Campaigns like the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge render social media’s ability to build awareness and change attitudes unquestioned. But what about its ability to drive consumers into stores and impact actual sales?

As agency of record for many food and beverage products, we’re faced with this question every day. And, while there are still some limitations in tracking specific purchases resulting from specific social media posts, research endorsed by Vision Critical, Harvard Business Review, Integer Group and others indicates that food-related social media activities do in fact forecast future purchases.

So, the question to food marketers then becomes, are you taking full advantage?

Social-to-Sale Food Purchasing

An in-depth study fielded by Vision Critical revealed social media engagement to be a frequent predictor of purchases:

1. 4 in 10 social media users report having purchased an item after sharing or favoriting it on Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest

2. Those purchases reportedly took place just as often in-store as online

3. Food is among the top categories for social to sale purchasing

Pinterest graphic

Along the same lines, Integer Group research found the social web is a grocery shopping tool for 1 in 3 social media users (36 percent)and roughly 30 percent of those users’ weekly grocery spend is influenced by what they see on social.

integer group graphic

So, how can food marketers make the best use of this link? Here are three tips: 

1. BE there. Consumers are browsing Pinterest and Instagram the way they used to browse magazines or cookbooks … and, because this generation is addicted to immediate gratification, they’re likely to buy or try what they see almost immediately. If you don’t stay in front of them with a steady flow of recipes and ‘food porn,’ your competitors will, and you will fade into virtual nonexistence.

2. Keep it simple. While the number of socially active foodies seems to grow by the week, the ones who set aside days at a time to cook are less pervasive, so use social media to make things easy for them. Keep ingredient lists simple and visual, offer substitution ideas and incorporate step-by-step photos that make your product feel more approachable.

Chobani3. Give ‘em a deal. Buying groceries isn’t like buying jewelry. Most people will go for the best value option at hand. So, when possible, use social media to share special offers and position your product as a cost-effective choice.

The Power of Pinterest

By now, I think most food marketers recognize the power Pinterest holds to advance their brands, but, for the skeptics, Vision Critical and Harvard Business Review have research that validates the virtual pinboard’s link to food sales. Here’s what they found:

    • Pinterest is the network most likely to drive spontaneous purchasing
    • Food is the preferred subject matter by Pinterest users
    • 1 in 3 Pinterest users under 35 has bought something in a store after pinning or liking it on Pinterest
    • 64 percent of Pinterest-influenced food purchasers “happened upon” the items they pinned and purchased

So, what are the takeaways for your Pinterest marketing campaigns?

1. Appeal to emotion. Since Pinterest drives spontaneous purchasing and spontaneous purchases are emotion–based, develop Pinterest content that intrigues your target customers, appeals to their lifestyle (or desired lifestyle) and communicates the more aspirational aspects of your value proposition. For example, if you’re trying to sell avocados, create imagery that suggests it’s more than just an avocado — it’s a carefully-picked, smooth-textured, cleanly sliced avocado, a thing of natural beauty that makes a simple snack.

2. Don’t miss the link. Be mindful of the impact your Pinterest content has on shopper behavior. If you’re pinning recipes, add subtle notes that help move your consumer’s mindset from “that smoothie looks delicious” to “I should make that smoothie this week.” Consider the other factors that might influence her buying decisions at that moment (budget, timing, trends, etc.), and make sure she knows where and when she can get your product.

Ready, Set, Sell!                                                               

Half of social media-fueled purchasing takes place within a week of the initial interaction with the ultimately purchased product, thus your best window to ‘close the deal’ is one to three weeks after first engaging your customer. Because social media promotions always work best as part of an integrated effort, plan social campaigns to coincide with retail activities and, if possible, align social content with in-store activations. If you’re promoting a recipe for pickled blueberries online, for example, work with retailers to also push that application in-store, whether through signage, location-based advertising, eye-catching displays or other tactics.

Every day, there are more innovative food marketers exploiting the link between social media activities and sales. What latest and greatest examples stand out for you?