Before John, my husband-to-be, and I started our food truck in 2010, I cyber-stalked food trucks on the West Coast and in New York City to find out how they were using Twitter, Facebook and Foursquare.
For the most part, they posted their daily routes and specials of the day, and while that alone attracted them hundreds of customers, I knew that wouldn't fly for us.
Our town, Tallahassee, is mostly known for politics and football, and certainly doesn’t have the population of cities like Los Angeles and NYC. We knew we were going to have to get creative.
Though we were early adopters of Twitter and used Facebook when it was just a site for college students (the wonder years), up until 2010 we were merely bystanders of the social media sphere. But the food truck forced us to not only become active participants, but content creators, too. Here are four of the most valuable lessons Lazarus, our food truck, taught us about social media.
1. SoLo is the Motto
SoLo (not to be confused with YOLO), a combination of social media and location-based technology, is the motto for food trucks. Most food trucks start with shoestring budgets, and SoLo comes at a low cost with high returns basically providing free advertising to let your potential customers know where you are.
So how does that look in practice? Our Foursquare account is linked to our Facebook and Twitter profile, so every time we check in somewhere, our friends and followers see it (and hopefully, are tempted to stop by). In addition, we encourage our customers to check in to our location for an incentive like a free drink or waffle which promotes our truck to their friends and followers, too.
Location-aware technology also helped us forge partnerships with local businesses looking for shout-outs from our 7,000-plus social media base.
For example a local boutique owner, targeting college-aged women, invited us to her grand opening. Since most of our followers on Twitter are college-aged students, we thought this would be a great opportunity for her to tap into the market and for us to be on one of the busiest cross streets in the city.
We checked in on Foursquare and asked our customers to go inside to the boutique while they waited. She had a sale, adorable dresses and affordable jewelry; customers walked away with red velvet waffles and a cute dress for a night out on the town.
One of my favorite partnerships was with a wine bar and a local hip-hop group. The last Tuesday of each month was filled with moscato, freestyle battles, and fried chicken: Perfection.
2. Get Creative
Most brands recognize that a part of the whole social media strategy is to engage fans — and that often means getting their feedback or crowdsourcing. For example, Doritos is encouraging fans to vote on which fan-produced ad it should show during the Super Bowl.
For our brand, we created a "Waffle of the Week" poll on Facebook and asked our friends and fans to vote on whether they would like us to serve a banana pudding, sweet potato or cinnamon roll waffle for the week.
We integrated the poll on Twitter by using the hashtag #WOW or #WaffleOfTheWeek, and asking followers for their suggestions. Sometimes, we’d even name the waffle after the Tweeter. Our customers (also known as Cravers) got a kick out of voting and of course eating their favorite waffles.
3. Nail Customer Service
"The wait for @CravingsTruck is ridiculous!!!! I’m never coming back here again." "@CravingsTruck gave me a chargrilled red velvet waffle." I remember seeing tweets like this and panicking. Should I respond? The wait can’t be that bad, can it? How many followers does this person have anyway?
We quickly realized that social media couldn’t just be about putting out our routes or talking about our 52 different waffles; we had to enhance the customer experience by creating a social customer service strategy.
According to Useful Social Media, "77% of customers expect to be served in the [social media] channel of their choice." So, like most companies today, Twitter became our virtual call center. When a problem occurred, customers tweeted about it and we tweeted back. We apologized for the inconvenience, and if there was a mishap with an order, we'd send a coupon for a free waffle in an effort to square things away.
We also created an internal infrastructure around the social customer experience by encouraging customers to tweet about a crew member who gave outstanding service. The tweets became weekly bonuses for our crew and affirmed our mission of great food served by great people.
Responding to customers is important because it shows that we're listening, not just riding around with a bullhorn shouting out our message. (We do have a bullhorn on the truck, though.)
4. Tell Your Story
I think everyone can relate to having an old, beat-up car that you love. For us, Lazarus (and the story behind the food truck’s name) became a way to connect with people. Some could connect with breaking down on the interstate for hours, while others enjoyed the biblical story behind the name.
We tweeted or posted photos of the times the truck got a flat tire or the (many) times it had to be towed away because the battery blew up or some other expensive calamity happened, and customers loved it. But they also loved that Lazarus is a symbol of perseverance, the audacity of hope. To take a raggedy truck and make a dream out of it, despite the many obstacles, inspired many and is a constant teacher of having the patience of Job.
In addition, unlike other food trucks that we studied, we talked to our audience about more than just food. We tweeted with customers about current events like the football season and hip-hop artists coming into town and stayed away from politics (though we did hand out free red velvet waffles for those who showed their voting stickers on Election Day).
Social media is all about placing value in the content, but along with the content, we try to have an authentic voice. Whether we were counting down the days to my graduation or sharing our engagement (yes, as in, proposal) video with more than 7,000 people across our social media networks, we try to just be sincere, humans who happen to have a food truck. And we’ve found that it works.
With our social media powers combined, John and I have shown other small businesses what we've learned. Social media isn't just for live tweeting award shows and reality shows it's an influential and cost-efficient tool that entrepreneurs can use for growth, innovation and customer service. Take it from my food truck.