Coffee, cause, connection: Leveraging social media to save lives

Coffee is a connector.  Nonprofits are connectors.  Social media is a connector.  Mix them together in the right way and you have a seriously powerful thing going on. 

Last year, I was introduced to the nonprofit Three Avocados after someone I follow on Twitter mentioned them.  I clicked on @nonprofitcoffee in the tweet, which ultimately led me to www.threeavocados.org.  I was immediately captivated by the mission (clean water) and thus connected.  I’ve gotten to know the founder, Joe Koenig, a little in the last few months, and when it comes to leveraging social media to grow the Three Avocados brand and sell coffee to fund clean water projects in Uganda, Joe knows his stuff.

And before this week when I asked him the five questions below, I didn’t know the half of it!  From message control to branding to building relationships to driving revenue, Joe is doing it all through social media. It worked on me! And I couldn’t be happier about it.

Q&A

1. How are you using social media to grow the Three Avocados brand?

I’m a Twitter addict. We use Facebook, too, but I have to admit, I’m a huge Twitter addict and really prefer it to Facebook. Both have been essential in spreading the word about Three Avocados though. Three Avocados started about a year ago, and we’re now at over 11,000 followers on Twitter and over 3,500 fans on Facebook. These two social networks have accounted for the majority of our growth this past year.

A great thing about social media is that I’ve had a lot of opportunities to do interviews for blogs (like this one) that allow me to put out the message to an entire new audience. A lot of people get concerned about social media and about controlling the message. Yes, social media provides a lot of potential for bad press to spread quickly, but I’ve found that by being active on Twitter and Facebook, I can really control what message we’re putting out. And, I can be available to quickly answer questions and direct people to the proper information.

I also find that social media gives you a chance to give your brand a personality. Not all of our tweets or Facebook posts are about clean water or coffee. Many are, but others add a touch of personality, which, I believe, really lets the user connect with the brand on a personal level. As we grow I can definitely see incorporating personal tidbits from employees to keep the personal touch there, but avoid building a brand around a single person.

2. What is working best for you and why?

I think Facebook and Twitter both have their place and different things work better on each of them. I’m a huge fan of Twitter because it’s so easy to make connections with people who would be interested in your brand. It’s a great way to connect and interact with customers in a quick, easy, and fun way. I find Facebook much better for posting images to share and conducting simple giveaway contests.

I can say the single most effective thing I’ve done to date is search out people who have interests similar to what Three Avocados is all about (clean water) and follow them. There have been many instances where that person went straight to our website and made a purchase, after following us that is.

3. What specific successes can you attribute to social media?

Directly because of social media we’ve been included in articles written by Fox News, TrendHunter, and numerous smaller publications. I’ve been able to connect with CEOs at major corporations, celebrities, and build a base of thousands of supporters. I’ve been able to make connections with people at companies like AOL that are interested in helping us get in front of people. I’ve seen sale after sale driven directly from social media. We’ve picked up new retail locations for our product solely by social media and been able to connect with partner organizations that we would never have been able to connect with without it.

4. What’s the key to success with social media?

Being active and paying attention to your social media. I see so many organizations that post something and then don’t pay attention to the responses. They’re simply talking at people, not participating in a conversation. You absolutely have to engage with your audience. So many people want to ‘go viral’, however, not many things truly go viral. And, in reality, you don’t need to. A steady growth will get your message out, build your brand and ultimately drive revenue.

5. What advise would you give other nonprofits or businesses about best utilizing social media?

Take the time to learn the tools and then stick with it. It will take longer than you think to get it going. Realize that each person you connect with through social media has the potential to be a brand advocate for you. Try out different types of posts, different times to post, etc. Just make sure that you post when you’re available to review responses and communicate with your fans/followers.

The potential social media has for your organization is huge. Just as an example, we have 3,500 fans on Facebook. If each of those fans has an average of 200 friends, we have a potential reach of 700,000. For a tiny organization that’s only been around one year and has a very thin marketing budget, that is absolutely huge.

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Is Apple’s image cracking?

I had an interesting conversation this week with a co-worker who owns and adores her iPhone.  She doesn’t just possess it, she has a relationship with it.  When she talks about her phone, she gets excited like a parent proclaiming the genius of a child.

I’m sure you know someone like this.  Perhaps its you! As a communicator and marketer, I dig it.  I applaud Apple for being so committed to their customers and providing products they crave.  I also think it’s totally cool how excited people get about them.  Don’t down them, they’re happy!

Now with regard to my co-worker, as I’ve pointed out, there’s nothing unique about her feelings toward her iPhone. However, something she said stuck with me after the conversation was over.  What she said raised a question in mind I had never thought about when talking to someone about Apple and their products. Normally, these conversations are all the same. In short, we all possess our love and ponder what life would be like without Apple! (I just read that back and it seems so silly but you know you’ve done it!)

But this time around, my-worker took an unexpected shot at Apple when the conversation steered to their latest crisis surrounding iPhones and iPads “secretly” tracking and cataloging users’ movements and how Apple had responded to date. Now, granted, it wasn’t in anger or frustration.  It was more matter of fact. A smile even accompanied the words.

What she said was she wouldn’t be surprised if Apple just chose to ignore it, knowing people will continue to buy their products anyway because, as she stated, “They put crack in these things.”

Now it wasn’t the “crack” comment that caught me, although it’s interesting, too, but it was the first part.  Comments like those are rooted in a lack of trust.

As someone who studies a little social science and takes great interest in public perceptions about, let’s just say, lots of stuff, this raised a question in my mind.  Is Apple getting caught up in the public’s (to include Apple fanatics) general perception that big business is corrupt?  This question led me to other questions.  Is Apple’s image beginning to crack?  Are they becoming crisis weary?

There’s no doubt Apple is a marketing powerhouse. We lift them up as a leading example of how to create and maintain a brand and launch products into the marketplace.  However, according to many PR pros, they suffer in the PR department.  And as many of us PR types know, it isn’t the PR team that’s necessarily to blame, but rather, it’s leadership.

So what do you think? Is the honeymoon ending for Apple’s image? If so, what should they do?