How to get in the social media groove

What should you be doing with social media? Should a small business be investing in its use? If so, how?

Beyond the anecdotal postings on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn, American businesses are investing untold sums of money in social media in the hope of establishing stronger relationships with colleagues and customers. Companies in all industries believe social media (SM) will be an important marketing and communications tool.

How to go about it has proven a challenge.

This article will provide insights on what companies are doing with SM, including examples of mistakes they have made.

One truism about SM is that a business of any size will find it crucial to have a plan in place before investing in SM. SM has a lot of potential as a communications tool, but it requires an investment. A vending or refreshment services operator should approach this tool similarly to adding a new software system or expanding into a new service.

SM has relevance in more than one area; 1) as a marketing tool, 2) as a customer service tool, and 3) as a networking tool for communicating with others in the industry. The main reason businesses are moving to SM is for marketing. However, the fact that there is more than one use for SM has complicated its use in the minds of many.

Social media moves forward

According to EConsultancy, a digital marketing firm, 64 percent of businesses now see SM as a major part of their programs and consider themselves past the “experimental phase.” A large percentage of these businesses will actually hire someone just to manage the social aspects of each campaign.

Forty one percent of those surveyed for the same study said they still don’t have definitive ROI for their social media programs.

From a marketing standpoint, SM is mainly a public relations tool as opposed to a lead generation tool. Many SM experts claim it is the most cost effective public relations tool ever.

One reason for this is that SM is a two-way medium; recipients can respond to what has been posted with posts of their own. Because of this, SM allows a company to achieve a higher level of credibility than if the communication were coming in only one direction.

A handful of vending and coffee service companies have launched impressive SM campaigns.

A random sampling of SM sites indicates many vending and refreshment service providers have dabbled in SM, meaning they have posted Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages, but they have not added new content continuously. SM experts unanimously agree that SM sites need to be refreshed frequently for visitors to return to the site. Without ongoing activity, SM has little value.

Among those companies that have developed strong SM initiatives, OCS operators have done so more than vending operators. This is likely due to the fact that OCS operators are more active with ecommerce than vending operators. SM activity helps drive traffic to ecommerce Websites.

OCS operators ahead of vending

Chris Coffee Service in Albany, N.Y. has been active in ecommerce for several years. Nearly 40 percent of the company’s $11 million in annual revenue comes from ecommerce, noted Chris Nachtrieb, president.

Nachtrieb said his Facebook page gets the word out about the company, which ships product internationally. The Facebook postings typically are about things the company is doing, such as exhibiting at business trade shows and supporting charity events.

There is no one employee assigned to manage the Facebook page at Chris Coffee Service. Instead, various employees post items of interest, usually using their smart phones. “You have to be diligent about putting something up,” Nachtrieb said.

“What is useful is people learn about new products and things I’m doing,” he added.

Nachtrieb once advertised a product for sale on Facebook. He wasn’t able to quantify the number of sales related to the Facebook ad.

Nachtrieb, like many businesses working with SM, has a hard time quantifying the benefit it provides. Simply monitoring the number of visitors and “likes” is not a good indication of the quality of these visitors from a business’s standpoint.

Community Coffee Co., based in Baton Rouge, La., also has a long established ecommerce initiative and has found SM helpful. “Social media is a powerful thing,” said Blair Broussard, the company’s social media and public relations manager.

The company’s Facebook page includes information about coffee, about customers and about employees. The page demonstrates the fact that people like to talk about coffee.

Broussard spends about half of her work day posting on the Facebook page, monitoring activity and researching new ways to speak to customers through this outlet. The company holds sweepstakes, has interactive “ecards” and posts events on the page.

Community Coffee Co. has a more commercial Facebook page than most companies. The company advertises special offers on its Facebook page. Customers are directed to the company’s main Website to make an online purchase.

Foodservice finds a niche

Large contract foodservice operators have also been more active with SM than vending operators. Many of the large foodservice operators have the resources to dedicate to new marketing initiatives. In addition, the application is fairly easy to visualize for onsite foodservice since they usually offer a changing menu to a largely captive audience. These service providers typically use SM to update customers on menus and special offers and solicit feedback.

Foodservice companies not only advertise specials; they post pictures of items they haven’t yet decided to offer as a way to pique interest, inform customers about sustainability efforts, and educate customers about nutritional and sustainability programs.

Compass Group in 2009 launched its “Flexitarian” campaign offering healthier and vegetarian meal options, partnering with manufacturers to support meatless meals in foodservice accounts. The site has drawn thousands of visitors.

The Flexitarian Facebook page has attracted pages of recipes and photos from customers.

Compass Group also maintains a blog called “Compass 360” which offers information about diet, food, and personal perspectives from corporate nutritionists. There’s also a Compass Twitter page, which announces company events and news and invites user to comment.

An aggressive vending effort

CNC Vending in Houston, Texas, founded in 2008 by Chuck Olson, has launched one of the most aggressive SM vending campaigns. Last year, Olson placed stickers on his machines inviting customers to visit them on Facebook, Twitter and the company blog. He estimates 10 percent of his customers have become social media “friends.” “Just using that word has been changing our relationship with our customer,” he said.

