social media

How One Tweet Landed Arby’s the Top Spot in Social Media



In 2012 Josh Martin, Arby’s Manager of Social Media asked this question:

presented to The Social Media Alliance of Chattanooga

from a presentation to the Social Media Alliance of Chattanooga


Arby’s was then losing the battle for the coveted millennial customer.
It had recently retired the slogan Give In To Your Grown-Up Tastes whose words proved all too prophetic. Arby’s had truly become the restaurant chain of grown-up tastes. It had lost relevance and even recognition among younger diners and was patronized by the oldest customer base in all of fast food. The company had no social media department until Martin joined in 2010, a mere 40,000 Facebook followers, and zero presence on Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Linkedin, and YouTube.

On January 26, 2014 one tweet changed everything.arbys 40731_54_news_hub_35119_656x500Singer-songwriter Pharrell Williams showed up at the Grammy Awards wearing an oversized hat that bore a striking resemblance to the Arby’s logo. It was a high profile appearance; Williams was a nominee, a presenter, a performer, and went on to take home awards in two major categories (Best Solo Performance and Best Music Video). Arby’s Martin, who was watching the show, seized the moment tweeting Hey @Pharrell can we have our hat back?  and Williams tweeted back Y’all tryna start a roast beef?
This little exchange was a big deal. Really.

A media sensation was born.
Arby’s extended the dialogue for weeks, offering a winning bid of $44,000 for the hat in a charity auction, and then exhibiting it at the Newseum in Washington, D.C. as an artifact of social media history. They grabbed headlines every step of the way including exclusives with the Washington Post and the Today Show. By the time the hat landed in Washington, the story had appeared in more than 1,400 publications and Arby’s Facebook fanbase had gone from 40,000 to 2.5 million and its Twitter following grew to more than 200,000 from a pre-hat level of fewer than 3,000. At its peak, the story garnered more than 120 million media impressions in a single day.

By the end of 2014 Arby’s was widely hailed as the king of social media.
The Wall Street Journal recognized Arby’s tweets to Pharrell Williams as the second best pop culture moment of the year, lagging only the phenomenon of the celebrity selfie. Variety Magazine said that if Academy Awards were given for marketing then Arby’s would surely take home a statuette, and the Shorty Awards, which kind of are the Oscars for short form promotional content, cited the Grammy tweets as 2014’s Best Real-Time Response and gave top honors to Arby’s social media team as Best in Food & Beverage.

Most importantly, Arby’s social media success has had a positive impact on the brand’s bottom line. The company is on a tear, opening 60 new stores this year and remodeling dozens of older ones. Same-store sales are up more than 8% for the year and some newly introduced menu items are the most successful in the chain’s history. And it’s doing this at a time when the rest of the fast food industry is slowing down as it loses sales and market share to fast-casual brands like Chipotle, Panera, and Five Guys.

Clearly social media is a powerful tool for restaurants and food brands. That’s why when something goes wrong, things can go downhill in a hurry. Read on to see what happens when good tweets go bad.

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Your Social Media Profile Rendered in Ice Cream

Which Gelato Flavor are You? PSFK is a Cocoa Rambutan Tangelo
You’re Sweet and Cool and Kind of Nutty.
You’ve already been assessed by Myers Briggs, done your colors, read your horoscope, and found your spirit animal. Now you can fine tune your personality typing with your own custom-matched gelato flavor.
Talenti Gelato launched a campaign called Flavorize Me that purports to create a flavor profile based on your social media profile.
It looks at your Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter accounts and analyzes keywords within your profiles and posts to identify compatible tastes. Then it matches those tastes with corresponding ingredients to create a custom flavor.


Flavorize Me creates a personalized ‘science-ing of your flavor,’ a mathematical breakdown and graphical representation of your results. Are you more sour than sweet? Maybe you’re molasses-sweetened with a balsamic vinegar glaze. Or you could be a well-balanced orange ricotta cinnamon toast. Or a spicy clove muffin peppercorn. Flavorize Me has a 25,000 keyword database and an algorithm that can create 50 million unique flavors.

