So you want to start a food truck? Cool, I’ll be first in line!
But only if I know where you are, when you’re there, and what you’re serving.
This meals-on-wheels concept is all the rage in the hip culinary scene lately, and for good reason. Austin, the home of the food truck, used to be my home, as well, and I can assure you that anything can be done, and done well, on wheels. The food truck sushi I used to grab on the way home from grad school was some of the best I ever had, despite everyone’s warnings about how “fresh the fish could be”. I’m not sure what made this fish any different in their minds from the rest of the fish flown in from countries halfway across the world, but it didn’t bother me. I still dream about their seaweed salad.
A recent conversation with a new food trucker who “gets it” inspired me to write about all those who.. don’t get it.
Food trucks are unique in that they’re dynamic, living creatures that change and move, just like the humans they feed. They don’t have “two uptown locations”, serving a fixed, printed menu everyday; they’re not static establishments.
So why should their marketing reflect that of the static restaurant?
The social media for a food truck is actually fairly straightforward, with very little nitty-gritty marketing work necessary in the day-to-day. The main purpose here is simple:
Connect with your people. Spread the word. Share the love.*
Here’s how to get your buzz going, before your wheels even start spinning.
1. Before you start
Make sure you have a strong concept of
- your brand,
- your cuisine,
- your level of activity (Are you showing up at capitol square everyday? Breakfast and lunch? Just lunch at the farmer’s market on Saturdays?), and
- your target clientele (Going for a hip crowd? A business take-back-to-the-office crowd? Only downtowners? Will you be showing up at big soccer tournaments–soccer moms and dads?)
Write these things down–the mere act of writing and seeing the answers will often help spark inspiration for strategizing.
2. Setup a post bank
Analyze how far you are from your start date. If you’re just beginning and don’t yet even have a start date or a set of wheels, consider this. If you’re counting down to the big launch, consider this.
Based on this analysis, generate at least 15 – 20 unique updates that make sense around your brand, your personality, and your product. If you’re just beginning and don’t have a start date, consider linking to your own recipe blog. Ask people what they’re eating. Ask people where they’re eating. Your thoughts about how collard greens have a bad rap but are really quite sexy. Interesting facts about food trucks, your city’s culinary culture or history, or about food in general.
Having this net will allow you to schedule out tweets and posts, so you don’t have to constantly worry about missing a day or coming up with something terribly interesting on the spot.
While you may have this prewritten list, you must interact daily for social media to make sense for your food truck.
3. Prepare to set up your account.
Make sure you’ve got several different length descriptions of your truck and your manifesto. If you’re not yet on the road, make sure to write “COMING SOON! New Orleans’s coolest snocone…”, so people don’t get confused and start trying to track you down when you don’t yet exist.
Make sure you already have your graphics up and ready to go, so you can carry over your brand seamlessly among the different platforms. If you don’t have a finalized visual brand, get there. If this isn’t feasible just yet, but you want to get started, consider something attractive yet interesting–perhaps a food truck with the name and logo blurred out with “Coming soon….” on top.
Make sure you have a custom Twitter cover page, the image that goes behind your profile picture, name, and description. Make sure you have a Facebook cover imagine.
You want to hit the ground running. You want people to immediately look at your profile and think, “Oh, they’ve got their stuff together. They must be killer.”
4. Set up your account.
If you’ve done your homework properly, you have a domain name that’s memorable, catchy, easy-to-spell, and available, so you didn’t have to buy a .biz or .me name or add “restaurant” to the end of your name, Ninja Party Food Truck, find us at ninjapartyfoodtruckrestaurant.me.
Mimic the straightforward, no-nonsense approach to the name in your account names. Do your very, very best to keep the username the same among all platforms used. This means avoid creating a Twitter handle @ninjapartyfoodtruck, when your FourSquare name is @ninjapartyFT.
