|Posted by Lilly on October 14, 2015 at 1:55 PM|
I've talked with a number of Italian Ice and mobile food vendors in my past few years in business, and one thing is clear... competition in all categories of street food is growing. Gone are the days of being the only ice slinger in town. If you currently are alone in your neck of the woods, keep looking back. Your competitors will be there soon. So what can you do to give your Italian Ice business a boost? Harness the power of social media! In particular, get yourself using Facebook.
Online presence is a must these days, and a website is a great thing to have. By all means, if you don't have one, consider changing that. But the reason Facebook rules is that its features are more interactive than a static website. It can be more engaging for owners and customers alike. With a website, you can list your flavors. But with Facebook you can find out which of those flavors are customer favorites. With a website you can post your locations. With Facebook, customers can tell you where they want you. With a website, customers can get to know about your business, but with Facebook, they get to be a part of your business. And that's where the money is, in engagement, participation and conversation... also known as "buzz".
One-on-one online interaction with your business is a wonderful and coveted thing. And the way to build that is by growing your audience... much like a video game. In fact, video games, like Restaurant Story and Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean, are great practice for the small business world. Essentially the goal of these games is to make lots of friends (customers) who gift you things (food and weapons, respectively) and collect as many coins as possible while growing the size of your restaurant or pirate ship. In the case of Facebook, those gifts come in the form of Likes. The more Likes you garner, the more visible your business becomes. The more visible your business becomes, the faster your business grows.
Many Italian Ice business owners have created Facebook pages, but then have left their pages to quietly and hopefully collect visitors, or worse, are left to be a one-dimensional info page. I was very guilty of having done that in the past. Yes, it's hard to work an online page when you're out in the real world scooping ice. But if that's also how you've operated, expect the Likes to increase at a snail's pace. Instead, here's how to make Facebook work.
Post Every One of your Events
At the beginning of the season, and as I go along, I now post each event I book, using Facebook's Events tab. These can be posted months in advance, and they should be! I want a nice long list of events for my customers to anticipate, as well as to see that I'm a very busy, in-demand vendor. Whenever possible, I use Google images to find a poster or banner of the event I'm listing, and I upload that poster to the Facebook event, so that there are lots of fantastic, eye-catching pictures! Facebook is incredibly visual. People want only the words they need along wtih a photo or image!
Now, when visitors arrive at my Facebook page, they will find a great little resource of local upcoming events, and will also know to look for my ice booth. This is a free service I provide my Facebook friends and customers, which increases my company's value to them.
Additionally, when I post this list, new companies, fundraising organizations or individuals researching my business can see my list of other companies or events that are using my services. This year, Whole Foods decided to hire my business after finding me on Facebook and seeing my list of great, legitimate events, many of which were high profile gigs around our town. The list creates a kind of instant trustability. Of course, I then immediately posted on Facebook that I had booked a gig with Whole Foods!
(example facebook business page)
Link Official Event Facebook Page to My Own Events Page
In addition to posting events on my Facebook page, I look to see if those events or organizations have Facebook pages of their own, by using the search tab on Facebook. If so, I then "Like" their page. By doing so, my company gets listed on their Facebook page! This way, I get a little free publicity and exposure to their Facebook audience. It also boosts their Like numbers, which is a plus for them, while showing up as a link on my own Facebook site, so they get a little free publicity too. That's right, one Like shows up on two pages. Bonus!
Send Out Reminders Before an Event
One or two days before each event, I send out a little reminder tickle to my Facebook "Likers" using the Update feature, reminding them of the great upcoming event, giving a mini-weather report, and sharing some important information (parking, ticket info, etc.) or telling them of new flavors I'm bringing. I try to think of something interesting to post to get them to attend and also to come buy ice from me, keeping it light and friendly!
Send out Thanks and News After the Event
The day after an event, I post photos that I took, and tell everyone what a great time I had there, sharing fun stories or cute moments. I also thank the event coordinators publicly from my Facebook page, including a link to their website. This drives traffic from my page to their website, and is appreciated by them.
While I'm at an event, I often socialize with other food vendors. I get names and business cards. There are times, too, when I like a vendor's food, that I'll reciprocate free ice for whatever food they are selling. It's a great bartering system that rocks when I'm starving at an event! But here's my secret weapon - the next day, I locate that business's Facebook page. If appropriate, I leave a great review of their food, using of course my business page (not my personal Facebook page). I also leave a comment that I enjoyed meeting them and thank them for their delicious food. This is always true and obviously helps them! And before leaving, I "Like" their page for the same reasons of boosting numbers and publicity. It's a vendors-helping-vendors practice that bolsters everyone.
Aside from comraderie, collecting friends who are mobile food vendors allows me to see and get notifications about events they are attending, many of which I don't know about. This way, I learn of gigs I may be able to join in on. I have found so many markets and food events that I otherwise would not have known were occuring in my county! Consider this a fun scavenger hunt. Of course, I really do enjoy the folks I meet, but there's no harm in socializing and marketing at the same time. Hey, it's the way of the street vendor!
(facebook win prizes banner)
Finally, one of the best ways to use your interactive Facebook page is to run promotions! For example, you could get customers to post photos for you on your site by running a promo of some kind, thereby growing your exciting images. This year I encouraged customers to post photos of their blue tongues after buying Blue Raspberry, which entered them into the "Blue Tongue Group" and also got them $1 off their cup. Next year, or when my Facebook audience is large enough, I plan to give away one-gallon tubs of Italian ice for the lucky winner of a monthly photo sweepstakes. They buy ice, take a photo with their ice, send me the photo or post it to my Facebook page and they're entered to win. I also currently run a promo using the free tub of Italian ice to any event referrals that turn into a paying gig. When I make my T-shirts next year, I plan to give some away in exchange for videos of customers enjoying my ice at an event! All this to grow my Facebook page, which will grow my business, which will grow my Facebook page...
Hang a LIKE US ON FACEBOOK Flyer at Your Booth
Get creative on ways to engage your Likers and have them posting on your page for you, as well as creating that buzz for your business. To get the ball rolling, create a LIKE US ON FACEBOOK flyer for your cart or booth. And if the back of your business cards are blank, change that too! Consider adding LIKE US ON FACEBOOK on the back. For only a little more cost, you can increase your Facebook audience. Try this... rather than reprint a new set of business cards, buy a custom stamp and simply stamp the back of your business cards.
(example back of business card)
Add a LIKE US ON FACEBOOK Link on Your Website
Lastly, make sure you add a way for customers visiting your website to find and Like your Facebook page! If they like what they see on your website, they will often click on the Like button immediately. Leave no stone unturned.
There are many ways to make it work for you. Tell us... what's worked for you to create your business buzz? We'd love to hear about it!