Screen Shot 2015-07-23 at 5.03.57 PM.png

The campaign runs until August 2, and in September Talenti will announce which six personal flavors will be going into production, with free pints for the winners. Until then, you can peruse the unique creations shared on Twitter using the hashtag #flavorizeme.


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Why, oh why do companies give the public access to unmoderated, real-time Twitter feeds?

Oops, they did it again. This time it’s Coca-Cola.
The company has pulled its #MakeItHappy brand campaign after it was used to tweet excerpts from Hitler’s Mein Kampf into sweetly innocuous cartoon images of kitty cats and happy hamburgers.

The #MakeItHappy campaign launched with an ad during the Super Bowl. 
Designed to combat the bullying and negative language found on social media, the beverage giant asked Twitter users to forward negative messages tagged with the #MakeItHappy hashtag. An automated algorithm would transform the words into cutesy ASCII cartoons and @CocaCola would retweet the images to its millions of followers with the message We turned the hate you found into something happy.

Coca-Cola, with its 100,ooo+ employees, seems to have launched it unmanned into cyberspace.
Nobody at the company noticed when the famous ‘Fourteen Words’ slogan of white supremacist movements was turned into a happy little puppy that tweeted out “We must secure the existence of our people and a future for White Children.”j8hqjk6ljn2sprtonorr  It was, however, noticed by the media pranksters at Gawker who created the Twitter handle @MeinCoke and fed a line-by-line reading of Hitler’s manifesto into the #MakeIt Happy algorithm, and then watched Coca-Cola’s official twitter account as it rendered Hitler’s words into smiling bananas and sunglass-wearing palm trees.

This is hardly the first Twitter campaign gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets: Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef? When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is!

Even Starbucks, a company that parlayed its usually spot-on social engagement to become the best loved online brand, has had its own stumble in cyberspace. The coffee seller created the seasonal hashtag #SpreadTheCheer and invited its customers in the United Kingdom to tweet out holiday greetings with a direct feed to a giant screen at London’s Natural History museum. Before it could be shut down, the unmonitored, uncensored tweeter feed was flooded with profanity-laced sentiments blasting Starbucks as economy-busting tax dodgers who push overpriced milky coffee drowned in sugar syrup.

Missteps like these are not limited to the food world.
Screen_Shot_2014-11-13_at_9.51.33_PMThe New England Patriots celebrated reaching 1 million Twitter followers by thanking fans with custom digital jerseys—basically a photo of the back of a Patriots uniform with a Twitter handle where the player’s name usually appears. Patriots fans gleefully retweeted the automated images of irreverent and unsavory Twitter screen names until one fan’s hateful, obscenely racist Twitter handle finally shut it all down.

While the Patriots’ stunt was naïve and a bit misguided, what’s Bill Cosby’s excuse? The comedian’s website recently posted a link to a photo meme-generator and the message: Go ahead, meme me! Twitter followers were in no mood for poking fun at Jell-O pudding commercial or his penchant for wearing loud sweaters, and #CosbyMeme was quickly populated by darkly humorous evocations of Cosby’s decades of rape allegations. Who didn’t see that coming?

Twitter can be a powerful tool for brands to interact with their customers, but it also puts power in the hands of the public where it can all too easily backfire. Disgruntled customers and bystanders can shape or even hijack a promotional campaign to disastrous results. When a brand like Coke loses control of its own product’s narrative, things can go downhill in a hurry as the tweets are shared with their millions of Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….



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There Really is an ISIS Jihadi Cookbook- because even a Mujahideen marches on its stomach

image via Blazing Cat Fur

image via Blazing Cat Fur


ISIS is actively recruiting women to help with the domestic side of holy war. 
The jihadists are on social media outlets scouting for western women willing to travel to Syria to cook and clean for “Allah’s soldiers.” And not just any western women; they seek women who are “interested in explosive belt and suicide bombing more than a white dress or a castle or clothing or furniture.”

The self-proclaimed Islamic State established the Al Zawra women’s auxiliary group and tasked it with bringing new recruits up to speed.
It’s a jihadi-style finishing school for the women of ISIS, offering tips on snagging a warrior husband (sample tweet: “Marriage in the land of jihad: till martyrdom do us part,”), and instruction in such diverse subjects as sewing, Sharia law, weaponry, and battlefield first aid. The group has a worldwide following through its YouTube channel, Twitter feed, and Facebook account, and dozens of personal member blogs and Facebook pages spew English language propaganda (not all are reachable from U.S. computers).  

