. And, no, you don't need the kind of cash a prime-time TV media buy requires to do so.
5. Domino'sLike Kraft Macaroni & Cheese, Domino's Pizza used user-generated content to make a big statement. As part of its “Our Pizza Sucks” campaign, the company looked to social media to listen to the advice, ideas, and even complaints of customers unhappy with the company's products. Social media guided Domino's marketing tactics, culminating in the company's pizza tracker, which allowed customers to review their ordering experience. In doing so, the company created its own social media channel, which continues to guide its marketing efforts and solidify its dedication to customer service.
Though not directly affiliated with Domino's corporate marketing efforts, a former Chicago delivery driver, and now marketing manager of six franchises in the city, has been innovating local stores' social media tactics. In 2009, Ramon De Leon responded to a customer complaint by recording a YouTube video of himself apologizing. The video now has more than one million views. By going the extra mile to converse with customers on social media, De Leon is a great example of one person making a big impact.Those who have seen him talk social media strategy at speaking engagements throughout the country agree.
Lessons: Providing a platform that welcomes and asks for consumer response is an easy way to get consumers talking about your brand. Also, as Ramon De Leon proves, you don't need a company-wide policy to motivate employees to take the initiative when it comes to using social media for customer service. Embrace your employees' ideas, and don't hesitate to follow their lead if they find success marketing your brand over social channels.
Image courtesy of iStockphoto, nicolebranan