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A Bird in the Hand is Meant to Be Worth Two in the Bush

n the early days of London’s specialty coffee scene every opening, new coffee and >>> travelled like wildfire through the specialty coffee community because of Twitter.

Specialty coffee consumer brands are vacating Twitter, United Baristas shares some observations and looks to the future of our Twitter feed

We periodically review our communication channels to ascertain their worthwhileness. Over time it’s easy for an organisation to do more, without deciding what it should be doing less of.

For example over the past 12 months we’ve:

• Built our community chatbot UBot on Messenger
• Segmented our mailing lists by function and interest
• Moved our article content to, but retained our Medium posts
• Started posting articles, films, jobs vacancies, and newsroom updates on Apple News
• Opened up various RSS feeds so our community can built their own updates and notifications
• Created more email notification options for United Baristas services

The objective is to work towards making the right information available to the right people at the right moment in time.

The objective is to work towards making the right information available to the right people at the right moment in time without bombarding our community. It’s an ongoing balancing act, but one that seems to be going well as our reach and influence has significantly grown across all our channels, except Twitter.

Scoping the Twitterverse

Auditing our stats, it’s become increasingly apparent that our network is spending less time on Twitter.

In the early days of London’s specialty coffee scene new openings and industry gossip travelled like wildfire, in the large part because of Twitter. And the medium impacted a niche of highly engaged consumers: you could drop a tweet about a new coffee and people would turn up in your shop a few minutes later casually asking if anything was new; they wanted to be first, but often didn’t want to acknowledge that they’d learnt about it on Twitter.

In the early days of London’s specialty coffee scene every opening, new coffee and >>> travelled like wildfire through the specialty coffee community because of Twitter.
In the early days of London’s specialty coffee scene information travelled like wildfire through the specialty coffee community in good part because of Twitter.

Twitter opened new marketing possibilities. Our founder used Twitter’s geographic search tools to identify prospective customers when opening new shops. In the months leading up to a shop’s opening, if you tweeted at a local, relevant establishment you automatically got added to a list for launch marketing. It was also useful for gaining unguarded feedback and proved valuable insights for tracking the zeitgeist. Every tweet within the area of a shop could be automatically added to a spreadsheet using a geofence which could be periodically skimmed, especially when the revenue line was falling short of expectations.

Not shuttered, just dormant

Of the coffee shops and equipments brands that United Baristas follows/ed on Twitter around 5% were inactive on Friday 22 June 2018. We defined inactivity as a business that is operational but hasn’t posted original content in the last three months (so just having links to Instagram or RTing select mentions doesn’t count as activity).

Digging a little deeper, over half of the inactive accounts we followed were coffee shops with around 20% of the inactive accounts being equipment brands and a similar percentage being roastery specific accounts for coffee brands. Some surprising names pop up, for example (in alphabetical order):

Allpress Espresso UK hasn’t posted original content since April 2017

Twitter followers: 6.5k
Allpress Instagram followers: 20.5k


Brew Lab last posted in March 2018

Twitter followers: 7k
Instagram followers: 12k


Curators Coffee most recently posted original content in March 2017

Twitter followers: 6k
Instagram followers: 4.5k


Grind last posted original content in November 2017

Twitter followers: 7.5k
Instagram followers: 109k


Press last posted an original tweet in July 2017

Twitter followers: 1.5k
Instagram followers: 15k


Synesso last posted a non-Instagram tweet in August 2017

Twitter followers: 9k
Instagram followers: 18k


World Aeropress Championship last posted a bespoke tweet in June 2016

Twitter followers: 2k
Instagram followers: 24k


Audience and community

One of the claims about social media is that it can create community. This may be true in certain circumstances, but by-and-large it seems to us that the online coffee communities mirror the actual community. Many of the thriving coffee Twitter accounts are digital manifestations the underlying networks of friends, colleagues, contacts and industry peers. What’s been happening a World of Coffee these last days is a good example.

Many online coffee communities overlap with the networks of the coffee community. Image: SCA MarComms.

The other style of vibrant account is those organisation or people providing timely information or insight. In these cases, the users consuming the content because it is valuable to them. For the sake of clarity, let’s call them an audience – and it is important to note that only in select cases is there an overlap between community and audience.

