Social Media Redefining Our Relationship with Food

How Americans learn to cook, select recipes, plan their meals, purchase their food and share their culinary secrets with others has dramatically changed.

That’s according to a new study, Clicks & Cravings: The Impact of Social Technology on Food Culture, which finds social/digital media is replacing Mom as the go-to culinary source of knowledge for many people.

The study was jointly developed and conducted by consumer research firm The Hartman Group and Publicis Consultants USA, a food and nutrition marketing agency. Study results show almost half of consumers learn about food via social networking sites, such as Twitter and Facebook, and 40 percent 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, Hartman president and COO. “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!”

In the past, whereas consumers listened to the opinions of a few trusted resources — Mom and other family members — in deciding what to buy, cook or eat, modern consumers “crowdsource” the opinions of many before deciding what to buy.

What’s more, the infiltration of social media into the food experience goes far beyond purchasing and preparing food; it now includes the meal experience as well. While eating or drinking at home, nearly one-third of Americans use social networking sites. Among millennials (age 18-32), this figure jumps to 47 percent.

“The ‘table for one’ rarely exists anymore, even among single people eating alone at home,” Demeritt said. “If you are eating alone, chances are you are also texting friends who live miles away or posting food photos to a review site.”

The Clicks & Cravings study offers learning for food and grocery brands developing digital campaigns in the category. The study reveals 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,” explained Steve Bryant, president of Publicis Consultants USA.

According to Bryant, this 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,” Bryant said.

Clicks & Cravings found that in the food and grocery category, consumers’ social media behavior falls along a continuum of engagement. The study shows that brands should tailor communication strategies to be relevant to each type of user.

“Spectators” use social media as an extension of their network of friends, family and peers. They use social media for product reviews, recipes and good deals.

“Dreamers” curate and push food-related content through social networks. They aspire to have larger followings and more influence than they currently do.

“Doers” are the most engaged. They are the core of food and social media, creating content that inspires followers.

“There are many brand opportunities for each specific consumer,” Bryant said. “For example, a brand may entice dreamers by incorporating their recipes on its site, or appeal to a spectator by offering incentives in exchange for a video review.”

Demeritt added: “In tandem with smart communications counsel, the report is a powerful tool to help brands strategize their approach to social and digital media.”

Clicks & Cravings was fielded in October and November 2011. Qualitative ethnographies were fielded in two major U.S. markets, and more than 1,600 U.S. adult consumers participated in the online survey.

Publicis Consultants USA is a food and nutrition marketing and PR firm devoted to creating economic value for the nation’s food and beverage industry. The agency is part of MSLGroup Americas.

The Hartman Group is the principal provider of global research on consumer culture, behaviors and demand and a leading advisor on market strategy to the world’s best-known brands.


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