Lessons in Social Media: Food Trucks and the Toronto Street Food Project

Over the past few weeks, we’ve explored a number of issues in social media focusing on some of the most popular and available platforms, trying to understand the benefits of each. We’ve examined different social media tools, identifying their contributions to the field of public relations and discussed the merits of programs such as Twitter, Foursquare, and infographics. This week we’ll take a slightly different approach and instead of dissecting one particular platform, we’ll focus on how these technologies come together to build a comprehensive social media program using the Toronto Street Food Project/Toronto Food Trucks as our case study.

via Toronto Food Trucks

Street food and its history in Toronto (briefly…)
Before we begin, here’s a brief run down of the situation so far.

From the night markets in Asia to the stands and stalls across Europe, street food has had a long history in many parts of the world. These options have offered people access to a variety of different foods, often significantly fresher and more nutritious than that of fast food chains. However, due to laws and regulations, street food, with the exception of the hugely popular hot dog carts have not, traditionally been as readily available in North America.

Much of that has changed with the development of the food truck movement, which began primarily in Los Angeles but has migrated across North America including Toronto. The support for these trucks has been growing and with shows such as “Eat Street” on Food Network, more people are learning about the movmeent. However, in spite of the public support for food trucks and street food, there are still several by-laws that limit the potential of these trucks.

Now, the Toronto Street Food Project (TSFP), a collation of members from several organizations, in conjunction with Toronto Food Trucks, has started a movement to “free the food truck,” asking its supporters to petition city hall to change the by-laws regulating street food. Progress has been made and new trucks continue to appear on the streets of Toronto each month.

For a bit more context, let’s turn to our friend the infographic:

via Toronto Food Trucks

Toronto Street Food Project/Toronto Food Trucks and Social Media

Much of the food truck movement’s success has been achieved through its online social media campaign. In addition to a frequently maintained website, TSFP and Toronto Food Trucks has engaged with its users through platforms such as Twitter (announcing food truck locations, events, and giveaways), Instagram (to photograph and share pictures of their food truck experience), as well as Facebook. Additionally, many of the food trucks in the GTA and surrounding regions, extending to Hamilton and St. Catharines, are present on each of these platforms, following and tweeting to one another, liking posts on Facebook, and these activities have created a network for foodies and food truck enthusiasts. Although each of the trucks operate independently as its own business, the vendors have created a community, which increases the overall reach of their individual businesses as well the food truck movement as a whole.

Why it works

From a logistics standpoint, food trucks need social media. Without a fixed location, many trucks operate as “pop-ups,” setting up shop in different locations depending on the day or event and social media, especially Twitter, is a quick an effective way to communicate the truck’s location for the day. Moreover, since owning and operating food trucks is an expensive business (food supplies, truck maintenance, gas, permits, etc.), social media is a relatively inexpensive way of conducting its marketing and public relations initiatives.

More than just cost factors and speed/ease of communication, organizers at both TSFP and Toronto Food Trucks understand that their audiences are largely connected via the social web. As a result, the focus of their media relations campaign is centered on social media, using forums their audience already frequent.

Furthermore, the TSFP and Toronto Food Trucks know that those using social media are often active, or at least present on multiple forums. Users are sharing their location via Foursquare, which is linked to Twitter, and tweets are posted on Facebook feeds, which show photos taken on Instagram that can later be pinned on Pinterest, and honestly, the list can continue. Understanding this, both organization’s social media programs take place across multiple platforms, which allows them a greater opportunity to interact and communicate with audience members.

However, it’s not as easy as setting up accounts on all of these forums, sitting back, and watching the movement take off. Cultivating relationships, building engagement, and communication takes work and a lot of it, which is something both have done. The Toronto Food Trucks website and twitter account (@foodtrucksTO) is updated regularly to reflect the trucks’ and their locations, the blog is used to share new stories and developments happening within the North American food truck movement, and a photo gallery is maintained to showcase new photos that have been shared. Additionally, after a lunch service or special event, each of the trucks responds to tweets, reweeting visitor’s comments and photos.

And though there are many other factors to contribute to the food truck movment’s success so far, we’ll wrap-up with one last point. The content generated by both TSFP and Toronto Food Trucks is timely, relevant and most of all consistent with their overall tone. Different from sit-down restaurants, food trucks are much more laid-back and are intended to be fun, easy, and accessible, qualities and characteristics that are maintained throughout their communications.

I hope I’ve made a compelling argument so far and I’d love to know what you think.

One thought on “Lessons in Social Media: Food Trucks and the Toronto Street Food Project

  1. caroldunsmore says:

    I liked your post about food trucks. My husband travels a lot and one of his colleagues introduced him to the food truck app in Vancouver last week. He was hooked. Excellent example of matching a business need to social tools.

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