The use of social media in marketing by the coffee industry

The world is hungry for social media whether we ‘like’ it or not. As society continues to embrace these channels and adapt to the world of Facebook and Twitter feeds, our methods of personal interaction have transformed as our desires for instant information have grown. As younger generations calculate their popularity via their number of Facebook 'friends', businesses are increasingly turning to clever campaigns to similarly gauge the number of ‘hits’ their products and offerings can elicit from these connections. In a borderless, global business environment, the pursuit for wider consumer and client reach has rapidly adopted these technologies. The global coffee industry is no different. However, many of the most successful corporate users of social media tools aren’t about to let us in on the secret as to why they are attracting up to a million hits. In the search for answers, GCR contacted eight large, coffee chain brands with all but one wishing to stay silent on their social media strategies. “Unfortunately we have decided to pass on this opportunity,” one PR representative responded… “At this time, this is not something we will be able to participate in,” said another. Although mute when it comes to commenting on how they approach it, these businesses are successfully navigating through the social media maze. The question now is if they fully realise the power of their actions. According to Associate Professor Angelina Russo from the Media and Communications department at RMIT University in Australia, whether its in the form of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Youtube, if a company hasn’t seriously examined how it can use these forms of social media then it is seen as being behind the marketing eight ball. Russo says that social media is a global marketing tool that is being utilised by coffee distributors and cafés for its ability to connect with customers on a daily basis and form public partnerships as a major positioning and brand awareness tool. “Social media is about exchange,” Russo says. “Networking is an important engagement of business and social media that becomes a way of encouraging people to see that coffee shops aren’t just about coffee, but a particular establishment.” Russo says there is a common preconception that social media strategies are specific to a certain Generation Y age demographic (generally considered as those born from 1981–2000). She notes this is not the case, as social media outlets are being used by a wide range of ages. In the corporate sense, Russo says social media is not a generational tool, but a general focus on proprietary knowledge. “It’s about trying to position yourself to be seen as going out into a new market and showing people that you’re doing something different,” Russo says. “Companies invest a lot of time in developing connected innovation and they need to be seen as adding value to the community beyond their calling.” Russo says social media builds recognition of brand, product and service, and also a company’s image. “In the end, what they’re delivering is their core business,” she says. “They’re not just going out there and selling the product, they’re selling their values as a company.” Many coffee brands have embedded social media into their marketing strategies and are forming a strong following along the way. At the time of writing, coffee brands such as Starbucks had 25.5 million Facebook ‘likes’ and 1.7 million Twitter followers; Dunkin Donuts had 4.8 million 'likes' and 106, 296 Twitter followers; Tim Hortons had 1.6 million 'likes' and 5551 Twitter followers and Eight O’Clock Coffee had 131,622 'likes' and 9181 followers. Efficient Frontier’s quarterly Global Digital Marketing Performance Report,  released this year, found that brands increase their fan count by, on average, 9 per cent a month, doubling their fan base year on year. A full 84 per cent of Facebook engagement can be attributed to ‘likes’, while the remainder is commenting on posts and status updates. Sharing accounts for just 1 per cent of all user engagement. Advertising aside, the multi-million-dollar question, according to Russo, is what else are these brands doing to achieve such strong social media attention? Some businesses are attracting followers with incentives, videos, images, competitions and news items. To access a brand’s Facebook page, many labels make fans ‘like’ their page before the brand profile and users can be viewed. Starbucks, for instance, invited fans to join the celebration of their ‘pumpkin spice latte’ with picture incentives. Folger’s coffee asks fans to sign up to their newsletter to win prizes. Some companies attract attention by posting questions to followers, such as ‘what type of coffee drinker are you?’ According to Russo, the experts are still examining methods to measure just how many Facebook ‘likes’ convert to a sale. She asks the question: Is it better to have a million ‘likes’ or a hundred people who buy your product? “If you have a million followers, you’ve obviously developed strategies that engage and aspects that then work to convert from just liking to buying products,” Russo says. “It goes back to traditional marketing and PR type activities.” Based on a survey of 2574 online shoppers by Kantar Media Complete quarterly Online Shopper Intelligence Study, between 14 July and 8 August 2011, 35 per cent of consumers said Twitter was influential in their decision to buy a product, compared to 24 per cent who said Facebook helped guide a purchase. The study found a connection with how consumers engage in social media and how they behave offline. In most cases, once a connection is established, the resulting activity is profoundly beneficial to the awareness and potential retail revenue of the brand. In a study by marketing specialist, GroupM, 64 per cent of customers said they are likely to follow brands via social media channels after a purchase and 74 per cent said a brand’s Facebook page was their desired method for future communication with that company, such as to receive promotional opportunities.
