Tips for Local Food #1 : Get Social – Using Social Media Engage With Customers

As part of our series on Top Tips for Local Food Distribution, we’re diving a little deeper into each of the 5 tips we gave.  This week is ‘Get Social’ – how you can use new media to engage deeper with customers, suppliers & your community.

Bucky Box helps you navigate the Social Media realms

You keep hearing that you should spend more time using social media for your business, but you’re pretty sure Facebook is a worldwide popularity contest, Twitter is a flurry of 140 character status updates, you can’t see how spending all day looking at pictures on Pinterest is going to help you get customers in the door, and the bills wont get paid by your blog…

 

So, lets be honest…

Why go social?

 

Some people may still need this question answered, and we completely understand why.  On the face of it, social media is noisy, time consuming and lacks clear value to small businesses.  However we want to convince you that the opportunities far outweigh the costs, so let us take 5 mins of your time to explain why.

 

Today, more than ever before, you have an unrivaled opportunity to engage in rich two-way conversations with a range of your stakeholders through a variety of communication tools.  So, what good could come of these conversations?

 

1. Storytelling

Use this opportunity to tell your story.  Tell people about more than just your product or service – tell them about why you set up this business, what you stand for, why you’re passionate about it.  Give your business a human face, be prepared to be a little vulnerable, and admit that maybe you don’t have all the solutions – sometimes in our openness we find great results.  Storytelling is the future of social media as we see it – so take the opportunity to take an active role in the crafting of your own story with words, pictures, video and other engaging media.

Image courtesy of flickr/cambodia4kidsorg

 

Storytelling is key to positive word of mouth (digital and er… mouth…), fundamental to how we remember things, and is rapidly becoming the medium through which customers expect to engage with business, so make your stories worth telling.  Telling your story is an important part of how you elevate your business from engaging in a cost-war ‘race to the bottom’ kind of capitalism, and can help you turn a simple product into a better experience for your customers.  The kicker is, that now, using a variety of new media, you can make your customers part of that story, and give them a voice.

 

2. Visibility

The old phrase ‘all PR is good PR’ came from the desperate desire for eyeballs & ears pointed toward your business. Today, you can get those eyeballs without having to dress a guy up in a chicken suit, write endless press releases, or run yet another promotion.  With the rise of social media, you have a direct channel to millions of people if you are willing to engage in genuine conversation, and/or if you’re able to create & share interesting content to get things started.

 

Image courtesy of flickr/rosauraochoaAs a small business, you can set up an online presence without paying a penny – whether it’s a Facebook Page, a Twitter Feed, or through blogging engines like Tumblr & WordPress, you can get set up in a matter of minutes.  It’s then time to mould a profile around Who you are, and Why you’re in business.  Go ahead – ‘like’ some other people, engage in some conversations, share some relevant stories, pictures and video, and slowly but surely your page will grow in followers too.  Did you know Facebook recently launched a Directory service to help people find businesses anywhere and everywhere?  If people are looking for you, it’s your job to help them find you!

 

3. Validation & Insight

With a community building up on your page (even if it’s still small), you have a group of people who you can interact with; often that’s really important in the early days of your local food business as it gives you the opportunity to get validation for ideas (before implementing them) through the likes of Polls, or insight into the reasoning behind your customers & potential customers’ buying decisions (through comments).

 

Take this opportunity to engage in conversations and let your customers co-create the future of your business with you.  Previous to this digital ‘social’ landscape, it was possible to talk one-to-one or one-to-many, but with these decentralised communication tools, you can engage in genuine many-to-many conversations.  Embrace it, and think about how you can use new media in more ways than simply storytelling – perhaps it could be a useful customer service tool, a way to identify new pricing models, a way to alert customers to their deliveries or a way to generate a new brand identity?

 

4. Real Time & Early Warning

The great thing about new media is that much of it happens in real-time, meaning you have instant answers, insights, and feedback.  This real time world can make your business more lubricated for decision making, more responsive to change, more adaptive to positive & negative feedback, and more willing to test & experiment.

