Do Tea and Twitter Mix? An Interview Regarding Social Media Trends with ESP Emporium

Social Media Trends: ESP Emporium, one of the worlds largest online tea distributors, is a company that isn't afraid to get social. Alongside retailing loose leaf teas from around the world, they also strive to educate customers through social media. I had an opportunity to talk social media trends with Steven Popec, one of the founders of ESP Emporium. Check out the interview:

One thing that fascinates me the most about your business is that you appear to be fully invested in social media. It's a big part of your web presence. When did you decide to "buy in" to social media?

Our involvement in the social media arena began in January 2010. It's no secret that social media is a powerful tool that is incredibly useful in many aspects and affects the transformation of today's society to virtual communication. Social media provides our business a vehicle to communicate with existing and potential consumers; it personalizes our "brand" and helps to spread the word of tea in a relaxed and conversational way. Social media tools assist our company in getting community feedback and understanding consumer market expectations. Furthermore, social media is extremely exiting! We also see huge potentials in local social media marketing campaigns to increase brand awareness.

I'm impressed that ESP Emporium has a blog and keeps it active. In your opinion, what are the benefits of blogging? Why should a company invest the time to blog?

We decided that our blog should be model a for educational purposes, rather than promotional ads, which is driven by our personal passion for tea. As modern people, we recognize the importance of a healthy lifestyle and that people have dramatically increased their awareness to become more health conscious.  Which leads to the reason to have a blog, it's a primary tool to vocalize our thoughts about the health benefits of drinking loose leaf tea.

Every business today needs to consider all realistically available tools to profoundly shape relationships with a consumer base; the blog is an important segment to the evolving social environment. Modern consumers are not driven just by TV commercials, but tend to make an educated decision when it comes to spending. Therefore, a blog is a chance for a business to provide people with valuable information, to build trust among communities. Companies assign a lot of resources to bring potential customers to a site, it's vital that content is readily available within a domain, making a business the one-stop-shop for a specific niche. In addition, there are tremendous advantages to incorporating a blog into all search engine optimization strategies that are invaluable.

One of the first things that really grabbed me on your homepage is that you offer a $5 coupon, but it's a Twitter only special. How did you come up with this idea?

The idea behind the offer was to demonstrate our commitment to having a social presents.  Customers will understand our contribution in exchange for us to educate them about the great benefits of loose leaf tea. Also, it is an easy way to find new customers that establishes instant trust since purchasing online is considered an uncomfortable high stress transaction. We felt that we have unique content and a vast product line that requires an audience to socialize with us over a cup of tea.

Speaking of Twitter, you've earned a loyal following and interact regularly with your fans. Is Twitter more of a customer service platform or are you using it to help grow your brand name? Does Twitter actually help the bottom line?

There are a lot of potential downfalls for companies to engage with followers as a short-cut for quality customer service. Juggling this interactive relationship should be carefully balanced. It's a channel that should be mixed with engaging content without constantly pushing product. Let your base react and come to you as a respected niche authority while providing a necessary outlet for consumers to vocalize their own views. For us, Twitter is a great place to meet interesting people, share quality information, build a following base, and brand the name. Unfortunately, many companies are losing sight of the most important rule to social media, which is to have fun.

The ROI for social media is multidimensional, it's difficult to measure but it's a necessary step for business-to-consumer models. The "bottom line" comes over time; we have already seen a measurable increase in sales from Twitter followers that continues to flourish monthly.  If the base is built properly, there is a huge benefit that will be noticed within the site stats, the traffic that comes from Twitter is extremely qualified which increases overall conversion rates.

Your Facebook page is well designed and has over 2000 likes! How long have you been on Facebook?

Our Fan Page is about a year old, we have tied the account to post to Twitter as well. Social media works successfully when approached from all angels: Facebook, Twitter, Flickr (we share pictures that are well composed and passionately taken by our co-owner Elena Popec). People have preferences to which outlet suits them best, our goal is to be able to cater to all of the major channels.

The web 2.0 world is really big. With all the clutter online, how do you go about finding those loyal tea lovers?

Here in lies the major hurdle to overcome within all social networks, finding a base built around a product line. There is a lot of software that is available but can't be used without violating the rules for each particular network. Therefore, it all needs to be done manually by searching through bios and monitoring search results for relevant keywords.  It's crucial after the personal engagement takes place that unique quality content is obtainable to keep the new base interested and engaged throughout the relationship.

Social media adoption is up this year and more businesses are making the choice to be active. What words of advice would you give to those who are still hesitant of online community building?

Each business owner needs to understand how today's generation prefers to communicate with their peers. It's important to create a controlled mechanism for individuals to express themselves about your business whether it is positive or negative. People like controversy; they would rather do business with a company that is willing to step up to the plate to resolve difficult problems when they arise.  If a business doesn't have a social presents when customers feel the need to express themselves and will resort to review sites. At this point, all control to confront this issue head-on has been eliminated.

In addition, vertical search is here to stay, the search engines have invested huge dollars into deploying this technology. If the SE's are concerned about advertising dollars that are being diminished because Facebook and Twitter PPC campaigns, why not have a footing into the rapidly changing social environment? Therefore, it's extremely important to have an execution plan while setting realistically achievable goals.

Check out the ESP emporium blog to learn more about loose leaf tea.