BELLEVUE, Wash.—Social media is changing the face of food culture by influencing how Americans learn to cook, select recipes, plan their meals, purchase their food and share their culinary secrets with others, according to results of a new study developed and conducted by The Hartman Group and Publicis Consultants USA, a food & nutrition marketing agency. The shift in culture is good news for food marketers that can utilize social media as a tool to build personal and lasting relationships with their customers.
According to the report, “Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture," as consumers use social media to discover, learn, and share information about food, they quickly become more active participants in food culture. In fact, almost 50% of consumers learn about food via social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and 40% learn about food via websites, apps or blogs.
"Consumers used to rely on mom and family traditions for meal planning, but now search online for what to cook, without ever tasting or smelling," said Laurie Demeritt, president and COO at The Hartman Group. "Digital food selection is less of a sensory experience and more of a visual and rational process: What's on the label? What's in the recipe? Show me the picture!"
The survey found the infiltration of social media into the food experience goes far beyond purchasing and preparing food; it now includes the meal experience. While eating or drinking at home, nearly one-third of Americans use social networking sites; among Millennials (18 to 32 years), the figure jumps to 47%.
"The 'table for one' rarely exists anymore, even among single people eating alone at home," added Demeriit. "If you are eating alone, chances are you are also texting friends who live miles away or posting food photos to a review site."
Results reveal it's not enough for food and grocery brands simply to be present in the virtual space or build up legions of followers. The payoff is a long-term and personal relationship that creates brand advocates and an emotional connection that drives influence. To achieve such an enriching relationship, communication must be relevant and have a distinct and authentic personality.
"The best social and digital campaigns reflect the audience's values, interests, concerns and aspirations," said Steve Bryant, president of Publicis Consultants USA, adding the approach is effective for both large and small brands.
He points to the success of Roman Meal, a small whole grain bread company on the agency's roster. With a minimal budget, the brand built a valuable social network using one clear brand voice, expert nutrition information, and real stories of personal struggles that a healthy lifestyle could help solve.
"We approached the brand's social media as two good friends having an intimate conversation over a meal, and consumers responded positively," he said.