 

That gives you a huge advantage over some of the alternative ways to do Food Distribution (naming no names…) as often there are monolithic processes & systems behind industrialised food chains.  Play on your nimbleness as an advantage – you can be flexible and responsive to change using social communication – a prized asset in unstable economic, climatic & societal times.  We’re predicting the rise & rise of local food over the coming 50 years.

New media can also be great early warning systems for when something isn’t right – it’s better to be the first to hear so you can make changes and retain customer loyalty, than suddenly lose a customer of 5 years because they don’t have easy communication channels, or think you don’t care.  You can use Facebook & Twitter as highly effective tools  to engage in day-to-day or semi-regular communication with customers to keep the conversation casual – that way they’re more likely to let you know when something is wrong, rather than walking away and you never knowing why.

 

Take the customer service initiatives that Air New Zealand have been winning awards for left, right & centre. Most of these are driven through their team which monitors the social media streams; they have embedded the team into their business so that they’re part of the service, and they use the social environment & conversations with customers to test new ideas and gauge interest, as well as drive awareness of promotions & offers.  They’re able to turn a negative customer experiences back into positive ones through their real-time service, as well as deploying ‘acts of kindness’ through the ‘Air New Zealand Fairy’.

 

5. Measurable

The data driven approach to online community building, sales & conversations is a valid one, as long as you don’t use the data in isolation.  Using the metrics related to engagement such as ‘Talking About This‘, you can get insights into what’s working and what’s not – it lets you spot trends more easily, but it wont make you better at creating communities and having conversations – that’s where you need to be paying attention & asking the right questions.

 

What should be in your Toolkit?

  • Facebook – work with the social giant that has been working to create a better place for people, businesses & community groups to hang out online. Work with the social graph to learn more about your customers, other stakeholders, and engage in conversations.  There’s some good run downs on Facebook Pages here and here.
  • Twitter – the thriving local food community on Twitter is ready and waiting to chat! There’s millions of people using twitter now, so use a mishmash of hashtags, geolocation & conversation to find local customers & other people who you can reach out to for help! More good guides here, here and here.
  • Online Advertising – Google does a good job of giving you visibility for a tiny daily budget, and now you can also reach out to use Facebook Advertising & Twitter Advertising too. The ability to target down to highly defined demographics make online advertising a great option for finding new customers as a small business.
  • Blog – we’d recommend using a blog to create regular, changing content which tells your story and gives customers regular updates which create value for them.  Check out these guides to blogging for small business.
  • Pinterest – last up is the ‘newcomer’ which is on the up – a social network based on aesthetic ‘pins’ – also known as pictures.  Whilst Pinterest is quietly driving 1000’s of people to websites around the world, the world is busy enjoying the visual revolution! Here’s a Pinterest guide to get you started, and a couple of people we think you might like; HISBE, Flavrbox & Food+Tech Connect.
  • Check out our ‘Hashtags for Local Food‘ blog, or start searching for more information about Social Media on twitter, there’s some great guides for Local Business use.
**UPDATE**
Local Food - plenty of opportunities to tell your story.
If you’re looking for a guide to get started with Social Media, then check out the Spredfast Resource – Pocket Guide to Social Media.
Mashable have also picked up on the trend of Farmers & local food distributors uptake of Social Web tools.

Sustainable Food Summit – Vision of a Future Food System

*This blog was republished in part on Food+Tech Connect as ‘How Technology will decentralise the global food system’, Fair Food Network and Sustaination’s “3rd Industrial Revolution”.

 

How do we create a food system which is sustainable in the face of growing population pressures, changing weather patterns, declining natural resources, and a sharp decline in soil health?

A summit to co-create the future of the food system in Australia, and indeed around the world

This is one of the questions we held, when we recently headed to the shores of Australia to attend the National Sustainable Food Summit in Sydney, to hang out with some of the visionaries who are engaged in the dialogue of how the future of Australia’s food system will play out.

