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We’ve all heard – and experience first-hand on a daily basis – that Facebook is the standard in social networking. With more than half a billion users, Facebook is a common household name and in the top echelon of internet destinations every day. One common misconception, though is, “if you build it, they will come.” After all, don’t we all create fan pages, then immediately begin asking all of our friends to “like” them? We soon learn, it’s not so easy to attract and entice people to click that elusive “like” button, and all too often, we become frustrated in the process. But, converting Facebook fans into customers is really as simple as buying groceries.

In many cases, many business owners do not actually use Facebook as a means to increase SEO, and ultimately their brand awareness. Most commonly, small businesses believe that they need to create fan pages in order to attain large fan bases, and ultimately sales without actually understanding their fan bases or their behavior. It’s not just about fan count, and it’s important to understand the actual value of a fan. More importantly, it’s vitally important to understand the social network, its interconnections and the interactions amongst fans and the people they influence. Key questions to be keenly aware of are: How many people does your business influence? How many of those people will take action on your content? How many people can these people reach? Summed, the key question is, are you a mover and a shaker? Does your content, and ultimately your business, wield power and influence in a sphere of activity amongst your fans?

In a recent survey of mobile food operators (food trucks, concessions stands and caterers) that I conducted, nearly 80% of business owners who have established Facebook fan pages said that they created fan pages, because “you need to have a Facebook page these days,” but they had no knowledge of who their fans are, or how many of them actually take action on the content they post.

While working in Hollywood, I had lunch with an actor who’s “been discovered.” After many years of coaching, hundreds if not thousands of auditions, and countless roles as an “extra,” he made his break in the industry and has landed several roles in television and film. He made an interesting comparison between a business attaining a true reach and following with an actor “getting his big break” in entertainment. A true fan base is grown organically – this doesn’t necessarily mean “slowly”, but in many cases, growing a fan base is a lot like using a crock pot. Just as actors learn that not all exposure is really worth the time or effort, growing a fan base for a business can be a painstakingly long process.

After all, what’s the point of 10,000 fans spread around the nation, if a business needs local foot traffic in order to sustain itself? Just as it doesn’t make sense for a local business to place ads in national publications or publications outside their geographic regions, it’s critical to target content to specific demographics when establishing a social network.

A true fan base is grown organically – this doesn’t necessarily mean “slowly”, but in many cases, growing a fan base is a lot like using a crock pot.

For example, concession stands serving at fairgrounds in California would most-likely benefit from 10,000 fans from many cities in the state, but a food truck serving in downtown Los Angeles or San Francisco will not benefit from fans in San Diego, in most cases. Sure, some of those fans may travel to LA or San Francisco, or they may have friends in those cities who may be influenced to have lunch at the food truck one day, but if a business is not familiar with its fan base and its influence, it’s wasting its time on Facebook.

In my research, I found several Facebook fan pages for food trucks with more than 15,000 fans. This obviously drew my attention and curiosity, so I asked a few questions. One food truck operator told me that his fans span the country, largely due to his entry in the Food Network’s, The Great Food Truck Race, but he depends on his “regulars” to spread the word about his gourmet grub. The popular reality TV show has created a phenomenon, and in its third season attracts millions of viewers every week. He said that approximately 10% of his fans are local and have tried his food, or talk about it in their social networks. So, what’s the point of attracting so many fans from areas he’s not serving?

While the majority of his “fans” do not share or act on his content, the large fan base itself tends to attract attention (as it did mine). “I don’t really care that our fans don’t share our posts. Having almost 20,000 fans makes people want to read about us, and a lot of those people are locals, looking for a great new spot for lunch,” he said. So, a wide fan base isn’t entirely useless – the sheer number of fans will eventually attract a local fan base… eventually. How do people find these trucks to begin with? For many food trucks, the answer is listing their businesses with food truck tracking websites such as Roaming Hunger (www.roaminghunger.com), as well as establishing Facebook fan pages and Twitter accounts.

