make mine a double-shot grande social media, please

By • Apr 11th, 2009 • Category: Lead Story, The Digital Strategist

A useful way to understand social networks is to see them as coffeehouses without geographic boundaries, where like-minded people gather to interact with each other when they feel like it.

Earlier this year, Mark Zuckerberg, founder, CEO and president of Facebook announced, “If Facebook were a country, it would be the most populated in the world, just ahead of Japan, Russia and Nigeria.” eMarketer estimates that online social network ad spending has grown by 81 percent, to $2.2 billion worldwide for 2008. In light of statements and figures like this, the eagerness to participate in the social media realm amongst marketers appears inevitable.

Figure 1: Worldwide online social network advertising spending, 2006-2011 (Source: eMarketer)

At the core of this explosion is a simple fundamental truth: humans have a biological need to interact, to converse. Conversations are the social exchange of stories fueled by emotions, knowledge, experiences, and thought. This innate human need began from the day humans first learned to talk. We gathered in groups to tell stories around fires with established oral traditions of storytelling long before we developed the skills and tools for writing.

Four centuries ago, that same need found an outlet in coffeehouses. In the 17th century, when coffee first arrived in Europe courtesy of the Ottoman Empire, coffeehouses were established and rapidly grew into a popular social space patronized by men (women were banned mostly, save for Germany) from all walks of life, regardless of social status. Quite naturally, and in the same way online communities have been created to cater to specific needs within the social media realm, different coffeehouses began to attract clientele according to occupation and attitude as the years progressed.

Figure 2: Social media in the 18th Century. At Cafe Procope: at rear, from left to right: Condorcet, La Harpe, Voltaire (with his arm raised) and Diderot.

Cafe Procope in Paris, established in 1685 by Francesco Procopio dei Coltelli, was a perfect example. The meeting place of the intellectual establishment, it was in this particular cafe great men like Voltaire, Rousseau, and Diderot consumed, created, and co-created conversations resulting in the cultural reputation which France enjoys even today. Coffeehouses were the seedbed for modern philosophy and great intellectual movements – and breeding grounds for dissension and ultimately revolution.

As centres of power and influence, coffeehouses instilled fear in the ignorant, the inexperienced, the ill-informed and the establishment — none of whom patronized coffeehouses. King Charles II, who described the London coffeehouses “places where the disaffected met, and spread scandalous reports concerning the conduct of His Majesty and his Ministers”, was afraid of the freedom these social levellers had. He attempted to suppress the coffeehouses, to little success.

There are many useful parallels between the coffeehouse and today’s social media sites, especially for marketers who are struggling to understand a medium they are being pressured to exploit.

Ted McConnell, general manager of interactive marketing and innovation for Procter & Gamble, summed the misconceptions up best when he shared his views at Cincinnati’s Digital Hub Initiative presented by the Ad Club of Cincinnati:

I think when we call it ‘consumer-generated media,’ we’re being predatory,” he said. “Who said this is media? Media is something you can buy and sell. Media contains inventory. Media contains blank spaces. Consumers weren’t trying to generate media. They were trying to talk to somebody. So it just seems a bit arrogant. … We hijack their own conversations, their own thoughts and feelings, and try to monetize it.

Shiny Object Syndrome sufferers amongst clients perceive social media as the magic mushroom that will somehow bring back the days of long pre-order lists, sold-out products, 200 percent revenue growth, and marketing budgets greater than some countries’ GDP. A silver bullet that solves all problems, perhaps. Others believe social media is a new media channel created by consumers, for consumers, to be, ironically, paid for by consumers, hopefully at the rate of 17.65 percent.

While none of them are wrong, this is a case of not seeing the forest for the trees. A more useful way of understanding social media is to see sites like global coffeehouses without geographic boundaries, operating hours or seating capacities, where like-minded tribes gather to interact with each other when they feel like it.

Approach social media the way you would a coffeehouse and you will find opportunities to develop solutions for your problems and answers to the most frequently asked questions such as: How do we engage bloggers? What are they saying about our brand? How do we make them like us?

Be picky about the channels you choose
Just like you’d select the coffeehouse with the clienteles you most relate to, and would like to be with, target social media that matches your customer profiles. It’s more cost effective hanging out with like-minded creatures from the start, than to attempt to change the mindsets and lifestyles of others completely irrelevant – or fundamentally opposed – to you. High wastage will affect your ROI.

Don’t be a smooth operator
Pick-up lines don’t work. Do not pitch your brand right after “Hello”. Remember, you’re there to have a conversation, not to make a speech. Just like a coffeehouse patron, the point to your visit is to listen and converse, not to advertise. Don’t be ”that self-absorbed guy who won’t stop talking about himself”. No one really likes that guy much.

Become a regular
Pay regular visits and after a while, people will begin to remember you. A savvy marketer will join bloggers both online on social networks, and offline at social media events. To stay in your consumers’ minds, you need to be a regular.

Like good coffee, relationships take time to brew
Be patient. Social media marketing is a long-term investment for it stems from the development of relationships. The customers from the coffeehouse may not remember you after your first visit, but that doesn’t mean you should stop patronizing. Do understand that this isn’t a three-month-long campaign but a relationship you’re building with the customers based on respect, trust, and mutual interest.

This article was first published on for iMedia Asia. Probably the hardest article about Social Media I’ve ever had to write to date. Whew.


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13 Responses »

  1. very nice article. I can see a lot of research went through for this.

  2. I really enjoyed reading your article and I think that the analogy of social media being like the coffeehouses (or kopitiams in SG) is really clear and accurate.

  3. Worth the effort of writing it, I’d say.
    I often think of social networks as being the equivalent of salons (, but I quite like the coffee-house analogy too.

  4. worth reading, thanks so much for sharing pat! not many people likes to share their knowledge nowadays,perhaps people like to copy-cating..well pat..bravo…i’ve learn so much…

  5. Hi sham,

    Yes indeed. And I had the great help of my Head of Content, who humbled me so greatly with her brilliance. This article will not be what it is you read, without her. Ah, the legacy of the big O.

  6. Harlow Kelvin,

    Thanks for that. Now to convince Starbucks to sponsor blankanvas. Haha.

  7. Hey there Mrs.Skin,

    Yeah, I agree with salons too but that’s difficult to convey in Asia and the article was for iMedia Asia so…

  8. Hi alice farah,

    I don’t fear much for people copying my words, really. Sure, I hate copycats to the core but at the end of the day, I like what I see in the mirror, and I’d much rather be that person. You’ve just inspired my next post – about copycats. Stay tuned!

  9. looks like i can read ur mind pat? kidding!

  10. Allow me to congratulate you on am article well written. One question – I know it is important for us to find the right “coffeeshop”. But unlike in the west, where niche online communities are aplenty, how do you find one on Singapore to participate in? I find this a difficult task; unless you are already part of that community, chances are you won’t know of its existence.

  11. Brilliant expose on the dos and don’ts of social media marketing. As I was sharing with some friends, we shouldn’t be treating bloggers as journalists writing for media channels who are fuelled by content alone. The social part is far more important than the media part in social media outreach, and you do need to invest time, effort and energy in getting to know others well first before doing your first pitch. Its back to relationship marketing 101 and then more…

  12. Very nice. Good job.

  13. [...] make mine a double-shot grande social media, please | blankanvas [...]

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