Something that has always amazed and puzzled me at the same time is how new online initiatives achieve their breakthroughs.
We all know of aspiring YouTubers, blogshops or startups who have tried to make a name for themselves on social media, yet few of them actually manage to gain a substantial following. This has left me wondering if there actually is a secret formula to popularising your name.
Through speaking to Jovena Loon, the owner of Cafehopping Singapore, I discovered how the 25-year-old and her fellow co-owner Kelvin Li successfully built a strong following on their blog and simultaneously, attracted over 26k followers on their Instagram page (@cafehoppingsg).
The Cafehopping journey started off in late 2010.
Inspired by her love and an invaluable experience of the strong café culture during a visit to Korea, Jovena created a blog on which she shared about hidden cafés in Singapore at a time when the café scene was not yet developed here. Her goal was to contribute to a growing café culture by gaining a following of fellow café enthusiasts and spreading the word about cafés, which she hoped would ultimately encourage more cafés to surface in Singapore.
Her personal friend, Kelvin, eventually stumbled upon her blog and was impressed with its content. Being technologically savvy and possessing great artistic flair, he was deeply interested in working with Jovena to develop Cafehopping Singapore’s blog’s aesthetics. With his IT knowledge and photography skills, Kelvin helped transform a simple website into a professional one which was more aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly. He then helped to develop the Instagram page by taking and posting quality pictures to complement the quality content and quality cafés.
Jovena’s blog idea was fresh – there were very few blogs which focused specifically on cafés like hers. With the help of meta tags and SEO techniques, readers were introduced to her blog through simple, relevant Google searches about cafés in Singapore. Interest was garnered and Cafehopping Singapore’s humble beginnings quickly blossomed after more consistent marketing on Facebook.
With great thought and planning, the blog’s content was expanded to include more editorial pieces as well, which were very well-received by readers. It helped that Jovena and Kelvin’s friends were faithful supporters of their venture and continued sharing their pages and posts, which greatly boosted their reputation amongst their own circle and community. Cafehopping Singapore started to take off as the word spread and followers increased.
Jovena credits the high following on Cafehopping Singapore’s Instagram page to awareness from the successful blog, which she makes sure is clearly linked to all of Cafehopping Singapore’s social media accounts. However, that isn’t to say that no work was done on the Instagram page; in fact, it is quite the opposite!
Jovena shared that the Instagram page understandably required a lot more focus on posting quality photographs, which wasn’t a problem with the help of Kelvin. However, she admitted the difficulty of building a good following on Instagram.
So how did they do it?
Jovena and Kelvin started using hashtags like #sgfood, #cafesg and #sgcafe. The smart use of hashtags was quipped by Jovena as a great contributor to their success and awareness-raising strategies. They also started using and promoting the hashtag #cafehoppingsg in their posts, which at that time was rarely used.
Soon, this hashtag took off and people all around Singapore started using it. As a result, Instagram searches on this hashtag often brought new followers to Cafehopping Singapore’s page.
Something else they did was having mini contests following different milestones.
For example, when their Instagram page first reached 1000 followers, a contest was held among the page’s followers, of which the participants stood a chance of winning café vouchers. Contests like these helped to raise awareness through the sharing, tagging and mentioning of Cafehopping Singapore and followership grew rapidly. It came to a point where their Instagram followers grew by the thousands.
Jovena also shared that collaborations helped in their success. From working with famous Malaysian photographer Trisha Toh (@trishates on Instagram) to participating in the first ever Café Fest Singapore in 2014, Cafehopping Singapore extended their platform to other communities who shared a similar interest. Events like Café Fest Singapore often boasted turnouts of five to ten thousand people, and this was definitely good promotion for Cafehopping Singapore in the café scene.
Jovena and Kelvin’s success has not stopped their ambition. In fact, they are always on the lookout for new opportunities. One of their goals this year is to expand internationally and to gain followers from other countries. They are currently working on more travel posts and bringing to light café cultures in other countries such as Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong. Using their trusty hashtag strategies, their travel posts are often peppered with café related hashtags that are popular in those countries.
Jovena’s initial goal when starting her blog has definitely been achieved – the popularity of cafés in Singapore is now at an all-time high, with so many new cafés popping up that it has become impossible for her to visit them all. With that, she shared that her new motivation for Cafehopping Singapore is for it to be a reliable source of all things café and to promote new cafés and brands with a good spirit and good quality.
I love hearing stories like Jovena’s – success stories that emerge from hard work and passion. When asked for her advice to people who are trying to gain awareness on Instagram and other social media platforms, she relates it to her personal experience.
First of all, you need to really understand what you are trying to promote and understand your passion. Then, you need to know whether there exists a like-minded community who will be able to relate to your posts and content. You have to be able to understand what your audience would like to read and what messages would reach out to them the most. From then on, hashtags, sharing and utilising methods to go viral should be adopted.
Through it all, Jovena has never lost her passion. She says with a chuckle that her favourite part about the whole experience of Cafehopping Singapore is still the visits to the cafés; simply the enjoyment of her own company and soaking up the atmosphere of café is therapeutic to her.
Perhaps this burning passion and pure love for cafés, good coffee and good food is the greatest contribution to her success. Cafehopping Singapore is a true example of how one can succeed by doing what they love.