Over the past year or so, I have been helping a small cafe in Houston, a tea house, enter into the world of social media marketing, mostly employing Twitter, and recently making use of Facebook. In fact, we were perhaps the first retail establishment in Houston to enter the brave new world of Twitter, and now boast over 1500 followers, making it the 2nd largest restaurant following in Houston. This cafe’s experience with social media has been quite successful, with results far better than advertising in traditional newspapers or magazines, and will continue to be a major participant in social networking space.
Follower count was never the strategy when we entered the Twitter world. I did have a strategy in mind when I first participated, and it was been refined through customer feedback and a few lessons-learned. I think our experiences can be useful to other retail stores, so just wanted to take some time here to share my insights. They can be organized as the 3 Ps of Social Media Marketing:
Passion Personality Place
I am by no stretch a social media expert nor marketing professional; however, with my education in economics I have forayed into marketing on occasion, including one research study in the early 1990s into that very early social network called AOL Chat.
Also note the cafe in question is Te House of Tea, @tehouseoftea, run by my wife, Connie Lacobie
I am going to talk mostly about Twitter here. Facebook is a relatively new effort, though it is growing well. Te has had a Myspace account and a Flickr group, but neither has yet had much traction, so we won’t explore those avenues.There’s already a lot of basic advice about Twitter (keep it short, don’t spam, etc.); I’m not going to repeat those lessons. Read other basic guidelines to “how to use Twitter” if you’re still new to this space.
You’re a mom-and-pop business, a solo entrepreneur, and you’ve opened a local business, be it a store, a service, or a place providing food & drink. I can already guess one thing about you: you are very likely passionate about the product you provide. And, guess what, so are many of your customers! This passion, this energy, is the first thing you should think of sharing online. Talk about the love of your product, the love of the things you do. Talk about facts, history, and trivia about your product.
Then, find others who share this same passion. Follow them, and comment on their tweets.Yes, this is your first guideline on who to follow on Twitter: find people who are talking passionately about your product. They’ll be happy to have you as a follower, and 9 times out of 10, if they’ve never heard of you, will be excited to have discovered you! Search around for not only your direct product, but products related to it (look not only for tea lovers, but scone lovers too!).
In the Twitter world, folks are not at all shy about talking about how great your product and place is. Thank them, and spread the word (retweet!). Your customers want to see you succeed, yes they do, and their own referrals and marketing is the simplest and greatest way to gain more customers.
Yes, you may want random people to discover you – that’s what advertising and signs and store frontage too, but you really want passionate people to discover you. Your business growth depends on that enthusiastic customer, that loyal customer, that repeat customer, and friend. Unless you’re a spammer or con-artist, you don’t want one-time hits, you want to find customers for life. A social media strategy that starts out with sharing passion is the best way to discover this kind of customer, and for them to discover you.
Plus, passion is easy to share. Are you awkward or hesitant when writing online? You can’t go wrong if you think of your own interests and loves first. Sharing that is the easiest way to overcome any writer’s block or shyness in the social network world.
To give you a great example of how connecting with Passion works online: one day I happened to notice writer/photographer and local beauty Karen Walrond, @chookooloonks, talk about some tea she was drinking, so I (through Te) replied to her and started following. Additionally, I said something like “oh, we have many mutual friends”, which is true, but interestingly, somehow she had never heard of Te House of Tea.
Well, this intrigued her. Coincidently, she was coming into town for dinner that night (she’s a suburb gal, we gather), so she and her handsome husband, decided to swing by Te after their dinner – the very same night that we had tweeted! Also coincidently, this was tango night. When she arrived, she was absolutely floored of the scene (tea … and tango!), took some wonderful photos and the very next morning wrote a glowing blog about the shop! (see www.chookooloonks.com/blog). Within 24 hours of my first comment, not only had Te gained 2 new, lovely customers, but the word had been spread to thousands more.
Don’t adopt a personality when you’re online – show your own personality! Gone are the days of dry press releases and canned statements. Twitter is a very personal media, and you need to share your own personality online too. And don’t forget your employees’ personalities too! They are your frontline marketers, and can be a part of your online strategy too! They love working at your place (see Passion, above), so let them share their experiences online as well.
Ok, maybe not ALL of your personality. Just like when you groom and dress up before going out in public, you do need to take care of your public image online. Be personable, but don’t talk about your tooth-brushing experiences. If your employees participate, give them some guidelines about discretion (don’t tweet when some celebrity who values his privacy comes into your store!), decorum, other employee’s privacy, and trade secrets.
But, do share and display a personality. Here in Houston, I especially like all the chefs who are on Twitter. What personalities! You see a picture of their faces, you know who they are, you know a bit of their personal travels and travails. This is a great approach. At @tehouseoftea, we decided early on to speak as the store itself, in third person plural, and our logo is our avatar instead of a face; so our personality is a bit different, but every-once-in-a-while the person behind the screen peeks out
Your humor or wit is a great aspect of your personality, so share that if you’re comfortable. You have talent with poetry? Drawing? Use these in some of your tweets – take a picture of your drawing and share that along with your tweet, using twitpic or such. Make yourself unique, make yourself you!
Even if you have to post some standard PR announcement, a new special, event, etc., toss it out with your own personal twist. Don’t give it the monotonous “We are now open 7 days a week, 11 am to 10pm weeknights …” that you’d expect from the PR department. Give it something like “Gah, I love my mornings, so I’m happy to announce we now open at 11 am…”
You’re a brick and mortar establishment: that means you’re someplace, right?! Pay attention to what’s going on around you, comment on them, share (retweet!), participate. And think of not only that physical Place you’re at, but the more abstract Places as well. You have a lot of artists among your customers? Then you have a place in the artistic community too. Dancers? Another place. Writers, knitters, sci-fi movie lovers, they all have their own places, and will be happy for you to belong.
Back to physical Place – if you’re in a small city, keep an eye out for conversations in your city. But if you’re in the big city, narrow it down to your neighborhood or nearby areas, sites, and streets.
A small example here: recently, I happened to notice someone tweet that their dog was lost, somewhere around Richmond and Woodhead. Well, Te is at the intersection of Woodhead and Fairview, just a mile north, so in the off-chance the dog might be wandering our way (and, we have a dog too, so we were very sympathetic!), I retweeted this person’s plea. Had no idea she was a popular blogger with chron.com, so we were quite surprised to get a public thanks just a day later: “The Kindness of Strangers …“. More exposure for Te, even though that wasn’t even our intent.
Te is a regular hangout for artists, and every month a different artist displays their works, so of course Te has a Place in the artist community. We try to keep up and retweet, recommend, and promote our artist friends when they have events and showings at other places. We comment on other art happenings, and stay involved both online and in place, donating food and time when we can.
We’re helping them, and they help us by having even more people, with like interests, discover us. So, find your Place, and make it an active part of your own social media strategy, both in what you search for and comment about, and you’ll be pleased with the results.
When to tweet, how to tweet, what to tweet? Just think of Passion, Personality, and Place, and you’ll find plenty of ways to participate online, and become your guiding social media strategy. Get out there!