The food truck industry has grown quite significantly as chefs and entrepreneurs look for new ways to reach customers without heavy capital investments. With television shows like Food Network’s Great Food Truck Race, and streamlined permitting processes in many cities, mobile food retailing has been popping up all over the San Francisco area where I live.
One of the the interesting things in common with the food trucks is that they are all using social media, especially Twitter and Facebook, to reach out and interact with customers, and there are three reasons why.
First, food trucks only need to send short information: Times and locations, and the menu. That is easily accomplished on Twitter and Facebook. Also the real time nature encourages the operator to interact with customers including asking for new locations to stop at, vote on new food items, as well as announcing that they are delayed by traffic.
Secondly, the operators are using mobile devices to broadcast while on the move and updating social media is much easier than a web pages.
Thirdly, the fans of these trucks uses the real time nature of the information to determine their plans. I have been in line for these trucks and many customers tells me they know the truck location in advance based on Twitter or facebook update rather than looking at the schedule on web sites.
So what lessons can other retailers learn from the food trucks and social media?
1. Today’s consumers are willing to looking for new experiences and are not bound by traditional retail formats. Mobile and popup stores provide an innovative experience and allow experimentation with limited quantity items to get feedback. When I was in New York city after NRF I saw a specialty T-Shirt maker selling shirts off a truck and pointing customers to their online presence and other distribution points.
2. Social media is both global and local. These food trucks are local businesses and draw local customer base with local information, yet gain global awareness through Twitter and Facebook. Retailers can use single social media identity for global branding but employ techniques like #tags for local programs and content.
3. Social media allow retailers to read signals from customers. Consumers today are willing to engage with retail operators if they feel the content is relevant to them personally and they feel they can make an impact to a decision. Just like food truck operators get menu items from their customers, retailers can get ideas and feedack for areas such as new product introduction through social media.
Any other thoughts and ideas?
p.s. if you are interested in knowing what type of foods are available are available on food trucks in the Bay Area, check out what food trucks ciscoretail is following on Twitter