The company placed signs on all machines offering a free token to win prizes. Winners were announced on Facebook and Twitter. A separate campaign offers even more prize money for CNC Markets, the company’s branded self checkout markets.

In 2011, Olson made use of the National Automatic Merchandising Association’s Vend.Love.Win campaign and invited customers to take pictures of vending machines and products, write humorous captions and submit them for monthly awards through the Vend.Love.Win campaign.

The contests and interactive tools have been popular at colleges, but also at hospitals, airports and corporate campuses, Olson said.

Olson said SM allows his company to develop more intimate relationships with customers. “Usually, we only get phone calls when it’s negative,” he said. “With a social network, we’re finding people respond to us in a very positive way.”

Olson recognizes the caution that many of his vending operator colleagues raise about social media; it can invite complaints.

He noted he spends about half an hour in the morning and another half hour in the evening attending to social media postings. “You must be prepared to answer your constituency when they write on your ‘wall,’” he noted.

Atlas Food Services Inc., a vending, foodservice and coffee service operation based in Greenville, S.C., recently launched Facebook and Twitter pages. Elizabeth Warren, customer service coordinator, said she tries to post something weekly to keep people visiting the sites. Many of the postings include news about vending technology.

Warren said the company became interested in SM based on the amount of general business interest in it.

Sanese has multiple SM pages

Sanese Services Inc., based in Columbus, Ohio, has separate SM pages for its OCS, vending and catering divisions, noted Jennifer Galloway, marketing director. She said the OCS and catering Facebook pages are more active than the vending Facebook page since there is a greater perceived benefit to OCS and catering. “OCS and catering allow a lot more (social media) options,” she said. “It’s a different audience.”

Galloway said the company has done less with SM on the vending side since it is more concerned about vending competitors finding out what it is doing through SM.

Some of the big consumer product manufacturers that serve the vending industry have invested heavily in SM marketing.

In 2010, PepsiCo Inc. invested close to 50 percent of its U.S. branding budget in SM with the intention of building deeper relationships with customers. Using Facebook, Twitter, live Ustream video and an iPhone application, the “Pepsi Refresh” project urged consumers to suggest social causes that would “refresh the world.” Consumers could then vote for their favorite causes and Pepsi would donate millions to these and use SM to promote the impact that its generosity had on these causes.

The response was spectacular: 80 million votes registered; 60,000 followers on Twitter; 4 million “likes” on Facebook. Nonetheless, PepsiCo lost about 5 percent of its U.S. market share and also lost its number two spot to Diet Coke.

Marketing observers noted the effort focused too much on a movement as opposed to products.

PepsiCo hasn’t been the only company to learn a tough lesson. Last year, Timothy’s Coffee offered four free 24-pack boxes of single-serve K-Cups via Facebook. The company was not prepared to meet the response, and supply was depleted in three days, forcing the company to apologize and offer a coupon or a free 12-pack box.

Competition or support?

In an article last month about mobile marketing, Automatic Merchandiser noted that many vending operators view product supplier marketing over the Internet as competition more than support.

At the same time, vending operators can use product manufacturer initiatives in their own Internet marketing efforts.

Peet’s Coffee & Tea offers a chance to win a trip to a coffee estate in Brazil on its Facebook page.

Hershey Co. has Facebook pages for many of its brands and Hershey’s Kitchens, a recipe page.

The company offers polls, behind-the-scenes videos of making commercials, photos, “word clouds,” and posts from other social media pages.

In 2011, Coca-Cola offered its “Twist Text Win” promotion. Besides providing instant-win prizes, consumers also get points for its “My Coke Rewards” loyalty program that is available online and via mobile.

By doing so, Coca-Cola keeps the consumer experience going for a longer period of time, beyond the sweepstakes. Instead, consumers are challenged to gather points on “My Coke Rewards” and redeem them for physical rewards, digital rewards and to enter sweepstakes. Consumers text the code under the cap to 2563 (COKE) to collect points. Consumers can manage their loyalty accounts online.

This past fall, Seattle’s Best Coffee offered free coffee on Black Friday on its Facebook page. Jenny McCabe, a company spokesperson, told Automatic Merchandiser the promotion brought an additional 70,000 Facebook fans with no other advertising, resulting in total 330,000 Facebook fans. The goal was to build brand awareness.

Vending operators who sell Seattle’s Best Coffee could have advertised the offer and in the process directed customers to their own offers.

“The vend channel will benefit from the iconic Mars brands’ 360-degree marketing campaigns,” said Lauren Nodzak, spokesperson for Mars Chocolate North America. “We see social marketing as an opportunity to facilitate connections between our brands and consumers. Social media is a two-way medium, and the consumer is our best source of information and inspiration for products. Through this instantaneous relationship, we can monitor and respond to consumer feedback and attitudes.”

During the ad:tech digital marketing event in New York City last November, a Coca-Cola executive noted that SM gives a marketer a tool to exchange content with consumers.

SM experts agree that based on experience, SM creates a unique way for marketers to communicate with customers.


For more information, contact:
Coca-Cola Co., 800-438-2653,
EConsultancy, 212-331-1106,
Hershey Co., 800-468-1714,
Mars Chocolate North America,
MKP Creative, 503-419-7677,
Seattle’s Best Coffee, 800-611-7793,