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Before 2020, creating an online presence for your brand might have been a nice-to-have, but after the lockdown closed up non-essential shops and created a rush of demand for online food services, establishing an identity on the web has never been more important for cheesemongers and delis.
As the pandemic rolls on and consumers continue to seek out new shops and products online, social media will play a vital role. To the uninitiated, it might seem a daunting prospect, but the benefits of social media are undeniable. For a start, it can help you reach new consumers all over the world. “Social media is a vital tool to enable you to reach your customers directly, engage with new customers and influence their shopping habits. With many retailers and producers now selling online, customers no longer need to be local – they can be national – so reach far and wide,” says Vhari Russell, managing director of The Food Marketing Experts. But if you haven’t made the leap yet, or if your social profiles are looking a bit scruffy, what’s the best approach?
For independent cheesemongers, social media offers the perfect opportunity to build a relationship with customers far and wide. “As a cheese retailer, we find posting on social media is a great tool to reach cheese lovers beyond the geographic area of our shops in Suffolk,” says Clare Jackson, director of Slate Cheese.
Clare chooses to focus most of her efforts on Instagram, although Slate also has an active Facebook page. “Social media has definitely raised the profile of our business and has enabled us to develop a network of cheese-related contacts – customers, suppliers, cheesemakers, fellow retailers, industry groups.” Crucially, Instagram is a great channel for promoting sales with news of new products and special offers, she adds.
And the connection goes both ways – Instagram is a fantastic place to search for inspiring ideas and meet others in the industry. “I browse Instagram frequently for new cheese-related ideas and find it a simple, quick way to reach out with questions to others in the industry,” Clare says.
Patricia Michelson, the founder of London-based La Fromagerie, agrees. “We love the breadth of ideas that social media can showcase, and also allows us to see what is going on and connect with producers and artisans.” Patricia describes social media as a “global marketplace for positivity”.
One of the biggest questions around social media is what to share. Vhari suggests telling your followers about new products, pairings and ways of enjoying and cooking cheese. “Consumers are taking even more interest in food due to the pandemic, so share your recipe suggestion, as scratch cooking is on the up.”
At Slate, Clare takes a personal approach, sharing anything and everything to do with cheese in the knowledge that her like-minded followers will share an interest – whether that’s a cheesy dish she has enjoyed eating or even a cheese-related podcast. It’s important to post “authentic content which genuinely arises from my love of cheese,” Clare says.
The Slate Instagram also champions the local towns where its shops are based. “People who have visited these towns, and in particular the beaches, love to be reminded of the Suffolk coast,” she says.
Offering an honest and authentic view of your brand will help establish a strong connection with customers. As delis and cheesemongers already know, creating a personal relationship with customers can go a long way. Patricia uses social media to offer followers a peek into her day-to-day life and the business, especially for those customers who are based further afield. “I look at social media as our shop window. It is a snapshot of what it would be if someone was walking into the shop – a view on our little world.
Although it pays to be authentic on social media, as an important segment of your business you should also be sure to dedicate time to planning regular and consistent posts.
At La Fromagerie, the team aims to post every day, varying between a social or shop perspective, products and work to ensure a mix of content for followers. “You have to be always thinking ahead and also giving an up-beat and approachable way of wording too.” For example, if Patricia knows she’ll be making something special, like jams, chutneys or a special dish for take out, she’ll make a point to feature that on the shop’s social channels.
Social media can also be a great place for collaborations, and there’s no better way to woo followers than with a cheese giveaway. Clare says Slate often hosts giveaways with suppliers whose products complement their cheese. “These are always extremely popular – everyone loves a cheese prize!” However, when it comes to social media, building up a strong base of engaged followers is far more important than going after big numbers. Staying true to your business’ values and moving beyond the typical marketing messages to offer a more authentic message is a surefire way to success.
• Move beyond marketing your own products to create trust with your followers
• Collaborate with a supplier to host a giveaway
• Give followers a behind-the-scenes look at your shop or cheesemaking process
• Post a picture of a favourite fine cheese accompaniments
• Give followers a peek at your local community
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