Special attention is given to cooking, with recipes for a “hungry mujahideen” released online as part of the Al Zawra Media “jihadi cookbook.”
Animated clipart cooking videos and elaborately detailed step-by-step photography accompany the recipes. Most dishes are simple foods that hit the spot during a break in the daily rampaging.

Date mush snack balls are described as “a quick recipe for a mild appetite to be eaten with coffee or with water and eaten at any time, especially during the intermission in battles. They contain significant calories, and will extend the power and strength of the Mujahedeen, God willing.” A more extended lull in the war against the infidels means it’s time for pancakes. It’s a western-style recipe (1 egg, 1 cup milk, 1 cup flour, 1 Tbsp oil, 4 tsp sugar, salt) served with honey. According to Al Zawra, pancakes fit for a terrorist should be cooked in a non-stick pan.

It’s the ordinariness that makes it surreal. 
The girls and young women of ISIS have Tumblrs and Instagram accounts like teenagers everywhere, but they gossip about husbands attaining martyrdom and share unrecognizable niqab-clad selfies. Their internet memes are less cats more suicide vests, and cooking lessons come from horrifically brutal terrorists. 
Al Zawra truly represents the banality of evil.



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Madison Avenue Makes Way for a Girl


The Morton Salt Girl beat back the Keebler Elf, the Energizer Bunny, Mr. Clean, and the Jolly Green Giant to take her place among the most celebrated icons of advertising.
They were all vying to be this year’s inductee to the Madison Avenue Advertising Walk of Fame. The winner was announced in conjunction with Advertising Week, the industry’s annual, New York-based celebration of ads and agencies.

The Morton Salt Girl was the odds-on favorite in this year’s contest.
The umbrella-toting miss is celebrating her hundredth anniversary this year and she wasn’t shy about playing the nostalgia card for publicity. She teamed up with another century-old icon for the double centennial celebration of Morton Salt Girl Day at Wrigley Field, and has been strutting her stuff from coast to coast for 100 Parties.100 Cities.100 Days

Little Salt Girl; big social media maven.
A few years ago the Walk of Fame selection process shifted from the advertising community to a public vote, landing squarely in the Morton Salt Girl’s wheelhouse. Her classic pose was endlessly repinned on Pinterest pages and copied for an Instagram look-alike competition. Her timeless yet constantly evolving image was profiled in a sentimental YouTube documentary.  And she furiously worked to get out the vote on Facebook and Twitter, imploring her fans with the campaign slogan Make it rain! Make it pour! Vote Morton Salt Girl and raise her score! The elf, the bunny, and the bald man didn’t stand a chance.

The Morton Salt Girl broke through the glass ceiling to join her male counterparts on the Walk of Fame.
Just one other woman has made it—the weirdly enthusiastic Flo of Progressive Insurance got the nod in 2012. Certainly nobody expected to see a young girl rise from the old boys’ network of the food sector, with its long list of male inductees that includes esteemed heavyweights like Mr. Peanut, Colonel Sanders, Orville Redenbacher, Tony the Tiger, Juan Valdez, and the Pillsbury Dough Boy.

The Morton Salt Girl (and yes, that is her only name) has increased brand awareness, generated revenue, and withstood the test of time. Now she’ll have a permanent place on New York’s sidewalks. You can visit her along with the other iconic figures of branding at the Advertising Walk of Fame on Madison Avenue between 42nd and 50th Street.



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McDonald’s is a Big Loser at the Sochi Olympics

Olympic Games Sponsorship: "SKI JUMP" Print Ad by DDB Amsterdam

Olympic Games Sponsorship: “SKI JUMP” Print Ad by DDB Amsterdam


It’s been a slippery slope for McDonald’s in Sochi.
As a lead sponsor of the Olympics, a privilege that’s rumored to cost more than $100 million, it was supposed to be their time to shine. Instead, the company’s lukewarm support of human rights has brought protests, boycotts, and a media nightmare to their physical and cyber doorsteps.

