In China few investors no longer cast their eyes on high technology, rather suddently on certain food brands with very humble birth, which often started as a tiny diner, a space no bigger than 20 square meters, price per dish often below RMB40 (USD6.5). Behind this phenomenon, I believe had it not been China netizens’ craze for social media, these “food entrepreneurs” perhaps would never had the chance to bring their obscure business to such a whole new level.

Unlike Silicon Valley in US, China does not have too many IT innovations going on daily. Rather I see food startups on a regular basis. It actually makes sense. Population is huge and most of them live by a meager income and a stressful working life which resulted in no time to cook. The demand side of fast and cheap food is enormous, and this sector should be even impervious to economic recession.

So gradually entrepreneurs of pancake, dumpling, Mantou, BBQ penetrate their charm via social media. The ripple effect is that little diner in a murky street attracts crowds and invites curious attention from investors. After all few food entrepreneurs do have a fancy dream of building up a well known food brand in the near future.

Though the tools of social media are abundant in China, at this stage, these food entrepreneurs still mainly rely on Dianping(China’s Yelp), to allure online customers to offline. An interview conducted by a local media with the boss of “Mr. Wonton”, a quite well known tiny restaurant in Beijing, revealed that 80% of its news traffic at this stage actually came from Dianping while 20% from word of mouth; Sina Weibo and Wechat are more like accessory communication, these two, especially Wechat, are more helpful in deepening your relation with your loyal customers.

That is true. Every time if I need to search a local restaurant, Dianping is always my first online destination to look at. Each rating or review is counted as valuable guideline and any negative comment often stirs my anxiety about its food quality.

Digital is transforming the way we are conducting business today, including those small traditional or neglected industries. It grants you a powerful tool to expand your business horizon and vision, but not a magic wand by any level. To play it around requires publicity gimmick and savvy mechanism.

Of course in the end heedless of how much buzz a food entrepreneur would be able to create on social media, the food quality and cheapness still matter the most. You need your repeat customers, you need them to write good online review and rating which bring more traffics to your business; if more are satisfied, then you are simply creating a beneficial cycle and momentum.

By Cécilia Wu
English & Chinese Editorial Manager