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Screen Capture of Yunnan Sourcing Fans Facebook page

the feel of those groups is familiar, but the functional structure is a bit limited

I’ve mentioned a very successful pioneering case of social media channel creation before, the Yunnan Sourcing Fans Facebook group.  This post is focused on that kind of thing, versus a vendor creating good informational content that can support sales as in my recent post Tea References.  Of course any given vendor can do both – Farmerleaf is a good example of that, with only the content creation really clearly successful so far.

The prompt for talking about this is that I was invited to a Farmerleaf Discord server (group) and heard a nice audio interview there with a friend, Anna of Kinnari Tea, about development issues in Laos.  There are other vendor-specific tea-related groups there.  I don’t buy enough Farmerleaf tea to talk about them in a group, or enough of any one vendor’s tea (except maybe Moychay, they send me more than average for review).  I suppose that’s one drawback: The premise for participation is based on consuming a lot of one vendor’s products.  Some people do that, or maybe even only buy tea from one source.

Screen Capture of Farmerleaf Discord forum, on the ‘tips-and-tricks-for-gongfu’ channel

What other channel forms are out there?  Vendors using open-form social discussion-themed channels for promotion tend to be heavily restricted and moderated, for obvious reasons.  In the Facebook group I run, International Tea Talk (mostly populated by vendors) content about products is allowed but not explicit sales information.  For whatever reason it’s hard for vendors to adjust to talking about their products without moving on to sales range (mentioning a special, emphasizing contact information, utilizing marketing content that looks like obvious marketing content/ads).  Discussing background in other types of social media settings is an option, it would just require carefully working around restrictions.  Adagio created and hosted Tea Chat, really the former main old-style tea forum, but activity dropped off when they tried to play a more direct role in leveraging that for marketing. Way off – one part of that upset some of the forum members so much that they created a spin-off forum, Tea Forum.

But what else like Discord or that Facebook group?  A Facebook page can work for a contact point or providing information, but it wouldn’t provide the same function.  Crimson Lotus has been developing a cool variation on these themes by doing a podcast series on Youtube.  They’re a pu’er vendor (mainly), so it might be a conflict to have another similar pu’er vendor as a guest (eg. the Bitterleaf or Yunnan Sourcing guys), but even that might still work.  It’s not as if their customers don’t know about source options.  One episode had the Liquid Proust vendor Andrew Richardson on; he sells pu’er, but the business theme is a little different.  Making a podcast work can be hit or miss, but it would work to have really interesting people and do a good job of asking the questions people would want to hear answers to – just the basics.  It’s quite indirect as marketing goes, and not interactive; but live streaming versus posting edited video can give it a little more of that feel.

What else?  Due to covid lots of forms of online seminars and conferences are turning up; participating as a speaker could work.  This really assumes that the vendor has something to say beyond “I sell such and such tea.”  Not all vendors are further through a learning and experience curve than an average social media group participant.  Someone having been to a tea production area in China–or anywhere–only one time could be used for all its worth; it would be enough.  Elyse of Tealet seems to do both seminar-style events and informal streaming group talks, all really seeming more social than business-networking oriented.

I recently participated in an online meetup session with a small Malaysian vendor, held to discuss this issue. Hosted by Bigfuller Foong (his profile name), it was about what would work for marketing or sales approach in the new business and social climate.  We didn’t get far.  Related to his own tea business he was expanding tea types, embracing a new Japanese tea interest there, and exploring cold brewing; so sharing that online could indirectly lead to sales.  The point related to this theme is that even without a group or channel base, online video meetups could fulfill a similar function; with people networking to set up contacts to join those in any way that works.  He was doing more conventional tea enthusiast meetups too, not just talking among vendors and tea professionals.

Rather than arriving at approaches, in that discussion we ended up discussing the context: How tea perspectives and local cultures vary.  It makes a huge difference where you are and what you are trying to sell.  That Malaysian vendor was trying to move beyond the most conventional and in-demand Chinese teas that are popular there.  Another prospective vendor in Sydney, Australia was considering how to initiate and develop a Gongfu practice subculture there similar to what she had experienced in Austin, Texas.  It could work, it would just take some doing.  A one-to-one mapping of interest form and perspective might not work, actually; but with the right approach a similar theme and practices might be adapted.

One theme that often comes up: It’s a real challenge to try to replicate the effect of in-person tastings online.  Of course related to the main end-point you just can’t hand someone tea to try.  You can mail it, but that still skips the brewing part.  A novel initiative combining training and online group tasting themes sold tasting sets and allowed participants to try a variety of Japanese teas together, a set they sold prior to the meetings, along with content presentation and discussion (the Tea Creative Japanese Tea Marathon).  That’s different.

No matter what the approach is, it seems critical to identify a point of connection.  Going after existing customers who already have the product interest could be a challenge, given some sources have already taken steps to solidify a relationship with their customer base.  There would have to be an angle, something new to offer.  Regardless of channel format or approach if a vendor is sharing their own passion for a tea type that could help and some of it would come across.