Going social

by Allison Sebolt
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Food marketing today has taken on a new dimension with blog postings, status updates, tweets and on-line polls becoming an integrated part of reaching out to consumers. In fact, most major food companies now are using Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other forms of social media as ways of engaging their consumers.

“First and foremost, we want to be a part of the conversation,” said Laston Charriez, vice-president of consumer and shopper activation for Sara Lee Corp., Downers Grove, Ill. “Learning, educating and providing our consumers with added value content that sparks engagement and conversation is all very important.

“At the core, we see a great opportunity to excite and delight consumers with information that will help them make more informed decisions and provide them with information that will help them as they navigate through their day. From simple breakfast recipes that will save them time during their hectic mornings to educational messaging about the importance of whole grain nutrition, the goal is to start a dialogue and continue to keep that dialogue moving as we grow with our consumers.”

Sara Lee currently has Facebook pages for Sara Lee Soft & Smooth, Sara Lee Deli, Sara Lee Desserts and Jimmy Dean Sausage. The company started its Facebook efforts with a page for the Soft & Smooth brand two years ago, and the efforts have grown with the Sara Lee Deli page now having more than 23,200 fans. The pages include videos, polls, interactive questions, coupons, recipes and more.

Increasingly it is important for companies to use more than one social media outlet together to accomplish marketing goals.

“We leverage social media as an integrated strategy in which we will engage several channels, ensuring they work together for meaningful engagement and excitement for our consumers,” Mr. Charriez said. “We don’t look at the use of Facebook as a social media strategy; it’s simply one channel out of many used to engage consumers. In addition to Facebook, we leverage Twitter, YouTube, Metacafe, bloggers and more.”

Through this process, Mr. Charriez said the company has had an opportunity to fine-tune what really matters to consumers by creating a space where they may dialogue with the brand and with each other.

“Our consumers don’t want to be ‘sold,’ they want to make informed decisions based on what they are hearing from their trusted communities and the information we provide to them as it relates to nutrition, price and usage ideas,” Mr. Charriez said. “Our approach differs based on the needs of our individual consumers and how they use our products in their everyday lives.”

Kraft Foods Inc., Northfield, Ill., launched its general company Facebook and Twitter

pages this past October, with the purpose of engaging consumers more directly and sharing news about new products, recipes and insights. The company said since the launch it has seen significant interaction with its fans. Kraft now has more than 25,000 fans on Facebook and 2,000 followers on Twitter. The Oscar Mayer brand has a large social media presence thanks to the Hotdoggers, the drivers of the company’s Weinermobiles. Oscar Mayer and the Hotdoggers have an official blog, Twitter page, YouTube channel, photos on Flickr, Facebook page and Brightkite page.

In addition, Kraft used its DiGiorno brand’s Twitter page to share information about the launch of its new DiGiorno Crispy Flatbread pizza earlier this year. The brand hosted “tweetups,” or gatherings of people who use Twitter, in Chicago, New York and San Francisco.

TheBigMoney.com recently rated the Top 50 brands with the best use of Facebook, and food and beverage companies represented a significant portion of the list. In fact, The Coca-Cola Co., Atlanta, ranked No. 1 and Starbucks Coffee Co., Seattle, ranked No. 2.

Battle Creek, Mich.-based The Kellogg Co. has experienced strong response to its Pop-Tarts Facebook page, which came in at No. 16 on TheBigMoney.com’s list.

“The success of this program was a case of picking the right social medium at the right time,” said Etienne Patout, senior director for Pop-Tarts. “The on-line conversations were already happening among teens, so we harnessed those conversations through the Pop-Tarts Facebook page. The page now has over one million fans, which is a testament to the popularity of the brand.”

McDonald’s Corp., Oak Brook, Ill., has nearly 1.5 million fans on Facebook, and it only launched its company Facebook page this past fall.

Heather Oldani, director of external communications at McDonald’s, said social media is a part of McDonald’s digital strategy, which the company has had in place for about a year. She said the strategy is designed to deepen the relationship the company has with consumers. The company has chosen to focus on Facebook and Twitter as important social media channels. In addition to general national content, the company also is working on producing local content on Facebook by allowing consumers to enter their zip codes for local coupons and news.

“These new channels … give us an additional opportunity to listen and engage and have that conversation,” Ms. Oldani said. “For us, it’s about deepening and enriching the relationship we have (with customers).”

She also said McDonald’s has used Twitter to promote the company’s Monopoly contest and is looking at how to communicate the news of the launch of Mac Snack Wrap in January. The company is using social media as a way of increasing customer service and customer satisfaction by addressing concerns

on-line. She said the company has members across departments and the McDonald’s system working together to produce social media content and updates.

“Through these channels, we are able to give a face with the brand,” Ms. Oldani said.

According to a recent presentation by Aliza Freud, founder and chief executive officer of SheSpeaks, Inc., at a Grocery Manufacturers Association forum on social media, building a social media campaign requires commitment, flexibility and bravery in the sense that not all feedback is going to be positive. In addition, a strong community requires shared purpose, communication, recognition and impact.

According to a survey of 22 consumer packaged goods companies conducted by the G.M.A., 47% of C.P.G. companies have more than a cursory social media presence, and 64% of respondents are shifting resources from traditional to social media. Measuring the return on investment in social media has become a business imperative, the G.M.A. said, but what and how to measure remains a gray area. In fact, 50% of respondents are not tracking social media activity while others are using proprietary measurement tools from private vendors. Fans, followers, sentiment, comments, clicks, engagements and interactions are just some of the ways activity is being tracked.

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