What Can Food Trucks Teach Us All About Social Media Marketing?

Over the past year, I have become increasingly obsessed with a new trend in the restaurant industry: Food Trucks. These four-wheeled food vendors have taken the U.S. by storm, particularly in Los Angeles, Austin, San Diego and New York, but have also recently become a sensation in Chicago.

My obsession all started as a fascination with the mystical machines that hock gourmet street foods, including hot dogs, meatballs, empanadas and every type of cupcake you can possibly imagine. I have since become more directly involved (beyond consuming these gourmet foods) by volunteering to help a web-based food truck locator portal expand its reach in Chicago. My activities have included coordinating with food truck operators and maintaining a Twitter account to help engage Chicago’s foodie community.

(Above right: Deploying the fleet – Chicago’s 5411 Empanada food truck custom-branded for one of our clients at a special event. The truck’s twitter feed engages customers from anywhere.)

The more that I’ve experienced the food truck phenomena, the more I’ve recognized some valuable nuggets of marketing gold tucked away in their counter culture scene. What follows are four lessons that all companies should learn from food trucks’ very social media centric marketing strategy. Let’s focus on Twitter, as it is the social media outlet of choice for most of these mobile machines of meals for the masses.

  1. Social Media is a Dialogue, Not a Lecture

Food trucks are very active on all forms of social media, especially Twitter. I have had some companies tell me that social media doesn’t make sense for them, but it shouldn’t be overlooked. Twitter has become an explosion in customer engagement for food trucks and has a lot of potential for the rest of us too.. Consumers (even in a B2B environment) want interaction, not being hit over the head with your marketing-ese. The food trucks share basic information like locations and menus, but also regularly engage customers with mentions, replies and re-tweets. The best part is that the customers love it and build on the conversation.

I have seen such an incredible amount of dialogue between brands and their customers on Twitter, even beyond food trucks. It is truly a social community that can help build awareness for your brand and reinforce your positioning to a wide audience. While Twitter is a great opportunity for almost every brand, the key is to have a strategy and to be consistent. Getting followers can take time, but you need to put in the effort to get your presence to a good place. It is also important to keep tabs on what your competitors and customers are saying, because great ideas are not in short supply. Many don’t think of this, but you don’t have to always be the one starting the conversation. Respond to your customers. They LOVE it when you react to them.

  1. Six Degrees of KOL Bacon

Some might say that most of their target customers aren’t on Twitter. While it may be true for many B2B brands, the people who will do the most to spread news about your brand are. Food trucks are followed by many reporters, bloggers and Twitter-trigger-happy individuals. They know that to expand their network, they need to focus on these Twitter alpha users who are influential within their marketplace.

I’ve spoken with several life science companies who actively tweet and, while they have many followers who would be considered prospects, they also have a significant percentage of followers who I would consider KOLs. It’s not that they are respected scientists, but rather that they love to share their ideas and are being followed by many of those who are in the target audience.

There are many methods to increase your followers, but if you can engage the Twitter-happy few, you are just one step removed from a much larger network of individuals. Twitter allows you to communicate to your customers regularly and in a way that interests them. Everyone I know loves sending email blasts, but we know that more and more emails are getting discarded. Print has its limitations with cost and low frequency. People who follow you on Twitter do it because they want to hear from you and engage with you.

  1. Promotional is OK

Let’s be honest. Everyone knows that you have a commercial interest and are trying to sell him or her something. Food trucks are always tweeting about their offerings. It’s how they do it that is important. They are usually creative when they talk about their products or services and avoid becoming a promotional broken record. They show pictures or post videos. These are much more effective ways of getting people interested in what you have to say than just pushing a sale.

Many companies are so nervous to test the social media waters or when they do steer clear of promotions. While there is a lot of benefit to provide scientific content to your audience, there is no reason you should not be talking about your products or services, as well.

  1. Have Fun with It

People enjoy Twitter because you get lots of great information packaged in a concise and creative way (quite unlike this article). The keys are to avoid overthinking every post, be sure to have fun, and to experiment and try new things. Much of the allure associated with food trucks is a result of their creative personalities. They emit a fun aura—from the names of the trucks to their packaging (truck paint job) to the attitude that they communicate. Even if you are a serious, scientific business doing serious things in a serious setting, your audiences and your employees are people and people like to have fun. Believe it or not, a balance can be found. Need help finding the balance? Give us a call or, hey… follow us @Chempetitive and reply to our tweets!