The speed with which so-called ‘hipster’ food products take off online was recently on display when a Melbourne cafe created a latte served in the skin of an avocado, prompting weeks’ worth of enthusiasm and criticism of the ‘avolatte’ across all forms of social media.
So whether you’re creating a new coffee-fresh food hybrid, or simply wanting to find a new customer base for your hospitality business, experts say there are three rules to live by in this era of “food porn”.
1. Timing is everything Posts about novelty food items take off fast, but if you want to leverage social to drive customers on an hour-by-hour basis, it’s all about getting in the head of hungry punters, says Good Things Marketing chief executive, Helen Ahrens.
“KFC has been doing it really well if you watch them, with good integrated Facebook campaigns for food, at certain food times,” she said.
It may sound simple, but pitching your offerings at the exact same time people’s stomachs are starting to rumble can start to build customer habits by driving them to your business on a regular basis.
“Figure out the times of day when people get hungry — if you’re offering office snacks, you have much more space throughout the day; if you’re offering meals, [it’s] later in the day,” she said.
One of the benefits of using social media to capture these new customers is that you don’t have to go all out on high production values at first. Instead, it’s possible to use trial and error to work out which posts bring customers through the door.
“Start small, test and pivot, always — when you have no budget, that’s what you should be doing always anyway,” Ms Ahrens said.
2. Understand the power of sharing The key reason the idea of an avolatte gains traction so quickly online is that food is built so tightly into people’s social interactions, says Catriona Pollard, director of CP Communications and a social media expert.
“For people who are foodies, the natural thing they do is to take a photo of their food and then share it. They feel like they’re a part of a community and there is immense power in that from a brand’s perspective,” she said.
When social media users engage with food products or businesses online, they naturally want to share what they’ve found with other users online, meaning visual representations of food quickly become topics of engagement between multiple users, Ms Pollard said.
This means SMEs wanting to pitch their food creations online are best served by finding those “foodie” communities to connect to.
“Any brand who isn’t using groups effectively on Facebook should be. I’m not a foodie, but I would imagine there are so many really connected groups for brands to reach,” she said.
Ms Ahrens agrees, advising SMEs to think about connecting with micro influencers on a local level and using that as a starting point to get the word out about your food business when just starting out.
“It might be worth looking around at what’s happening in Melbourne’s Fitzroy, for example, seeing who is there, and going from there,” she said.
Being aware of the relationship between food and sharing is also critical because when you get it wrong, word moves fast, says Pollard.
“The thing about social media here is that it’s peer-to-peer, so if you feel outraged by something and you share your outrage, it’s likely the people you connect with on social media will also be outraged,” Ms Pollard said.
With that in mind, Pollard says it’s critical to test new ideas for promotions with trusted sources offline first, “especially if they could potentially be high risk”.
3. Don’t become a food snob The intersection of Australia’s food scene and social media is occurring at a time when the country is hungry for light-hearted stories about invention, according to Nicole Reaney, director of InsideOut PR and founder of social media agency #AsSeenOn.
“With current news events, there is an appetite, mind the pun, for light-hearted media stories," she said.
"Australia is also becoming a foodie-nation, and with the photo platform of Instagram, this passion for the newest and latest is sky-rocketing."
This makes it a prime time for potentially taking a risk with new food ideas: “Out-of-the-box, controversial and extreme offerings are likely to garner consumer and media attention,” Mr Reaney said.
However, in an age of interconnected foodies, businesses should remember they don’t have to create Michelin-star level imagery in order to connect with potential customers.
“Don’t take yourself too seriously — don’t spend millions on dollars on video or anything,” Ms Ahrens said.
She said it was better to market the food you want to sell using the perfectly good tools already on the market, instead of setting up a video studio to film your next big cafe invention.
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