A conversation with Adagio Teas' social media manager

Adagio Teas is a small online retailer with just 20 employees, but they can teach retailing giants some tricks about using blogger outreach, Twitter, and other social media to connect with customers.

I talked with Ilya Kreymerman about how the gourmet tea retailer uses social media. Social media manager is just a small part of Kreymerman's duties. He's also head of technology and Web marketing for the company.

One of the things that most impressed me about Adagio is that they put a note in my next tea shipment when I blogged about them previously. Nobody else has ever done that. I buy a lot of online retail, I've been doing it a long time, I blog about my experiences occasionally, and nobody's ever sent me a note like that before. It shows they're paying attention to their customers (one of whom happens to be a tech blogger -- me).

Kreymerman explained that Adagio has the capability to individual customers' accounts. My blog said that I'd placed an order with them earlier that day, so he called up my account, flagged it, and wrote the note to put in my order.

The company runs automated Google searches for mentions two or three times a week, and flags accounts to add personal notes.

They pay particular attention to tea bloggers. Interestingly, they've found that tea bloggers, with only a few hundred readers each, are more able to drive sales than far more popular general-interest blogs. Popular technology journalist Veronica Belmont tweeted about the company, and though she had tens of thousands of followers, the sales increase was insignificant, Kreymerman said.

That's a lesson for all companies: Pay attention to the community of people fiercely devoted to your industry. Even if those people's follower base is small, they can still be fiercely influential.

Another trick of Adagio's that impressed me was the way they handle online gift certificates. When you place an order with them, they give you the option to send a gift certificate to your Facebook friends that will give them a discount on Adagio purchases. I like that it's a gift certificates that benefits the recipients, not merely an announcement that the sender just bought something, which many online retailers do. Adagio's method is classier.

That program actually predates Facebook and Twitter, it was started several years ago. While the gift certificate benefits the recipient, the sender also gets a discount. Adagio noticed that bloggers were announcing that they had gift certificates available, and asking readers to e-mail requests to the bloggers, and the bloggers would then generate gift certificates. Adagio created an embeddable tool that bloggers could put on their sites and avoid having to administer the gift certificates themselves. Readers could just click the tool and get their own certificate, Kreymerman said.

Adagio offers package-tracking by Twitter Direct Message. That tool is a descendant of an e-mail package-tracker that Adagio, like many online retailers, has had in place for several years. It works off a batch process that runs every two hours. It was short work to simply direct the output of the package-tracker from e-mail to Twitter, using Twitter's APIs.

"Once they're following you, it's a pain to unsubscribe. Unless you spam them, they'll probably keep you on after the package is delivered, and then you can potentially be top of mind for them more often," Kreymerman said.

In the future, Adagio is trying to build a graph of connections between its own customers. If a customer sends a gift certificate to another customer, then Adagio wants to be able to link the two of them in its database, and highlight public activity of one for the other to see. For example, Adagio would highlight recipes and reviews for friends to see. The goal is to bring customers back to the site more often than when they're running low on tea.

The company hasn't instituted metrics to measure the success of its social media efforts.

The company just launched its Facebook page, they held off because they didn't feel they had a good idea what to do with Facebook. It includes a tab for profiles of tea farmers -- a regular feature of the Web site -- as well as tabs for video podcats and reviews.

All in all, Adagio displays flair and finesse in managing blogger relations, Twitter, and Facebook. You might even say they have social media in the bag.

For more about Adagio's use of social media -- including what was in the note that they slipped in my tea shipment -- see last week's blog post: Adagio Teas: Steeped in social media, no unicorns and rainbows.

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