It's undeniable that social networking has changed the landscape of food. How we eat, view and hear about food has been dramatically altered thanks to websites like Yelp, Twitter and Facebook. Only a few years ago, the process of marketing and discovering new foods and restaurants was reliant on a few magazines, infrequent newspaper reviews, the random website or plain old word of mouth.
What makes social media so intriguing is the even playing field it provides. It's an equal opportunity platform of marketing for everyone, from the giant corporation to the small start-up. Social media and its relationship with the food industry is hardly a new phenomenon, but its affect has recently impacted our local food scene.
If ever there was a poster child for a social media success story in the food industry, it would be Dallas-based Red Mango. Owner Dan Kim was recently invited to speak at this month's New York Times small business summit. The invitation was undoubtedly extended because of his savvy social media marketing campaigns that have ratcheted up to 300,000 Facebook fans and 120 nationwide branches of his yogurt shop.
When Kim first started his business in 2007, social media seemed like common sense. It was a cost-effective way to connect with the market, and it allowed the company to, as Kim put it, "develop a deeper understanding of our customers."
Kim attributes much of the company's growth to the instant access he has to his customers. Having the direct line to fans also gives the company real-time feel for the market's pulse and desires. When asked if he saw the capacities of social media hitting a wall down the road, he admits that traditional marketing will probably be in Red Mango's future, but not anytime soon. "Social networks will continue to play an increasingly important role in defining a consumer's relationship with brands. I do not believe it will hit a wall. Rather, many more 'traditional' walls will be broken with the continued proliferation of social networks, mobile handsets and the number of consumers who will embrace both."
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At this point, social media may be a luxury for the larger company, but for the smallest of businesses, it's a means to survival. Dallas' recent food truck mini-boom is at least a peripheral result to social media. This symbiotic relationship isn't lost on Andy Park, co-owner of ssahm BBQ. The Korean barbecue truck is Dallas' newest addition to the food truck scene and despite all the positive feedback they've been receiving from both bloggers and diners, it was a concept that almost never was. The Southern California transplant bluntly admits that if it wasn't for social media, he might never had pursued his taco entrepreneurial aspirations. "[Social media] has helped us tremendously. I don't think that we could have done this concept without social media. We're in constant real time communication with our customers, and 10 years ago, we couldn't have done that."
While social media benefits those companies astute enough to take advantage of it, the explosion of its popularity is at a cost, namely when it comes to the traditional media. There are several questions that naturally arise. Will there be a point when sites like Yelp render the food critic review obsolete? How do news outlets manage to keep up with the thousands of speedy fingers "checking in" to new restaurants and "tweeting" out food announcements?
In the foreseeable future, those in the food business dependent upon social media for survival and profit are continuing to bank on it. Judging from the millions of "likes" and "followers" out there, the throngs are only growing, and there is no evidence of a dwindling in voracious mouths and curious appetites to feed.