Wake up and smell the coffee: How businesses successfully use social media

Posted: 1.08.13
Tagged with: Interview, Social media, Case studies, Brighton

Nick Barlow, Head of Social Media and Creative at Small Batch

We’ll be interviewing businesses across all industries to discuss how they use social media and how successful they find it at enhancing their brand awareness, customer engagement and ultimately driving sales.

Our first interview is with Small Batch Coffee, a Brighton based self defined ‘Boutique Coffee Roaster’ which was started by Al Tomlins and Brad Jacobsen in 2006. After initially supplying their high quality coffee to local cafes and pubs, Small Batch has quickly grown into a highly successful business with the addition of four coffee shops, two coffee carts based near Brighton and Hove stations and even an online shop where customers can get fresh coffee beans delivered straight to their door.

Small Batch have an exceptionally loyal following in Brighton where customers are appreciative of lovingly served coffee alongside a great brand personality. We wanted to learn more about this brand, the ethos behind it and how they use social media, so we went to see Nick Barlow—Head of Social Media and Creative, to discuss things further.

So what is your role within the company?
Social media, design and general fixer. I’ve been part of it since we were small when everyone did everything. I used to run the coffee carts in the early days when Al and Brad started the business.

As a brand, give me 5 adjectives that describe you?
Local, Delicious, Irreverent, Industrious and Fun.

What does the brand stand for?
The company brand is based on our own personalities and that’s what it’s supposed to feel like. Al and Brad have both got very good aesthetic vision, they’ve got the big ideas!

In your opinion what are the key benefits of using social media effectively?
First and foremost, it's free. It’s quantifiable in a way that an advert in a magazine isn’t. How do you know if someone bought a coffee because of a magazine advert? With social media there is an instant and direct correlation. You can also connect with other individuals and other organisations. We’ve got wholesale leads through Twitter. We keep in touch with people who’ve moved away. You can deal with problems that people may have had in the cafes and turn those issues into a positive, an opportunity.

Also, you can get so much more information about your customers and can deal with complaints directly. People don’t phone up to complain anymore, it’s too much hassle, and no one writes a letter. So it’s much easier for people to tweet or message you.

So you say it’s quantifiable, how do you guys measure it?
Well not very technically to be honest. We don't use Google Analytics particularly well. We measure it in terms of people who are on Twitter and then order coffee beans from our webshop. Or when we’re doing an event that we post on Facebook, it’s nice seeing your fans/followers come along.

It’s also great that you know how many people have seen a post on Instagram or Facebook. If it’s something good you'll get over 1000 people seeing it. You’ll get 45 ‘likes’ of something just because it’s a funny photo.

What type of content is successful for you?
Generally funny stuff, light hearted and definitely posts that are about coffee. When we’ve got a great new coffee in or when we had our first Small Batch printed coffee bags delivered, you take a photo of that with someone from our team grinning and giving it the thumbs up. You can post important coffee information but in an irreverent manner. It’s about not taking yourself too seriously.

Also, we sometimes do giveaways; retweet to win or caption competitions which are very popular. These can get about 70 people entering just for a Small Batch T-Shirt. Personalising content also works for us, for example there was a person online talking about how she was depressed and how a Small Batch coffee wasn’t even cheering her up. So I took a photo of Laura (one of the baristas) smiling and tweeted it to her to cheer her up. The customer was really stoked with it.

Would you say you have a social media strategy?
We have a basic strategy that we discuss over a beer. You need regular updates but not more than one or two a day and if you miss a couple of days that’s fine. I know myself, I stop following people that are too shouty on Facebook, you’re just not that interesting and I don’t want to hear about you that much. You need to keep it regular, if you look at someone's twitter feed and it was last updated 7 days ago then they’re not really engaged.

The thing is, social media, blog articles, all these things take time and we’re so fearful of boring people. We don’t want other people to write our blog articles, this is our company. I don’t want to make rubbish videos and I don’t want to make a video every week. Good videos take quite a lot of time and even coming up with a good idea for a video takes a while. We never want to put out rubbish content. It’s gutting when you only get a couple of ‘likes’ for something.

If someone came to you who had a small business and they were quite apprehensive about using social media what would your advice be?
It’s free, it’s brilliant, it’s a way of reaching people and it can just grow and grow and grow so quickly. I didn’t understand Twitter until I started using it. I thought it was just people’s status updates or just a way of following what Stephen Fry had for breakfast.

It’s critical in all kinds of ways. If you’re a journalist then it’s 24 hour news as it’s the quickest way of finding stuff out. You’re able to have a conversation with a coffee roaster in California that you like and like what they’ve done but there is no reason to send them an email. You couldn’t just say hello, but if you follow them then they might follow you. There is something jauntier about it I guess.

Are there any negative issues with social media?
You just have to embrace it and take the rough with the smooth. You do worry about the tone, you can’t convey tone in 140 characters. So with delicate matters or a complaint, it’s tough. I always try and get someone’s email address or direct message them, you don’t want to be airing your dirty laundry in public. We try and keep that off air.

How do you see your use of social media changing in the future?
We’d like to use an editorial calendar to help with content. To get more into Google Analytics and possibly Pinterest, we’ve heard good things about it.

We’d like to do a lot more videos, in fact I’m doing one of Wilbury road at the moment. We recently did a silly video of the cart—a French black and white style. There is no plan apart from to make people laugh and make ourselves laugh. If you're at work 50 hours a week you want to have fun with it.

That’s what I like about the company, its very much built around the image of Brad and Al who are essentially quite silly people. They’re very hard working and very serious about Coffee but making money isn’t the main point, it’s about making a success of something they believe in.

Small Batch CoffeeSmall Batch Coffee - BaristaSmall Batch Coffee - CortadoSmall Batch Coffee - Menu board

Nick Barlow, Head of Social Media and Creative at Small Batch