It’s a giant misstep for the usually savvy multinational marketer.
McDonald’s seems unprepared for the backlash, yet there was plenty of warning. The controversy began last June when a law banning “propaganda of nontraditional sexual relations” was passed by Russia’s Federal Assembly and signed into law by President Vladimir Putin. The policy was condemned by athletes, activists, governments, and citizens from around the world.

It should have been the moment for a global business leader like McDonald’s to take a stand on this pressing public issue.
The Olympics are not the time for political grandstanding, but they can be a platform for building awareness. All it would take is a clear and unequivocal public position affirming support for non-discrimination and equality and denouncing anti-LGBT laws and the hate-based violence and human rights abuses they incite.

McDonald’s restaurants in dozens of cities around the world became the target of protests and college activists campaigned to evict campus outlets, but the most damage was inflicted by McDonald’s widely mocked and parodied social media campaign Cheers to Sochi. Its hashtag (#CheerstoSochi) was meant to send messages of support to American athletes but instead it was hijacked by LGBT activists who took over the conversation on sites like Twitter and Facebook. The farcical Cheers to Sochi site has been translated into Japanese, German, French and Russian. It’s been flooded with criticism of McDonald’s inaction, and has also become an aggregator for stories highlighting Russian repression.
As of this writing, posts to the parody site outnumber those to the official site by a 10-to-1 margin.

Nearly 100 nations, thousands of athletes, 14,000 press outlets.
With the eyes of the world on Sochi, the global Olympic sponsors have the opportunity and platform for impressions that will last long after the final bobsled run. Just think of the impact if McDonald’s had used the occasion and resources to share a message of tolerance.


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The Best Twitter Feeds for Food Lovers

[image courtesy of City Food Magazine]

[image courtesy of City Food Magazine]


The name Twitter was chosen by its founders because the dictionary defines it as “a short burst of inconsequential information.”
With a seven year history and a half a billion users no one’s calling Twitter inconsequential, but its tweets remain as relentlessly random and trivial as ever.
But Twitter opens a portal to the inner life of the food industry—the chefs, kitchens, patrons, and dishes—better than any other form of social media.

Twitter blurs the line between amateurs and professionals.
It gives a six-degrees-of-separation kind of connection to friends, strangers, and celebrities. It provides access, takes you behind the scenes, and invites you to join conversations that would be otherwise unavailable to you. The talk can be inane, aggravating, and inappropriate. It’s uncensored and often filled with more typos and grammatical incorrectness than you would think is possible in 140 characters. But there are also plenty of twitter feeds in the food world that are filled with focused, cogent, impassioned talk. 

Time Magazine just released its annual roundup of the best Twitter feeds. 10 food feeds made this year’s list.

  • Time calls the cookbook author and New York Times food writer Mark Bittman Twitter’s most-followable food wonk (@markbittman)
  • We can always use a little more snark from the author and TV personality Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain)
  • The former food critic for the New York Times, former Editor in Chief of the late, great Gourmet Magazine, Ruth Reichl has a way with words and food (@ruthreichl)
  • Combine Ruth Reichl’s stylings with Anthony Bourdain’s profanity and you get the parody mash-up Ruth Bourdain (@RuthBourdain)
  • Sure, he tweets about food, but celebrity chef and Top Chef  judge Tom Colicchio is also passionate about ending hunger in America (@tomcolicchio)
  • Foodimentary’s fun facts and food trivia provide a daily dose of esoteric web weirdness (@Foodimentary)
  • Pioneering food critic Gael Greene keeps the legend alive (@GaelGreene)
  • Jordana Rothman is irreverent, irrepressible, and knows everything there is to know about eating and drinking in New York (@jordanarothman)
  • She’s Alice Waters. That’s reason enough, but now you can also follow the effort to rebuild Chez Panisse after its devastating fire (@AliceWaters)
  • Pete Wells brings imagination and quotability to his role as Dining Editor at the New York Times while regularly unleashing the critical hounds of hell on New York restaurants. He shares even more in short form on Twitter (@pete_wells)

