Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Hamilton's #sewhungry drew 12,000 people to food trunks

Case study from my book, by Hamilton City's very own Michael Marini, thank you!
In May of 2012, the Ottawa Street Business Improvement Area, the Ottawa Street Farmers Market and the City of Hamilton's Economic Development Office and Tourism Office carried out a social media driven event- Sew Hungry.

This event became Canada's largest food truck rally and drew thousands of people all without spending a single dime on paid advertising.  It was a commercial success, a social media phenomenon and really highlighted the cohesiveness of Hamilton's online community.

But, how did this all start?  Good question.  In the Spring of 2011, the Ottawa Street Business Improvement Area (BIA) and the Ottawa Street Farmers Market approached the City of Hamilton's Economic Development Office and Tourism Office with an idea for a lunch time event that would draw new visitors and patrons to the Ottawa Street BIA (in Hamilton's East end).

After brainstorming ideas, the concept began to centre around the new and rapid rise of food trucks on Hamilton streets.  A lunchtime event that would bring out a business crowd to eat from a selection of food trucks up and down the BIA- Sew Hungry was born!  The name itself is a double entendre pointing to the historical nature of the BIA- Hamilton's traditional garment district and now its home d├ęcor district- and the focus on food for this event.

The first Sew Hungry took place in September 2011 and the decision was made extremely early in the process that this would be an entirely social media driven event.  No paid advertising was to occur- mainly for the fact that all the hard costs were spent on logistics (parking permits, signage, etc.).  The tactics included a Facebook fan page, a twitter hashtag (#sewhungry) and blog posts.  The team expected a few hundred people to attend and found that at the end of the event approximately 8,000 attended!  This was in large part to the constant social media efforts, favourable coverage by local media outlets and the fact that free shuttle busses were running from other areas of the city to bring in patrons.  The most impressive achievement was that #sewhungry trended to fourth in Canada on Twitter that day- a thrill for the team behind this first time, local event and garnered the team best social media campaign in Ontario by the Economic Developers Council of Ontario (EDCO).

For the second installment of Sew Hungry, May 2012, the team again promoted the event via social media.  Now that the event had proven itself, it was time to step up the attraction to the event mainly by working to attract the greatest number of food trucks ever collected at one time in Canada- making Sew Hungry Canada's largest.  A Facebook fan page (830 fans) was once again set up, the hashtag was in great use, and for this event Instagram was also employed as an event (over 230 photos shared using #sewhungry).  It was also mentioned in major blogs from the Food Network Canada and Ontario Tourism and mentioned on Twitter by those with major followers including the Food Network Canada, Eat Street (food truck show on Food Network), and the Canadian Tourism Commission.

Most importantly, the event was an economic driver.  It drew 12,000 people which resulted in most of the trucks being sold out of food and most of the participating restaurants from the Ottawa Street BIA sold out as well.  In addition, it wasn't just food related spending.  All Sorts Gallery, an artists' co-operative on the street sold $1,000 worth of art during the event and had orders for another $1,000.

In all, the power of social media drew people to this event and created a sense of community focused around commerce and supporting small business.  It is a good example of how planning, choosing the right tactics/platforms and leveraging not only community/media partnerships, but harnessing the power of online influencers can advance your economic agenda.

Michael Marini, Co-Ordinator Marketing
City of Hamilton
Economic Development and Real Estate Division

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