Building Relationships was a common theme spoken at the April 28, 2010 Spring Symposium of The Food Industry Center -- The Opportunities and Challenges of Social Media in the Food Industry. The food service sector (restaurants) is using social media to exchange information with potential customers about what they like to eat and to identify the brands of food being used in the restaurant (i.e. farmer John's local beef or Tyson's chicken). Fans of a particular beverage (Coke) formed a Facebook fan club that has 4.5 million fans. Coke cannot and does not control this fan club, but they can participate in it and learn from it. It was estimated by one presenter that a $1.00 investment in social media messaging returns $3.60 in revenue - not a bad ROI in the food service sector.
Participants offered their own practices in a pre-symposium survey on social media use to provide a current example of how the tools are being used. More than three-fourths of student participants have been using social media for more than 3 years, compared to 59% of industry professionals working full time. The predominant reason both groups use social medial tools is to connect with friends and family. Facebook, You Tube, texting and LinkedIn were the most popular tools for these social relationships. Participants noted the most popular tools for conducting professional or school work are LinkedIn, Facebook, Blogs, and You Tube tied with Twitter. Only 2 percent were non-users compared to about 24% of the general public.
The symposium offered the following takeaway thoughts for the food industry, its constituents, and their relationship:
• Postings on social media sites make up a "life cast" -- a new form of diary or
biography, only it is written in real time.
• Cell phones are the new cigarettes -addictive.
• Anonymity is gone!
• The audience (customer) now creates the message.
• Social media is a conversation among people to which industry marketers can
listen. It cannot be controlled or used to sell (push) a preconceived product.