Follow Friday: Union Square Donuts

These handcrafted donuts are so stylish, even Italy wants a taste.

As many continue to indulge in artistic and stylish food photography, doughnuts have become a fan favorite. Before eager eaters take a bite of their Boston creme or jelly-filled doughnuts (or the industry’s latest hybrid, the cronut), they snap a photo to commemorate their milestone moment. For Somerville’s Union Square Donuts, such rituals have become commonplace, and a huge part of their social media strategy. Because their doughnuts are so picture-esque, an art within themselves, the store has gained over 11,000 followers on Instagram, and counting.

Below, co-owner Josh Danoff describes how Union Square’s handcrafted doughnuts get from the oven to your social media feed every morning. Welcome to #DonutNation.

Follow Friday, At a Glance
Connect with Union Square Donuts on Social Media:

facebook Facebook
twitter Twitter
instagram Instagram

Between Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, how do you manage the various social media accounts for Union Square Donuts?

Even before we decide how [we] want to manage it, it’s something from a business standpoint deciding that it’s going to be an integral part of [our] business. For us, what social media has done—besides being an outlet to keep that community of customers informed on new products, that we’re open, and just everything that’s going on—as the number of people who follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook has increased, it also has been a great place for a conversation, for people to be really involved. We’ve always thought of ourselves as more than just a product in the supermarket. We have so many opportunities to actually have face time with our customers, but [being] online really gives a chance for a conversation where not only can people ask questions, but an opportunity for people to be involved, and that’s been really great.

What’s the most surprising or outspoken feedback you’ve ever gotten?

We found that for the most part, questions that people ask on social media are also questions that they’ll ask at the shop. What’s really been interesting about Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter is that all three of them are different. Each one has a purpose, means, and target market. What we found is that in the last year or so, we just hit 10,000 followers on Instagram. The overwhelming majority of them have occurred probably in the last year, and it’s directly correlated to when we got a little more concentrated with Instagram, how we were using it, and how all the pictures related to each other. With Instagram, there can be a little bit of a further reach, but it also does have a very strong local presence. But because Instagram has such a far reach across the country and across the world, I think that we did get a request to ship doughnuts to—I’m pretty sure it was—Italy. People were asking if we could mail them some doughnuts to Italy. Obviously, we’re not able to do that.

Your Instagram pictures are really striking. Are those taken professionally, or are you taking all of those independently in the shop?

Any photo that we say is ours is done in-shop. Sometimes they’re done on an iPhone, and sometimes they’re done on a camera. What’s been really great is that we’ve been able to figure out our style of how we show the doughnuts, what that kind of style is going to be—whether it’s a hand holding the doughnut in front of a brick wall, or the doughnut is in a box or stacked up. What has also come of that is people who come to the shop for doughnuts—and you can say this about all food—people order doughnuts and one of the first things that happens before a person takes a bite, their phone comes out and they take a picture. That turned into people taking pictures in a similar way to the way that we take pictures. Then they post that, we see it, and often times—we obviously give credit—and we’re then able to share one of our customer’s photo. The majority of the pictures are ones that we’ve taken, and then some are generated by our customers.

We’ve been talking a lot about Instagram, but what are the goals of your Facebook and Twitter?

With Twitter, you don’t have as much time. You actually have X number of characters, but then Twitter just moves really fast. It’s more of, it’s 7 a.m., we open, a tweet goes out that says we’re open. It’s sending out that message to the people that are around. If it’s a message about being open and we have doughnuts, those kinds of messages are really directed at the people who are local. Something goes out at 7 and you’re on your way to work, maybe you’ll remember that you wanted to have doughnuts that morning. The other way that Twitter is really great is if we got some press in an article, we’d retweet the article.

Facebook is somewhere in the middle in terms of Instagram or Twitter. We found that people really like seeing a picture on Facebook. We found that people like when there’s an image along with words, and you have a little more room to work with. There’s still interaction, with comments, with your response, and we get a handful of messages on Facebook. Inquiries certainly come through on Facebook for a wedding, an event, or for a specific product.

Of all three, which one is the must-follow?

I think that if you’re following any of them, there’s enough links to the others that eventually you might end up with all three. Even though we use them each differently, for the most part we get all the information across all of them. Right now, we probably have twice as many followers on Instagram than we do for either Facebook or Twitter. If we were only able to use one, I think it would be tough. We have a whole picture of social media and how we use social media. I’d say that it’s almost as important as an ingredient in what we bake. We certainly would still be in business, and we’d still be getting people doughnuts, but I think the amount of people that you’re able to reach in a really short amount of time is amazing. At least for us, it’s absolutely changed the way that we do business.

Describe the voice and tone of your social media in three words.

My first reaction to that was going to be doughnuts, doughnuts, doughnuts. Doughnuts would obviously be one. I think informative and fun, or light-hearted.

Do you have any personal favorite pictures or stories that you’ve shared over social media?

There was one morning I hadn’t been into the shop yet, I was checking our Instagram, and the photo that we had used that day was a debut of one of the jelly doughnuts. There were a few of them, one was cut in half, and they were stacked and it was just a beautiful picture. I looked at it, and I was like, ‘This makes me want to go eat a doughnut.’ This is coming from somebody—not to brag—[who eats] a lot of doughnuts. That’s when I knew that with our Instagram, we were doing it correctly. 

Say hello to our newest flavor, Raspberry Jam Filled! Stop by the shop and try one today. #donutnation A photo posted by Union Square Donuts (@unionsquaredonuts) on

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.