Published on September 27, 2017, at 3:31 p.m.
by Hyland Stockton.
It is hurricane season. Several states have been affected, and it looks like one is headed to your area. In addition to this fear, evacuees are coming to your hometown. You know you want to help, but how? You own a coffee truck, but how will people know about you? After all, anyone traveling is probably just going to go to Starbucks. But wait, the national chain closed its nearby locations because the hurricane seems to be coming straight toward you.
This is the scenario Jeff Roberts was in a few weeks ago. What did he do to help? He opened up his coffee truck at a location that was accepting evacuees. In addition to going to the evacuees, he used social media to connect to his usual following. Would this this pop-up location have even been possible without digital outreach?
Roberts said he attributes about 90 percent of his customer base to social media. He clarifies this estimation by saying it is not simply his own social media channels that have brought attention to his company. Oftentimes, people will be directed to his pages after seeing their friends post about Yellowhammer or share one of his posts.
Roberts, Dustin Spruill — a food truck owner in Tuscaloosa, Alabama — and other social media gurus think that food trucks would not be a way of life without the prominence of social media.
When asked how social media helps Yellowhammer, Roberts said, “I would have to go get a real job if it wasn’t for those platforms. We rolled up into an empty parking lot yesterday and made a post, and cars started rolling in.”
Spruill, the owner of Local Roots in Tuscaloosa, said that, because food trucks are mobile, social media is also a key driver of his business as he keeps his followers informed on his truck’s location. However, Local Roots differs from Yellowhammer in that it gains most of its business through word of mouth, which is something Spruill said the food industry relies heavily on.
Both Roberts and Spruill said their most beneficial and most used platform is Instagram, due to its combination of pictures, captions and commenting. Spruill noted that Instagram stories allow for more regular updates without “clogging up” people’s feed, while Roberts pointed to Instagram stories replacing Snapchat stories.
With such use of social media, businesses have the option of going “in house” (managing their own social media) or hiring an outside agency. For Yellowhammer and Local Roots, the choice is the clear: They personally run their businesses’ social channels.
Both owners run these social media accounts day to day. Spruill and Roberts said it’s the only option because, as start-up companies, there is no budget for an agency. It was an easy choice for Roberts with background in digital media, but Spruill has taken classes to keep up with the ever-changing social media platforms.
Spruill and Roberts said the other big reason for keeping social media in house was to keep it personable. They feel that you lose the connection when you add a third party.
Roberts said social media is how he can connect directly with the people who are buying from him. It allows him to really show the pulse of his company, something he said is important for a start-up.
Roberts advised, “Document. Don’t create. Instead of putting out perfection, document the mess of getting one of these things off the ground.”
“In house” vs. agency
Sally Immel and Ann Howser are public relations professionals at PERITUS public relations in Birmingham, Alabama. They said it is an added bonus to have social media done by an agency because it gives the owners an opportunity to deal with the day-to-day activities of owning a restaurant instead of spending their time developing strategic content.
When it comes to social media, Howser and Immel noted that both brick-and-mortar and mobile restaurants offer a different twist than other organizations. Howser said these businesses have a special opportunity with social media because they always have a visual: the food they prepare. In addition, Immel said they are not so industry-specific. They could reach a whole community instead of just a specific industry.
While having an agency run a restaurant’s or food truck’s social media can be beneficial, Howser posed a similar challenge as Roberts and Spruill. Howser said, “We aren’t on the scene with them or immersed in their day-to-day, so producing dynamic content can be challenging. I think this is something our industry as a whole is going to have to figure out.”
In house, agency, amateur or professional, it is important to know the benefits of social media for the food industry, especially food trucks. As Immel noted, “Food trucks are the American Dream. They allow people to start their own business with relatively low costs.”