If you’ve ever tried to phone Post Espresso, the sleek new architecture- and linguistics-inspired espresso bar on Water Street in St. John’s, you were probably unsuccessful.
They don’t have a listed phone number.
Post’s 26-year-old owner, David Bowden, would much rather you tweet him at @postespresso, comment on Post’s Tumblr site, or post to their Facebook site.
“As opposed to talking to somebody on the phone, with social media you can put a lot of thought into what you say,” says Bowden, who emails, tweets and posts to Facebook right from Post’s counter-top iPad, which acts as the shop’s cash register.
“But at the same time, it’s much more spontaneous. And it’s free.”
Though Post’s reliance on social media as its sole form of communication might seem surprising, it’s indicative of an increasingly popular way of doing business.
“The big online marketing catchphrase for 2012 is ‘SoLoMo,’ which means ‘social-local-mobile,’” says Memorial University’s Lyle Wetsch, an associate professor of marketing who offers certification programs in social media marketing through the Gardiner Centre.
“It’s about being able to connect to people through social media but focusing on your audience and making sure there is a mobile aspect.”
It’s quicker to type out a tweet than to look up a phone number and make a call. Wetsch says it’s going to get even easier to do that, especially on a mobile device.
“I personally believe that 2012 is going to be the year of mobile,” says Wetsch.
“Twitter just expanded their mobile app to make it more functional with respect to its search, Google+ just updated their iPad app, which has increased its functionality, and LinkedIn has just increased their mobile app.”
Though social media may seem a like a young person’s game, Bowden doesn’t even have his own personal Facebook site.
Bowden, who didn’t have a Facebook page or even a cell phone before he opened Post, says that Post’s social media networks have taught him a lot about how people — especially customers — expect to communicate these days.
Nancy Day Howard, a mother of teenagers and co-owner of Sound Salon, on the other hand, was well-versed in social media when she signed Sound Salon up for Twitter.
“It was definitely something that I did personally,” she says. “And once I really got into Twitter on a personal level, I realized that this was a business opportunity we hadn’t really tapped into.”
Sound Salon now has an active Twitter account @SoundSalonSpa. Whenever it gets a cancellation, staff sends out a tweet and posts the news to its Facebook site to let its followers know.
“It just gets people in the moment,” she says.
“Instead of calling clients or emailing our client list, if you put it out there like that it’s almost like a gift or a prize — it’s just more impulsive and it seems like it’s more of a treat for them. So you can create that kind of excitement with that immediate contact.”
Sound’s team of tweeters will also help clients find parking downtown by tweeting about empty spaces near the shop. It also has Twitter-based contests and promotions, offering a salon service to people who tweet for it.
“It’s more of a conversation with our clients,” says Howard. “It isn’t just us tweeting about what we do or how great we are.”
That’s a key thing for businesses to realize about their social media channels, says Wetsch.
“It’s not about pushing the organization,” he says.
“It’s about engaging. And that does take more effort and it does require a culture shift within the organization where they need to actually listen and respond, and that takes resources. But the payback is so valuable.”
And it’s valuable in more ways than one. In addition to having happy customers tweet about their experience with Sound and post pictures of their new ’dos to Instagram for all the world to see, Howard has been able to retain clients through Sound’s Twitter network.
“One of our employees was moving away and a person that we follow tweeted that she was really sad that she was losing her stylist,” she says.
“So we sent her a direct message and recommended someone who would be a good fit for her. Not only did we keep her on as a client, but she now really is an ambassador for us — she tweets pictures of her hairstyle, she says great things about us to all of her followers.”
Even negative feedback is welcome on Sound’s public channels, says Howard. That way, the salon can publicly address it and show other clients Sound is listening, and it will help right any wrong that might come up.
“These conversations, especially on Twitter, are conversations that we wouldn’t normally get to hear if they were happening on the phone or through private email,” says Howard.
And these conversations are going on, in public, regardless of whether the business owners have tuned into them, says Wetsch. Twitter sees more than 400 million tweets per day, and there are more than 85,000 people within 10 miles of St. John’s with Facebook accounts. Even the lesser known social media channels are active: close to 100 St. John’s businesses and organizations entered into Foursquare, a location-based networking tool for mobile devices.
“We use Foursquare at Hava Java like an online loyalty card,” says Rob Collins, owner of the Water Street coffee shop. “You can check in at the shop, and after so many check-ins you get a free coffee. Occasionally, we change the specials and might give the person with the most check-ins a free lunch every day.”
But not every social media channel will work for every business, says Wetsch. The point is for business owners to find which ones will engage their customers the best. And though owners won’t be able to control the conversations, opening these channels provides their clients with a space in which to have them, and give business owners a chance to chime in.
It’s the chiming in that gets results. On the Fixed Coffee and Baking Facebook site, a user recently posted to ask if the coffee shop had a high chair. The Fixed crew went out that afternoon and bought one, and then posted back that there was one available. All 465 of their followers were now aware that the shop was able to accommodate children.
At Post Espresso the other morning, David Bowden had a experience as a result of a Twitter conversation.
“One of the writers for the New York Times, Oliver Strand, does a lot of coffee writing,” he says.
“Someone tweeted him asking where to get good coffee in St. John’s. A barista in London, England, that I once worked with follows Strand and tweeted to him to check out Post Espresso. Sure enough, he came in! He got a coffee and really enjoyed it, and he was in again the next day with his family.
“So, it’s amazing what all this social media stuff can do.”