An increasingly important piece to the marketing puzzle for new and established specialty coffee and tea businesses is social media. On the sidelines, debates as to the ultimate efficacy of this kind of communication go on; meanwhile social networks grow in size and influence. No café owner who aspires to cultural relevancy can afford to ignore social media, or do it badly.
The point of social media marketing is simple: it’s another way to tell your story and connect with potential or current customers. Hearts and pocketbooks are reached through Facebook posts and Instagram comments. Assuming your business has strong internal culture, vision, values, and visual aesthetic, your goal through social media should be to pull back the curtains and welcome your customers into the fascinating world of details that makes up your café, from sweeping the floors to sourcing the coffee, from logo iterations to that tabby cat you feed every morning in the back.
Developing a social media strategy is essential. It can be simple: define your company culture, determine how many times a day or week you will post on each network, and what content you want to feature. It can be more complex, integrated with a blog and include promotions, customer engagement, and performance metrics. Two outstanding resource websites are Social Media Examiner and Hootsuite. Both contain sample strategies and many ideas for content and direction.
As a quick cheat sheet, here’s a rule of thumb: you should plan to post on Facebook five to nine times a week, Instagram daily, and Twitter four to ten times a day. Other networks vary. Presentation of content differs on each, but you can and should cross-post the same links and photos on all networks. Remember that social media is just like any other conversation: plan that sixty percent of your content will be used to promote and converse with other people, especially on Twitter, with the rest devoted to your business. Those percentages vary by the type of content and your intended market. Add value when posting, whether by weighing in on an industry conversation that’s happening or by adding comments when you share or re-tweet a post. Also plan to interact with others through comments, likes, and reposting. It’s social media, after all.
Quick turnaround is essential on social media, where the majority of customers expect a response in less than two hours, especially if they are complaining. Your social media strategy should include an internal plan for dealing with customer complaints and someone monitoring mentions regularly.
Execution of your social media strategy is where the (digital) rubber meets the road. You should invest in the right tools: programs like Hootsuite for managing multiple networks from one dashboard, Latergram to work around the unfriendly interface of Instagram, and—most important—a trained staff member or a team with defined duties.
This is where many owners become discouraged. First, there’s a misperception that since so many coffee professionals use social media, any part-time barista should be able to add a couple hours a week to handle it for their shop. Just like any other task, social media management requires training, attention to detail, and responsibility: after all, to many customers, your social media feed will make the strongest impression of all your external communications. That said, with the right training and approach, social media can be executed well with a regular hour or two a day.
Coffee brands using social media have plenty of raw material—well-made drinks, espresso machines, teapots, food, and happy customers can all make great content, especially photos. (And photos are key.) Creating shareable, viral content requires creativity, talent, and a willingness to own your business’s culture. Get your customers and your baristas on your side—social media is fueled by enthusiasm.
Being in an industry fueled by passion and boasting exciting online interactions can lead to a dark counterpoint: dogmatism, shaming, and criticism are all found on social media networks. For almost all coffee businesses, participating in such interactions is an immediate turn-off to customers, both potential and current. Your business’ social media is no place for personal grandstanding, so avoid it at all costs. While pitfalls abound in social media marketing, the opportunities are exciting and unlimited. Hearts, stories, and pocketbooks. All are entwined.
—Emily McIntyre co-owns Catalyst Coffee Consulting.