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How Retailers Can Take Advantage of Food Trends on Social Media

Editor’s Note: 84.51° employees partner with students from Miami University (Oxford, Ohio) to mentor, research and write a series of blog posts for 8451.com. The authors are members of student-led group, East Bridge Consultancy, an affiliate of Alpha Kappa Psi, a professional business fraternity. This is the fifth of six articles in the series.

How Retailers Can Take Advantage of Food Trends on Social Media
By: Callie Zimmerman and Kelly Rains

With the average American spending more than three hours each day on social media, it’s no surprise that social networks are changing not only social norms, but also dietary ones. This shift has cultivated a new medium for food trends—social media. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and Pinterest showcase bright foodie photos, insightful recipes and interactive videos intended to inspire. Whether at home, in public, or online, this content empowers even the blandest palates and shyest chefs to experiment.

While many food retailers are present on various social platforms, their focus skews toward traditional mechanics like weekly promotions, digital coupons and shopping lists. These tools improve the shopping experience, but ultimately lack inspiration. To increase engagement, improve relevance and foster loyal relationships, retailers need to understand how customers are using social media beyond the basics. Three key trends reveal opportunity for grocers to inspire and connect with customers: knowledge sharing, crowdsourcing and the power of influencers.

Knowledge Sharing
Do you have that one Facebook friend who is always posting pictures of his latest creation in the kitchen or dinner from the hottest joint in your neighborhood? This behavior demonstrates an individual’s passion for “discovering hidden gems - but there is a competitive aspect to identifying trendy new places that’s also linked to social status.” Consumers’ tastes and preferences show others what makes them unique, and social media provides a medium to broadcast that individuality.

Millennials have taken to Instagram and Snapchat to post pictures of their meals to demonstrate to others just how cool, healthy or adventurous they are. In 2013, a survey saw that 54 percent of 18-24 year olds have taken a photo of their food while eating out, while 39 percent have gone on to post it online. What people are eating is no longer just fuel for their bodies, but part of their identity as social beings.

Just as individuals portray their personalities through social media, retailers should view social media as an extension of their brands. While it’s important for a retailer to highlight what it offers the customer, it’s arguably even more important how that is positioned. Whole Foods, for example, has seen success using a soft-sell approach, focusing more on content and less on specific products. Creating an identity that consumers can relate to improves retailer perception and results in increased loyalty.

Social media has revolutionized the way people ask for opinions. Often used by consumers for guidance in buying the right car or choosing the best toaster, crowdsourcing has now moved into the realm of food. Think Yelp, Burpple, FoodSpotting and Meal Logger. These applications connect users with each other to find the best restaurants and share the best recipes. Many people now learn about foods via social networking sites, websites, apps or blogs. Consumers have a new level of comfort seeking advice from strangers around food choices.

To capitalize on crowdsourcing, retailers have an opportunity to incorporate the voice of the customer into their online offerings. Amazon is well known for its rich review system, allowing customers to buy with confidence or avoid poorly rated products. Could grocers incorporate a similar system to help customers find quality food products vetted and recommended by the masses?

Power of Influencers
Consumers not only trust the collective opinions of strangers, but are also increasingly comfortable turning to influencers—people with mass social media followings and widespread authority. While these influencers might not have culinary expertise, when they align themselves to a brand, they bring their entire network of social followers, which can drive additional traffic to websites and social networks and possibly affect more sales through recommendations.

Various retailers have seen success using influencers today. Whether they’re paid to tweet about upcoming collections or post new arrivals on Instagram, the results are astounding. In a survey of marketing and communications professionals last year, 93 percent of respondents said influencers were effective at raising brand awareness, 75 percent agreed that influencers help drive sales, and 76 percent said influencers increase customer loyalty. Finding and employing these consumers with clout could be an effective means of connecting with key customer segments.

Reaching the customer is both easier and harder than ever before. Easier in the sense of convenience and location—consumers are only a click away. Harder in terms of differentiation and connectedness—consumers see hundreds of ads daily from various sources. To strike a balance, retailers should marry customers’ hunger for inspiration and knowledge with social media. Understanding and activating on how social media meets food enables retailers to build on the basics and ultimately create a personality that is relevant and relatable to customers.

Read the other articles in this series: Millennials & Urban Retailers: What Drives a Successful Relationship; Meal Subscription Services Battle for Share of Stomach; Three Strategies for Brick and Mortar Retailers to Remain Relevant in an Ever-Changing Landscape; Loyalty Programs: The Two Must-Haves