The Online Coffee Community

By Brian Jones, Founder/Editor, Dear Coffee, I Love You

offee is loved by many both for the intimate atmosphere it can create, and its’ ability to bring people together, in-person, over a cup. But for those working in the coffee industry, there is also a vibrant coffee community online who actively engage with each other as well as their customers in various ways. If you haven’t begun to utilize the latest evolutions in technology, it’s never too late to login and take advantage of the relationships and connections made possible with these new tools.

There are many social web spaces that offer different ways to share content and hold discussions, but before you open an account and build a profile for thirty different websites, think about your company, your goals, and how you would like to participate with others online. The needs of a café, roaster, barista, importer, and manufacturer are all different, and each one won’t necessarily have a use for all of the tools available.

It’s possible that you don’t yet know how you’d like to engage online, because you may not even be sure what platforms exist. Let’s begin with a brief summary of the most popular social media tools:

When you’ve learned what is possible with each of these tools, you can better assess whether using them provides benefits for the goals you’re trying to achieve. Make a list of these goals and consider which tools will help you reach them before signing up for all of the tools. An inactive account that is never updated can be worse than not having an account at all.

Next, you need to consider how you want to communicate with the online world. As an individual, a representative of a company, or the company itself. Who you choose to be while communicating online can determine how you say things. As an individual, you’re free to speak more openly, in any way you like. However, just like face-to-face conversations, you need to take responsibility for what you say. Once you publish something online, it’s nearly impossible to fully remove all traces of it from the Internet. One ill-conceived post could create a negative impact that follows you and your business for quite some time.

If you choose to represent your company as an individual, you are still free to maintain a voice consistent with your real persona, but you must always keep in mind that you are affiliating yourself with a company and you should consider the values and interests of the company in the conversations that you have and the content that you publish. If you are speaking as the company itself, and your voice is that of the company, it’s probably best not to break “character.” Everything that’s said or shared should be in-line with the company’s brand, values, and interests.

After deciding which communication tools to employ and what voice to use, learning a bit about social media etiquette can go a long way. These tools can be used to communicate individually as well as en masse, and they are used best when content is personal, insightful, inspiring, or otherwise valuable to others. Simply spamming followers and strangers with prompts to buy things, or to follow your account, is a sure way to be ignored and excluded from online conversations.

As you participate in conversations with the online coffee community, both Twitter and Instagram utilize a feature called “hashtags” that allow you to organize and follow specific topics. A hashtag is a keyword that is prefaced with a pound symbol, for example #coffee. These hashtags allow you to label, track, and follow specific words, like the name of your café, or a specific event that many people are attending. Events like barista competitions and the SCAA trade shows are often discussed in real time, allowing you to follow along and even ask questions if you can’t be there yourself. If you are at the event, these tools can help you connect with and meet some of your virtual peers in person.

There are several tutorials on the web that can help you better understand the intricacies of actually operating these online social media tools, but let this serve as an introduction to the possibilities for conversation with both peers and customers. Each day in these various web spaces, thought-provoking discussions arise, knowledge is shared, referrals are made, friends connect, and sales happen.

The world of specialty coffee is expansive, crossing the globe wherever coffee is grown, roasted, and consumed. Thanks to the Internet and the tools discussed here, the coffee community has spread beyond the doors of your local café. This allows more people in more places to learn more about and discuss coffee with others in easy and accessible ways. Not only can this lead to more informed customers and better sales, but it also allows for building great relationships around the world while inspiring and fostering discussions that continue moving coffee forward.

Brian W. Jones is the founder and editor of the specialty coffee blog “Dear Coffee, I Love You”. When not writing about coffee, Brian helps companies develop and design brands that communicate who they are, what they do, and why it matters.