26 Nov Exploring Craft Beer in our Digital Universe with Today’s ‘Beeronauts’
Craft beer is a social animal. Sure, you can sit in your den and drink a gorgeous Belgian quad infused with rum-soaked raisins, but to whom are you going to offer a smile and a taste if the only other living thing in the room is your ficus plant? Drinking at the brewery, at the beer bar, or around your kitchen table with friends is how this game is won. Is it any wonder then, that craft beer has embraced social media? Brewers, breweries, and beer drinkers have all gotten into the act; some raise digital marketing to an art form. I recently talked to several people who follow and use social media in the craft beer community, and I can tell you that it isn’t just a matter of posting when your next bottle release will occur. The social part of social media is serious business and serious fun.
You have to look no further than the article you are reading right now. I write these pieces as a way to connect to the craft beer community and to help others love it as much as do Walter and I. My writing lets me meet people I would ordinarily might see but not recognize, it lets me rationalize drinking a lot of great beer, and it is one of the many things that my wife and I enjoy doing together. However, the other side is just as important for craft beer. Indiana On Tap is aimed at involving as many people in craft beer as possible, and promoting the Indiana beer community in and out of the state. But they are a business after all, and it helps the business (and perhaps by extension, the business of all breweries in Indiana) if you click on, or share, my post and read the pearls of wisdom I drop at your feet.
The internet and social media can have as much or as little to offer a beer drinker as they might like. One can join fifty Facebook groups and listen to umpteen podcasts a day, or a person can only look at the tap list for the beer bar they frequent. It’s up to the individual, but to make the most of the opportunities in the universe of 1’s and 0’s, one must understand the ways people are talking about craft beer and where you can find them. The first thing to know is that breweries have embraced digital marketing – not merely advertising their product, but bringing the public into their environment and making them feel like part of the family. Heck, they might not even have that much to say, it just keeps them on your radar when their picture and name scrolls up your screen.
Julia Herz is the Craft Beer Program Director for the Brewer’s Association (BA). She was kind enough to talk to me for a few minutes about how breweries are connecting digitally with their customers. The data from 2014 indicates that just about every brewery in America has a Facebook page. How each uses the page may differ, but everyone is available for engagement. And this important – people of the younger generations, those brought up on the Internet, don’t expect to just look at a page and gather information. They expect that session be interactive – links to investigate, preferences and likes to be recorded, and of course, questions to be answered. Users want their breweries to be responsive – you message them and they write back. Now you “know” them – digitally, that is, and that is a good thing for both parties.
Despite the fact that the younger generation is more adept at using social media, it seems to Julia that the older breweries are really then best at using it. Her examples were Sam Adams and New Belgium. While Sam was late to Twitter, they now have some of the most interactive promotions on that platform. New Belgium was the first, and perhaps still the best brewery, at incorporating Periscope (live streaming video mobile app) into their digital marketing environment. How does this innovation occur in the most staid and established breweries? They go out and get the talent. Of course, those two breweries also have the biggest budgets for doing this sort of outreach, but they have hooked into the medium and have hired dedicated digital media marketing managers, or perhaps whole teams of social media gurus.
This lesson has not been lost on the smaller breweries and the brewpubs. Julia estimated that 7-10% of breweries are hiring dedicated digital marketing managers, while almost all the rest have hybrid marketers that manage both the traditional forms of marketing and the internet. It is unlikely that you will see many brewers/owners sitting home at night trying to post that picture of the latest can design to Facebook. But even at the simplest level, the information can be great. I can’t tell you how many times Walter and I will simultaneously text each other “did you see Twenty Tap’s list for today!?”
Brewpubs that produce less than 1000 BBL a year tend to take the experience farther. Half of these establishments blog about their beer and their community. They use Twitter and Instagram, as well as other platforms. As the size of the brewpub production increases, they may be less likely to blog, but they are more likely to use Instagram. Production breweries also use the internet slightly differently based on their size. Many fewer blog, but as the BBLs produced increase from <1000 to <5000 to <15,000 and then > 15, 000 more and more tend to write articles to be shared. Linked In isn’t used much by smaller brewpubs or production breweries, but large production breweries use it quite a bit. The point is that if you want to interact or find information about a brewery – it’s out there. Julia contends that the internet is the new “word of mouth.” People see your stuff and they share it to others; people come in and experience your beer, and they post about it for others.
