19 Jan Social Media that will Whet Your Palate: Interview with The Gelato Fiasco
Since a large portion of the Spark Growth team hails from Bowdoin College, there are two things we really love: social media, and downtown Brunswick, Maine. So, our hearts melt (and gelato loving palates whet) when it comes to The Gelato Fiasco. This new downtown must-see destination’s social media presence is just about as good as its amazing gelato. We had a chance to interview their marketing lead, Bobby Guerette, to learn more about their tips and tricks with social media.
How do you use social media to market your restaurant? How do you use it to develop and reinforce your brand?
We take a 360-degree approach to the branding our company. To us, marketing isn’t about newspaper ad campaigns or coupons. It’s about our company values of sophistication, intelligence, honesty, and humor – and reinforcing them at every point, whether it’s through a conversation with an employee in a store, a Facebook post, or on product packaging. When customers believe that your company is comprised of good people making good desserts, and they have a great time every time they meet your people or eat your desserts, they’re going to be happy.
We try to live that philosophy on our social media platforms. There are lots of ways to connect with us, and we try to make sure that each platform is fun, informative, and allows for genuine communication. Except for public radio sponsorships, we don’t really do any advertising beyond these platforms.
Facebook is our most significant platform; we have more than 5,700 fans and update it with photos, links, or other content daily. On pretty much a daily basis, customers to our store tell us that “I saw this flavor on Facebook” or “I heard about it on Facebook.” Customers add comments to our posts and pages every day, and we reply to every post. I’m astounded by the number of corporate Facebook Pages that post content but don’t actually communicate back to users when users reply.
We support the Facebook Page with Facebook Ads in an attempt to gain wider exposure to the content that we spend so much time on.
We have fewer followers on Twitter, but folks tend to be highly engaged. We also appreciate that Twitter allows us to proacticely listen in on what people are saying about us (and not always directly tous). One time, during a search for “gelato” from folks Tweeting in Maine, we came across a customer who purchased a pint of an unspecified brand of gelato at a grocery store and was not satisfied. By tweeting with the customer, we found that it was indeed our gelato, and we worked with her to figure out what went wrong and reinforce our 100% satisfaction guarantee. She’s now a happy and repeat customer.
Email marketing is also a crucial part of our attempt to communicate genuinely and consistently with customers. Customers at our Flagship Store can become part of our loyalty program, the Red Spoon Society, and we email those customers information about once a month. Our emails include a note from our 20something-year-old founders, news about new flavors and events, and profiles of our staff members.
We also send geographically targeted emails to folks when we add flavors or grocery store locations in their neighborhoods. Mailchimp allows us to target by zip code, and that’s a wonderful way to make sure that customers are only receiving messages relevant to their lives.
Finally, we have built a few custom systems that are unique. Since our gelato flavors change daily, we update them every day at http://flavors.gelatofiasco.com. This requires a significant commitment by our store service staff each morning. It’s worth it, though – the Today’s Flavors section is, by far, the most popular part of our website.
That flavor listing also feeds into two separate email capabilities. Using RSS feed of Today’s Flavors that is piped into MailChimp, we automatically send the current list of flavors to interested customers at 3 p.m. each day. On our flavors page, customers can also sign up for customized alerts. Every time a specified flavor is created, a customer receives an automatic email as soon as the flavor is entered into the Today’s Flavors system. This helps maintain customer enthusiasm. For instance, Maple Bacon Gelato might only appear three times a year. Customers who love that flavor are alerted and they can make sure that they don’t miss out on it. We’re lucky to have enthusiastic customers, and if we’re not doing everything we can to ensure their satisfaction, we’re not doing our job.
We are starting to play with QR codes a bit, too. Our lease on our new store in Portland began about a month before our public announcement. We posted signs on the store that said “Don’t Peek” and included a QR code that linked to a mysterious page that allowed folks to get email updates or follow a special Twitter account. This generated some interest online and was eventually mentioned in an article in the state’s largest newspaper.
As a local business, how do you target local customers to your Facebook and Twitter? Do you also target people farther away? If yes, how does this help your business?
