Gone are the days where it’s all about location, location, location. With the emergence of the internet as a promotional beast, every back alley cafe has the chance to become an industry icon. It’s certainly not a concept that’s new to Melbourne which has had thriving cafés tucked away in laneways for decades, but what may have been a decision made out of sheer necessity back in the day (due to rental costs) is now considered chic and unique.

Before we even start looking at what things you can do to promote your café using the web, you need to get your ducks in a row. First up, you need to be confident that every cup of coffee you make is sensational. The majority of these online marketing suggestions are about getting customers to your site for the first time. It’s your job to keep them there by creating a truly memorable customer experience. The easiest way to turn people off is by allowing a bad cup of coffee to slip through to the keeper. And don’t think that it’s just about producing consistently good flat whites. These days you need to offer something different: single origin programmes, micro-lot coffees and filter brews. All fantastic points of difference to make your customer experience memorable, but the main point here is to ensure that every coffee is sensational.

So how do you market your café using the internet?

#1 Twitter

Most people would think that point number one is going to be ‘create a website’. Well, it’s not. Yes, that is coming further down the list, but let’s look at cost + ease + effectiveness. The first step is to open a Twitter account. Now if you’re from the younger generation then this is easy, you already have your own personal account and you just need to create another one for the café. But if this is totally foreign to you and your opinion of Twitter is that’s it’s all about people telling the world what they had for breakfast, then it’s time to open your eyes. To be honest, I’m not totally into the personal side of Twitter. But as a business tool, it is unbelievably powerful. Once you build your list of followers, you have a group of people itching to know your latest news: What Single Origin you just poured into the hopper; which muffins you just pulled out of the oven; or even a photo of the double rosetta your newest barista just poured for one of your regulars. Not only do these people want to know (because by following you, they are proclaiming that they are interested) but also, it creates community. Twitter is a two-way street, and the more you get the word out, the more your customers will start tweeting about you.

#2 Facebook

Create a Facebook page. You probably already have an account, so all you need to do is create a page for your café. Engage with your customers, create discussion and as with Twitter, create community. One of the aims of Twitter and Facebook is to create ‘Brand Evangelists’. Encourage your followers and reward them; they are marketing gold.

#3 Website

Ok, this is the one you’ve been expecting — create a website. And if you are going to create a website, do it well. Getting a friend to do it because they are an accountant and dabble in a bit of website design is NOT a good idea. He’s an accountant for a reason. A bad website can be more detrimental than no website at all. Posting lots of links is very important for search engine optimisation, and adding your Twitter feed also means regular and up-to-date content. Getting a professional company to create your website not only means it will be done well, but it also means they should cover all of the search engine optimisation necessities to ensure your website can be found easily.

Also, I would say that the most important element in creating a website is great photos. Seriously, spend the money. Get a professional to do it. Don’t just whip out your iphone or point-and-shoot, this is the one thing you don’t want to skimp on. You will use the photos time and time again, so it’s a worthwhile investment.

And one small tip, don’t put your menu up on your website as a pdf or in Flash — people will want to look at it on their phones. They don’t want to waste time looking for a menu, only to find that they can’t view it.

In addition to great photos, make your website worth looking through. Maybe even do a small YouTube video. You’d be surprised how easily a quick iphone video can be produced these days using iMovie. And you may not even have to do anything, trust your staff to have a go.

#4 Tell everyone

Once you’ve created your website, put the address everywhere. Put it on your email signature, Facebook page, Twitter profile — I mean everywhere. Get a listing (including your web address) on all of the free directory sites you can find. Get your café popping up on Google Maps and, of once again, include your web address.

#5 Identify strategic online partners

Food journalists, food bloggers, industry magazines and café review sites like Beanhunter, Melbourne Coffee Review and Perth Coffee Scape. Invite them to visit and make their experience memorable. And if they drop in unannounced, make sure you have a few thumb drives ready to go of those professional photos you paid good money for. If the photos are great (which of course they are), then you’ve just made their job a whole lot easier. And if someone makes the effort to write about you, call them and thank them for it.

#6 Get your ‘brand evangelists’ to work

Look out for online polls, like ’where’s the best café?’ It’s not too much of a secret that they are often more a popularity contest than an accurate representation of who’s producing the best coffee in town. If you’ve done everything above correctly, then you should have created an army of followers just itching to defend your honour.

#7 Know what everyone else is saying

Remember one of my earlier points, ‘create community’. It’s not just about creating discussion yourself. Get involved, know what everyone else is saying about the coffee industry, and especially about you, so you can respond quickly.

#8 Know what’s potentially the next big thing and get involved early

I’m not sure even the creators of Twitter and Facebook realised how big they would become, so don’t be too skeptical of new social media. One new one that might be worth looking at is foursquare.com. Foursquare allows people to “check-in” to various business and locations. They share these check-ins with their friends on Twitter and Facebook, and then receive badges and rewards. People end up competing to become ‘mayor’ of a popular location. Businesses can encourage people to use foursquare by offering a weekly special deal to whoever is the Mayor at that time. Foursquare may actually be a fizzle, but what if it is the next big thing, early adopters are always the biggest benefactors.

Well I hope this demonstrates how powerful internet-based marketing can be to promote your business. Not only is the internet often very inexpensive, many of the things I’ve listed above are free. One of the most important things to realise though, is that these suggestions are ongoing. You don’t just spend a few weeks/months getting the word out; these suggestions need to be continually actioned. You should be spending a few hours a week on this stuff. They’re also not the be all and end all, remember the last point and keep an open mind. Internet-based marketing is constantly on the move, there’s ALWAYS a new service on the way, so don’t think that just because you’ve got a Twitter account, it’s all under control.

Good luck!

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