Foodex 2014

Food firms need to engage more through social media

By Rick Pendrous contact

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Social media, Twitter

Richard Clothier: 'Social media can really be the stone that can fell the giant'
Richard Clothier: 'Social media can really be the stone that can fell the giant'
Food and drink manufacturers need to embrace social media if they are to better communicate with potential consumers and drive sales of their products, according to companies that are successfully using Facebook and Twitter to engage with people.

Cheddar cheese producer Wyke Farms and innovative small Northern Ireland food manufacturer Mash Direct are proof that if you get it right, social media can be a very powerful tool. But if  handled badly, things can go seriously wrong, as recent high profile food sector social media campaigns have showed.

Speaking at a debate on social media organised by The Food Manufacture Group at this week’s Foodex show (March 24–26) at the National Exhibition Centre, near Birmingham, Wyke Farms’s boss Richard Clothier described how his company used Facebook and Twitter to get different messages across to target audiences and help them to get a better understanding about the Somerset-based business.

‘Powerful medium’

Clothier described himself as a late convert to the “powerful medium”​ of social media. Wyke Farms has about 27,000 “fans”​ on Facebook and 11,000 followers on Twitter. It’s all about “driving loyalty and repeat purchase”​, he added.

If done well, it can achieve better results than using traditional media and without the cost, said Clothier. “In the past, you would have needed a huge TV budget to do some of the things that we have done on social media.”

However, he warned: “Unlike TV, it’s not managed by the Advertising Standards Authority so there is no control and, unlike TV campaigns, you don’t have control of the start and finish and it can keep rolling for years and years … it’s a great weapon, but use with caution and care.”

Describing the power of social media in everything from the ‘Arab Spring’ to his own use of it following the delisting of Wyke Farms’s cheese by Morrisons​, Clothier said: “Social media can really be the stone that can fell the giant ​– but it might keep fighting with the giant long after you want it to, so you need to keep it under control.”

‘Huge opportunity’

Jack Hamilton, marketing director of Mash Direct, said: “For Mash Direct social media is absolutely prime in getting our messages across to consumers … it’s a huge opportunity for us.” ​ It helped provide the transparency that consumers were increasingly looking for about where their food comes from, he added.

But, to be successful, companies needed to consider three key things, said Hamilton. Social media campaigns needed to be carefully planned to ensure messages were timely and “fresh”​;  they needed to be tailored to target audiences; and  they had to be responsive to customers’ calls, he added.

Like Clothier, he also issued a health warning: “Part of the problem is people still use social media as just another leg of the same marketing campaign and there is still too much push and not enough about pull.”

Mash Direct uses Twitter for day-to-day “constant engagement”​, while Facebook is used for getting specific messages across to consumers when they are not at work. Wyke Farms has successfully used Facebook during school drop off and collection times.

Speaking in the same debate, Paul Bradley, senior social media adviser with the National Farmers Union, said social media was “a way of garnering support”​ for its campaigns, in areas such as raising the profile of home-grown food and in TB control through things such as the badger cull. “The big thing for us is trying to influence people and especially consumers and the government,” ​he said.

Watch out later this week for video highlights of the debate, featuring the power of the tea-time tweet. 

Related topics: Dairy, Dairy-based ingredients

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