Crocstar Audience Series - Chapter Three: Sam Binstead

This wasn’t about awesome coffee and cake. Okay, it wasn’t just about awesome coffee and cake…

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For chapter three of our audience series, we headed up north to Sheffield to chat with Sam Binstead, the owner of Upshot Espresso. But this wasn’t about awesome coffee and cake. Okay, it wasn’t just about awesome coffee and cake…

We’ve recently attended YMS conference and one of the key themes to come from it was the power of influencers, specifically micro-influencers.

The theory goes that if you collaborate with a group of micro-influencers (users with 2-5k followers) that align with your desired audience, it's more effective than working with an A-List influencer (100k +) who has a more diluted audience.

Let’s talk about Sam

Sam is one of our favourite Instagrammers. We’ve followed him for a while and were struck by the novel way he used Instagram to document his passions. He uses the app as a platform for deserving independent brands as opposed to sponsored brand collaborations.

He has three separate accounts each with three distinct looks:

But ultimately, he just wants to share his eclectic passions (read: lots of vintage Kate Bush snaps) rather than following trends.

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A little more about micro-influencers

Sam is also the perfect example of an authentic micro-influencer – someone who sets the trends and is selective about the brands they work with, generating a loyal and enthusiastic organic audience as a result.

For starters, micro-influencers have a more concentrated following of people from a similar demographic.

They’re unmoved by trends and blog about their passions rather than on behalf of brands. Their followers tend to be more heavily influenced by their purchasing decisions as it’s an honest recommendation rather than an #ad – also making their audience super-loyal.

Brownies and coffee you say?

We were really excited to chat with Sam about the unique way he uses Instagram and over a brownie (or five) were able to drill down into how he stays authentic on a platform that's becoming increasingly monetised.

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Hey Sam, thanks for the coffee. We’re obsessed with your Instagram accounts, when did you realise Instagram was a great place to build a following for Upshot Espresso?

I had my personal account for years before my following started to grow. I used it as a way to practise my photography while working as a sound engineer. Over time, my feed became more coherent and consistent and that’s when my personal following grew.

About five years ago, my dad opened Upshot and took me on part-time. I’m really passionate about sustainable coffee and started to love the business so much that I decided to come on board full time.

I wanted to completely revamp the look of the cafe to make it ‘Instagrammable’ – it sounds like a strange idea, but luckily my dad was receptive.

The white walls, plywood tables and plants are all there to make sure our customers can take a photo of their time here. It means we always have a bank of photos that match our aesthetic, ready to share on social media.

After putting more time and effort into the Instagram, our sales were up by 200%, which was amazing.

Essentially social media is free advertising, it’s great for small businesses. Plus it’s measurable – we can see how popular a new doughnut flavour or coffee brand is by the number of comments and likes. It’s instant feedback so we can react quickly.

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Does the sense of community between businesses where you live inspire you?

I haven’t experienced any effects of having an Instagram following. Margaret on the other hand is recognised around Sheffield before me. I was wandering around the Botanical Gardens once and someone stopped me: “Oh my god, is this Margaret?”. It’s strange, but fun.

In terms of the shop, Instagram gives us that drive to always generate bigger and better ideas.  Because everything is so public and with so many other independent businesses around us, we always want to offer something new and interesting so that people keep coming back.

As a team we’re constantly training to make sure there’s always something different to shout about on social media, which is why we make most of our products in house.

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You have three Instagram accounts. Why?

I have three accounts because I like to keep things separate. I tend to think about the look of ‘the feed’ rather than each individual photo. Separating out the accounts means I can distribute the themes and make sure each account has its own ‘flow’.

My personal Instagram is mainly ceramics. (Sam has inspired the entire Crocstar office). It’s become quite a passion of mine recently. I think it’s because I enjoy seeing the process of a thing. I like to see how things are made, not just the finished product. I’m also interested in sustainability – I try to buy independent British brands as often as I can.

I’ve never chased followers, I just post what I like. I know other Instagrammers who pre-plan every shot, but my feed can be completely random. Occasionally I’ll throw in a snap of Kate Bush – I love her, I think she’s amazing. And my mum, who’s also amazing. Plus she’s so photogenic, she looks great in every photo.

I started the other accounts to make sure my personal account didn’t become ‘overcrowded’ with similar shots of coffee and dogs. I’m in control of Upshot Espresso’s Instagram, which is dedicated to the shop, and the story behind the products we sell. I also made an Instagram account for my dog Margaret. Because she’s the best – and sometimes you just need an Instagram account dedicated to dogs.

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Whose authenticity do you admire on Instagram? Do you have any favourite accounts?

Jono Smart is a strong contender. He’s a ceramic artist. I love his photos and his captions are refreshingly honest and open. I love watching his Instagram stories for behind-the-scenes videos of his creations.

And S.E.H. Kelly purely for the captions. It seems odd to be focused on the copy when Instagram is visual but I love their use of straightforward and fun language. They don’t take themselves too seriously.

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What you have here are a torso and two legs adorned with the finest summer-weight worsted not only in Somerset but probably the rest of the land, too -- plus a mostly handmade spectacle frame and one of those new granddad shirts made with pebble-grey linen.

As much as you love Instagram, you must have some social media pet hates?

I’m all for supporting each other, but I think it’s quite obvious and transparent when someone isn’t being totally honest. Often there seems to be a motive – usually a freebie from a brand

or a #likeforlike hashtag. I don’t like that kind of stuff.

Instagram is a place to explore what you’re interested in, it should inspire you to engage and collaborate, but you shouldn’t just take photos for something in return.

We wish our Instagram accounts looked as good as yours *sob* – what do you think makes a great feed? Do you have any tips?

I’m all about straight lines and usually have the grid open on my camera when I take a photo to make sure everything is in place.

I think about the feed as a whole and hate it when I end up with similar photos all in a row. To avoid this, I try to contrast shots from one day to the next.

I take all of my photos in soft, natural lighting and think you can’t go wrong with a white background. It makes any photo look great – it’s why we have them in the shop!

Rather than use the Instagram filters, I found a filter that I liked on the VSCO app and use it for all of my photos to keep them consistent.

As micro-influencers like you are known for setting trends rather than following them, we want to know what you’re into right now (y’know so we can all be be into it next year)?

Wow, I’m flattered but also slightly weirded out! Currently I’m pretty obsessed with Hiatus Kaiyote. Listen to their second album, Choose Your Weapon. (We took Sam’s advice and added our favourites to Crocstar’s monthly Spotify playlist.)

I like independent magazines such as Hot and Cool. Obviously I’m passionate about coffee, so I read Standart Magazine, a quarterly publication dedicated to speciality coffee. The visuals are amazing. We stock it here in the shop.

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Thanks Sam! We’ll grab a copy on our way out (along with a few thousand doughnuts). It was lovely to meet you and Margaret and we can’t wait to see what’s next for Upshot Espresso.

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Do you understand your audience better than anyone else could?
We’re on the hunt for influencers and brands that really understand their own audience and what makes them tick. If this sounds like you, drop us a line.