5. Set up your accounts
Set up the accounts you’ve chosen. In this specific instance, I recommend Twitter, of course, Facebook, of course, Instagram, and Pinterest and/or FourSquare. If you choose only three, pick Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram. If you have enough time and energy for a fourth, pick FourSquare.
FourSquare is great, because it’s completely geolocation-based, and that’s your market! You want people to be able to find you. You want people to “check-in” where you are and spread the word to their friends. Also, FourSquare doesn’t require the amount of day-to-day hard work that you’ll want to put into Twitter and Facebook, making it an easy add-on.
Instagram is a great choice also, because, if people can’t eat your food, they at least want to look at it. Additionally, users often check-in on Instagram, mimicking the FourSquare virality you want. Once you’re up and running, encourage users to share photos of their food on Instagram with a certain hashtag, like #ninjapartyfoodtruck. Check your hashtag’s stream of posts daily and share their photos on your Twitter and Facebook account. This interaction will develop your relationship with them in a real way very quickly.
Pinterest is a good choice if you have the resources, because your images and content can spread virally and visually. Pin some of your recipes (none of the top-secret stuff, of course), pin some awesome pictures of your grub, pin some cool pictures of the truck, whatever. Pinterest doesn’t require constant tending, necessarily, but maintaing a really great food account can boost your reputation in your city. Pinterest is a great way to generate buzz before your truck is ready to go, too–pin cool recipes or images that relate to your manifesto, culinary style, etc.
6. Start growing your networks
Your target market is pretty broad here: people near you that need to eat. Twitter has great tools for finding these people–try searching near:New Orleans and following the users it brings back. Don’t follow so many people that you look like a spambot, but follow enough to get the conversation party going.
Spread the word on your own Facebook profile that you’d like your friends to “like” your food truck’s page!
Like and follow other businesses or Facebook fan pages that are relevant to your truck.
Put badges on your website and in your emails, linking people directly to your Twitter page, Facebook page, etc.
7. Make it work
Now that you’ve got brilliantly set-up profiles and decent networks, it’s time to make social media social media. Get in on the conversation. Interact.
On Twitter, this is easy! Listen to what people are talking about, and, in the voice of your food truck, start talking. Retweet interesting and relevant stuff–or just really, really interesting stuff. Relevance can mean happenings in the city, events in your target area, cool recipe posts, swanky food photos from David Leibowitz’s account.
Make sure you’re actually jumping in to conversation, as well. This means finding the relevance of a tweet to you in some way and responding with a genuine question or comment. This is not an excuse to talk about yourself, but your followers will get confused if you start having in-depth conversations about MMA Fighting when you’re a waffle food truck. Make sure the conversation means something in some way to your business, target customers, or area.
On Facebook, you can’t exactly post on individuals’ walls, but you can comment on the posts of people and pages you’re following. Get involved with local events and organizations, especially key businesses around your target area. For instance, if you plan on showing up downtown by the Downtown U Bank everyday, who do you think you might like to engage with?
You guessed it. Downtown U Bank.
Beyond this, you want to be viewed as a real, interesting network, rather than just an advertising machine. Contribute actual content and opinions to conversations, think of people when you come across and blog post and link them, ask questions!
The more you interact, the larger your network will grow. The larger your network grows, the greater the buzz. The greater the buzz, the longer the line to your truck. The longer the line to your truck, the more money in your pocket. The more money in your pocket, well… I’ll leave that to you to dream about.
8. Keep it up
Now that you’ve got your gig set-up, keep it up. Many food trucks have found that they can leverage their networks enormously by posting their location and specials to their devoted followers. But remember, followers will only be devoted if you put the time and real effort into your campaigns.
Post promotions, post requests (Show me your @ninjapartyfoodtruck lunch!), share your followers’ tweets and posts, and let your general sense of a social human being guide your interaction.
*If that starts popping up on tie-dyed t-shirts in Florida resort towns, I’m demanding a royalty.