With lower overhead and the freedom of the road, food trucks can offer aspiring restaurateurs a chance to cut their teeth and build a fan base before going all-in on a brick and mortar location. To succeed, these mobile businesses have taken advantage of social media and their expertise can be helpful to businesses of any type.

Understand the platforms. Natasha Case, founder of gourmet ice cream sandwich truck Coolhaus recommends maximizing platforms' specialities. Twitter provides a non-visual voice for the brand, great for alerts and to draw customers to your latest locations. Instagram sells people on well-styled images of artfully-prepared food. Facebook is a clubhouse for the already initiated, perfect for tapping into your ultra fan, who’ll want to name your next menu item or be your customer of the week.

Coolhaus, Mies Vanilla Rohe bar

Coolhaus posts a Mies Vanilla Rohe bar to remind Instagram users about the architectural legends that inspired its creations.
Image credit: coolhaus/Instagram

Learn from the masters. When Eric Silverstein of Peached Tortilla opened his truck, he looked to (and copied from) the best. "We were already following the bigger trucks in L.A.," he says. He watched what worked and what didn't from other already successful trucks. Among the most popular methods are setting a firm schedule for the trucks and using Twitter to keep followers apprised of their every move and stop. This level of constant communication, especially when combined with responding to specific feedback, keeps followers actively engaged in the conversation.

The Peached Tortilla, Laksa noodles

The Peached Tortilla uses artfullly styled photos to take advantage of visual mediums like Instagram and Facebook.

Craft your voice. Be able to sum up your brand in one sentence. Jae Kim says that his Mexican/Asian fusion cuisine Chi'lantro is “very upbeat and happy," he says. "Our brand is all about a good time." To that end, the company posts photos with bright colors and keeps responses positive – even when responding to complaints. Understanding what’s at the core of your brand will help ensure a more unified voice when members of your team pitch in to write posts of their own.

Quality control. Food trucks remind us that social media is not just a branding tool – it’s a quality control monitor. Customer photos helped Case discover a faulty freezer and a broken truck light. Silverstein closely watches Instagram to not only see customer reactions to his truck's food, but to ensure that it's being prepared and served properly. If a picture of a particular dish looks incorrect, he can connect with his employees and fix the problem instantly.

When using social media as quality control, Kim says it's vital to respond as soon as possible, preferably within one business day. "Social media is a tool for our internal team members," he says. "We can see what we're doing wrong and fix it."

Match posts to your market. Truck owners we talked to used certain platforms to reach certain customers. For instance, Silverstein says that Instagram is a perfect match for younger, hipper users. They use Facebook when the platform’s calendar feature can help them get word out about events or when they’re looking to reach an older audience.

Form bonds. Above all else, social media is about interacting with customers. Silverstein helped shape Peached Tortilla's fan base by closely tracking Foursquare check-ins and personally thanking everyone who checked in over Twitter. "It was that proactive approach that worked," he says. "Customers want to hear that you appreciate their business. And you should appreciate their business."

Despite the size of their network, Case recognizes how important it is to let the customers know you care, so she regularly leaves jokes and comments under photos and tweets. "It's a great way to show them that you have an ear to the ground and that their voice is being heard," she says.

"These people may follow us on Twitter, but they're real people," adds Silverstein. He recalls meeting customers in person and recognizing their Twitter handles, creating an instant and real connection: "They see who we are and they become bigger fans."