Twitter is one of the fastest growing social media platforms, with millions of people — read: your potential customers — tweeting daily. You can tap into that ocean of business by building a Twitter following for your coffee shop.
Perhaps the most famous tweet in history involving a small business occurred at a coffee shop, The Coffee Groundz in Houston on October 31, 2008. The shop's general manager, J. R. Cohen, had been using Twitter for about a month, slowly building a following and making a point of greeting each of the shop's Twitter followers who came in and asked for him by name. Then, on that fateful Halloween morning, a customer tweeted "I want to pre order a bkfast wrap so i can zip thru to get back for gas man. c'est possible?"
It was the first to-go order ever on Twitter! Word got out, other customers started ordering that way -- even from the shop's patio — and eventually The Wall Street Journal, the Houston Chronicle, and lots of other media wrote of Coffee Groundz' experience with Twitter. Cohen reports that business nearly doubled.
CoffeeGroundz may be the most famous tweeting coffee shop, but it's obviously not the only one using Twitter. Check out the Twitter pages of Taste Coffee House, Sodade Coffee House, and CC's Cofeehouse.
The great thing about Twitter is that it helps you build a relationship with customers. Are relationships based on sales pitches? No. So don't use Twitter just to sell stuff.
"Talk about your community," says Jason Burton, founder of beverage marketing firm LAB 5702. "Your customers have coffee and the surrounding area, whatever that might be, in common. Your tweets should celebrate those other surrounding businesses and members of the community."
Nikolas Krankl, owner of Taste Coffee House, echoes Burton's advice — Krankl's tweets are a fun mix of shout-outs to other area business owners, complaints about parking tickets, and occasional promos about coffees he's brewing. He says successful tweets whet the interest of followers for something different. Good tweets "intrigue others to try something new that they might not have before," he says. "Or at least, get them to follow you actively."
"Twitter has helped my business in the sense that I can reach a wider audience within seconds," Krankl says.
An important first step to getting into Twitter is to claim your handle — just like web URLs, good Twitter handles are harder and harder to claim. You claim your name when you open your account.
Next you need to build a following. Obviously you should promote your twitter handle to your customers on your signage, menus, website, etc. and invite them to become followers. Another easy tactic is to become a follower of other local businesses and individuals — many will become your followers in turn. You can find local Twitter users by using the advanced search feature on Twitter. You can even target that advanced search by topic — one idea is to search for any tweets in your area containing the word "coffee."
There are also plenty of commercial vendors happy to help you build an audience. Check out TweetsBot and TweetAdder.
The Sales Pitch
Building a Twitter following for your shop with chit chat is important, but eventually you will need to make a sales pitch or two. What do you say?
Tweeting about the coffee of the day, a special new tea, or a deal on bagels is an obvious use of Twitter. A fun twist on that idea is tweeting when fresh baked goods come out of the oven! A handy device designed just for that purpose is BakerTweet.
Another twist — and one that rewards your Twitter followers — is to tweet a secret code or word connected to a special offer. When a customer comes in and mentions the code, they get the deal.
While you don’t ever want to bore your Twitter followers, sometimes even subtle reminders of your presence are worthwhile. “Set up an auto-tweet for the minute you open each day, saying ‘good morning,’” suggests Jeffrey Kingman, CEO of Chalkboarder, a food service brand development firm.
Whatever pitch or special offer you send, encourage your followers to retweet the message to their friends. This can quickly multiply the effect of your promo, and earn you new followers and customers.
Another good use for Twitter is responding to complaints. (You are tracking what people say about your shop on social media, right? Read Twitter's own advice about that, and this broader article on the topic by Socialmediatrader.)
Philz Coffee in San Francisco, which has more than a thousand Twitter followers, recently tweeted this in response to a complaint from a customer: "Please bring your coffee back to a store and we'll gladly replace it for you!"
This just scratches the surface of the power of Twitter. Here are some other worthwhile places to visit to learn more: SmallBizTrends (offers a PDF loaded with tips), NetBizBlog, and TwitterFools.
Ed Avis is a social media columnist in Chicago. Reach him the old-fashioned way (via email) at email@example.com.