business news in context, analysis with attitude

by Kate McMahon

Gone are the days when having a social networking presence was cutting edge for retailers and marketers. Today, not having a foothold on Facebook is like trying to slice sushi with a snow shovel."

But just being there isn’t enough. A recent USA Today article cited Smashburger and Palmetto Cheese as small company social media success stories. A review of both on Facebook shows why, and reinforces what has become a mantra here at MNB – that social networking is all about engaging the consumer in a two-way dialogue.

Both Smashburger and Palmetto Cheese share a key ingredient for success – an innovative, distinctive product. A Smashburger starts with a fresh 100% Angus beef meatball that is literally “smashed” and seared when it hits the grill and then served with an array of toppings. Palmetto Cheese takes the classic Southern pimento cheese spread and adds a soulful kick.

Both companies credit social media with helping to push their sales growth to the next level. Smashburger can only be described as wildly enthusiastic in its outreach on Facebook and Twitter, where patrons also share their raves and rants. This is a prime example of the unedited, unpredictable nature of social networking: for every 20 or so posts singing the praises of a Smashburger experience, there is one complaining about service, taste or price at one of the Denver-based chains 150 locations.

All of which keeps Smashburger’s Doug Thielen a very busy guy. Thielen responds to approximately 75 to 100 Twitter and Facebook posts a day, acknowledging the good and encouraging authors of the negative posts to contact him further.

“We look at social media as a way to build a community, and create a conversation or relationship with that community as a better way to serve our customers and fans,” he told MNB.

And in a sure sign of growth, Smashburger is looking to hire a social media staffer, a reality every company should hope to anticipate.

Palmetto Cheese, which bills itself as “The Pimento Cheese with Soul” straight out of Pawley’s Island, S.C., is also in growth mode.

Its Facebook page serves as a promotional site, with contests, chats and recipes, and a product availability guide. Consumers can click on a tab to find Palmetto Cheese in their area, and are encouraged to take specific requests to their local grocery store (for example, the addition of the new bacon-flavored spread).

Note to retailers -- The comments also provide a spontaneous price check, such as this exchange:

“Okay so I went to Kroger this weekend. They wanted $7.99 for PC, almost double the price of Food Lion! Needless to say we made two grocery store trips this weekend so I could get two flavors for the price of one. :)”

Palmetto Cheese responded: “We apologize for the inconvenience of having to make two trips. Each store has control over the price they charge for PC. We'll see if there is anything we can do about that.”

Then another consumer posted: “$3.99 at Costco in Charlotte vs. $5.99 at Harris Teeter!”

Brian Henry, who founded Palmetto Cheese with his wife Sassy, told USA Today their social media education has been a work in progress.

"Once we started truly interacting with our customers and created a community, we began to see an increase in interest and customers," he said.

It’s not a coincidence that both Smashburger and Palmetto Cheese talk about creating a community, which can only be built on a dialogue.
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