Ten years ago, you never dreamed of putting a picture of your breakfast on the Internet, or sharing your musings while you sit in traffic. And you couldn’t show the world videos of the funny tricks performed by your children or your dog.
Now you can, courtesy of social media outlets such as Facebook (founded in February 2004), YouTube (February 2005) and Twitter (March 2006), to name a few.
It didn’t take long for the social media phenomenon to sweep around the world, and while it is a global tool, it has local applications, making it ideal for an organization like the U.S. Meat Export Federation (USMEF) that supports U.S. beef, pork and lamb exports around the world, but tailors the message to each individual market.
“Social media is insanely popular and is incredibly powerful – and cost-effective – if used properly,” said Dan Halstrom, USMEF senior vice president of global marketing and communications. “USMEF’s marketing team around the world has adopted many of these tools for our use, timing our rollout of these tactics to keep us in step with the local conditions and, ideally, a step ahead of our competitors.”
Consider these facts about just a few of the leading social media channels:
- Facebook has 1.23 billion monthly active users – up 16 percent over last year
- 4.5 billion “likes” are generated daily
- Twitter reports it has an estimated 1 billion registered users
- 184 million active monthly Twitter users
- YouTube has more than 1 billion unique users each month
- More than 6 billion hours of videos are watched on YouTube monthly – almost an hour for every person on Earth
- 80% of YouTube traffic comes from outside the U.S.
USMEF has followed the launch of the key social media channels closely, often using them as an efficient method for attracting the attention of the youthful early adopters who also have an interest in high-quality red meat products. USMEF offices also have relied on social media when traditional channels were either too expensive or unwilling to carry positive messages about American products.
First steps in South Korea
In one of the most tech-savvy countries on earth, USMEF-South Korea led the way for the organization’s social media engagement in late 2007. Faced with 100,000 protesters in the streets of Seoul angry about the government’s decision to readmit U.S. beef after a BSE-related absence, the USMEF marketing team began cultivating independent food bloggers to write about the products when other media outlets wouldn’t even accept paid advertisements for fear of inspiring consumer boycotts.
“We had to communicate with consumers through a different channel than conventional media to turn around negative consumer sentiment,” said Min Park, USMEF-Korea public relations manager.”
To ensure that it did not arouse the potentially volatile Korean consumer base, USMEF waited until spring of 2013 before launching its Facebook presence. The most active social media site in Korea, Facebook is popular among consumers in the 20 to 29 age demographic, where 93.5 percent of consumers use a smart phone.
Twitter, on the other hand, is more of a news communications tool in Korea with postings on politics, religion and social issues, so it has not been a focus for the USMEF-Korea team.
The approach in Japan
The USMEF team in Japan, however, has adopted a broader range of social media tools in an environment that has been very receptive to U.S. red meat. As in Korea, bloggers were the first channel for USMEF to reach out to consumers in Japan, working closely with homemaker-communicators who found a niche with a very receptive audience.
“Bloggers are a very powerful tool,” said Tazuko Hijikata, senior manager of consumer affairs for USMEF-Japan. “We began working with several bloggers as long as six years ago, some of whom have 5,000 visitors reading their blogs every day.”
She noted that a single update to the “Enjoy Family Life” diary-style blog drew nearly 10,000 users to the USMEF website.
Hijikata’s team is planning several Facebook campaigns in the coming year, and also has taken advantage of a growing interest in Twitter, including a creative program to encourage consumers at Japanese restaurants that serve U.S. beef to invite their friends to join them. The Twitter campaign, which offered modest rewards of packages of U.S. beef as incentive, enticed more than 10,000 consumers to tweet their American beef dining plans to family and friends.
“When friends read the tweets, they see that someone they trust is publicly announcing that they are enjoying U.S. beef, which supports both the image of U.S. beef and the restaurant offering it on the menu,” said Hijikata.
Yet another channel, YouTube, is being utilized to post how-to videos for fresh meat preparation. One such video for U.S. pork garnered more than 245,000 views in one month.
The world’s biggest concentration of red meat consumers is rapidly evolving into the world’s social media hub, and USMEF-China is an active participant in the evolution. With the absence of U.S. beef from this market of 1.3 billion consumers, American pork is the focus of a diversified social media program.
“Social media has developed very fast and, as mobile devices become more and more popular, social media has quickly become one of the most important public relations tools in China,” said Joel Haggard, senior vice president for USMEF’s Asia-Pacific region. While Twitter, Facebook and YouTube are banned in China, the country remains very active in social media.
Educating distributors, chefs and gourmets was the original goal in China as USMEF began promoting cooking ideas, recipes and restaurant recommendations through the Weibo channel in late 2011, but that audience quickly grew to include consumers. The site took off in 2012 and with 77 percent growth over the past two years it now serves nearly 130 million active users. But, just as MySpace was eclipsed by Facebook in the U.S., Weibo has yielded its top spot among Chinese social media followers to Wechat, which claims an estimated 600 million users.