Oops, they missed a few.
There’s plenty of expertise out there; a good Twitter feed informs and entertains. The author that can cloak knowledge in humor and personality is the one I want to read. And if they can regularly accomplish all of that in under 140 characters, that’s a Twitter feed I want to follow. Here’s a few feeds that were overlooked by Time but made the cut for Gigabiting:

  • You can’t talk west coast food without including the San Francisco Chronicle’s Michael Bauer. He’s in his third decade at the Chronicle where he heads the nation’s largest newspaper food and wine program, and he tweets great pics (@michaelbauer1)
  • Jonathan Gold is another essential part of that west coast conversation. He’s quick and quippy and relishes his role as the self-named ‘belly of Los Angeles’ (@thejgold)
  • Follow Food Curated’s Liza de Guia’s tweets like a trail of breadcrumbs through what’s new and happening in the Brooklyn artisan food scene (@SkeeterNYC)
  • I love you Amanda Hesser, and I feel like you love me too. That’s because the Food52 founder gets personal, accessible, and interactive with her feed (@amandahesser)
  • You’re on Twitter because you want to be connected. Nobody understands that better than Danielle Gould, the force behind Food+Tech Connect (@dhgisme)

You’ll find dozens more food-related feeds worth following among the Shorty Awards nominees. This is the fifth season for the awards recognizing the best in social media, and the food category leaders are jostling for the top prize. Winners will be announced in April, so there’s still time to nominate your personal favorite, cast a vote, or just look for some new folks to follow.




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Foodie Dating Hits the Million Mark


Heart-shaped sugar cubes via Prima Donna Bride


Foodies need love too.

Could you date someone who’s a vegan? What if that potentially special someone doesn’t like Chinese food? Or chocolate? Or pasta? You could be chevre on a crusty baguette and they’re Velveeta on white. Or you’re gluten-free and they’re all about pancake breakfasts.
Forget about personality types, pheromones, and horoscope signs; true compatibility is all about the food.

It’s been a year since the Eater blog hooked up with HowAboutWe to launch its foodie matchmaking service.
Instead of matching singles by their online profiles, daters pair up by filling in the blank:  How about we…
Proposals tend toward …shop for sea salt and make our own caramels  try every grilled cheese sandwich on the menu of the new food truck  ...load up on charcuterie and have a picnic…

On the Gen X dating giant OK Cupid, you can’t just call yourself a foodie, you have to prove your bona fides with a foodie test. The flavors and spices section asks daters to name an herb that’s described as ‘woody.’ The plating section of the test goes multiple choice with the question of appropriate garnish for a gin-brined pork tenderloin (would it be fresh parsley, creme fraiche, lemon twist and juniper berries, or a swirl of basil emulsion?).

If you want something more low-key with fewer strings attached than traditional one-to-one dating, there’s the pre-arranged double dates of Tandem and group dining sites like GrubWithUs and BlendAbout. These are services that facilitate something like a smörgåsbord of blind dates bringing together a dinner party’s-worth of singles— typically a table of four or eight with some pre-screened interests and compatibility. Still too much of a commitment? Try meeting someone Over Coffee.

There’s dating for vegetarians and vegans, Singles With Food Allergies, special dieters, and a site that matches couples based on refrigerator contents. Non-cooks can also look for their own Single Chefs to date.

On the occasion of enabling its one-millionth date, HowAboutWe looks at how all their foodie daters filled in the blank. The One Million Date infographic tallies up the pour-over coffee dates, shared house made pickle plates, and thousands of artisan bitters-infused cocktail meet ups for a revealing look at the dating habits of food-obsessed singles.


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Surprise: Pinterest is Tops Online for Recipes

image via Someecards


Pinterest was the breakout social network of 2012.
It might feel like you blinked and missed this one, but clearly a lot of food lovers didn’t— 90% of online recipe sharing is happening on Pinterest.

Two year-old Pinterest flew under the tech radar for much of its early life. Silicon Valley found it easy to ignore the start-up of yet another social media channel, and especially one that lacked technological innovation and was founded by a Valley outsider with a humanities background. But it struck a chord with home cooks.

Mom’s old recipe cards meet food porn.
The Pinterest combination of social sharing plus a visual scrapbook feels right at home in the kitchen. Home cooks have been clipping and swapping recipes forever, and now they’re taking them to Pinterest’s web-based pinboards where food fans trump all other interest groups. Food is by far the fastest-growing, most popular, most re-pinned category on the site.

The top spot on Pinterest is no small potatoes.
Pinterest is now the third largest social network behind only Facebook and Twitter, and is closing in on number two. The site has around 30 million monthly visitors and is the third-largest source of referral traffic on the Internet. 70% of Pinterest users cite recipes as their most pinned items.

Pinterest has staying power.
Pinterest is the rare social network that seems to have cracked the code for monetization. Pinned images are like glowing recommendations for products that convert Pinterest browsers into shoppers at astounding rates. According to PriceGrabber 21% of users have purchased something they saw on the site and foodies again led the way, accounting for a third of those purchases. The site collects affiliate fees by attaching links that take you from a pin you like to the store that sells the item, and last month Pinterest launched its business accounts that will surely lead to advertising and other revenue.

Learn to love Pinterest.
There’s never been a shortage of places to go for pretty pictures of food and stuff to buy. And does anybody really need another online social network? But if it’s where the food is, it’s where we’ll want to be. 
I’m trying:


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Here’s Why You Shouldn’t Tweet Everything You Eat

Tweeting breakfast with Future Man via Where's My Jetpack?


Who gives a tweet?
Time Magazine calls them ‘contented little burps’. In GQ, the comedian Patton Oswalt characterized them less kindly as ‘bowel movement prequels.’
340 million tweets are generated every day, and sometimes it feels like they’re all about lunch.

Food is one of our two universal hobbies.
It’s as broadly interesting as any subject can be. But just like sex—that other über-popular pastime—we don’t need to know everything about what our friends are up to. And we definitely don’t need to see pictures of it.

Not every meal is tweet-worthy.
Food pictures shouldn’t be tweeted out of a documentarian’s compulsion. The subject needs to earn its keep. When we scroll through too many pictures, even the exceptional becomes mundane. The sheer volume threatens to turn the delectably compelling into the hypnotically dull.

We need to have standards.
Before you post, ask yourself why. The simplest of tweets can add to the conversation, while the exceptional might just be an ego-driven desire to put one’s fabulousness on display. Share because it’s a leg of lamb of uncommon beauty or a creatively set table. Share because it’s a special gathering of friends or a unique outing in your travels. If it’s conspicuous social validation or gustatory navel gazing, keep it to yourself.

Eat It Don’t Tweet It is a hilariously scathing satirical YouTube video that chronicles the dining adventures of a smug, knit-capped food photo enthusiast who sings like The Cure’s Robert Smith and fancies himself to be a ‘gastronomic Annie Leibovitz.’
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It’s Not Online Dating. It’s Social Pairing.


image via SituEating


Socialize with your social network? What a concept.

Social pairing takes all those profiles and all that location-based data and creates real-world connections. KLM lets you choose your airplane seatmate from LinkedIn or Facebook, and Ticketmaster does the same for concert tickets. But nothing pairs like social networks and food. Food is the original social media juggernaut. Our dining history is documented in OpenTable and Foursquare, our likes and dislikes are recorded in reviews on Yelp, we tweet about our favorite dishes, and post pictures to our Facebook profiles.

Despite all of our online communities—or maybe because of them—we yearn for offline connectedness, and food is the natural place to find it. Great or humble, the best meals are the ones we share with others. New social pairing applications are leveraging existing networks and creating new ones to add genuine social engagement to our social media connections.

Group dining sites like GrubWithUs and BlendAbout facilitate something like a smörgåsbord of blind dates. More low-key, with fewer strings attached than traditional dating sites, the dinners are held after work on non-date nights, and typically bring together a table of eight. Dinners can be strictly social or tagged for specific hobbies or industries, and diners link their RSVPs to photos and profiles.

GetLunched is on its way to the U.S. on the heels of its UK success. It integrates LinkedIn profiles into old-fashioned business networking. Job hunters, advice-seekers, brainstormers, and collaborators can extend a lunchtime invitation that specifies ‘I’m Buying,’ ‘You’re Buying’ or ’50/50,’ depending on the value exchange of the meeting.

Personally, I enjoy a table for one; just me and my meal—no extraneous conversation, no one asking me to switch to the tuna because they’re already ordering the lamb, no presumptive fork sticking into my dessert. But it would appear that many women don’t.  It makes them feel awkward or lonely, dredges up painful memories of the middle school cafeteria, or they could be traveling in a country where it’s frowned upon or even dangerous. Men are strictly banned from the women-only social pairings of Invite for a BiteMaiden Voyage, and Global Dinner Network.

Zokos calls itself a ‘collaborative party platform’. It takes the group beyond restaurants with DIY potluck dinners, picnics, tailgate parties, and cooking classes. You can designate yourself as host or guest, and zokos brokers the invitations, collects the ‘chip-in’ costs, and oversees menu contributions so you don’t end up with 8 pasta salads.

If the hours-long commitment to a meal with unknown companions is too much for you, how about a cup of coffee? Over Coffee pairs up compatible coffee drinkers, and plans to open their own bricks-and-mortar café to bring together strangers for caffeine and conversation.

For another take on not dining solo, check out Gigabiting’s Shoulder to Shoulder with Strangers: Dining at the communal table.

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The Yin and the Yang of Twitter Hashtags

cursing twitter via ClaudiaChez

Fast food restaurants are working the Twitter hashtags.
For the non-twitterers out there, hashtags are words or phrases preceded by a hash (#) symbol. They’re used to organize tweets into a topic or dialogue, and make them searchable. The hottest hashtags appear as trending topics on the right side of Twitter’s homepage, the most coveted spot in the twitterverse, seen by millions of users. This happens organically when a newsworthy event dominates the conversation, like #JapanEarthquake or #JustinBieberHaircut, but last year Twitter started selling spots on the list. About $120,000 buys a promoted trend, and everyone from Al Jazeera (#ArabSpring) to Starbucks (#Starbucks) has sponsored a hashtag and promoted it as a trending topic.

Fast food restaurants are drawn to Twitter.
It’s an inexpensive and immediate way to create a buzz and promote a menu special. It builds customer engagement and loyalty. At its best Twitter creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging; at its worst, well, it also creates powerful word-of-mouth messaging.

Twitter campaigns gone wild.
McDonald’s began promoting the sponsored hashtag #McDStories last week with the idea of getting people talking about their experiences with the fast food giant. The company started the conversation with a few innocuous tweets:  Meet some of the hard-working people dedicated to providing McDs with quality food every day and When u make something w/pride, people can taste it. As hoped, people shared their #McDStories by the thousands. There were stories about diabetes and diarrhea, a video posted of a mouse working its way through a bag of hamburger buns, and a heated back-and-forth with PETA over the inhumane use of mechanically-separated chickens. Apparently some McDStories are better left untold.

Wendy’s had a similar experience with a Twitter campaign built around its 25-year old TV commercial with the little old lady crying out “Where’s the Beef?  When the chain promoted its hashtag #HerestheBeef, plenty of users responded with their pornographic versions of Here it is! and another segment responded with less bawdy but equally graphic imagery of cruelly penned, industrially-raised livestock. Come on Wendy’s, #HeresTheBeef, on a Meatless Monday, no less? Some might say you got what was coming to you.

Hardly isolated incidents, we’ve seen plenty of fast food twittering gone awry. There have been some obvious missteps: Subway, not exactly known for its down-home cookin’ was derided for its hashtag #SUBWAYAllStarBBQ; and Taco Bell was justifiably slammed for its utterly offensive tweet on Martin Luther King Day asking Have you ever dreamed of eating @Taco Bell and then woke up and made that dream come true?

It’s an axiom of marketing that customers share bad experiences far more often than they praise the good ones- consumer research has shown that bad:good ratio to be 5 to 1. When a customer shares online, you can multiply those numbers by their Twitter followers, and the followers’ followers, and the followers’ followers’ followers….
Between their own tweeted gaffes and hashtags that are hijacked by disgruntled customers, companies are powerless to control their promotional narratives.
Maybe fast food restaurants should just lay off the Twitter hashtags.



