How to leverage your Food Marketing with Social Media

We’re all guilty of it: Snapping a photo of that pizza or ice cream we couldn’t wait to dig into, and instagramming it. Why? Because, we’re obsessed with #foodporn. We love seeing what others eats and showing off with our own dishes.

Social Media has reformed the way we approach food; our food culture has become digitalised and has created many fascinating trends.
It starts with foodporn, the captioning and sharing of visually appealing soon-to-be-consumed food, and goes into extremes as for instance the trend “ Muk-bang, where people are getting paid to live-streaming them eating large meals. The top muk-bang earners can earn as much as $10,000 a month, not including sponsorships.

Food experiences are an important part of modern consumer lifestyles. Especially Millennials are greatly influenced by the foodie culture that surrounds them. They love to find that one thing that no one has found. Yet, they are also inspired by others and have FOMO (“fear of missing out”), so are torn between exploring something totally new vs. something that came with a strong recommendation and a nicely looking social media post.

When it comes to the food and travel industry, social media has now outstripped traditional sources. 84% of Millennials are likely to plan trips based on someone else’s photos on social media, compared to magazines and television only inspiring 8% of young travellers, according to a new survey carried out by the AMP and BLITZ.

One person’s online suggestion to try a new Ramen place or a peppermint Matcha latte — or event more powerful, one person posting a deliciously-looking photo of it— can reach thousands of people in a day.

The increased influence of foodie culture on consumers is an opportunity for foodservice operators to offer millennials what they are looking for, customise their experience & cuisine and be influencial for future consumers.

Marketers can create greater brand affinity and distinction by realising how to leverage social channels differently from other marketing channels.

“Stunt Food” or Viral Menu Items

In order to stand out, food and beverage brands can make use of these consumer behaviours and create menu items that are trending on social or are created towards online sharing.

The impulse of customers to share photos of meals on Instagram or other social media has broadly changed the way restaurant, cafés etc. think about their dishes and their visual presentation.
It’s affecting not just the menu and the plating and the packaging, but what items they’re actually creating.

Many Millennials make their food choices according to where they can get that photo that will perform best on Instagram and make them the first explorer of a new hidden gem. They like being ‘in’ on it — this sort of insider view makes people want to share it so much more.

Ideally these foods taste nicely and outlive their temporary run, but their real value is usually in the free advertising they bring through viral buzz.

Many big chains like Starbucks, McDonald’s and Taco Bell understand that appeal. They sometimes dedicate employees or entire teams to monitoring and analysing each individual social platform.

As an example we can take Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino which evoked a viral hype.

The neon “Unicorn Frappuccino” clashes hard with the coffee chain’s affected faux-Italian branding, but the limited-time item wasn't meant to reflect the company’s quality of coffee but is purely created to go viral in customers’ social feeds.

It’s more of a meme than a drink, capitalising on an online craze for all things unicorn-related.
“The look of the beverage was an important part of its creation,” said a Starbucks spokesperson. “Our inspiration came from the fun, spirited and colorful unicorn-themed food and drinks that have been trending on social media.”

Another example of making use of the social media & foodie correlation is a project that we launched last year, Brunch Club Vienna: a popup event series and foodie community.
After analysing blank spots on Austria’s food landscape and finding trending items, we created an event series, which is sold out at every event and is getting much love on Social Media.

Making use of Social Media Marketing, spotting the upcoming food trends and offering them for a limited amount of time, enabled us to achieve some amazing results for our project and build a community of more than 4.000 food lovers in Vienna in less than a year.

We’ve started the project a little over a year ago and have grown our social following to over 3.500 people on Instagram & Facebook and our events to over 150 attendants per event. 95% of our marketing is via social media (the left-over 5% are mostly word of mouth).

For events of such kind and restaurants, not only the taste of the food needs to be intriguing.
The presentation of the food as well as the packaging and table deco plays a big role. With post cards with fun quotes connected to brunch and the “lifestyle” it represents, or pizza boxes to look exactly like oversized domino playing pieces (like Dominos in the U.K. does) or customisations like Coke cans printed with your name, sharing will be encouraged and brand recognition will be increased.

With these small but critical choices that become a status symbol of a restaurant or event, you have the chance to turn small, local restaurants or popup events into lifestyle brands.

Spotting and acting on trends!

In order to find upcoming trends and what your target audience is craving, you need to broaden your Social Listening.

By branching out beyond mentions of your brand, you gain insights into what consumers want and need — and the opportunity to provide it for them.

When competitors fall short, be the hero, or use social to gather intelligence on upcoming product innovations.

What these best-practices share is a commitment to putting consumers and their experiences first, staying on top of social conversations, and looking beyond your brand.

All those strategies apply whether you’re a restaurant, cafe, or any other business with a social presence. So think about it, social media and online buzz is what lets you stand out.

I’m Alice, a Social Media & Community Strategist with a passion for consumer trends & new marketing tools. I’d love to hear your thoughts so feel free to send me a mail and continue the conversation:


Curious optimist currently designing culture and community programs + tools at Dropbox. Writing about community, future of work and out of office culture.