cafes on instagram

Instagram (a social network bought by Facebook for around $1B, even though they had no revenue source at the time, and still have a fairly low level of revenue coming in) is still in its early stages as a social network. I’m fairly selective with who I follow on instagram, which means I’m still able to look at all the photos of the people I follow.

This is significant: I crossed the line a long time ago with twitter and with facebook, and just dip in occasionally and read whatever I can make time for. Instagram feels different, though: with its minimal (effectively nil) advertising, it still feels like a place that’s about the exchange of ideas rather than a commercial place where everyone is providing data for the service to sell.

Sure, Instagram is building up a database of places, connections, images, networks of sharing the same as the other players, and its (rarely seen) error messages are now hosted on facebook servers, not independent servers, but it still *feels* different.

And so Instagram is still a place where brands can interact with their followers in a more human way. I realised this when I started unfollowing brands/commercial accounts that they were managing to reach my subconcious in a more profound way than simply advertising. On Instagram, everything is just a photo, so commercial messages are, I think, less prone to banner blindness than on other platforms.

What does this mean for cafes in particular? I follow quite a few coffee-related accounts, many of whom for people I have met (though, with the exception of the occasional free coffee sample, none of whom I have a commercial interest in), and thought I’d share a few observations.

There are many types of coffee-related accounts: equipment vendors (eg thejuggler_ssm, lamarzocco, synesso_factory), roasters (eg griffithscoffee, tobysestatecoffee , camposcoffee), cafes (eg brewtownnewtown, circaespresso, fleetwoodmacchiato, kitchenbymike, thegroundsofalexandria, reformatorycoffeelab, smithteacoffee, vellanero, johnsmithcafe, substationcafe), cafe staff (eg charlescameron, tobyornot), hybrid accounts (eg atallandsundry, fleetwoodmacchiato, grindespresso), and – it could be argued – cafe bloggers or patrons like myself (eg bitterbliss, cafedave, beansproutcafe).

As with any social media approach, if you’re looking to be effective in your use of Instagram, you need to start by asking yourself why you’ve set up your account: what you’re hoping to get out of it. Ideally this will align with some higher-level business goals that you have.

The one outlier in the set of accounts above is the hybrid account. As a cafe owner, there are some big hours. It can be difficult to separate out your personal life from your cafe, but the experience of following the cafe when you don’t know the owner can be confusing.

The best of cafe accounts highlight those times of day when you would most like to visit a cafe: muffins fresh out of the oven, a new menu item becoming available, or the new beans you’ve brought in. Bringing in the personality of the staff from your cafe is a good way to remind your customers of why they visit the cafe.

While encouraging customers to take photos of your cafe might be a negative in terms of turning over tables, if you want to increase the level of engagement with instagram, there are a variety of steps you can take:


  • improve the quality of plating your food, or of your latte art
  • prominently add your instagram account name to your menus / at the cash register
  • repost the images of your followers
  • make sure your cafe location is on facebook places so people who visit your cafe can discover each others’ photos
  • increase the amount of lighting / natural light in the cafe
  • serve foods / place settings in a way that is easier to capture in a square frame
  • create a unique visual feature in your cafe that people who visit can include in their photos
  • create a uniquely named menu item (eg brewnut) to make sharing easier


Adding an instagram strategy to your cafe’s social media marketing mix can be a helpful way to gain more customers, and more repeat customers. Make sure you build in a way to see how many people are coming to the cafe from Instagram (some free stats are available at the time of writing from iconosquare – here’s the hashtag search for #brewtownnewtown – you’ll need to log in with an instagram account to see it).

Let me know in the comments below if you have a favourite cafe on instagram.

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