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Go viral on Facebook to change our food system

Can you really effect change in America's food system by "liking" a post on Facebook? Following The Green Grocer's example, here are four ways you can attempt to go viral.

If you still doubt the benefits of social media for your business—and for our industry, for that matter—it's time for a reality check. In Kashi's case, a non-GMO reality check that started because of a viral photo on Facebook.

The Kellogg's-owned company wasn't planning to announce in May that it would ditch GMOs in two product lines by 2014. But a photo taken by The Green Grocer, a Rhode Island-based independent retailer, went viral on Facebook last week and caused a deluge of angry customers to bombard Kashi's Facebook page with complaints about GMOs.

Kashi pledged to ditch GMOs this past Monday after the photo was shared more than 11,000 times. If that isn't the power of social media (and the power of the independent retailer) I don't know what is.

So how do you replicate The Green Grocer's success? Owner John Wood is the first to say it's nearly impossible to replicate because when a photo goes viral, it's largely out of an individual's control. But there are things you can do to encourage photo sharing and effect industry change, just like Wood did this week.

How to go viral on Facebook

Post provocative photos that inform.
People are motivated to share thought-provoking information with their peers largely because of a need to be seen as intelligent. Consider how your photo will educate and perhaps even shock your shoppers with information they didn't previously know about natural foods.

Ensure your photo is high-quality.
Photos are more likely to be shared if they're, well, good photos! Just look at Instagram. The app's most-followed people have the most stunning photos. You don't have to be a professional photographer, but consider lighting and composition, and always upload large versions of your photos.

Send content directly to your influencers.
Do you have an extremely passionate customer who follows you on Facebook? Are several brands featured in your photo or article? Share your content with these folks and encourage them to spread the word on all of their social networks.

Follow an existing Facebook meme.
Prefer to follow someone's lead? It's easier to hop on the bandwagon than to create a new caravan. When you see articles about food (pink slime, anyone?) or photos that are already making the rounds on Facebook, share them on your own wall and be sure to comment on the original post. Joining the discussion is as important in this industry as starting one. Plus, you'll discover new fans and potential brand champions in the process.

Is "going viral" just a gimmick?

The important of virality in today's social media begs the question: Are we really creating change in the food system by "liking" a Facebook post? Aren't actions such as Kashi's few and far between?

TIME columnist Josh Ozersky said it well: "There’s no doubt that we all feel more involved than we actually are by participating in these viral campaigns. But so what? At least they offer us a chance to actually do something other than fret, glower or tsk-tsk when confronted with some evil in the news."

So the next time you spend a whole afternoon "liking" food posts on Facebook, just remember: You could be participating in change that's far greater than you could imagine.

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