Social can absolutely boost sales for food brands, but not in the way we are used to. Brands must use social the way it was intended to be used—to socialize.

In other words, talk to consumers in a way that gets them feeling more connected to your brand by demonstrating some understanding of what they want, need or is important to them. It shouldn’t be that difficult. They are very public.

This has always been hard for brands, but it’s even harder on social.

Unlike television commercials and print ads, where consumersexpect you to sell, social has different rules. You are a visitor. And smart marketers behave that way. They don’t tell their host what to do or think. They listen and ask questions and they do it politely. Think of being on someone’s Twitter, Facebook or Instagram like being a guest in their home. You want them to welcome you back because they enjoyed you, you told them funny stories, gave them good advice or were helpful in some way.

Unfortunately, what most brands do is barge in-uninvited, bore us to death and leave a big mess before we finally ask them to leave.

So what are the food brands who are having success on social media doing right?

They talk about what’s great about consumers instead of what’s great about themselves. That’s why cause marketing is so effective for brands. Never before has supporting something that is important to your consumers worked so well to generate buzz and create loyalty. Green Giant did it with their wildly successful campaign to fight bullying.

  1. Talk with consumers, not at them. No one likes a houseguest who only wants to talk about themselves. Ask questions. Get them to join your conversation. They expect nothing less. And why should they? You are, after all, visiting their social home. Look at the engagement Hostess created with their “Prepare Your Cakeface” campaign. In the end, their consumers wound up having content they wanted to share with their friends and followers. Brilliant.
  2. Entertain consumers while you educate. Try tapping into something that’s going on in pop culture right now. That way, consumers will already be talking about what you are talking about. Denny’s understood that with the launch of the gold iPhone 5. They jumped on a conversation that was already happening and were rewarded with tons of engagement and created content that was shared like crazy.

Bottom line, if you want to use social to promote a food brand, don’t make the mistakes that most healthy food companies are making. Resist the urge to chest pound or talk at consumers. They’ll either ignore you or, even worse, kick you out and lock the door behind you.