A simple Google search for “food trucks in __________ (insert your city)” will produce a listing of popular food truck tracking websites. These sites often feature profiles, describing the menu and general schedules, and they sometimes include Twitter feeds and/or GPS maps, pin-pointing up-to-the-minute locations. The food truck operators use Facebook and Twitter to keep the public in the know about their next stop; fans subscribe to Twitter feeds directly to their smart phones to receive instant notifications when their favorite food trucks roll into the neighborhood.

Listing services are an excellent resource for both the food truck operators as well as their fans, but mobile foods service providers do not control their SEO (Search Engine Optimization) and brand awareness. Rather they rely on listings services to drive potential customers to their fan pages, websites and ultimately to their stands and trucks (which does contribute to SEO rankings). In other words, listing services provide the introduction – the rest is up to the food truck operator. What happens when the food truck phenomenon eventually dwindles, and fewer people search for “food trucks” on Google?

Roaminghunger.com can be used to locate food trucks in real-time

Many believe that, like other “crazes,” the food truck phenomenon will eventually dwindle, The Food Network will move on to the next best thing, and the tidal wave that food truck operators have been riding will slow to a trickle. People will continue to have a fascination with and an appreciation of food, though and they will continue reading and reacting to reviews; they will search for their favorite or interesting foods. The internet will continue to provide a means for people to discover new dining experiences and to follow their favorites. The question then is whether the mobile food industry is ready to market their game, or will it dwindle along with the latest fad?

The key is utilizing multiple tools and developing a targeted social network with influence that directly correlates to SEO rankings. In other words, the social network should play a role in building and sustaining rankings, but it is only effective if applied correctly. In our recent article, “8 Ways to Cook Up New Customers on Facebook and Twitter,” Rodney provided some great tips for creating effective and powerful Facebook pages and Twitter accounts that, when applied consistently will increase followers and improve SEO rankings – assuming the business has established an internet presence with relevant content, of course. Social networking is only part of the equation. All too often, we find that mobile food providers may have established websites, but do not utilize them. And in almost every case, we’ve found that concessions stand operators have no websites at all. I know you’re thinking, “what’s a website have to do with social networking?” It’s the very core of a business’ social network, and probably the most commonly missed element in the mobile foods industry.

The internet is dubbed, “the information superhighway” for a reason. It’s extremely fast-paced, and at the click of a button, a simple search can easily result in information overload. The introduction of the worldwide web dramatically changed the way consumers receive and respond to information, and how they shop. It’s constantly growing and changing, and today nearly everyone in the world has access to its plethora of information. It’s more important than ever to create a targeted internet presence that attracts the right viewers.

It’s common knowledge today that people are less likely to trust advertising, but trust personal engagement. Hence, the social network is critical to obtaining a “trust factor.” In the past, websites were designed with the primary purpose of pushing static content to the public – like a virtual brochure. However, changes in the way people use the internet through social networking brought about changes in the way they interact with businesses on the internet.

Traditional websites do not convey the “personality” behind the business – people want to do business with people, not corporations. And, traditional websites can’t keep up with and respond to the traffic and conversations that result from social networking. The key is to develop a content-rich, dynamic blog site at the center of the social network, and the good news is it’s relatively easy to do. We’ll cover the in’s and out’s of blogging in an upcoming article.

In essence, the blog is the center of attention, and the interactions with customers on the social networks should ultimately bring them to the blog where they can interact directly with the business, and the people behind it. In some cases, businesses use one website for blogging and another for their traditional websites, while others combine both their traditional sites and blogs into one website. A key benefit to blogging is the content is dynamic and can be pushed directly back to the social network. This is the heart of SEO.

Blog code is simple, so it’s easily indexed by Google and other search engines. With the appropriate keywords and consistent content, a website can increase search result rankings very quickly. In many cases, new pages are indexed on search engines within minutes after publishing. Blogs also provide a platform for customers to interact in real time with the people in a business. When visitors comment on blog posts, the comments are indexed along with the rest of the site content, which improves rankings further. Finally, most blog sites, like those that use WordPress, are “mobile ready” which means there is no need to create a separate mobile site. Integrating mobile media with a marketing and advertising campaign can dramatically increase brand awareness and customer loyalty.

