The social media marketing strategy of Metropolis Coffee Co.

Metropolis Coffee Company, a small-batch artisan coffee roaster and café in Chicago, has always stayed away from traditional advertising. It’s not a question of money. It’s about ethics.

“We’d always sworn that we didn’t want to advertise,” says co-owner Tony Dreyfuss. “It just felt stupid—like bending people’s wills. It didn’t really align with who we are.”

Tony owns Metropolis Coffee Company with his dad, Jeff. Both father and son caught the coffee bug while living in the Pacific Northwest in the late ’90s.

Tony, who majored in philosophy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, took a job at Peets Coffee & Tea in Portland and worked his way up to management. Jeff, who taught Indonesian at the University of Washington-Seattle, befriended a local coffee roaster and learned everything he could about coffee.

When it became clear that coffee wasn’t just a hobby, they decided to go into business together. Tony and Jeff relocated back to the Midwest and opened Metropolis in 2003, locating both the coffee roaster and the café on Chicago’s far north side.

The critical acclaim for Metropolis came quickly. In 2005, Chicago Magazine named Metropolis the best latte winner in Chicago. In 2006, Food and Wine named Metropolis one of the country’s best coffee bars.

The café, located a few blocks from Loyola University, draws a loyal crowd from all walks of life. Tony describes the vibe as accessible and hip without being hipster. “We’re like an artisanal bakery in Berkley,” he says.

In other words, a café that prides itself on great products, a love of the arts and a strong sense of community. Metropolis features the work of a different artist every month, and the café regularly hosts live concerts.

As for developing a social media marketing strategy, Tony didn’t get the hype at first. Then he met Jody Robbins, who co-owns a Chicago-based agency called Nimble Social Media. “Jody explained to me that your website is the basic information you want to get across about your company—social media is your personality,” he says.

That’s when the light bulb went off.

“I loved the idea of being able to interact with customers personally,” Tony says. “Through Twitter and Facebook you’re able to interact with people and get up-to-the moment info out there. Blogging is like the opinion section of a newspaper where you’re able to write about things more in-depth.”

In April 2010, Tony signed on to work with Robbins and his business partner, Rita Fisher. Now the staff at Metropolis works with Nimble Social Media to plan and execute their strategy across Metropolis’ blog, Twitter and Facebook accounts.

“Our goal with social media was to raise awareness about Metropolis,” Tony says. “We felt people on the north side of Chicago knew about us and that the people who were really into coffee knew about us. But we were having trouble reaching individual restaurants and we also wanted a way to reach out to individual customers through a lot of different streams.”

The results of using social media are immediate and tangible for Tony’s team.

“With traditional advertising, it’s difficult to say what affects what,” Tony says. “We definitely see when we put things out in social media that the interest is there. If we write about our new seasonal blend of coffees on Facebook or Twitter, all of a sudden we’ll see a flurry of orders.”

Social media also creates an authentic online forum for Metropolis’ customers. Last year, Metropolis stopped offering dark roast coffee. Rather than just post a note in the store, Tony’s team announced the change via social media.

“Because of social media, people weren’t buffered—they didn’t feel like they had to be nice, which was awesome,” Tony says. “We got to the heart of the issue quickly.

“Some people were really excited about it; they felt the world should be rid of dark roast coffee. Some people were extremely angry because they liked dark roast coffee and felt offended that we were getting rid of it. The conversation happened minute-by-minute. A lot of it took place on Facebook and some of it on Twitter. We were really struck by it and were able to lay out our case and talk about it. Before social media, we wouldn’t have been able to do that.”

Robbins and Fisher, who consult for several companies, enjoy working with Tony and the Metropolis team.

“They’re the ultimate clients for social media—Metropolis is so incredibly open,” Robbins says. “I’ve never had to send Tony an email wondering if it’s okay to respond to someone online in a certain kind of way. I once asked if it was okay for us to retweet ‘Chicago has great coffee by Intellgentsia and Metropolis.’ Tony said go for it, we’re here to spread the message of coffee as a movement.”

The team from Metropolis contributes all kinds of content across its blog, Facebook and Twitter. Johnny Loftus, Metropolis delievery guy, is a regular contributor to the Village Voice and also writes about about pop culture for Metropolis’s blog. You can also follow him on Twitter at @metrowheelman. Jeff, Tony’s dad and the co-owner of Metropolis, writes longer philosophical posts about the state of the global coffee industry. And, of course, everyone contributes to news and photos of recent events held at Metropolis’ cafe.

For other business owners who want to get into social media, Tony recommends staying as personal as possible. “Don’t make your social media strategy all impersonal and advertising-based,” Tony says. “Customers feel like they want to interact with the brand personally—social media is your chance to do just that.”

Every week, we feature small and medium-sized businesses who “get” the web. Recent features include “The Social Marketing Strategy of Wow Bao” and Bright Pink’s 10 tips for growing your Facebook fan page.” Know of a business we should profile? Let us know via Twitter at 435Digital.

  • Rhon

    Metropolis cafe didn’t “offend” its dark-roast lovers; it simply abandoned them. Metropolis decided to pursue its own coffee roasting interest, and turned its back to loyal dark-roast loving customers.
    Dark-roast customers who had been loyal to Metropolis, found that Metropolis was not the least bit interested in keeping them happy. In short, Metropolis told its clients, we are doing what we believe in–either start liking it the way we do it, or go elsewhere.
    That’s an interesting business model during an economic downturn, but if you’ve got the ego and the resources to swing it, why not? Suit yourselves.
    We had been making the trek to Metropolis since 2005, in pursuit of our own interests — dark roast coffee. We now enjoy freshly roasted beans from Whole Foods that please our dark-roast loving palate.

  • Jen A. H.

    Re: social media strategies, I really like how Metropolis is focusing on being personal and having conversations with their followers through social media. I just read about another Chicago restaurant owner/entrepreneur who’s holding a twitter/social media birthday party — first time ever I’ve heard about something like that! Super creative and, like Metropolis, trying to get more engaged and personal with their followers. And it’s not just focused on him either — it’s benefitting a local nonprofit organization, it’s gonna be at one of his venues so it helps market/promote that, and it also helps promote his blog, where he writes things all about Chicago (there’s more info here: http://bit.ly/eYWxzp). So I think besides making sure your logistics are in place and reasonable, you should also take the chance to think outside the box and see how to really get your customers/followers engaged with you.

    Also very nice to see that these Chicago businesses (my hometown!) are being very creative in their social media strategies!

  • http://www.e-ms.com Andrew Arenson

    Hi,

    I really enjoyed the Metropolis piece. The company is really managing their FaceBook presence welll. Good job!

    How about random cup-o-joe give-aways?

    -Drew
    Santa Cruz, CA