We run two-tiered business. First, we have our retail business, which is comprised of our Flagship Store in Brunswick, Maine, and a new store that we are opening in Portland in mid-December. Second, we have our wholesale business, where we sell our gelato direct to shoppers in more than 110 grocery stores and also to restaurant owners. Therefore, the geographic reach of our customer base keeps moving outward. Our Facebook stats show the largest base in Brunswick and Portland. But due to the wholesale business, summer visitors, and students and parents from Bowdoin College, we have followers throughout New England and beyond.
I try to make sure that our social content reflects this diversity, with a balance of widely applicable information about our gelato and company, focused news about the store, and useful information about the wholesale business. Now that we have so many Facebook fans, I try to be more judicious with the content that is posted; if we’re doing a small gelato sampling in a grocery store, there has to be something broadly applicable about it to make the cut.
We do run Facebook Ad campaigns, and those are highly geographically focused. Ads for folks in Portland and Brunswick will bring them to highly relevant content about their local Gelato Fiasco store, while folks in areas with wholesale coverage will see ads for our grocery store or other pints.
I’m always amazed by the wide coverage that we’ve achieved. Today, I spoke to a customer in our store. She lives in Northern Virginia, but was visiting her mom in Maine for Thanksgiving. She said that she follows us on Facebook and falls in love with the flavors that we post pictures of nearly every day. As a result, she makes it a point to visit our store every time she visits her mom in Maine.
I just reviewed our MailChimp stats for our November newsletter, and we have readers in a majority of U.S. states and several other countries. These technologies allow a local business to have an awfully broad reach!
How much time do you dedicate to social media?
For me, it’s less a question of total time and more a question of consistency. I check our Facebook Page and Twitter account several times a day for incoming comments and questions. I also try to post outgoing content to Facebook at least once a day. So that means always keeping it front-of-mind and staying on top of things. Through both strategic direction and allocation of resources, the company has made it a priority of social media to be one of the first things we think about each day – not something that we only do if we have extra time.
What has been some of your favorite parts about using social media? Have you done any specific campaigns (e.g., flavor of the day, telling people what flavors are available, etc.) ?
I love that I can talk to folks online on behalf of the brand, and then run into them in-person and introduce myself. Since all social networking activity goes through one point of contact (me), we actually know who our ambassadors are and can express our appreciation accordingly.
We conduct lots of specific campaigns:
- RED SPOON ALERTS: Occasionally we’ll post a secret password for size upgrades on gelato, or declare a five-hour sale on our mystery pints. These sorts of things allow us to be immediately responsive to real-life conditions like bad weather.
- DAILY FLAVORS: I post photos of flavors several times each week. We make each batch of gelato fresh from scratch, and our kitchen team constantly creates new recipes. (We’re at more than 900 so far.) Judging from customer feedback, flavor announcements and photos are the most popular things we do online.
- WEDNESDAY GIVEAWAYS: I frequently do a gift-card giveaway on Wednesdays. It’s become a reoccurring theme of our page. It’s something that people look forward to; it’s a way that we can express our appreciation; and it’s a way to see how many people are really paying attention.
- EMPLOYEE PROFILES: Whenever somebody new joins our service team or kitchen team, I interview them and create a profile. We post that profile in store, add the photo to a Facebook album, and publish the profile on our website. These profiles allow customers to learn more about our staff, and they reinforce that we are a real team that makes and serves your gelato – we’re not off in some big factory somewhere.
- COMMENT CARD PHOTOS: I occasionally post photographs of our comment cards on our Facebook Page, as a way of reinforcing two-way communication.
- EVENTS: We try to flood the zone when we create fun events. We made a special set of Royal Wedding-themed flavors last spring, and last week we opened early in the morning for breakfast-themed flavors. We promote these events heavily on Facebook, Twitter, and through our email lists. They’re a fun way to mix things up, and they keep customers talking for days and weeks (and sometimes months!).
- CUSTOM TABS: We offer custom tabs that show some of our grocery store locations and display a feed of Today’s Flavors. Overall, social media allows us to be present and relevant. We try to make sure that folks are having an incredible time in our stores or eating our desserts, and social media allows us to maintain that connection between those moments.