Twitter food trucksThere are still a lot of sceptics out there who consider Twitter overblown with hype and offering no tangible commercial value. I can understand that point of view but it often comes from a lack of vision regarding the role social media can play in customer communication and engagement.

This week I came across a truly innovative way that Twitter is being used in the US to generate demand and tap into a social vibe. Food trucks are cruising the streets of the US, using social media channels like Twitter to reach their audience and drive local street level activity.

The net result is queues of hungry punters lining up to savour their delicacy of choice, coverage in mass media and a whole lot of love and money. Who says Twitter is hot air?

The concept

Kobi BBQ on TwitterIt all started in California. Kobi BBQ launched with the concept back in November 2008. Founder Mark Manguera’s brain kicked into action in a post clubbing drunken bout of inspiration. Born out of personal hunger, 30 days later he’s set up Kobi BBQ and quickly became the buzz of the town using online social networking.

Boasting leading chef Roy Choi who has graced many top US restaurants, the idea was no flash in the pan. The goal was to connect with food lovers at grassroots level, bringing quality food to the kerb at affordable prices.

Role of Twitter

Twitter is the primary communication channel because of its ubiquity and penetration of mobile devices. No matter what time of day or location, Twitter updates can reach a large audience instantaneously. 

It’s similar (in my mind) to Flash Mob events where a crowd can be assembled in one location with a shared interest. It taps into the transient nature and attention span of the Twitter generation – you don’t need to think, you just need to act, read the 140 characters and get to the location specified. Eat, chat, embrace street culture then drift back to where you came from.

The results

In just over a year these trucks have blown up from nonexistence to citywide euphoria. A “food truck festival” in downtown LA drew in 20,000 people last month. The one thing they have in common is that they operate on Twitter.

There is now a long list of food trucks on Twitter. If you’re interested, take a peek at the growing list and hook up to their accounts to see how they’re doing it. What I love the most is that it’s such a simple concept – that’s not meant to denigrate the idea, for me simple ideas are often the most inspiring.

So, cynics take a step back and look at how business can use social media to drive demand. I’m not foolish enough to think this works for every market but as with any business decision, it’s about understanding your audience and giving it a go. The lesson is that you can deliver solutions via Twitter even if your audience doesn’t yet know it has a need.

I’d be interested to hear from anyone who knows of other niche areas where Twitter and social media are driving innovation.

Thanks to Jason Spitz, e-commerce Director at Prodege LLC (via LinkedIn) for the nod towards the trucking story.