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Let’s Make a Deal

My This for Your That.
You did it as a kid. You had an innate sense of the relative value of a bag of Cheetos and could broker a win-win lunchroom exchange.

Swapping is back.
Combine the DIY ethic with social networks, add in a shaky economy, and the table is set for cashless food exchanges.

If you’ve ever made your own pickles or jam, the appeal of a swap is obvious. You spent a small fortune and an entire weekend on the project, leaving you with enough jars of a single condiment to last you two lifetimes. Connect with a dozen or so nearby DIYers and everyone gets to strut their culinary stuff and go home with a varied pantry’s worth of foodstuffs. Since swaps are held privately and no money changes hands, they are generally out of the purview of health and commerce regulatory agencies.

When a swap is dedicated to a single product the trading is self-evident—cookies for cookies, soup for soup. It gets fuzzy when there is no common food currency. I’m sure you make some kick-ass blueberry muffins, but they can seem awfully pedestrian next to Buddha’s Hand limoncello or confited duck legs. As the trading goes on around you, you might feel like the last kid left after the captains choose up sides in a neighborhood kickball game.

Putting your creation out there is inherently personal. Kitchen egos and credibility are at stake. At its best, with a community of like-minded home cooks with shared food sensibilities, a food swap ends up like a town hall meeting crossed with a village marketplace and a hint of the local pub. And you get to go home with your haul of lovingly-made, hand-crafted foods.

The Hip Girl’s Guide to Homemaking guides you through hosting your own food swap, and provides links to ongoing events around the country.


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My Life as a Foodie Carpetbagger

A girl’s gotta eat.

The economy has slowed, but not my appetite.
I’m not eating less, but I have made adjustments to what, where, and how I’m doing it.
I eat out less often and cook and entertain at home much more. I still want variety in my food and dining choices, but now my extravagances are more likely to be inventively prepared takeout and specialty grocery items.

Call me what you will: a carpetbagger, a profiteer, an opportunist. All I know is that with a little creativity, resourcefulness, and flexibility, the current economic climate can be a foodie’s salad days. […]

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Tweet and Eat: Dinner in 140 Characters


Recipe tweets, or twecipes, are incredible feats of verbal compression.

To make the 140 character cut, the recipe has to be reduced to its essence, trimmed and edited, and then trimmed again. Every keystroke has to pull its weight; each word should vibrate with economy.

The best twecipes are models of clarity and usefulness. […]

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Yelping Without a Net


Notice anything different on Yelp? Beginning this week, you can read reviews that the site’s automatic filtering system had previously hidden from view.

Did you think that Yelp was a level playing field? Silly you.

Yelp has been stung by charges that it manipulates its users’ feedback to favor businesses that advertise on the site. The review site insists that its filter serves to maintain the integrity of the site by screening out reviews that are biased and untrustworthy, such as positive reviews written by the business itself or negative reviews that come from a competitor. […]

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I’ll Get the Next Round:


Pabst Blue Ribbon is:

a) a blue-collar favorite decades past its heyday; or

b) the hippest, hottest beer around.

If you were born much before 1980 you probably missed this one.                             […]

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Tweet ‘n Eat

image courtesy of City Food Magazine

image courtesy of City Food Magazine

Are you a Twitter skeptic?

Have you been slow to warm to the charms of microblogging?
We all know the pitfalls: the time-sucking potential; the relentless stream of random messages; the trivial, navel-gazing quality of too many tweets.

It’s time to stop blaming the messenger! […]

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Do You Eat Like a Conservative or a Liberal?


Remember the defining moment in the 2008 election? In the still wide field of Democratic presidential candidates, the senator from Illinois strode into a Rural Issues Forum on a farm outside of Des Moines, Iowa and asked this question:
Anybody gone into Whole Foods lately and see what they charge for arugula?
That’s when we knew that Barack Obama was a foodie like us.

It turns out that Democrats do like arugula. And Thai food. And brie. […]

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Such a deal!


Wheeling a shopping cart through Costco piled high with enormous bottles of olive oil and 24 can cases of tuna fish.
That’s what most of us think of buying in bulk.
Groupon is looking to change that with its bargain-hunting meets social media mashup. […]

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