Posted July 22, 2008 9:29 am by with 12 comments

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CoffeeSmall businesses in the US are struggling right now. Any edge or any hope that can be found is a welcome change from the continued onslaught of economic news around rising prices and shrinking wallets. I found one such story this morning over my cup of coffee. Oh and it was kinda cool that it was about coffee. I need that kind of early morning validation that my coffee drinking is still “in vogue”.

Anyway, in the Wall Street Journal this morning (I know, where else does Frank get his news from?) there was a real life example of social networking helping small businesses. Not just hype round social networking being good for small business but an actual story of success. How about that?

The article discusses the success of Matt Miletto who is the director of training for the American Barista and Coffee School in Portland, OR. Now after I got over the head scratching phase of “There is a school for this stuff and it’s not Starbucks U?” Actually since he deals mostly with independents Mr. Miletto was looking for a way to create an online buzz for his industry of buzz creators (hat tip to caffeine). By using he started a group called the Barista Exchange that is a place for independent coffee types to build profiles, post discussion topics, blog posts etc. etc.

While the concept isn’t earth shattering the results were pretty good. Since December there are over 3,000 members and about 15,000 unique visitors a month. The article talks about how many small biz types are realizing that the networking with customers is one thing but networking with likeminded business owners reaps benefits. The resulting network and networking has created a community that has ideas and opportunities roasting all the time. An instance of this occurred in Easton, PA that stalwart of independent coffee shop owners (look out Seattle). Two shop owners found each other, realized they are about 20 minutes from each other so they started referring customers back and forth. Once again, not earth shattering just effective.

According to the article Miletto’s success was not quick. He started in December of last year. I would have to say that he did a pretty good job for just six months. His recipe for success included:

  1. A passionate group that was open to this type of activity
  2. Development of content that was designed to compel reaction from the group
  3. Repeated recruitment of members via e-mail and advertising (no indication about $ amounts)
  4. New features being added consistently
  5. A will to get the group to the point of viral self promotion

Well, folks we have reached a new point in the world of internet marketing. It’s not about the latest, greatest and coolest applications all the time. It’s really about some good old fashioned business principles. Give your audience what they want and keep feeding them. No bells and whistles just consistent delivery and a lot of hard work. Creating social networks may really be the new world construction industry. No one knows who built the roads we drive on and the buildings we work in but we couldn’t do anything without their effort. Hats off to more internet construction workers building great places to get life done.

  • Human to humans always works. Was reminded of this just yesterday after spending a bit more time than usual on Twitter. Ended up inspired by all the interaction and visiting sites to see different things some of the Twitterati are doing.

    Do you think Ning can work alongside a membership site? I joined recently but felt it may be double overload, so haven’t done anything… 😉

  • Nice post. Love the final punch line. 🙂

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  • Angela – I will expose how little I actually know about the workings of other than an article from Fast Company in April. Would love to get more response regarding this idea and how to integrate multiple “platforms” effectively.

    Frank Reed’s last blog post..Small and Medium Business (SMB) Search Marketing – What’s the Deal?

  • Using Ning for this purpose for is a good idea, but does take time and energy to build a healthy and active group.

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  • Great post Frank. We need more examples of Social Networking success.

    I have a bit of experience with Ning and to answer Angela’s question yes there is quite a bit of overlap between it and a traditional membership site but there are ways that the two can work together.

    1. Market research. Since it’s ridiculously easy ,and free, to set up a Ning for your niche you can use it to gauge interest without having to invest a lot of time and money.

    2. If you’re considering charging for memberships you can use a Ning for free introductory level content and a membership site for premium content. Build a base following with the Ning then set up a pay for access membership site. Ask the members of the Ning what premium content they would pay for.


  • What a success story. Truly inspiring and a role model for finding an effective niche. Thank you for this story.

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  • PS3

    I have to agree Nicole, there is so much negative talk around that it is nice to see a more positive slant from time to time, thanks.

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  • Wow, a real life example of social networking in the real world. Another skeptic converted 😉

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  • Great article. We have many entrepreneurs at build and grow their business using Konnects. This is a proven tool and has been very successful.