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Can wholesalers continue to live on fringes of social network?

New Spitalfields Market has a good website and an active twitter feed – its handle is @FruitnVeg_Spits for those of you who aren’t amongst the 500+ followers. But looking at its content and the corresponding content for the twitter feeds of other wholesale markets, it’s not hard to conclude that the collective market approach would be all the stronger if there were more individual tenants operating in the twitter-sphere.

 

To anyone outside of the wholesale world, it is remarkable in 2017 that so many sizeable fresh produce and flower wholesale companies still do not have their own website, let alone that many wholesalers have not yet entered the realm of having an email address that reveals their corporate identity.

 

There’s no blame attached here – those wholesalers and individuals are by and large operating quite successfully without having to resort to new-fangled methods of selling their wares. But what if they did enter the IT age? Could widening the tentacles of communication in fact make them far more successful and give wholesale markets a new customer and consumer audience to talk to?

 

I think it could. Just to show that I’m generalising, some of the larger wholesalers in London and outside the capital are pretty active on social media and it’s noticeable that there is a captive audience out there for all things fruit and vegetables. Admittedly the traditional wholesale market customer base isn’t overly indulging in twitter or instagram, but their customers are and that makes it relevant.

 

It may seem a tough ask, but there are reasonably simple ways for your businesses to conquer social media. It requires time and commitment and while it’s no doubt easier for a renowned brand with thousands of employees and a designated social media team to make their mark, there’s room for all sizes and all messages on social media.

 

As with everything in business though, success often depends on planning, structure and clear objectives. Here are five quick tips to anyone looking to tackle social media for the first time in earnest.

 

1. Plan

 

A successful social networking strategy can deliver quick and tangible results at relatively low cost, but before jumping in feet first it is important to develop a strategy. Questions you need to be able to answer before getting started include:

 

• Where is our audience spending time online – what social networking sites do they use?

 

• What type of information do you want to give them?

 

• Who in your organisation will post the information?

 

• How and who will monitor conversations and content?

 

• Who will respond to comments?

 

• How will be deal with negative comments?

 

• How will you measure your success?

 

2. Listen and learn

 

Before you start sending messages out there into the ether, you need to know what people are saying about you and where. Tools such as Google Alerts and Addictomatic can help you track down any online comment about your firm and this will give you some valuable insight into consumer perception about the products and services you offer and help you put together an online strategy to influence those perceptions going forward.

 

3. Get involved

 

Set up an online brand profile. This might include a Facebook Page, a Twitter account and/or a forum on your website. Previous research into which platforms your target audience is using will help to decide where you need to be posting information.

 

Whichever applications and platforms you choose, information needs to be current and relevant. The approach also needs to be honest and transparent to ensure your integrity remains intact. If negative comments are posted, these need to be dealt with quickly and effectively – possibly taking the conversation off line to ensure they do not escalate into a messy, public debate. Customers’ comments online should be afforded the same level of importance as those made face to face.

 

4. Don’t be a control freak

 

Social networking is based on a two-way dialogue between an individual, company or brand and the consumer. All of your customers are consumers when all is said and done. Successful social networking needs more than the old-fashioned approach of pushing key messages out to your core target audience.

 

You are inviting the consumer to actively engage with you, your people, products and values. You may want several members of your team to post comment on behalf of the company. While they should all be aware of the central themes of the message, social networking is all about people and personalities, and certainly not about persistent promotion of corporate messages. As they do face-to-face in the buyer’s walk, customers will like the opportunity to connect on a personal level and therefore you may need to provide a little more freedom of expression, within reason!

 

As social media consumers tend to demand that conversations take place in real time or as close to real time as possible. Having more of the staff authorised to respond makes this much easier.

 

5. Measure your results

 

Monitor and measure how effective your strategy is by constantly referring to the plan. Measures might include; the number of ‘fans’ attracted by your Facebook page; the volume of replies and ‘retweets’ your Twitter posts generate; the number of visits to your website and ultimately the number of new users being driven to buy fresh produce or flowers from your business.

 

There are lots of free tools available to help you draw data from various social networking sources. For example, Facebook and twitter offer their own free analytical tools, which provide a huge amount of data about how people are using your page. Google Analytics is also a free tool and can provide detailed analysis of how people are navigating your website. There are also loads of paid-for services available, but the free tools should provide enough support to enable you to gain a good insight into the success of your strategy.

 

Although working in the wholesale market environment protects you from this fact somewhat, the way the world communicates has changed forever. It’s very close to being no longer acceptable to ignore the communications expectations of customers and consumers and expect to be successful.

 

It’s not the be-all and end-all for your business, but any wholesalers that find the way to succeed on social media will be far better for it. And the New Spitalfields twitter feed could do with a few more friends to help disseminate all of the positive messages coming out of this great market!

 

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