So, just how much attention should be focused on Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites? Consider that Facebook searches account for less than 3% of all internet searches, and Google accounts for more than 60% of all internet searches. It makes sense, then to focus more attention on SEO than on the social networks themselves. Google now indexes Facebook pages, as well as Twitter feeds, and updates to Myspace, FriendFeed and Jaiku, so status updates are part of Google search results. However, privacy settings on these sites can be a mobile food vendor’s worst nightmare. Page and profile settings must be configured to be visible to the public in order for Google to index them. That said, social networks do play a significant role in increasing and sustaining SEO ranking.

It’s generally said that for every 10 hours spent on blog content, one hour should be spent on social networking. But with so many social networks and writing blog content, time management becomes a critical factor, especially after considering that the social networks and blog are only mechanisms for delivering an advertising or marketing campaign. Time is the primary reason the majority of mobile food operators do not fully utilize social networks and blogs to advertise their businesses. Most mobile food vendors barely find the time to manage their businesses, let alone the time to market them. It’s not uncommon for their days to start long before dawn, and in many cases ending long after dusk. Tools like Social Oomph (www.socialoomph.com) and HootSuite (www.hootsuite.com) provide social network dashboards that allow users to update multiple sites, including their blogs without logging in to each site individually. These services provide additional benefits that allow users to schedule blog posts and social network updates in advance, as well.

Nearly 90% of the mobile food vendors I spoke with also said that they do not know where to begin – they don’t know what to write about. As I said earlier, content is key… relevant content, that is. Obviously, the goal in writing copy for a blog, website or any other media is to compel a customer to visit the stand or truck, or hire a caterer for an event. Developing “keyword rich,” relevant content is crucial to high-ranking indexing on the search engines. Following up with a social media press release is an effective way to introduce a new blog post to millions of new readers, developing instant back-links to your blog. Relevant content could include recipes, articles about events, or even articles about specific foods or dishes. It’s all about consistency and relevance – oh, and it’s got to be interesting, if it’s going to attract attention. Controversial, witty, funny or compelling content on a blog site – known to bloggers as “linkbait” – will be reposted (go viral) on multiple sites, increasing Google rankings and bringing more traffic to the site. This will drive fans to the fan pages and garner new Twitter followers, thus increasing internet “clout” – your “mover and shaker” rating.

Services like Klout (www.klout.com) measure influence based on your ability to drive action. Every time you create content or engage, you influence others. The Klout Score uses data from social networks in order to measure:

1. True Reach: How many people you influence
2. Amplification: How much you influence them Network
3. Impact: The influence of your network

Measure your clout at Klout.com

These scores can be used as a tool to monitor the effectiveness of a social network campaign, and help to shape the direction it takes. Klout can also be used as a social networking tool itself (plus it gives you some groovy tools to compare your klout-i-ness with others).

At the end of the day, the point of all of this effort is to compel customers to buy something from you. Therein lies the challenge – converting a fan to a customer. After spending hours to develop and write content, then broadcast it across a social network, and interact with fans and subscribers, how many of them actually buy something? Again, what’s the point of engaging 20,000 fans, if none of them are buying anything?

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Converting fans into customers requires a consistent effort focused on developing an engaging relationship with fans. Creating campaigns that attract customers, rather than fans, offering a special discount or coupon to convert fans or attract new fans, and creating a thank-you campaign to start conversations with new fans or followers are a few techniques mobile food vendors use to convert fans to customers. Ask questions and learn about what makes them tick. Offer “fan appreciation” specials as an incentive to convert new followers. In September, we wrote a great article about using electronic coupons to attract customers to a stand or truck, and another about QR code campaigns.

