I was just talking to a vendor friend about this topic, mainly from the perspective of being a moderator for a large Facebook tea group, International Tea Talk.  This isn’t a rant about people joining a tea group to post ads that violate group policy: I want to discuss the rationale for such rules, and how it works out to filter those in relation to Facebook feed filtering (what gets shown).  Then I can extend that on to how to optimize use of social media posting for exposure, to do better than just posting a typical ad.

It’s not just about people working around group rules to counter their intended limitation, but more about engaging potential customers in discussion by providing informational content rather than simple ads.

Ranmal Tea Herbal Tea ad

used with permission from vendor (credit source)

Let’s start with what an ad is.

This ad is from the Facebook group’s post filtering folder: It was never shown in the group feed, that image or the catchy supporting background information and contact.  It’s not offensive or badly done, in fact to me that’s a pretty good effort – a good example of showing a product using good graphic context.  It just violates the group rules.

So as I define it, an ad is a product image and description with some selling points, contact information, and maybe sales details like something about a discount.  But other types of promotion aren’t as clearly ads, but can overlap in scope and function.  

Here I’ll talk about the two extremes, one of which makes filtering an issue when a post isn’t clearly an ad (like that one) but it’s still pretty obvious.  Then the rest is about the other extreme: How to “create content” instead, which can be interacted with as a fundamentally different type of thing which will allow the Facebook algorithm to promote it (show it to people).

I will often put profiles that show products but aren’t clearly ads on pre-review status, because such content is slightly less ad-like in appearance. I tend to let first posts like that show in the feed as a new member self-introduction, then restrict approving them to group feed distribution a lot more, especially if they are posted frequently versus once in a while.  

It’s inconsistencies like that which make it hard for group members to keep up with judgment, but without putting every post on automatic pre-review–which I’ve avoided doing–ad posts or those just showing product photos are posted every day.  It’s easy to imagine how that range sorts into a gray area; if a vendor doesn’t mention contact details and price, and only shows a tea product image, that’s only implying that they sell it and thus not explicit advertising.  Let’s leave off the definition issue and get on with why groups tend to exclude ads, even though it probably seems obvious enough.

Why the Ad Prohibition?

A lot of tea groups on Facebook, maybe most of them, consist of feeds that are streams of the exact same ads shown in other tea groups.  Many tea vendors post ads daily, or every other day, and in a group with 25,000 members it’s normal for 100 of them to post ads regularly, multiple times a week.  So that’s the feed; the group is then just an ad board.  If you are in 20 or 30 tea groups you would never see any of that in your personal feed, because rock bottom level interaction with ads–who is going to comment on one, or “like” it?–relates to those being shown to almost no one.

So that’s it; ads defeat the designed purpose of many tea groups, to promote discussion, tea enthusiast or vendor interaction, spreading information (about events, courses, tea background, whatever), or providing a place to ask questions.  And they shut down group activity, because almost no one will interact with advertising content, and it won’t be shown in individual feeds by the FB algorithm, generally.  If you can restrict such content, which really takes some doing, that clears up space for information content, event notices, etc., which is more likely to be interacted with.  This brings your tea group back to life, in relation to Facebook algorithm perception and activity (showing posts to people).

Promoting a social media group as a place for discussion isn’t as simple as that filtering step, only separating the chaff from the wheat.  The other range of positive input depends on active participation by interested parties, and your group more or less needs to develop a social shared-interest feel to support that.  The one I moderate doesn’t exactly have that, at this point.  There was a core group of people active in discussion and posting at one point, but as can happen natural turnover led most of them to become less active there over time.  Even me, to some extent; I monitor the group daily but I’m not as consistent now about sharing interesting things I see on there.  I add blog post links there but that’s sort of something else, a different form  of self-promotion (not that I benefit from my blog financially, so I guess being heard is the point, perhaps related to helping others).

Creating Content Instead

A recent post by a vendor friend, the manager of Gopaldhara, serves as an example of how someone with the right background or awareness of tea themes can express ideas and include informative media content that is a totally different thing than an ad.  That content (a partial citation):

It has been widely marketed by big Tea Companies that they buy different varieties of tea to create a unique blend. However our view is very different. Each cultivar depending on season produces a unique flavour and aroma.

For eg Yabukita is very Umami in Spring and has complex notes of Plum and Spice in Summer

AV2 has very sweet nectar like notes in Spring and a well made AV2 in Summer will be richly sweet and the best ones will have rich plum and earl grey finish.

The third one I like is B157. Very herbaceous in Spring and Sweet and Woody in Summer.

Another wild cultivar has Spicy notes.

If you mix all these teas the delicate notes are all lost and you will get the flavour of the most common texture. It could be flowery or mineral or stony but without the complexity…

Photo of tea plant

used with permission from Gopaldhara (original source)

As a tea blogger I can see plenty of room for development of these ideas, and the connection back to the image content (it’s not clear which cultivar is being shown, but they know that information).  The subject of character of blends versus more narrow material type inclusion goes on and on, although saying a little about it is still interesting, as this did.  That’s basically already it in summary; if you blend a lot of tea plant type inputs together you can balance out flaws or limitations, but the distinct flavors that make a tea version seem the most complex, interesting, and pleasant get blended out, too combined together to appreciate as individual experienced aspects.

