California coffee chain The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf, which has some 900 outlets in 23 countries, is using digital technology to help it respond to customers on a micro-local level.
Although the coffee emporium's reach is large, it faces a common problem: how can a three-person social media team in Los Angeles keep up with hundreds of posts by customers in far-flung locations from Kuala Lumpur to Mexico City? And how can it project itself as the kindly-shopkeeper-next-door?
Recently the company began using a set of tools from California startup MomentFeed that seek to help it manage that challenge. The platform, which companies pay a monthly subscription for, lets brands view Instagram photos that their customers post that are tagged to the precise retail location the user is at - depending on whether the user included a place tag for the photo. The brand can like, comment on, or share the photos over Facebook, Twitter, or Foursquare. They can also comment on photos that use hashtags like #thecoffeebean.
"Before this, we weren't interacting at a local level," notes Patrice Anderson, director of e-commerce and online marketing at The Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf. "This makes it easier to have localized content and not just focus on our corporate Facebook page," she notes.
MomentFeed says its product combines publicly available longitude and latitude data with social media management capabilities. Other high-profile customers also recently announced they would use its tools, including J.C. Penney, Home Depot, and 7-Eleven, although the retail giants weren't yet ready to discuss what kinds of local campaigns they are planning.
The Coffee Bean currently comments on, likes, or shares around 50 to 75 Instagram photos a week, says Anderson. For example, the team recently responded to a shot tagged to one of its locations in Chandler, Arizona, showing two arms with his-and-hers wrist watches labeled "Keeping our Wrists Fancy Together Since '09." "Coffee Time?" @thecoffeebean chimed in, to which the poster replied, "Every day! Thanks for continuing gift card promo!"
In another post, @thecoffeebean responded, "We agree! #YUM" to a gal in Asia who snapped a picture of her breakfast, pointing out that her favorite meal consists of "egg ben and raw salmon." The company can also respond to users of its CBTL subsidiary's coffee and tea makers.
"We have not been responding locally to the extent that we think we should and this gets us closer to that goal," says Anderson. Prior to incorporating the tool, she adds, the team had to separately log in to all the social media sites to monitor what was happening there, whereas now they can view them in one place.
MomentFeed's CEO and founder, Rob Reed, says that technology has finally caught up to the need for large companies to be more local. "Local marketing for national brands has never really scaled, but with the rise of smartphones and the ubiquity of social, it has become a reality," he says.
Numerous other companies besides MomentFeed, including Buddy Media and HootSuite, offer centralized social media management, but few incorporate precise location-based data into the equation. Data that powers store-finders can be inaccurate, something that MomentFeed's PinSync seeks to correct. "You might have three different versions of where an outlet actually is. We resolve that, enabling Facebook, Foursquare, and Google store finders to be more accurate. That leads to better search, engagement, and discovery," says Reed.
More precise location data also helps companies compare themselves with other nearby outlets, he says. A comparison of two fast-food outlets in a five-mile radius, for example, might reveal that one had more check-ins and photos taken, whereas another had better online reviews. Says Reed: "What customers are doing on their smartphones in stores is the pulse of what's happening in these places. You can capture that through public data sources to benchmark the performance of a location."
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Mary Lisbeth D'Amico is a freelance writer based in Jersey City who frequently covers digital marketing, social media, tech startups, and venture capital. She has contributed to a wide range of publications including The Wall Street Journal, Business Week, Red Herring, and Real Deals. Find her on Twitter at @mldamico.
March 19, 2014