Every marketing strategy should compel fans to convert to customers through effective advertising campaigns. Otherwise, you’re left with a very impressive fan base, but little to show in the bank account. Utilizing a complete and targeted social network, including a blog, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social networks, as well as newsletters and advertising campaigns across internet and traditional channels will allow you to control and manage a sustainable fan base that you can take to the bank.

Social media allows consumers to connect with mobile food vendors on a personal level, yet it is measurable and cost-effective. Combined with traditional channels (print, commercials, etc.) mobile food vendors are able to maintain their connection with their fan bases and promote additional brand recognition. For example, a QR code post-card coupon campaign can be picked up by customers at a stand or truck who will opt-in to a newsletter for coupons or receive an instant coupon on the spot, and then share the campaign with friends on Facebook and Twitter. Ultimately, while it’s all a very complex formula that requires constant tweaking and supervision, if used effectively social media coupled with traditional channels can very simply increase SEO and site traffic, repeat customers, and sales.

I never said it would be easy… but when you combine the right amount of all of the right ingredients, you end up with an award-winning recipe. Buying the groceries is the simple part.

Get The Dish!

 

Finally, if you need help launching a coupon marketing program into your concession or mobile business were here to help. Just click on the mobile phone to send us a direct message email and we’ll contact you to discuss your options.

 

Speaking of which did you know that we offer a variety of services designed to help your customers find you quickly?

Click on the mobile phone to request a FREE “Attract More Customers” consult!

 

 

 

 

Not attending the WFA Imagine 2012 Convention and Trade Show? You can still enter to win an iPod Touch 4th Generation handheld! Click below for more info!

 

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About the Author

Chris Ford is the founder of Stitches 'n Dishes and editor in chief with a passion for food, photography and travel. Chris is a Media Correspondent for the Food Network TV show, Eat St, a syndicated blogger, seasoned event organizer and promoter, a food critic, a marketing consultant and Social Media Marketing expert. Chris is also a fashion and entertainment photographer. When he's not dining on the sidewalk, he's snapping photos on the catwalk.

  • Gabe

    This is great, Chris. I was just reading an article about trends for 2012, and you’re thoughts here synch up nicely. He said we can expect to see a lot more of QR codes and Location Marketing in 2012. Seems that someone’s developing a technology that will send messages to people when they walk by your store. It’s cool yet scary-invasive. I wonder what the general public will think of the idea.

    I think marketing is just scratching the surface of social networking. You’re talking about using multiple social networks and blogging. All of the trends are pushing toward the ability to integrate social networks into blogs. You’ve laid all of the tools out here and your article reads like a road map. Really, it’s a great read.

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com chris

      Thanks, Gabe. You nailed it. Social networking absolutely has a strong position at the center of mobile food marketing in 2012. Technology continues to advance at a rapid pace, despite the state of the economy. Fortunately, this technology’s price hasn’t changed, and most of these tools can be assembled at very little cost. It makes sense to harness and exploit technological advances, especially when the price is right. I think a lot of people believe that websites are a thing of the past, and all they need is a Facebook page. They either create a page and forget about it, expecting it to somehow grow on its own, or they spend countless hours broadcasting “like my page” constantly, until they completely burn out. We’re running a couple of drawings (mentioned in the article) for an iPod Touch and two iPad 2 WiFi’s – contests are extremely popular and effective in building a fan base. But all too often, people run contests with only the number of fans in mind, and not the possible outcome. We’re not interested in gobbling up tens of thousands of fans overnight simply for the sheer satisfaction of saying we have thousands of fans. That’s why the drawing requires people to do more than just sign up for a newsletter or like our page. To be considered, all entries must make a comment on a blog post before the end of the month… and it can’t be “great job on this article.” We’re looking for something with a little more beef… something that says, “I read this article and liked it enough to say something about it.” The drawings are a way to get the word out about our blog and to reward a loyal reader for appreciating our content. We spend a lot of time researching food services, visiting them and writing articles, and we like to know we’re appreciated!

