“Social media, Poul? You don’t have that kind of time. And neither do I.” I quickly and unceremoniously unfollowed him, to his delight, and he soon after deleted the account.
His response posed a poignant question though: Is social media a colossal waste of time? Is it a brain-sucking, work-avoiding activity that should be relegated to lunch breaks or the weekends? I would argue, albeit in a qualified manner, that social media is not trivial. While I don’t have hard data to validate my perspective, I do have anecdotal evidence and personal observations to suggest that social media, specifically Twitter and Instagram, can be useful tools in growing a company’s reach and popularity with its customers.
I was an early adopter of social media, as I am with all things tech. I surmised that our little company, Transcend Coffee, could engage our fledgling but loyal customer base more effectively via Twitter than by relying solely on email newsletters. Having jumped into the fray with both feet, it was a natural move for us to utilize Instagram when it surfaced with wild popularity in fall 2010.
The photo-sharing app Instagram was created by Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger, and within two short months of being launched, it had more than 1 million registered users. By the time I started using Instagram to share photos of my trip to El Salvador in spring 2011, the site had nearly 5 million users. Instagram now boasts more than 150 million users and was acquired by Facebook in 2012 for far too much money.
So what’s all the hype about with Instagram? Why would anyone want to see a photo of a coffee tree in El Salvador? Actually, the answer to that question should be self-evident. In fact, many of the customers who are engaged with Transcend via social media are interested in seeing pictures of coffee trees. More than that, they are interested in seeing photos and short videos about coffee. Herein lies the key to an effective social-media strategy.
Just to be clear, there is no official linkage between Instagram and Twitter. Nevertheless, I think utilizing Instagram as a social-media tool in isolation is less effective than when it is paired with a Twitter account. It is very unlikely that your Instagram following will exceed 20 percent of your Twitter following, so using the two accounts in tandem should result in maximum efficacy.
Despite the huge popularity of Instagram and Twitter, opening an account does not mean that you will have instant popularity on the Web. Creating and sustaining a visible and effective online presence takes time and effort, and your efforts should align themselves within your overall marketing strategy. What is at the core of your company? What are you trying to communicate? Who is reading your tweets and viewing your photos?
Our company’s Twitter account has been active since November 2008, and as I write this, we have just over 7,800 followers. While this is not a huge number, it is average for an established, small, third-wave coffee roaster. It takes time and focused effort to build an audience. Moreover, it takes a willingness to be attentive and responsive to those who follow and engage with your brand. This means retweeting messages that your customers post about your business. It means responding in a polite and meaningful way to questions or comments in a timely manner. I will often use the “favorite” function as well, as I personally think that retweeting everything said about your company is a bit over the top. Regardless of how you choose to respond, the key is that you do respond and demonstrate to your followers that you are paying attention to what they say about your company. It’s important to show that you’re interested and that you care.
An important thing to remember with social media is that your followers have voluntarily chosen to receive posts from your company, whether they be photos, videos or written tweets. This gives you license to engage them with interesting information about what is current and exciting in your world. The key aspect of effective social-media marketing is engagement. Do your followers want or care to see what you are posting? Is the post interesting, and does it align itself with the core values your company has adopted and articulated? Remember, just as fast as someone chooses to follow you, they can opt to unfollow you if your feed becomes annoying or irrelevant.
From my vantage point, it appears that people are growing increasingly fond of photos, and I see many pictures of what people are eating or drinking. Personally, I am not too taken with food photos (unless perhaps you are eating at the French Laundry), but I am interested in seeing photos of the places people are visiting. In terms of coffee-related material, a nice photo of a new brewing device linked to a tweet driving people to your website (where they can read more about it and even purchase it) is a great strategy. Posting a photo of a new coffee offering—and requesting comments and feedback on it—is another way to use social media to engage. We have run numerous Twitter contests where the prize is a free bag of coffee or a free three months of our coffee-subscription service.
At the end of the day, an engaged customer is one of the most valuable assets a roasting company can have. Leveraging that loyalty and excitement into promoting your brand is a simple, effective and important way to grow your business. When your company’s fanbase starts promoting your brand, your credibility within their sphere of influence goes up and your reach begins to grow.
I do have time for social media—not in a frivolous way, but with a thoughtful and strategic approach that I believe actually grows our business and demonstrates that we do care what our customers think and say about us.
—Poul Mark owns Transcend Coffee in Edmonton.