Maybe the best way to look at this is that customers of a coffee shop often don’t have much in common and don’t wish to be part of a common community. Coffee shop social media managers are then essentially tasked with creating ‘news’, and the working reality is that they are trying to find as many ways as possible to say that the shop is open – again – for business.

Finally, it’s anecdotal, but its also worth noting that the above examples are primarily of consumer brands, and many of their last tweets are trade or industry related. It’s possible that this reflects a mis-match of content and positioning strategy. After all influence, attention-span and sales are three very different things. We suggest you prioritise one, and then see what you can do about the others.

Lifetime value

The ultimate goal of most social media accounts is to build a pipeline of customers and revenue. This means each Twitter follower has  a value, but what is it? At its most basic, the maths is pretty easy. Take the amount of revenue a post regime makes your business, divide it by the number of active users (or impressions) and set a horizon on the timeframe. So, to take an illustrative example, a daily tweet that generates £50 of revenue daily from 3,000 users equals circa £9000 of revenue over six months. If you’re marketing budget is circa 10% of revenue, then you can afford to pay up to 30p for an averagely engaged user and it to be beneficial to the business.

Obviously, the assumptions that you make about off-line and online attribution, timeframe, viral coefficients and the need for additional communication channels to close a sale plus a host of other factors greatly impact the value of one of your Twitter followers.

The internet is pretty sparse on methodology when it comes to valuing Twitter followers, but it’s probably okay to suggest that for most companies followers are worth just pennies, and most much less than our 30p example. As a thought experiment, how much would you pay to buy 1,000 Twitter followers of a slightly higher quality than your current followers?

At 10p per follower, the value of the customers not being engaged with in the above inactive account examples is £3200. The combined cost of the respective social media managers’ hours to have gained these followers must have been a far higher expense. Getting Twitter, and social media in general, to pay its way is tricky for many companies, but if your social channels are part of your marketing strategy then they need to be costed and to make commercial sense.

Affirmation and criticism

No discussion about functioning of Twitter can take place without covering the the culture of harassment, bullying and vitriol that permeates parts of the platform. It’s widely recognised that Twitter has a deep problem because these types of behaviour are positive for engagement metrics. Maybe the current holder of the title of the President of the United States of America is a good example of this.

But we also could have exampled tweets from members of the coffee community that are deliberately provocative, and presumably primarily designed to boost their engagement stats. It’s a strategy, but a good one? We’ll let you decide.

Feedback and complaints

While many coffee social media profiles may not have to put up with the death and rape threats that many UK parliamentarians experience, Twitter’s culture of opinion and criticism can be grinding for social media managers. This can be contrasted with the dopamine inducing boost and affirmation a ❤ on Instagram. It seems fair to suggest that social media energy is already spread too thinly and some managers are opting to spend time on Instagram, in part because it feels better. Whether it is more commercially viable than Twitter for many coffee businesses remains to be seen – and a topic we’d love to return to another day.

There are also structural problems with managing customer feedback and problem-solving on Twitter, something that a portion of users like to use the platform for. Unlike Facebook/Messenger/Instagram which offers a free, out-of-the box system that supports teams managing messages from across their platforms, Twitter social media managers are reliant on third-party, paid platforms. This can make managing discussions or support challenging for many small organisations. Compounding the situation is character quotas and that businesses have privacy responsibilities which makes troubleshooting issues that require person verification, or require the discussion of personal information tricky. It has the potential be a great customer troubleshooting platform, but it seldom works that way at present.

The future

It’s been a tough couple of years for Twitter, but recently things have been looking up for the business and its shareholders. There are clearly still massive challenges for Twitter to tackle and its mode of operations, such as the recent acquisition and then rapid shut down of the harassment  platform Smyte seems as tone deaf as Melania Trump’s choice of outfit this week, whatever their purpose or strategy.

Upon reflection we feel that our Twitter growth is slower because our core audience (coffee shops, baristas and equipment brands) are there less, because their respective audiences are there less.

United Baristas is going to stick with Twitter for the time-being, not only because of its potential, but because we have a core group of engaged people using the service to stay updated with marketplace listings and job vacancies.

If you have another perspective, or ideas about how we can improve our Twitter content, please let us know. We’re on all the usual channels, including Twitter.

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