In the past, Street Food vending’s business model was fairly straightforward: place yourself between the highest number of customers and their destinations, and offer a product that is quick and inexpensive. That business model works, but it is completely passive with no way to build brand identity, no recognition of the quality of food being served, and low levels of customer loyalty. In the old model of mobile vending, one lunch truck is as good as another; and all of them aren’t really that good at all. With the help of social media this passive model of business interaction has changed into an active opportunity for mobile vendors to specialize their food styles, build large followings of actively engaged customers, and use real time updates to inform your how to find you (and how to advocate for you). If you are a new entrepreneur considering a mobile vending business, then an understanding of social media has become a job requirement.
A Brief Primer on Twitter and Social Media:
Social media is information that is intended to be quickly and easily distributed to a variety of places (customers, friends, publications) on a variety of platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Yelp, LinkedIn, or Flickr) from a variety of access points (phones, email, websites, text messages). This can happen in a number of ways, but for the mobile vendor the first step starts with Twitter. Twitter is a short message system (140 characters or less) that allows users to send and receive information in real time from a very select group of people who share common interests. In the case of Mobile Vending, Twitter is extremely effective at allowing vendors to send basic information regarding their service hours, specials, weather complications, new locations, and promotions directly to your customers. In addition, you can use Twitter to communicate with your peers to solve problems, gain crossover customers through their networks and promote each other. Think of Twitter as you PR billboard to the world that only your customers can selectively see; it bothers nobody and turns your customers into committed evangelical users for your product or service. For the rest of this article, I will use Twitter (for more on how twitter works click here) as a basic social media example, although your own website, Facebook, LinkedIn, Yelp, YouTube and Flickr are all examples of additional social media services that could be part of your social media strategy.
7+ Essentials For integrating Social Media into Your Mobile Business:
1) Treat it with Respect
There has been an inclination within large organizations (struggling to find a way to use Twitter) to relegate responsibility for its Tweets to relatively low level employees within an organization; its far more likely for an intern to tweet than owners or “C” level company officers of large businesses. The resulting Twitter streams were not compelling and tended to be bland and uninformative. It has therefore been rather interesting to have a broad variety of publications take note of the way that mobile vendors use social media to grow their customer base and expand their brands. One of the key distinctions that separates an effective mobile vending business’ tweeter feed and their less effective corporate peer is that mobile businesses are generally small operations where the individuals who are sending out information live and breathe their products because they own it and sell their core message to their customers everyday. You can feel and recognize their understanding of their products and business information that they send out into the world. And, its that same tone that resonates with customers when they reach that business and make a purchase. Twitter (and effective social media usage) facilitates authentic communication between businesses owners and customers; an experience that makes customers loyal and vocal in their support.
2) Define your Voice
Within every worthwhile business plan should be some type of statement of values that should serve to define the services and products offered at a business, and the style and priorities associated with the growth of that business in the future. These values should reasonably extend into your marketing plan where you detail what type of relationship that you want to have with your customers, and the way that you want your customers to perceive their experience while engaging in their purchase. Are you clean, sterile and detailed like you’d want at a doctor’s office? Or are you warm, welcoming and outgoing like you’d want at your favorite local watering hole. Are you cheeky and fun? These are active choices that you should make, rather than not thinking about them at all. More often than not, street food vendors are passionate about their food, their products and the values around what they do. That passion comes through online, and it comes through the voice of the people in the organization. Make sure that what you are saying online is consistent with the core values of your organization as a whole and remember that the information that you post reflects your business, not you, and some things are better left unsaid.
3. Post Regularly, Stay Consistent and Don’t Forget the Basics
Once you have decided on an approach for how you will interact with the world through social media its important to stick with a schedule that is realistic and consistent. It may be great to start off posting 30 times a day with lots of information, but if you stop posting after a month that effort will have been wasted, and you’ll have established unreasonable expectations for your customers. Basic information is essential: Service times, street addresses and city names, daily menu options, specials, vehicle problems and weather updates. Learn how to post from a cell phone (you don’t need a 300$ smart phone to do this) and make sure that the information you post is accurate. If you leave a location early because its slow, don’t just assume that no one is on their way, post the information so that you don’t lose a customer who makes the effort to get to you.
4. Engage your audience (and encourage them to advocate for you).
How will you know if you’re connecting with your customers and your social media strategy is working? Ask them. The beauty of social media is that it places you in direct contact with your actual customers. By asking them what they find useful, what they’d appreciate done differently, and how you can improve you’ll not only become more relevant, but you’ll also build customer loyalty. An important part of social media is to acknowledge that you aren’t shouting into nothing, you are speaking to the people who keep you in business and have (increasingly) more and more power to voice their opinions in forums where other people will take them seriously. Through being responsive to your audience you’ll be able to demonstrate your command of your business area, as well as influence the far larger number people who are passive consumers of information who pay attention to the subjects that they care about. That is the way that you grow your audience and find true value with social media.
5. Time Shift
The fact is that you are busy, especially if you run a one or two person operation. You may say to yourself that you simply don’t have the time or energy to do this “social media” thing. But here’s a secret: You don’t need to be online all day long to use these tools. There some very easy methods of time shifting your posts so that you can write non time relevant information one time a day, or a week (such as menu, industry, or cuisine information) so you don’t have to worry about it when you are in the middle of prep or service. By combining this type of posting with real time updates for when you move to different locations, or want to encourage people to come out, you can shift the time burden of social media to something very manageable.
6. Integrate with Different Types of Media Sources
Your time is valuable and you want to make the most of it. One of the most valuable aspects of social media is its ability to update other platforms that can also build an audience and encourage customer participation in your brand. If you link your Tweets to your Facebook Fan Page, your fans can ask you questions and engage in dialogue with each other. There are many variations of how you can take advantage of this, but the important part is that the more platforms where your business is represented the more that you can let the service work for you. More and more search results from Google and other companies are incorporating social media into their top search results. In addition, most of the major social media companies pay a great deal of money to smart computer engineers so that their websites appear high in search results. By taking advantage of multiple platforms, not only are you better able to leverage this for your company, but you also cast the widest net possible for customers looking for your products and services. The key is having accurate and clear information where ever your customers go about how to find you, and what you serve.
If you’ve given social media a shot and its not working for you, don’t be afraid to reevaluate what you are doing for better ways to achieve results from your efforts. Ask yourself for concrete details associated with practical results from your social media strategy and write them down. Set goals, and timelines for reviewing those goals with people who will hold your accountable to your results. Its important to look at social media as being a Swiss Army Knife of many different tools, where a one size fits all approach rarely works. Geographic needs, local preferences, and established habits will all affect how you and your customers take advantage of social media. Stay realistic about your expectations and understand that 500 committed customer/followers are far more valuable to your business than 5000 casual webpage visits. By keeping your goals realistic, you’ll be able to chart your own path to meaningful value with these tools.
A Last Thought: Be Patient
When starting to use social media to reach your audience it’s about adding long term value to your company. Using social media takes resolve and consistent use that will take time to establish. Remember, there are millions of people out there all talking about something. The more refined, clear and consistent your message is, the more easily your target audience will be able to locate you.