The extra effort to express more was there in that post, and responses by people seeing it caused the FB algorithm to show it to more people, so it reached over 3000 views, versus most posts not getting far.

And that’s basically it; pretty simple.  The same issue comes up in my company, related to IT services, how Marketing staff write ad content and it doesn’t reflect the same depth of understanding and perspective as technical staff.  It’s equivalent to tea plantation marketing staff not understanding cultivar differences, or having access to a broad range of photos.  Which is crazy, right?

Let’s look at this from a tea blogger perspective.

Which steps would help staff who don’t understand tea on that deeper level create better content, which might engage potential viewers better?

  • Get input from other staff who actually make tea, or acquire the same information in whatever ways it is available (eg. read references, or follow tea groups).
  • Understand what is interesting to social media participants by following group discussions (seems pretty obvious, but then a lot of these points will).
  • Go easy on overused themes like health benefits and sustainability.  If there is a novel, developed, and well-grounded point to be made that’s fine, but otherwise leaving those topics alone is better.  
  • Reference to older, developed tea cultures is fine, but that takes a lot more development than one might expect, and citing a Wikipedia summary level tea origin myth isn’t close to enough.  I suppose it could be sufficient if that’s the goal, using a few words of ancient tea wisdom input as a set of short phrases, but it won’t add interesting perspective framing or new idea content for tea enthusiasts.
  • Use local or online events to participate in a form of discussion, for example attending or mentioning seminars, conventions, etc.  Learning and networking are useful outcomes, but it also relates to having something to say, beyond “buy this particular product.” 
  • Related to producer promotion, creating an event could help provide something to talk about.  There’s nothing wrong with on-location services including a tour theme, which could be very interesting, but adding distinct events (eg. a hands-on tea production workshop) could add depth to that, which could work better to support online discussion.
  • Think way outside the box.  A Thai wild origin tea producer once gave a local TedX talk on sustainability.  This is obviously an extreme case for developing theme and a new communication channel, but limiting exposure to purchased ads, FB and Insta posts stops short of exploring a range of other options.  Developing a Discord server might work, or really any such steps would depend on how a producer or sales vendor fits into a niche, which channel or form would make sense for them.  
  • Standard resale vendors would need to put work into developing a theme just to fit anywhere, to be distinguishable.  Writing a half dozen blog-level researched short articles is a good start, and visiting a tea area is great, but that week’s vacation worth of exposure is still going to relate to sightseeing level input.  Meeting a producer and telling part of their story that’s better; there would be real depth to that.  It’s for the best if the story has a hook to it, some reason that it should be interesting, which could take lots of forms.

How do you maximize quality of text or graphic content, given that the ideas are already developed?

  • Don’t write a first draft and final version quickly; produce the content in stages instead.  This gives you time to think of other ideas to include, or to re-consider how ideas are framed, or to trim back redundancy or fluff in the writing.  It might trigger thinking through variations that could work for other posts, and help you better arrange which peice to put extra ideas.
  • If you are cross-referencing other resources, events, organizations, or subject experts include an attribution, and where applicable a link reference.  This absolutely never happens in marketing oriented content, because it’s about directing traffic to you, not elsewhere, and it’s too quickly developed to reach that depth.  But this kind of content context identifier changes what is presented from self-promotion to information, because the form is different.
  • Use appropriate photo or other media adjoining content.  It’s all too easy to over-rely on a set of in-house produced stock photos, or worse yet, online sourced standard stock photos, which would be created to a high quality standard, but with minimal editing lower quality content could also serve in this role.  The average cell phone image will still not be ok for a lot of context use; the idea is to pair development of media content along with development of ideas and supporting text.  Obviously this is necessary if Instagram is to be used to support some external awareness.

In conclusion if a vendor doesn’t put more work into creating online marketing content than the average personal Instagram account it’s going to show, and ads will not attract attention.  Shifting from creating ads to creating content with greater depth can help, including opening up new channels that allow that to be shared, but not ads.  It’s important to be sensitive to individual group rules, since even personal blog posts are prohibited in many groups, and then informational post content blurring the line between an ad and sharing information probably also would be.

It takes time and effort, and of course that’s a problem, given all the other business function, sourcing, logistics, sales related, packaging, and other aspects to running any business.  But if it grows directly out of personal interest, versus working backwards from creating standard advertising content, that could result in greater external appeal in relation to any level of work input.  

If you can share an idea that a consumer is not already aware of that can create a point of interest for your tea product beyond the potential consumption experience itself, which can’t be fully communicated images or text, or even video content.  Using a video medium can show expression of reactions, but for other types of content other information or ideas will need to fill in what can be conveyed, with product descriptions a limited form of that.