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SXSWi Panel Recap: Food Trucks Share Social Media Tips

Food trucks can social media for marketing and relationship building.

By Melanie Haupt, 8:42AM, Mon. Mar. 12, 2012

OPEN IMAGE GALLERY

James DiSabatino talks with an audience member, post-panel.
James DiSabatino talks with an audience member, post-panel. James DiSabatino talks with an audience member, post-panel.
James DiSabatino talks with an audience member, post-panel.
photo by Melanie Haupt

Moderated by Bob Madden, GM and Senior VP for Digital Food Category at Scripps Networks Interactive, this panel started off with an introductory clip of the Food Network’s competitive reality show, The Great Food Truck Race, in which the three panelists competed last year.

The panelists/former contestants included the pugnacious and wise James DiSabatino, of Roxy’s Grilled Cheese from Boston; the plucky Stephanie Morgan, proprietress of the Seabirds vegan food truck in Orange County, CA; and Daniel Shemtob, the hipster visionary behind the Lime Truck, also of Orange County.

After playing the clip, Madden polled the audience, asking who present loved food trucks, were interested in social media, were interested in starting a food truck, and who was interested in startups. In many ways, he argued, food trucks are startup businesses that rely very heavily on social media, which makes them a particularly interesting case.

Turning to the panelists, Madden asked, “Why is social media such an important part of the food truck business?”

Shemtob: For us, the basis of social media, generally, is to tell people where we’re located. I have 3-4 trucks in consistent locations, but they’re spread out. Theoretically people can see our schedule online, but they really use the social for locations.
Morgan: I like to post pictures. People interact more with your posts when you post pictures of the veggies, the farms where we get them, the menu, and the crew.
DiSabatino: We set up social media as an experiment to document the process of starting a food truck, and all the trials and tribulations. I use it for transparency. I want to use pictures of ingredients and sourcing the food. We don’t need to use it the way Daniel and Stephanie use it, we use it to show the inside of our business so we can gain people’s trust.

From there, the panelists discussed how other social media platforms play into their businesses’ profiles. Shemtob explained that while Yelp helps drive potential catering clients to the Lime Truck, on Twitter he doesn’t have to kowtow to angry customers and can be more edgy in his responses to them. Morgan uses Twitter to add some personality to her business and posts a lot of photographs to the Seabirds Facebook page. “You don’t have to do Pinterest and Foursquare and all of those platforms,” she said. “You just have to do a few very well.”

“Social media is about engaging people and having a two-way conversation,” said DiSabatino, whose ultimate goal in his use of social media is complete transparency for his customers. “Any social media avenue you take is another opportunity to create that dialogue.”

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