Melbournian’s are particularly keen on a couple of thing; they love their coffee & food, but even more so, they love talking about it. Whether the experience excellent or poor, Social Media has provided a loud and clear voice to those who wish to vocialise their praise or chastise those who haven’t meet expectations.
So how does small business best start interacting with this customer segment? I sort the opinions of two of the most engaged hospitality operators across these emerging channels – Simon from EARL Canteen (@earlcanteen) and Luke from Dead Man Espresso (@DeadManEspresso) – to find out how they’re using tools like Twitter and Facebook to interact with customers and help build the online reputation of their respective businesses.
Longstraws: Both EARL Canteen & Dead Man Espresso have been a bit of a Twitter phenomenon since opening last year. Was maintaining an active presence through Social Media a conscious choice prior to opening, or something that has occurred organically since starting the business?
Earl: Absolutely a conscious decision and very much the main part of our marketing for our new business. Jackie already had a food blog and a twitter account for her personal food consulting business so we knew the benefits. We shared the pre opening (decision making, build & design, menu concepts etc) with our twitter community so that when we opened they had an understanding of what it was all about.
Dead Man: I would say organically, as believe it or not I didn’t know what Social Media was. I sent up a blog because I was following a lot of design blogs. Loved them. Loved that they were free, that they offered up to date news. That I could check out a diverse range of architecture, design, food & coffee blogs. I started thinking how it was an art form in itself. Why some were better than others. I noticed the presentation of them and hoped to offer something similar. I’ve always loved magazines but they cost dollars. Blogs are free.
I followed a blog called The Design Files and was informed that Lucy (owner) started using twitter. So I sent up one. It was only after that I started noticing the buzz word ‘Social Media’. I don’t have a Facebook account. Seems like too much hard work.
Longstraws: What Social Media platforms (Twitters, Facebook etc) are you active through?
Earl: Twitter is the main one. We have a Foursquare and Facebook account but unfortunately we don’t seem to have the time to use them properly. Twitter works for us and we have put all our ‘eggs’ in that basket for now. We also have a blog on our website that is currently very underutilized but is a priority for us in 2011.
Dead Man: We spent most of our time on Twitter and a café blog. We also have a Tumblr, though it’s personal at this stage, but we’ll be looking to make it public later in the year.
Longstraws: Have you guys looked at using location based social networking tools (like foursquare) to run promotions to interact with customers?
EARL: To be honest, no. I like to monitor Social Media sites and then put a face to the name/avatar and make a personal connection. I’ve often been able to work out who someone is in the restaurant by their tweet or photo, If I find them I’ll introduce myself and make a connection. I once had a lengthy twitter conversation with someone eating lunch in EARL. It seemed a little pointless; I finished it face to face!
That said, We know our Foursquare mayor and look after him.
Dead Man: No. I don’t like the look of Foursquare. We’re not really into promoting outside of our walls. We believe in the quality of food we’re doing, coffee and ambience. Word of mouth is key to our customer loyalty.
Longstraws: What learnings have you discovered through interacting with customers through these emerging channels?
EARL: People love being part of a community. The challenge is engaging with them in a way that doesn’t seem like a blatant sell job. We’ve found people also love it when you engage directly with them on twitter. I guess they feel valued as a customer. We have managed to develop a community of very loyal customers.
Dead Man: I highly rate Twitter. I could estimate that at least 25% of our business has been generated by Twitter. But more importantly for us it’s a great learning tool. I follow coffee, wine & food professionals that I respect and instead of me actively searching for materials that I should read (time I don’t have), the hard work is done for me with people posting links of beneficial articles or commentaries.
I’ve found suppliers that offer artisan products that otherwise I would’ve found. I’ve established relationships with other cafe owners and shared information to help us both.
I’ve let my Twitter grow organically. I try not to follow too many as I read just about each person’s tweets. I want the relationships that we’ve set up to be based on substance and not a superficial grab for twitter followers or an extensive Social Media network.
I have also learnt that businesses are more under the microscope from a customer’s perspective than say 5 years ago. Everyone’s a food critic now cameras, twitter, Urbanspoon (what a crock that one is) and blogs. I’ve blocked 2 followers as their comments/tweets were nasty, & overly opinionated. My thoughts were why I you following us. We do want twitter to be a positive force nit negative. I can actively seek reviews by typing Dead Man Espresso into Google. I don’t need to check my twitter account and read comments that give you an ill feeling. I don’t believe people have a given right to our twitter account. I look to it as a personal relationship.
Longstraws: What role does Social Media play as a customer service tool?
Earl: Probably touched on that above, but it’s such a great way of getting feedback. We had a few comments online about our baguette being chewy. It’s sourdough, it’s is supposed to be more textural than your loaf of fluffy white. We needed to develop a way of dealing with this, so we put some info on the menu and when I read something online about the bread being ‘chewy’ I get in touch and tell them they can have the same sandwich on ciabatta. So customer feels like they’ve been heard and their opinion is valid, and I get the chance to offer a product they are going to prefer. Win-Win.
I can broadcast new menus / specials to my customers immediately and we are in the process of formulating a special ‘in the know’ sandwich that will not be printed anywhere. I guess this can let me gauge how far the reach is with Social Media / twitter.
Dead Man: Again, the key win for us from Twitter has been customer feedback, a customer may have a good or bad experience, but not necessarily express that while the café. They’re much more open to posting something online shortly after, so this gives us a great way of gauging what we’re doing right or wrong.
Longstraws: Last one, are food bloggers a help or a hindrance? Should critic be left to the professionals?
EARL: Everyone has an opinion when it comes to restaurants / food / wine. We all talk about our experiences with friends; some choose to post their opinions online. If you have a good product, the vast majority of feedback should be positive. How can bloggers be a hindrance?? I think we had 20 or so blog posts on EARL within a week of opening our doors, which created a bit of an online hype and before you know it all the traditional print media get on board as well. Bloggers search out new and exciting experiences to share with their friends, the can do an awesome job of advertising a business early on.
I regularly scan online for new reviews about EARL. We all love the good ones but it’s the way the not so positive posts are handled that is important. Each less then favourable post is a chance for me to get in touch and turn them into raving fans. Whether their comments are justified or misguided is almost irrelevant, this is what they are telling their friends. I don’t think there are many bloggers out there who go out of their way to write bad reviews, but when they happen the way it’s dealt with is so important. I’ve seen so many chefs/restaurateurs get into online arguments with bloggers. They never come out the other side the winner and often alienate many, many more customers than would have read the offending blog in the first place.
A bit long winded but absolutely a help. I can’t imagine EARL would be the same without blogger reviews / twitter reviews.
Dead Man: Depends on the food blogger. My questions to some would be “What are you offering to the industry?” We want to learn as well. I want to follow food blogs that teach me about seasonal produce and regional suppliers, about artisan producers, about recipes. You love cafes, coffee, restaurants so much that you feel compelled to blog about it; well offer the industry something.
Urbanspoon for instance offers no rite of reply if someone posts a comment. It’s too easy to post comments anonymously. It’s too easy to sabotage a business. I put no stock in sites like Urbanspoon, however they are gaining a stronghold in the industry, unfortunately.
EARL Canteen (@earlcanteen) is open Weekdays 7:30am-5pm – 500 Bourke St, Melbourne CBD
Dead Man Espresso (@deadmanespresso) is Open Weekdays 7am-4pm; Weekends 8am-4pm – 35 Market Street South Melbourne.