This is a belated post for Blog Action Day that fell on a Sunday this year. I’m rarely online on a Sunday and even though I had a nagging feeling that I was missing something I couldn’t pinpoint it until today. So apologies for my tardiness, but this is what I would have said.

The economic slow down in Ireland has affected the food industry here in many ways. We’ve seen restaurants close down, a resurgence of nostalgia foods – most recently old-fashioned sweets – and a whole host of new artisan producers rise. Cooking has become a massive pass time. People may not be eating out as much but there is more cooking going on in the home. I’m not sure we can blame all of this on the re**ssion but maybe there are positives we can take away from it.

Social media and blogging have become a great cost effective way for food producers, venues and enthusiasts to communicate with their customers. Sites like Any Given Food and the Irish Food Bloggers Association have sprung up and events like Savour Kilkenny have become massive social media events as well as physical events.

So how can food businesses leverage social media?

Venues

Restaurants and cafes have the opportunity to engage customers on premises. Mobile applications like Foursquare and Foodspotting may not have a huge reach in Ireland, but the users they do have are pretty passionate about utilising them. Both of these applications can be linked to Twitter and Facebook so users have the opportunity of spreading the love beyond their fellow food geeks and into the Twittosphere. By offering deals for checking in or becoming a mayor of the venue you are encouraging more visits and more shares from these hardcore users.

Incentivise your customer to stay in touch. Have you dropped your business card into the bowl in Wagamama? I know I have and I’m always delighted to get the deals that arrive in my inbox because of it. But can you be more creative? I love this example from Jay Baur’s Convince And Convert blog of a sandwich bar that uses QR codes to get you signed up to Facebook whilst waiting in the queue.

Food producers

Recipes are hugely popular online. And what better way to promote your product than sharing recipes that require its use. Text recipes are great but putting a face on the brand by making a video could be even better. As often as possible include a photograph as this will get your followers tastebuds working.

Incentivise customers to Like your Facebook page by offering exclusive taster packs in a competition. Take a look at Keith Bohanna’s Irish Artisan Food Producers Facebook page for a collection of really good giveaways. (If a little out of date).

Feature the suppliers of your product and link to their Facebook pages, twitter accounts or blogs.

Tell the story of your product, what inspired you to create it, people love to hear stories and will feel more connected with you and your brand if you share.

Ask your fans to review the product – have a competition for the best review or recipe including it.  Again this gives your potential customers some ownership of what you do and they will be delighted to see their recipes featured on your Facebook page or blog.

Food writers

Recipes again! give a way a little bit of what you have to offer. Blogging and sharing recipes from other social media users is a great way to connect with people and give a taste of what you do. I’ve always loved Kieran Murphy’s Ice cream Ireland blog. The recipes are mouth watering and when I saw Murphy’s Ice Cream shops start to appear in Dublin I was straight in to try some of the flavours he’d been talking about.  Two food writers Mona Wise from Wise Words and Marian Hearne from Dairy Free & Spelt Living are launching cook books and their Facebook pages and blogs are great advertisements for what will be inside.

My Top tips

Connect with as many other Irish food businesses as you can; through Twitter, through Facebook business pages, through blog comments and anywhere else you find them online.

Tweet during as many food events and TV shows as possible. #rtemc (RTE Masterchef) for example was a great way to connect with other passionate foodies.

Share – don’t just post about yourself, share the love, link to other foodie Facebook pages, share their recipes and their blog posts. Interact and converse to become part of the community.

Recipes, recipes, recipes! People love recipes so whether they are your own or someone else’s you are sharing, make sure people know that your page or blog is the place to come for the best recipes within your category.

Do you have any tips to add? I know that I must have missed some. I’d love to hear what has worked or not worked for you.