If you search Linked In, a social networking Website designed to bring together business professionals, you’ll run across a number of vending operators, including Tim Russell, vice president of sales, Canteen Service of Steel Valley in Youngstown, Ohio.
Linked In allows people to create a profile and invite other professionals to be “linked” to them, leveraging who you know and who they know to find business, close deals, hire employees, etc. Tim Russell’s page indicates he’s seeking potential business.
“l am looking for contacts in local businesses who need vending and office refreshment services,” it says. His past employment, education and link to the company’s Website also appear, making it easy for anyone searching for him to find out about him. With a well formed profile and many professional connections, Linked In can be a powerful business tool, because it’s heavily used, just like many social networking Websites.
COMPANIES NOTE SOCIAL NETWORKING BENEFITS
The popularity of social networking is growing at such a high rate that more and more companies are starting to take notice. Inc. magazine reported a recent study from the Center for
Marketing Research at the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth concerning social media usage among Inc. 500 companies. Private companies are the heaviest users of social media and its adoption has grown since the original study in 2007.
A reported 91 percent of companies surveyed in 2009 were using at least one social media tool. And of the companies without any social networking, many plan to add them in the future. The study indicates 44 percent of companies are planning a blog and 36 percent will use online video.
The study also revealed many companies using social networking to reach suppliers, not just consumers. Twitter, another social networking site, was cited as most important for communication by 26 percent of those surveyed.
AN OPERATOR TESTS SOCIAL NETWORKING
Paresh Patel, founder and president of Courtesy Vending in Portland, Ore. maintains a blog, a series of short journal-like entries, dedicated to healthy vending. But he knows he needs a couple of postings a week to really be successful. “In theory, my blog is a great idea, but in practice, I haven’t been able to keep up with it,” said Patel.
Patel started the blog after getting inquiries via his Website and phone about healthy vending. “Somewhere along the line, we became a recognized source for information on healthy vending,” said Patel.
It’s no accident, since Patel publicly supported healthy vending programs in schools. The blog was a place he could share the information he had about the subject, maintain his company’s health conscious image, and draw traffic to his Website.
While the need for information about healthy vending makes Patel feel the blog is worthwhile, he’s not sure social media has a great deal of business value. “We live in a society with information overload…simply having more is not necessarily better,” said Patel. He feels there is too much information for people to sift through on social networking sites, making the return on investment of time and money limited, at least to the vending and OCS operator.
“Success in the social media arena is built around personal connection with customers,” said Susie Weintraub, vice president, strategic marketing and communications, Compass Group North America. Because of this, Compass Group decided to lead its social media initiative with a campaign that would resonate with customers.
In December of 2009, Weintraub’s team developed a Facebook page focusing on its new “Flexitarian” campaign. The campaign calls on people to eat one less meal of meat a week. “It’s not a hard-line stance,” said Weintraub, “…but a choice for those looking for healthier or vegetarian meal options.” Compass Group is partnering with manufacturers to support meatless meals in foodservice accounts.