How to use food pictures as a social media marketing tool

Sharing food photos on social media can get diners buzzing—take it from the professionals.

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Like a great stew, lustworthy food photography requires time and effort—but it pays off. Hubspot, a software marketing company, reports Facebook posts featuring images garner 53 percent more “likes” and twice as many comments as text-only items, and that customer interaction can lead to a higher take rate for operators. Are the costs worth the benefits? Here’s a breakdown:

The Labor

While almost anyone can run a social media account, combining stimulating visuals and effective copy into the perfect tweet requires an investment in talent. At Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill., a paid social media internship program that works with the dining department’s marketing team has paid off tenfold, says Rachel Tilghman, director of communications and engagement for NU Dining Services. “Most students know how [the] platforms work and how to best communicate with their peers,” she says.



At the University of Missouri, it’s the executive chef who tweets behind-the-scenes footage of the kitchens and farms, says Michael Wuest, the school’s dining services marketing manager.



The Tools

Cafeterias and dining halls aren’t known for great lighting and backdrops. Victoria Boatwright, Web developer and print-media coordinator for Virginia Tech Dining Services in Blacksburg, Va., recommends investing in a lightbox for on-site photo sessions. Apps to enhance photos often are free, and better pictures can boost engagement, she adds.

The Payoff

When the folks at Virginia Tech noticed that posts without photos received a much lower response rate, they changed their approach, and engagement shot up. “Now every time we try to post with an image or a GIF or something that makes it interactive,” Boatwright says. A GIF announcing the cancellation of Labor Day classes, for example, had a 37 percent engagement rate, the account’s highest yet.



Virginia Tech Dining Services Associate Director Bill Hess says the photos set the bar for students. “They know when they get to the end of a long line during a lunch rush that they are getting a quality product,” he says. 

3 tips for mouthwatering pics

1. Look to events

These gatherings are a great opportunity to collect guest-generated content; Tilghman uses photo booths to get more genuine pictures of guests and food. 

2. Find authentic moments

Candid shots receive the most interaction, say Tilghman and Hess. “To reach our Facebook or our Twitter customer, I don’t think you can have [staged photography],” Hess adds. “They see through [it].” 

3. Borrow tactics from the big guys

Wuest takes hints from hot brands. “Someone we think does a really good job at food photography is Starbucks,” the Mizzou operator says.

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