I have sipped brewed coffee from a Chemex overlooking mountain lakes, seen breathtaking latte art pours in Seoul, walked on the fields of coffee in Guatemala, and cupped green coffee from a lot that produced just one stellar bag. I’ve followed new build-outs around the world, analyzed retail displays, and attended company parties in Dublin. I’ve all done this through Instagram.
Instagram is on the rise among companies with intrinsically visual products, and coffee shops, teahouses, and roasters are among the best at showcasing their wares through the medium. The company recently announced it had reached 300 million followers from around the world, sharing more than seventy million photos a day. While still not optimized for businesses (no direct links allowed in photo captions, no third-party integration), the very personal nature of the network makes for a compelling way to reach customers and potential customers where it matters.
It is, however, one thing to join Instagram and quite another to use it well. Here are some pointers with examples from coffee companies around the world.
It’s self-evident, but often overlooked: Instagram is a visual medium. When a new follower finds your feed, that person will scroll and scroll through the images. Every post contributes to the whole, so choosing a visual style that is compatible to your branding and then sticking to it is essential. The famous Chemex feed is full of saturated color and textures, with the iconic hourglass branding prominent but never forced. The brand often uses a subtle grainy filter that calls to mind mid-century color photos and hints at the history of the Chemex.
Coffee & Tea Collective, in sunny San Diego, uses a completely different visual theme. Increasingly positioned as a lifestyle brand, C&T shoots bright, colorful images that highlight the company’s branding (an artful ampersand) and its approach to a handcrafted life. Every shot feels of natural woods and textured fibers, the coffees are beautiful but not prestine, sometimes even half finished but still bearing a clear rosetta. In shot, a brawny arm sorts coffee in the cooling tray with the old-world San Franciscan Roaster Co. Logo glowing beside it. In another, and a biker with “COFFEE” written on his shorts rides into the ocean sunrise.
OK, visual theme established: but what to feature? It’s important to think about Instagram as an aspect of company branding, illustrating the story of what and who a coffee company is. In daily, non-digital life, this reality is made of so many details: the scrape of a door on the warehouse floor, the specks of dust in the early-morning light at the cafe, the grunt to heft a 152-pound bag of green. These details and so many others are the stuff from which a coffee company is made and from which social media should be drawn.
So show it. The best Instagram accounts feature baristas, roasters, customers, even odd details of a café, like great tile. None offer shot at after shot of coffee bags and lattes.
But you can, and should, include those. As long as the marketing line is walked carefully, Instagram is the perfect medium to present branded merchandise in unique settings. Rise Up Coffee Roasters in Maryland, is a great example. A delighted employee is shown during a coffee delivery, shot from the back in a stylish branded hoodie, which happens to be a retail item. The caption reads, “We get pretty excited about our green coffee deliveries!” It’s a dynamic way to model the hoodie while emphasizing the quality and passion of the company.
Another great source of content on Instagram is to highlight partners and press, reviews, and feedback. Upon placing in the finalists for the prestigious Good Food Awards, Case Coffee Roasters simply included the bright red logo and a happy caption: “We are so honored to be finalists in the 2015 Good Food Awards! To find out more about this national competition visit goodfoodawards.org.” It was an outstanding way to show thankfulness as well as stand out visually in their followers’ feeds.
Well and good: visual theme and content, determined. How does a coffee company grow on Instagram? While there are gimmicks available, like buying followers, the best way is to learn how the community works and join it. Focus on creating a nice string of photos. Use hashtags (search terms labelled with a “#”) and follow others in the industry, adding valuable feedback on their posts. Take the opportunity to include other companies and individuals by using their Instagram handles (“@catalyst.coffee”) when you can.
As with any other conversation, becoming popular on Instagram is largely about adding value to conversations, being kind, and providing quality, compelling content. Good luck!
—Emily McIntyre is a regular contributor to Fresh Cup.