Our family loves old movies, so we’ve been long time Netflix fans. Then came the announcement that the company was splitting its streaming and DVD services, requiring customers to conduct two separate searches for movies, have two accounts and two bills. Worse, the market anticipated Netflix would dump the DVD line soon in order to optimize streaming profits. As you have likely already heard, customers—ourselves included–weren’t pleased. Then Netflix went on to look even less user-friendly when fans discovered the Twitter handle Qwikster was already being used by a pot-smoking, foul-mouthed dude who suddenly got 500 new followers he didn’t know. Meanwhile, the tech crowd noticed that the new business had only a placeholder “coming soon” on its website.

Suddenly it wasn’t just bad customer relations, it was a social media calamity. CEO Reed Hastings wrote a mea culpa blog post this past weekend, saying the company may have misjudged in its rush to capitalize on the streaming technology. “Companies rarely die from moving too fast, and they frequently die from moving too slowly,” he wrote.  As of today, his post had more than 23,000 comments. What‘s the saying—“there’s no such thing as bad publicity”?

Oh wait, the ending of that saying is “…except your own obituary.” Let’s hope this isn’t the end of Netflix. Where am I going to get all those classic movies that don’t play on TMC?  Takeaway lesson for other companies: don’t forget to think about how your customers will interface with you, both online and in social networks. And be sure you own all possible social media renditions of your name, including a new Google+ identity, before you launch.

By Amy DeLouise and Pam Vinal

This year’s edition of the famed Zagat restaurant guide includes a brand new section titled “Food Truck Reviews.”  Gourmet food trucks that use social media tools like Twitter and Facebook to reach their customers are not new.  But recognition in the world-renowned guide proves these meals on wheels have not only created a new dining experience, but their marketing strategies are garnering even more customers.  Here are a few marketing tips we can all learn from the Food Truck craze.

Create a Customer Experience

“Happy Friday! Today we R serving lobster & shrimp rolls, whoopie pies & cool drinks near Conn & M St NW and Ballston Metro! Both start~11:30.”

This is just an example of a recent Twitter post from Red Hook Lobster DC, a gourmet food truck serving Maine lobster rolls daily to the hungry masses in Washington, DC.  Throughout the day the lobster truck will post similar updates of its whereabouts, even offering a digital map on their website. These digital tools make grabbing lunch an interactive treasure hunt instead of a mundane meal.  Customers are seeking out the food trucks, traveling to new locations, and meeting new and interesting people.  The main draw of social networking component of food truck marketing is the interactivity.  Food Trucks have found a way to use social media to create an entire experience for their customers instead of simply using the medium to push advertising on them.

Encourage Customer Participation

Too many organizations waste the community-building value of Twitter and Facebook by simply posting the same advertisements they use in all other outlets.  Social media is interactive, so make your social media campaigns interactive.  Let your customers participate in something instead of just consuming information.  Throw contests, request feedback, give them a reason to contact you.  Food Trucks have proven that if you give them the map, customers will find you.  And don’t forget to give feedback to those customers:

“Thanks to all the intrepid customers who came out today @GPBFarmMarket.”-LobsterTruckDC

Go Where Your Customers Are

Food Trucks are always on the move, and not just when they drive to different locations.  In the past several years, these traveling restaurants have continued to adopt new technologies and used social media to listen to and act on customer feedback.  One example: Food Truck Festivals.  This new trend is popping up in cities across the country.  Festivals invite all the local food trucks to one place, sell tickets in bulk, and hold contests.  The result of this collective marketing and shared venue is an expanded customer base for all participants.

Team with Other Brands

Even if your current campaign is a successful one, consider opportunities to team with other brands—yes even brands in your own space—to reach more customers collectively. If you are in a service space, offer a workshop or webinar series in which multiple companies offer expertise and share the expense and resources of a Facebook marketing campaign for the event. If you are a nonprofit, combine with related nonprofits to do and integrated fundraiser for a specific community. The goal is to maximize outreach and minimize duplicated efforts.

Excel in Your Niche

You can have a million dollar marketing campaign, but if your product isn’t good then the advertisements are not worth a dime.  The most popular Food Trucks are not your average hot dog and sandwich carts. Each  has a specialty — from crepes to Korean fare and everything in between. Although some have expanded offering a wider range of foods, each started with a niche set of high quality products.

Like the Food Trucks, social marketing is viral and has landed in some part in the customer’s hands.  Sites and Apps like Yelp and Foodspotting are based on customer-to-customer reviews.  If your customer leaves loving your product, and the experience it took to get it, then be sure that they will post that opinion.  In this social media world a happy and satisfied customer is now equal to a quality advertisement.