For companies about to take the leap into the social media realm and hit the ‘twitter feed’, Russo says brands need to be strategic up front: recognise how they're going to engage with that media and what types of activities they will offer. “Initially everyone was excited about the opportunities that social media presented, but I do think these days we have to be much more strategic about which particular social media platforms are appropriate and the types of engagement to have,” Russo says. Russo warns that companies starting out need to understand that self-promotion can only appeal for so long. The value of social media is that customers can be interested in other products in a broader context. There any many planning questions companies should ask themselves when first joining social media: what can you offer that is different to other companies? How do you actually get people to invest themselves in your site? How do you get them to like what you’re doing and friend you on Facebook? How do you keep people interested? What do you actually want people to achieve from their interaction? Are you asking people to comment on your product or develop a particular message? “It’s really about engagement and connection,” Russo says. “Contribution in exchange is really important and the value companies bring to social media exchange is an authority which you can establish in a very gifted way. And, while there are great opportunities, there are heavy responsibilities that come with it.” Under the Café de Colombia umbrella, Juan Valdez Café used Facebook to become the first Colombian brand to reach over one million Facebook ‘likes’ in July 2011. Juan Valdez Café’s strong presence on Facebook was part of a content generation strategy led by the Colombian Coffee Growers Federation (FNC) to develop and communicate its brand to a more dynamic audience. With over 40 million visits to their online content this year and Facebook fans around the world including Colombia, US, Venezuela, Ecuador, Spain, Panamá and Spain, Juan Valdez Café’s friend base has grown at a rate of more than 30,000 fans per month. Marcela Jaramillo of the Federación de Cafeteros de Colombia credits their success to their genuine use of the medium. “We try to be very good at building content to attract customers and not to use it for promotional purposes only,” she says. “Our content is relevant to us in a credible way, we make the content valuable and use it as a channel of communication.” Jaramillo says social media is an opportunity to tell the story behind Café de Colombia in an engaging and exciting way, while creating partnership opportunities.  Jaramillo notes that Café de Colombia works to develop new projects and initiatives that translate to a dynamic audience, which is key to maintaining follower interest. She points to the creation of the Colombian Coffee hub website, an initiative aimed at uniting the barista community to the process at origin. “It’s part of our segmentation strategy, a communication channel for a very specialised audience,” Jaramillo says. “We are building a community where specialty coffee professionals can have access to origin information and follow their peers as they discover coffee in Colombia. Hopefully new knowledge and interesting conversation will arise.” Jaramillo admits this dominant form of marketing is a learning curve and Café de Colombia have to be aware of the changing media, monitor their different social media platforms and adapt accordingly. “It’s important to remember that everything you do through social media counts and affects the positioning of the company,” she says. Russo points out that many brands are unaware of the power social media holds. “I don’t think many companies are necessarily taking advantage of the fact they have a network of people who subscribe to them,” she says. “Companies don’t realise that once you put yourself out there, you’re there and people are looking for you, you can’t just go away. You’ve got to be consistent and be willing to engage.” Because social media is by its nature democratic and user-generated, brands become more susceptible to criticism. “Because of their vulnerability, all it takes is just one bad experience, whether it be bad service or a bad coffee and then the brand has to go into damage control,” Russo says. “It’s about being responsible.” One thing social media undoubtedly offers however, is the ability to bring people together who might not otherwise have the opportunity, according to Amy Munice, a Global PR Strategist and President of ALM Communications Inc. Through access to Smart-phones and Apps, in today’s digitally-connected society, people the world over with satellite connection can access information within seconds. Munice says some developing nations are still lagging behind in terms of membership on social networking sites because of limited resources and scant internet connections. However, she notes the rapid evolution of mobile devices in such markets means that it is highly probable that social media interaction will increase. “Social media is a moving target,” she says. “How it works today is not how it will work half a year from now.” According to WebMediaBrand’s Inside Facebook report, as of January 2011, the US was the leading country active on Facebook, making up 25 per cent of its users, followed by Indonesia and the UK. Where Twitter and Facebook don't have a presence, in countries like China who have placed a national firewall ban on such sites, other social media networks are connecting like-minded people. QQ and Renren Inc. have become the largest social networking sites in China, according to Ignite Social Media, focusing on instant messaging and gaming with over 300 million active members. In India, social network sites such as Orkut (owned by Google Inc.) are attracting an increasing number of members. As of July 2011, Orkut had 67 million active users worldwide, with 58.1 per cent from Brazil, followed by India with 32 per cent and Japan with 2 per cent. Munice says that although social media is a popular form of marketing, it’s important that brands don’t ignore other marketing tools and look for partners in locales that can carry the brand to greater visibility. “Social media is not the magic bullet solution for every company and every competitive situation,” she says. “Social media is important and growing in importance – it is still and will always be just an ingredient in the mix.” 

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