Editor Dan Malovany is not a complete idiot when it comes to social media. Even so, when he found out that Klosterman Baking recently jumped on the social media bandwagon, he had to learn more.

Socially Adept

I’m not a complete idiot when it comes to social media. Okay, I’ve never Tweeted anybody, but I do understand why they don’t call it Twitting. Sure, I don’t have a Facebook account, but I have never referred to it as “MyFace” as a fellow editor once did. And yeah, I don’t know the entire abbreviated language of texting, but I do know what LOL, CYA and FUBAR mean.

So when I found out that Klosterman Baking recently jumped on the social media bandwagon, I just had to chat (via telephone) with Kim Klosterman, chief executive officer of the Cincinnati-based company, about how bakers can most effectively use this new medium as a part of a broader public relations initiative.

“Traditional media has become a little expensive and segmented, as we all know, and social media is a way to reach our customers very reasonably - and not only reach our customers, but also engage in a dialogue with them,” she explained. “Social media enables us to better learn the wants, needs, dislikes of people who purchase bread. It’s interesting for us to relate one-on-one with our customers and see what they have to say.”

That “dialogue,” she adds, is the most critical aspect. Facebook and Twitter allow bakers and snack producers to better understand, inform, educate and even react to their customers, often instantaneously. Social media also can be used to develop new products or conduct research that’s complementary to actual consumer panels.

In her family blog called “A Slice of Life,” Kim invites consumers to tell her about everything bread-related from recipes to products to their experiences. In a recent Tweet, the company gave its followers a heads up on National Bologna Day. In another “Tweet for Savings,” consumers had to answer a couple questions about Klosterman Baking or the history of bread to win a coupon for a free loaf of bread.

“With Twitter, you really have to talk in sound bites,” Kim notes. “You just have a small window to get people’s attention, and that can be used to drive people to your Facebook page, a blog or Web site. It might be as simple as a thought for the day.”

Throughout November, which was National Sandwich Month, Klosterman Baking launched its inaugural “Family Secret Recipe Contest” where social media enthusiasts posted their favorite sandwich recipes on Facebook. The winner gets a year’s supply of bread.

“I’m looking forward to seeing more engagement with our customers as recipes go up,” she says. “I’m hoping that people will like to read what recipes are being posted, and that it opens up more of a discussion. What you are constantly trying to do is put a question, a thought or an idea out there to get response back.”

Being interactive, however, requires a little due diligence. On Twitter, for instance, a follower may not be a bone fide consumer. Rather, they could be people who just want to glean some of your followers so they can build up their network of followers. Likewise on Facebook, you need to monitor your page for untoward postings.

“You have to watch what’s coming in because you don’t want things that are questionable coming up on your page. You are trying to present a certain image,” Kim says. “If something comes in that’s off-color, you need to nip it in the bud.”

Klosterman Baking has worked with its agency, RMC Advertising of Columbus, Ohio, to develop and now keep a close watch on its budding new networks. Kim and the bakery’s sales and marketing staff are involved in the program on a daily basis. Just because it’s cheaper than regular advertising doesn’t mean there aren’t additional costs in time and money.

It’s too early to evaluate the success of the program, which was launched in September. Down the line, however, Klosterman Baking may use traditional forms of media - whether it be tags on radio, snipes on billboards or promotions on its bread bags - to drive traffic to its social media outlets. That’s how traditional and new media can be used to reinforce one another.

Kim also has some advice on going into social networking.

First, keep it real. “This is a dialogue, and it’s a friendship,” she says. “Listen to your customers and give them appropriate feedback, and do it immediately.”

Second, keep it simple. It can be a sound bite, a photograph, a recipe or even a link to a Web site.

Third, keep it consistent.

“Reinforce your message through all of your social media and do it on a regular basis,” Kim advises. “If there is too big of a lull, you will lose people, and you want that message to consistently be the same.”

As for me, I think I’m going to do a blog. That spicy burrito from last night isn’t agreeing with me.

Dan Malovany, editor