Much to some companies’ chagrin, social media shows no signs of fading away into the background. Kraft Foods’ popular Oreo cookie, for example, has more than 27.8 million fans on Facebook and more than 50,700 followers on Twitter. The Kellogg Company’s latest acquisition, Pringles, has more than 20.3 million Facebook fans and 13,500 Twitter followers. The strategy is clearly working for these brands, but is it right for all food brands?

With two decades of experience as a brand manager with international packaged goods giants Unilever and ConAgra Foods, Wes Crnkovich, strategy director for Chicago, IL-based full-service advertising agency Plan B, offers his opinions on the matter. From new product testing and launch to distribution planning, market segmentation and tracking, Mr. Crnkovich focuses on strategic planning to bring a metrics-minded intensity of purpose to food brands. He can be reached at

Baking & Snack: How can baking and snack food companies decide if social media is right for them?

Wes Crnkovich: The simple answer is that social media should be an important element of every food brand’s business. After all, food is the quintessential experience product. Throughout history, people have connected over food as a hub for meeting, sharing ideas and engaging in society. Travel itineraries are punctuated by must-visit eateries, and food is often a top reason for making a return trip to any location.

If food drives the creation and sharing of experiences, it is a natural topic for social media, which is all about people connecting and sharing online. There are thousands of food blogs, forums and conversations on existing social platforms, so it is not a matter of sparking engagement from the ground up.

The conversations already exist and are happening with or without you. The question is not if social media is right for your brand, but how, where, when and why your brand should engage — and with which influencers and communities.

You need to consider the current reality for your brand in the marketplace as well as the goals and objectives for your brand and business. These can vary widely, from a national brand that wants to build general consumer awareness and drive sales at the shelf to a small niche brand looking to create an identity or an e-commerce-based brand trying to bolster online orders. Social media can be an effective tool to help you achieve your goals in any or all of these instances. But depending on your specific job to be done, the success metrics, tactics and level of support will vary.

What value does social media have for wholesale bakeries and snack food companies? How can the higher-ups be convinced it’s worth the company’s time?

If wielded wisely, social media can benefit any company above and beyond the cost of implementing a social strategy. Social media can provide support and even legs to an array of initiatives including new product launches and awareness campaigns. It can contribute to the tone and feel of your business, giving you an effective way to modernize and adjust your branded message to make it immediately relevant in the social ecosphere.

Establishing your brand with a well-rounded arsenal of social tactics can affect perceived expertise, innovation and thought leadership, which ultimately impacts front-of-house food service buying decisions.

Social channels can help drive R&D, easily collecting consumer insights, suggestions and feedback. To the end consumer, it can even fulfill the role of the customer service rep, providing an immediate interface for questions or issues. Transparent interaction with customer complaints and compliments alike also fosters good will. With efficient monitoring, social media can lend valuable insight into the consumer feedback process, driving both quality improvement efforts and innovation in regard to products, customer service, branding, marketing and advertising.

Finally, social media is also an extension of traditional public relations. A social strategy should allow crisis and reputation management as well as a proactive, product-attribute-building component. This means it is best managed with a passive listening and reactive focus as well as a proactive thought-leadership and consumer-stimulation focus.

Which social media outlets are the best fit for wholesale bakeries and snack food manufacturers?

This depends completely on the job to be done for the brand. However, it is often our recommendation that brands place less emphasis on appearing in specific outlets and instead focus on what value and content they can deliver on the Web as a whole to drive relevant key performance metrics. It may be that the best outlet is one created by your brand, where you have the ability to steer the conversation, as opposed to the popular network that you join to try to promote yourself.

What are some pitfalls to avoid when delving into social media?

The biggest pitfalls come from a lack of understanding of the brand and business goals, and the corresponding misdirected analysis of how to deliver those objectives with social media.

Too often, brands join Facebook and Twitter or get a Pinterest or Instagram account with little thought as to why they are there, what content they want to post, how they will keep the page updated over time and even who they want to engage with on that platform in the first place. The brand and business goals should inform social media strategy, not vice versa.

A second pitfall would be to assume that social media can be a part-time endeavor or that it is something that can be handled by a junior team member or intern. In the social realm, everything you do — even doing nothing — communicates a message to the consumer. We have all been on the blog or Facebook page where the last update was from September 2009. It immediately communicates a message that the brand doesn’t value its digital presence.

If you decide to engage in social media, we suggest having a plan that allows you to participate in an active and relevant way, not in half steps or random updates when you get around to it. The benefits of doing so are well worth the investment.

How does a company avoid oversaturating its social media audience? Are certain platforms more forgiving in that respect?

Flooding Facebook, Twitter or any other site with updates is just as annoying as repetitive television commercials or outdoor ads cluttering up the landscape. It all just becomes noise. That said, platforms where consumers can “opt out” — like Facebook, where users can hide accounts from their feeds — or are expected to be advertised to — like a branded YouTube channel or Twitter page — tend to be a little more forgiving than blogs or forums, where users expect to interact directly with specific influencers.

Posting an 80:20 or 90:10 mix of content that is of interest to the target audience to occasional brand messaging is a great way to harness the power of social media without making it all about your brand.

What are the measurements for success of a social media campaign?

The measures for success are largely determined by the goals you want to accomplish. If you want to build brand awareness, then followers, likes and website visits can be good indicators. If it is about building brand imagery and positioning it, then associated and appropriate mentions from bloggers and influencers become more important, as do word cloud associations, which is a way of revealing the varying contexts in which your brand is discussed.

In e-commerce, the goal often involves intercepting people in the research process to deliver relevant information that drives them to your e-commerce site for their desired products. In this case, conversion rates from social channels are valuable.

How can a company translate follows and likes into tangible results?

Follows and likes may only be relevant if they are associated with a broader brand or company goal such as building awareness or extending a brand’s viral reach. In some cases, they may not be relevant, and emphasizing different metrics may be critical.

That said, understanding the role of these metrics and assigning a value to a follow, like or mention is a key part of creating a fully realized social campaign. There is no generic formula here because this value will be different for every brand and even individual tactical executions. It’s up to you and your agency to determine which metrics will best drive results aligned with your business objectives. Developing objectives-based social media programs is like anything else: Measure twice, cut once.