 

The summit was re-convened after last year’s successful meeting which brought people from around the country to listen to key note speakers, and engage in workshop sessions to talk about & co-create the future.

 

Several of the attendees were live tweeting the event on the hashtag #FoodSummit & #SFS12, and a Storify was being built as the event progressed: you can check it out here.

 

Asides from the fascinating conversations, great connections & pretty tasty conference food, there was a fair few insights into where the food system would be moving over the course of the next 20 years or so, and it’s our recollection of these insights we want to try and capture for you:

  • The food system, much like other industries around the world, is one of the next major industries that will become decentralised thanks to the web, peer-to-peer trading, and as a response to 30 years of legacy which has served financial interest more than the people & planet it relies upon.
  • A flexible, resilient & sustainable food system is already emerging, and with software & other food tech as a catalyst, is going to emerge even more rapidly. It will form a meshed web reaching around the world, of localised food systems within a bigger global food system.
  • The food system of the future will be complex – made up of traditional agriculture, urban agriculture, small-scale farms, bio-domes, vertical growing spaces, hydroponics, backyard gardening, community gardening, and more.
  • Organic Farming can feed 10 billion people, and small-scale sustainable agriculture is the way it will happen. Several recent reports, including one from the UN Special Rapporteur have identified this, and there is a growing focus on ecological / biological farming methods.
  • We will have to shift from the 99% industrialized food system we currently have globally, as resource pressures (peak oil & the likes) will mean current techniques will continue to push the cost of food up.  The transition may not be easy for all concerned, those with vested interests in keeping the status quo are likely to resist, but they will be swept away if they do not change (see changes in Music Industry!).
  • Huge advancements can be made as we shift to a decentralized food system, especially in the area of food & resource waste, which accounts for the main reason for current artificially high prices.  In 2010 we produced enough food to feed c.12 billion people, we just wasted a large portion of it.
  • Remove the ‘squeeze’ caused by the Food Distribution ‘profit centre’, and we will ease the financial, environmental & social strain currently put on food production & consumption.
  • Local & Regional food economies will be rejuvenated with a new set of values based on more than profit, beginning with the foundations that People & Planet should be at the centre of the food system, with Money/Profit playing the role of social exchange lubricant rather than sole economic measurement.
  • The emergence of vege box schemes, CSA’s, co-ops, buying groups & food hubs are all proving the future path of the food system right now. Software is a major lever of change to catalyse these forms of enterprise.
  • More farmers will be needed and more small-scale distributors.
  • The future food system will have a much greater transparency & traceability from Farm to Fork, enabled by food tech.

There were of course many many more, but these are some of the strongest trends that we heard at the conference.

 

The early keynote by Jeremy Rifkin was one of the talks which set a lot of the context for the conference, and whilst it’s fairly lengthy – there’s some great insights into economic trends which are worth a watch.

Take a look at more of the notes, podcasts, videos & other Food Summit resources collated by the 3 Pillars Network.

 

The summit felt like a positive reinforcement for a project we’ve already committed to, a great learning experience to push the boundaries of our knowledge, and a great opportunity to share space with so many other who had a similar vision of a decentralised food system.  We’re really excited by some of the projects which are happening around Australia, and indeed around the world as we speak – one of the blogs which we follow regularly is Food+Tech Connect which showcases some of the most exciting Food Tech projects in the States (and a few like us, outside). Make sure you read the ‘Hacking The Food System’ articles.

 

We recently spoke at the Changemakers Convention in Christchurch, New Zealand, where people from around the country outlined their passions, visions & actions in their chosen area of interest.  We spoke about “Food Security & Resilience in an Uncertain Future”, which led us to deliver a ‘state of the nation’ of how our food system currently teeters, some examples of food system fragility (largely taken from our blog about disasters & resilience), and the bright future that is emerging with technology enabling new ways for our food system to thrive.

 

For now, it’s back to work on supporting our fantastic beta customers, and spreading the word to more local food distributors who might make use of our system – please feel free to share with your networks if you might know someone who would like to change the food system for the better!

Mapping a peer-to-peer food system of the future