      Plus, as you seem to elude to, wouldn’t it be great to read reviews and articles, AND follow and communicate with your favorite gourmands in one place? It’s like a virtual food court with food critics standing by to dish out some good advice and hopefully connect people with some new and interesting foods. The concept we have here is literally stitching things together “live”. We’ve built the foundation for an interactive, community-based, statewide mobile food and entertainment blog that connects people with vendors and venues. I can see a tremendous benefit for anyone in the industry and consumers. So, we’ll keep on keepin’ on, and we’ll keep the reviews coming. We have our plans outlined to visit each one of the California fairgrounds in 2012, and we plan to continue partnering with these venues to keep our fans informed about events happening in their areas. We’re already providing unique content to newsletter subscribers – imagine receiving early notices for major events so you can buy tickets before they sell out. And, we’ll definitely continue drawings and contests – first and foremost because I think they’re probably the most fun thing that I do. I love to give stuff away.

      I’ve heard a little bit of a buzz about the LBM technology you’re talking about. I’m about as certain as certain can be that this will be an opt-in type of service. I can imagine the scenario: a merchant subscribes to a service, pays a monthly fee, and the service establishes the conduit between the merchant and the potential foot traffic. The merchant inputs offers and coupons to broadcast at specified times when opt-in customers are in the vicinity. It would obviously need to use GPS in order to know you’re even walking by.

      When you talk about integrating social networks into blogs, are you referring to custom software or integrating Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc? Many companies are beginning to create their own social networks, and I think that’ll be a trend in the next year or so. I thought about doing this for Stitches ‘n Dishes, but decided not to. Since the social network sites currently integrate relatively smoothly with blogs, I didn’t want to create “another” site for people to create account profiles. Though, it’s not a bad idea and I’m still open to it.

  • http://www.stitchesndishes.com Rodney Washington

    Awesome article Chris!

    Very well researched and developed, you touched on every crucial point, but the one I am most pleased you emphasized was on educating your reader on the importance of relationship building.

    Like you expressed so eloquently, our customers are not a mass of nameless “Facebook likes or Twitters follows”, but real live breathing human beings with needs, wants, dreams and desires. This I know for sure.

    If your readers remain “committed” to relationship building regardless of their business ~ the path from fans and followers to happy engaged customers and clients is inevitable.

    Bravo!

  • http://www.stitchesndishes.com chris

    Thank you, Rodney. That’s probably the other trend for 2012 not mentioned… personal relationships. I guess it doesn’t count as a trend in 2012, because it’s been a trend this year. All the same, I believe it’ll continue moving in the same direction and the concept just keeps gaining momentum.

  • ellen

    I think out of all of this, engaging your audience is the most crucial. If say you are a company or a blogger just ‘spitting out’ info or opinion, it just doesn’t cut it. People might at first think it is OK, and might follow, but if they feel they are no more than a number to you, they can and will go elsewhere .
    I have followed plenty of folks over the years, and who I remain loyal to, who I comment over and over are those who are engaged.

    • http://www.stitchesndishes.com chris

      You hit the nail on the head, Ellen. I spent some time this morning talking with a business owner who’s struggling with this concept. She’s what I’d call, “old school” (like me) – with years of marketing experience, but social media marketing is a different breed. And, today’s consumer, as you point out, doesn’t want to be just another number to a business. We want to interact with people, and we want to feel that our voice is heard. I’ve had the same experience myself. I found a blog, chock full of great information. The guy seemed to really know his stuff, but that was part of the problem. He didn’t actually interact with anyone – he just broadcasted articles like an information beacon. After checking the site a few times, got bored, then unsubscribed.

      Personally, I really like social media marketing, because I’m generally an extremely social guy. This form of marketing allows me to be me, get face-time with people, and hear about what concerns them the most. I think that’s really the point of all of this, after all isn’t it?

      You piqued my curiosity… what are the types of blogs you follow and comment on? And, what type of content engages you?

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