USMEF-China has utilized Wechat since mid-2013 much as it did Weibo earlier. USMEF-China also has developed its own U.S. Meat App for smart phones to provide consumer information and education.
Looking ahead, Haggard and his team are targeting restaurant ranking websites, such as Dianping.com, which younger consumers use in larger cities to determine where they want to dine. Promotions with websites of this nature can direct diners to restaurants that serve U.S. pork.
The European Union is a high-value market but not a large outlet for American exports, due largely to its powerful domestic pork industry and its beef quotas and restrictions on hormone use in cattle. The USMEF team in the EU, however, remains committed to sustaining a consistent profile for U.S. red meat products, with a current focus on beef since most U.S. pork going to the EU is destined for the processing sector.
Late in 2013, USMEF-EU launched its Facebook page, The Marbled Meat Club, to familiarize EU audiences – focusing on chefs and the food trade – with the quality attributes of U.S. red meat as well as cooking tips, pairings with wines and other helpful information. Similarly, USMEF-EU has an active presence on YouTube with instructional videos, such as this piece by celebrity chef Jay McCarthy on how to cut a prime rib.
“It is our long-term strategy to raise awareness of U.S. red meat in the trade and among chefs,” said Felipe Macias, USMEF representative based in Spain. “The EU is a big market of 28 countries, so we believe social media is the right tool to reach our target audience.”
The Middle East is an important export market for U.S. beef. The fourth-largest volume destination, including the top market (Egypt) for beef variety meat, the region also includes the United Arab Emirates, an up-and-coming destination for business travelers and tourists. It also is one of the fastest-growing regions in the world for social media use.
“Social networking is the most popular online activity across the Middle East and North Africa, with almost 90 percent of consumers reporting they use it daily,” said Amr Abd El Gliel, USMEF representative based in Cairo. “Facebook only opened its first Middle East office in May 2012, and already it’s the most popular social media site in the region.”
Social media’s popularity surged in the Arab Spring as a primary communications channel, and there are more than 90 million consumers in the region with Internet access – about 56 million of whom follow Facebook, according to socialbakers.com, a regional Internet analytics firm. USMEF recently launched its inaugural Middle East Facebook presence, and already boasts more than 115,000 “likes” for its helpful beef cooking and handling information.
“The current number of youth in the Middle East region is unprecedented – nearly 179 million,” said Amr. “Nearly one in three people living in the region is between the ages of 15 and 24, and it is the youth who are shaping the future of the consumer market. They are among our targets, along with chefs, retail meat case staff, homemakers, importers, distributors and retailers.”
Another more recent entry into the social media process is USMEF-Mexico, which launched its Facebook site just last month. As the overall use of the Internet – and more specifically of smart phones – is growing steadily, the Mexico team is making corporate chefs its initial target for new Facebook and Twitter initiatives.
Social media is gradually gaining momentum in this island nation, and while the domestic meat industry has not pursued social media channels, USMEF-Taiwan has had a Facebook presence for nearly four years, using the site to promote nutritional information, recipes and restaurants that carry U.S. red meat and cutting videos for the trade.
Beyond social media
While social media has proven an important and cost-effective tool, USMEF’s marketing teams are already looking at the next generation of Internet-based tools. The USMEF-China team has taken an aggressive approach. Earlier this month, it collaborated with China’s business-to-business market leader, TMall.com, to introduce eight U.S. pork items with guaranteed nationwide delivery in less than 48 hours. The site drew an enormous number of viewers in the first few hours of operation, and a USMEF promotion, sponsored through the Pork Checkoff, attracted more than 2,000 applications in the first hour for a chance to win samples of U.S. pork.
There are more than 600 million Chinese Internet users, up from 45 million in 2002, and the online population is growing about 4 percent per year, according to a McKinsey Global Institute report. That creates a huge bulls-eye for Internet marketers. In fact, China’s TMall set a record last year when it sold $5.7 billion of goods and services in a single 24-hour period. The site sells brand-name goods from an estimated 70,000 global companies including Apple, Nike, Gap and Adidas.
“What we are seeing in China is the tip of the iceberg,” said Halstrom, who noted that a report by the Pew Research Center shows 37 percent of the population in China owns a smart phone, but there are other markets outside North America, the EU and the top Asian economies that also boast high smart phone usage, including Lebanon (45 percent), Chile (39 percent), Jordan (38 percent), Malaysia (31 percent) and Venezuela (31 percent).
“The future of food sales of all types, and red meat in particular, will be closely intertwined with the Internet and social marketing,” Halstrom said. “Every market reacts at its own pace, but they are all moving in the same direction.”
High-resolution photos for use with this release: