“When I grow up, I want to be in charge of community engagement for a vegan butcher shop!”
My guess is, the number of people who have had this thought is approximately zero. So how do you go about fostering a culture around such a niche career?
The answer is… well, that’s something I’m still figuring out.
I first met my bosses, Kale and Aubry Walch, in 2014 at their Minneapolis Farmers’ Market stand. They were quirky and fun, and they made delicious plant-based meats. I returned regularly to stock up on vegan pepperoni, teriyaki jerky and smoky house ribs. Their stand was always crowded with people, and they sold out weekend after weekend, so it was clear they had something special.
I had started my own blog, One Girl, Two Cities, in 2013, which offered me some hands-on experience with running social media accounts on a semi-professional level. By 2015, Aubry and Kale had grown an active following on Facebook, but as someone running a food business, and a vegan food business at that, I knew they needed to be on Instagram.
So I started an account for them.
Admittedly, I barely engaged at first and mostly cross-posted their Facebook images, which are both considered sacrilege in my book. In fall 2015, I convinced them to let me take over their Twitter account just before the brick and mortar grand opening in January 2016, and two weeks later, they started paying me full-time as a Community Manger (now Marketing Communications Coordinator). Yes, I basically pushed my way into a job, and I have no shame about it!
To date, we have 57,000 followers on Facebook, 7,300 on Twitter and almost 40,000 on Instagram. My world is so different from when I started running their social media platforms, and I’m currently the sole person engaging and creating content on each platform. No pressure, right?
Part of what makes community management enjoyable for me is that I sincerely love our community. Sure, we get the occasional troll here and there, but the support is overwhelmingly positive. The few times we do get trolls, our customers jump in and defend us before I can even get to it!
The Herbivorous Butcher wouldn’t be anything today without the support of our loyal and passionate customers and fans, so I don’t ever want them to get the impression that we take them for granted.
Personally, it means a lot when a business takes time to engage with me on social media, whether it’s liking a post that I tagged them in or responding to a question. So I take this and apply it to my job by striving to interact and letting people know I’m here to answer any questions they have. Even if it’s a simple, “Thank you!” or liking their comment on Instagram or Facebook, I consistently acknowledge them.
I rely heavily on emojis (the green heart and plant are our signature emojis) and come across as personable and enthusiastic. I sign my name in private conversations, and I’ve also gone out of my way to introduce myself in person if the opportunity presents itself.
I’m perhaps hyper-diligent about finding online conversations, but if it helps connect people to us and get their questions answered, then it’s a priceless activity. Examples would include searching the hashtags of any event we participate in on Twitter and Instagram, as well as searching through photos by location on Instagram.
An integral aspect to maintaining a consistently high engagement level is the social media management tool Sprout Social. We don’t have a large budget for my area of the company, but the monthly fee makes up for the time I save. I manage comments coming in from Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and I love that they all show up in one feed. I also use Sprout Social to “listen” for key words and hashtags on Twitter and Instagram.
The biggest thing I have to remind myself of is that we will continually acquire a new audience, so even if it’s something that seems old hat to me, I have to remain patient and provide education about who we are and what we do over and over. I’m most often reminded of this when our episode of Food Network’s Diners, Drive-in, and Dives re-airs because it’s a more mainstream audience than we’re used to, and they’re people starting from scratch when it comes to the plant-based meats world.
Taking a step back to see the bigger picture requires effort, but it’s essential in providing a positive educational experience.
Offering varied content makes a difference, too. I will not follow accounts on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram if all they do is share the same images from one platform to another, so you’ll rarely find me doing this on The Herbivorous Butcher’s accounts. Or if it’s the same content (for example, we rotate our hot sandwich option and I post about them the day before we introduce a new sandwich), I’ll create different images for at least one of the platforms. People should have a reason to follow you on different accounts, and providing varied content is key.
I add a few other special touches to my community management that make us stand out. One example is that I regularly check Instagram private messages for requests since you don’t get a notification if you aren’t following the other account. If another page posts about us (news sources, animal rights groups, etc.), I read through the comments and respond, especially to questions, as our page. I also engage with other pages as The Herbivorous Butcher and not myself, so others can see my desire to connect as a business.
Social listening through Sprout Social has also allowed me to learn early on about new businesses offering similar products to ours. While the market for vegan butchers is growing (did you know Time Money included Vegan Butcher in its article 7 New Jobs That Are So 2017?), we certainly don’t consider others our competition because right now there’s room for everyone to thrive. This is an aspect of community management that some people probably don’t consider when I tell them about my job. Several of us were recently interviewed for a piece in the Wall Street Journal, and we all tagged each other in our social media posts. We’re here to build each other up, after all.
When it comes down to it, my main goal is to give The Herbivorous Butcher a consistent, authentic, friendly voice on social media. Community management is an essential customer service role for any company, and while it’s a full-time job for me, hiring someone to focus on it for even one hour a day can make a world of difference to your customers.
Laura vanZandt is the Marketing Communications Coordinator for America’s first vegan butcher shop, The Herbivorous Butcher. She also writes the blog One Girl, Two Cities, enjoys eating all things plant-based, celebrating the diverse Twin Cities theater community, and traveling as often as her schedule allows.