Non-commercial foodservice slow to embrace social media

When used, however, photos are the key to social media engagement, operators say.

College operators are significantly more likely than other market segments to use social media to connect with their customers, according to The Big Picture data. Seventy-five percent use Facebook, and 38% say they employ Twitter. FSD spoke to marketing managers for dining services at two universities to find out about their social media strategies.

University of Missouri, Columbia

“You can really only focus on one social media strategy at a time,” says Michael Wuest, marketing manager for Campus Dining Services. “We decided to focus on increasing student engagement. Some people are focused on grabbing tons of followers or ‘likes,’ but we wanted to develop a good group of customers who would become ambassadors of our brand.”

According to Wuest, the most effective way to engage students is relatively simple: use photos. A daily hashtag promotion, launched this semester, incorporates photos whenever possible. A hashtag is a way to identify a topic on Twitter. For example, the department does a promotion called MyPlate Monday where students are asked via hashtag to submit photos of their plates, which are then posted in a Facebook album.

“People are visual and we get a lot more responses out of people if we share pictures than if we share a text-based update,” Wuest says. “We do Tuesday trivia questions, and they were originally just text-based messages. We added pictures to the posts, and the number of people who responded jumped.”

Michigan State University, East Lansing

Photos are also a big part of the social media strategy for Lindsey Bliss, digital communications manager. Her department uses Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to connect with customers. Recently, Bliss says she sent one of her social media interns to the university’s Halloween dinner to take photos and live-tweet the event. By the end of the night, the photos had already been posted on Facebook by students.

“Definitely make [your social media strategy] immediate, relevant and really interactive,” says Bliss. “I’ve noticed a real trend toward image-based sharing, so we try to use a lot of photos. Anything we post will have either a photo, a link to a YouTube video or a link back to our website, so it offers something besides just text.”

One important note, Bliss says, is to keep the same username for all your different social media platforms so followers can easily find you. On Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, MSU students know to look for the EatAtState name.

“Another cool thing we do with Twitter is we post daily specials that students can’t find out about anywhere else,” Bliss says. “We want to create a feeling of exclusivity to give customers a reason to follow us.” 

More From FoodService Director

Managing Your Business
business ladder climbing illustration

Recruiting talent is only half the battle for Mike Folino, associate director of nutrition services at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center in Columbus, Ohio. Once he’s attracted good employees, providing clear opportunities for advancement can help retain them—but knowing when to bring up the topic in conversation can be tricky.

Prior to hiring

Folino likes to touch on advancement during the initial interview process, but the extent to which he does so changes case by case. “I have had interviews where we knew right away that we needed to discuss our structure and...

Managing Your Business
hands team

In November, students at University of Missouri in Columbia began leading protests against discrimination faced by people of color on campus—including some marches through the dining halls. Julaine Kiehn, director of the school’s campus dining services, said the 2015-16 school year was a tough one, but she was proud of MU’s students for being at the forefront of a national movement.

And not only did the protests launch important conversations with students, but also with staff. Kiehn heard the protests and thought that her student workers, at least, might not feel safe and welcome...

Ideas and Innovation
woman surprise

When I joined the staff at FoodService Director in the spring of 2015, I couldn’t believe how much there was to learn about the intricacies of the industry. My past experience, from kindergarten to my college days to on-the-job meals, would lead me to believe that noncommercial dining was a kind of automated process—an amenity that’s expected, and one you only become aware of if something goes wrong.

But as with my own household chores, there are no magical elves making sure the business of feeding students, seniors and hospital patients is done, and done well. Foodservice...

Ideas and Innovation
elderly old hands

A family’s request for at-home meal support for a patient at Lee Memorial in Fort Myers, Fla., led System Director of Food & Nutrition Services Larry Altier to uncover a gap in care. He saw that only 1% of patients had been coded (diagnosed and labeled for billing purposes) as malnourished, while more than 60% of all Lee Memorial patients are over 65 years or older, a population that experiences the issue at a higher rate.

His discovery helped more rigorously identify malnutrition, but it also strengthened Lee Memorial’s community connection. The hospital launched a delivery...

FSD Resources