Ice cream shop out-‘fans’ S.F. Chronicle
The report yesterday that newspaper circulation declined another 5% in the latest reporting period got me thinking about ice cream for two reasons.
First, anyone who loves newspapers would rather ruminate about rum raisin than the relentless, 20-year slide that has brought weekday circulation to less than 40 million copies today from an all-time high of 63.3 million as recently as 1984.
Second, it reminded me that the folks following the tweets of my favorite ice cream shop in San Francisco – a quirky place called Humphry Slocombe – now vastly outnumber those who buy the San Francisco Chronicle on any given day of the week.
The shop, which produces such exotic flavors as prosciutto ice cream and beet sorbet, has 301,352 followers on Twitter vs. the 223,539 individuals who buy the print edition of the San Francisco Chronicle on an average weekday or the 10,639 people who follow the paper’s website on Twitter.
Think about it: A barely two-year-old business with no marketing budget in a modest storefront in a less-than-fashionable part of town now has a larger and arguably more passionate audience than a once-mighty metro daily that traces its history back to 1865.
How did it happen and what does it portend for what’s left of the Chronicle and the newspaper business?
Apart from the fantastic Fudgesicle sorbet and Guinness gingerbread ice cream on offer at Humphry Slocombe, the unassuming start-up has mastered the art of zero-cost online marketing through such media as Twitter, Facebook and Google Local.
“We started with online marketing because it was free,” said founder Jake Godby, who can be readily identified when you visit the shop by the ice cream cones tattooed on his forearms. “There is no time gap between what you are thinking about and actually doing it.”
As you can see from the Google-sponsored video embedded below, Godby and his partner, Sean Vahey, quickly learned to leverage the social media to build a community around their product. Friends told friends in food-crazed San Francisco about the place and the owners played into the game by rotating the flavors every day to create a sense of novelty, scarcity and excitement.
When word gets out on Twitter that duck-fat pecan pies are available, people stop what they are doing and race to the Mission District in the hopes of snagging one before the always-limited supply is exhausted. The effort, by all accounts, is well worth it.
It didn’t take long for the Humphry buzz to extend to Yelp, where fans themselves took up the cause of helping to promote the business. On the Fourth of July, the mother of all mainstream media joined in: The New York Times treated the shop to a mouth-watering, six-page spread in its Sunday magazine.
Through the skillful use of social media, Humphry Slocombe has built the sort of passion and engagement that would be the envy of any brand. In an age of user-controlled and user-generated media, every successful brand – including newspapers – will have to do the same thing.
Newspapers can be social media, too – even if they are printed on dead trees. To build passion, community and interaction, they must:
:: Build buzz by providing compelling, if not to say provocative, coverage – the more unique, the better.
:: Build community by incorporating all manner of user-generated content, including ratings, reviews and comments.
:: Build value by helping consumers save money and by helping advertisers make money.
If newspapers continue tottering along as the staid, imperious and unimaginative institutions that many of them have come to be, then get ready for the third decade in a row of continuously shriveling circulation.