Using Social Media to Keep DC Food Trucks

keep dc food trucks freeOne of the greatest things about DC that is almost universally loved by everyone who lives here is the DC Food Trucks. Everyone knows about them! When tourists come in they see all of the hotdog and egg roll trucks down by the mall. Unfortunately they generally don’t see any of the awesome selection of trucks that frequent McPherson Square and some of the other areas. You can literally get just about any type of food from anywhere in the world right out of a truck. Even Chick-Fil-A has a truck that travels all across the city.

Long story short, everyone loves the food trucks in DC, but even the town’s universal love for them doesn’t stop the city government from trying to make them harder to operate.

Do you remember a few years ago how cheap it was to eat at food trucks? You could really get some sweet deals. After all, this only makes sense. How much overhead can there actually be in a tiny little truck? They don’t have to pay for a building or property taxes. They don’t have any servers, so their labor costs are pretty low. But recently the cost to eat at a food truck has gone through the roof, and it’s basically no cheaper than going to a regular restaurant.

Increasingly the cost to operate and run a food truck in DC is rising. There are strict health regulations that operators must follow and there are tons and tons of fees involved with getting licenses. There are also special food truck taxes that you must pay as a consumer each and every transaction you make at a food truck.

Worse yet, many brick and mortar restaurants don’t like the competition that the local food truck bring to them and they are trying to squeeze them out of operations. This is one of the biggest problems and where anti-food truck people seem to have been gaining the most ground. Brick and mortar restaurants would rather see the food trucks go away because they have less businesses to compete with then, so they go to local governments and complain that food trucks don’t “play by the rules,” because they have low overhead and aren’t traditional restaurants. Some cities have ordinances on the books now that say food truck must be a certain number of feet away from any brick and mortar restaurant, thusly limiting competition nearby. Thankfully DC hasn’t done something this silly yet, but neighboring cities in Virginia have.

This is yet another example of how we can use social media to our advantage. If we start talking to our local councilman about the problems that this presents for our city, they will probably listen to us. If we go to all of the various food truck owners, asking them to promote the #FREEDCFOODTRUCK hashtag, they’d be more than happy to do it because it’s their business that’s at steak (see what I did?)

We need to keep food trucks in DC and we don’t need to set up any more crazy rules that they need to jump through.

Necessity of Social Media

social media is everywhereSocial media is quickly becoming a necessity in all areas of business, nonprofits, and even the governmental sector. Even just a few years ago companies and local businesses could get by without having much of a social media presence, but now it’s pretty much expected that you have one—even if you’re a mom and pop shop.

One of the reasons is brand management. With the creation of social networks like Yelp, businesses need to be more proactive in the way they react with customers outside of the doors of their business. In the old model, if someone happened to have a bad experience at a restaurant of business, he might tell a few people, but more than likely he would just keep it to himself until he went back then next time and if the service was back to normal the second time, he wouldn’t mention it.

But in today’s world of instant feedback, businesses have direct communication with their customers both in and out of the store. If someone has a bad experience with a store, they will oftentimes go straight over to websites like Yelp to let others about it. Now you could always go and call the Better Business Bureau, but what social media has done is it has taken away the majority of the costs associated with leaving feedback for businesses. Think about how much time it takes to call up some place like the Better Business Bureau. Now think about how much time it takes to leave a negative Yelp review. The unfortunate thing about some social media is that it might be a little too easy and instantaneous. You know the old saying to write your mean, nasty reply letter when you’re angry but wait a day to send it and if you still feel okay after a day then you should send it? Well, that’s not always the case with social media feedback and a lot of the times, once you leave the feedback, it’s up there permanently.

On the whole though, this is an absolutely great invention and has revolutionized the feedback process and caused countless people to get on social media that otherwise would not have. For example, the IRS is now on social media. Who would have guessed that? What’s the point of them being on social media you ask? No clue, but they’re there, supposedly willing to listen to the public. The Metro also has its own app.

And not only the IRS, every single congressman has an online profile now. It’s an absolute necessity in the world of political campaigning these days. Gone are the days of just radio or TV ads. Internet campaigning is just as big if not bigger than the traditional roles of media and continues to grow larger and larger by the year.

Do you or your business have a social media profile? I’d be interested to hear your story and why it is you decided to create one. And if your business doesn’t have one, I’d be interested as to why not. Is it not a viable model for your business? Is it not something that is relevant to your customer base? Please let me know.

Social Media Efforts to Improve the Metro

fix the metroSeems like all of the out of towners and the people who visit DC once or twice a year have this strange idea that the Metro is efficient and a great example of public transportation that actually works. What?! How can people who take the Metro once or twice a year possibly make this call? Probably because they only take the Metro during nonpeak hours in the afternoon when everyone is at work, so it seems great. Hey, look there is a subway that can take me anywhere around the mall that I want to go—and there’s hardly anyone on it! (Yeah try and take an Orange Line train at 5:30.) Combine this with the fact that tourists don’t actually have any time constraints. They can show up wherever whenever they want to. I mean, the museums are pretty much open all day long and no tourist is getting up at six a.m. to go to the American History.

The real story of the DC Metro is much different. The constant track work. The nonstop increasing of price. And the lateness. The constant lateness! And how can the escalators always be out? I mean, always! And no, broken escalators do not turn into stairs at the Metro. They get shut down and roped off so no one can use them. How anyone hails it as a work of public transportation getting it right is beyond me.

But with the power of social media we can help to improve the Metro in all of its non-glory and perhaps make it a tolerable experience. In fact, people are already trying little by little to do this in the DC area.

One of the best public displays of this is the twitter account “Unsuck DC Metro.” The account is basically an aggregator of all of people’s complaints/compliments (when there are some) of the DC Metro. They describe themselves as having a love/hate relationship with the metro, so they are clearly torn on it. They want to love it, but it is just so bad! Don’t we all want to love the Metro? We keep giving it a chance, but it just lets us down—every time.

What people can do with the power of social media is bring problems like these to the forefront and expose them to everyone. Oftentimes these problems are highlighted in such a way that it actually embarrasses the transit authority and sometimes changes are finally made. Will it ever be a pleasurable experience to ride on the Metro? Probably not, but what is life without a little bit of hope?

Some good things are happening on the Metro, however. The long awaited Silver Line has finally opened up and is now taking passengers on a select few stops. The Silver Line has also relieved some of the crowding on Orange Line trains, which at some times looked like a Chinese train station where people were getting pushed into the cars like cattle. Yes, our little Metro is improving slowly but surely, and soon enough maybe we’ll get that time thing figure out.