Importantly, these digital marketing interactions help the brewery do more than just make people aware of what beers are on tap or what band is playing Friday night. They learn about their customers too. Brewpubs use social media platforms as one of their primary sources of customer feedback. They might look at reviews too, but this is less popular – let’s face it, some people just aren’t happy unless they are trashing some poor breweries beer – what brewer would want to go online and read all that? Production breweries look at reviews more often, and they are much more likely to use social media to talk to other brewers, planning collaborations or investigating tap takeovers. The internet is a two way street – well, perhaps it is really a three-way street.
Social media brings the brewery, the customer and the community together. Many breweries use social media to publicize their charitable works. Braxton Brewing in Covington, KY is huge on linking their charity events to the greater world through their social media presence. In similar fashion, TwoDEEP Brewing used social media well to publicize their recent charity event with Ryan Diem of the Colts organization (Cheers for Charity). I can’t say that every brewery exploits the internet to do good works, but my personal experience says more than 95% of them do it regularly.
So social media links breweries to the public, but the internet is also good at linking drinkers to each other. I am not a huge user of Facebook or Twitter, but even I belong to more than a dozen Facebook craft beer groups and a half dozen Google+ beer communities. These groups do many things; for whatever reason you are part of the craft beer community, you can find a group that focuses on just that.
I talked to Theron Parham and Ryan Hamilton over a beer at Indiana City. They are the administrators (along with Mike Parrot) of the Indy Craft Beer Lovers Facebook group. They both smiled when they told me that the sole purpose of this group is to be a place of celebration – celebration of Indiana, Indiana craft beer, and Indiana craft. Anything is fair game, as long as it is positive in nature and celebrates Indiana and/or its beer. Within that framework, they post call outs for meet ups and the breweries, look for trades and hard to find beers, announce where they found what. The page contains good information, but they both see the group as a primarily a social outlet for their beer love. Other groups do this as well, locally I would suggest the Pour Misfits, Northern Indiana Craft Beer Enthusiasts, and the Greater Cincinnati Craft Beer Society – although Cincinnati posts a few more chug videos than I need.
In contrast, the Fort Wayne Beer group page is almost all information. The administrators, Jeff Johnson and Doug Farmer, came to craft beer through collectibles – beer cans, advertising and such. They post about conventions, local meetings, and interesting finds that others may be interested in. They wouldn’t mind being a more social group, with meet ups and trades, but that has been slower in coming for them. Of course, this doesn’t mean that Facebook or Google+ groups need to be one or the other thing – or even local. Walter and I belong to many groups from far away places. The Colorado Let’s Talk Craft Beer group was an invaluable resource of information before our recent trip west. Likewise, we belong to groups from Texas, Chicago, Michigan, Asheville, NC, and numerous others.
Beyond Facebook, Twitter, and Google+, there is a vast array of social opportunities for the craft beer enthusiast. Podcasts like those from Blind Pig Confessions link the drinker to many local brewers and breweries. And videos from The Dump Buckets and others like them give people reviews and summaries of festivals, bottle shares, and other events. Tom Mulvihill, aka Tom the Beer Whisperer, posts all kinds of beer review videos, beer writing, and other beer reposts. He lives in southwest Missouri, but that’s one of the great things about the internet – neighbors and friends don’t need to be next door. Never mind that Walter and I actually met Tom on a swing through Kansas City and Fayetteville, AK; that was sheer luck.
So… there are groups, pages, blogs, video, podcasts – all designed to bring people together over a craft beer. And this list doesn’t even take into account the most obvious elephants in the room – Untappd, RateBeer, Beer Advocate, TapHunter and the like. Just remember, the digital universe might parallel our own, but it isn’t a substitute. Craft beer is meant to be enjoyed with people – use the internet to enhance your craft beer experience, not as your craft beer experience.
Walter’s words of wisdom – Breweries shouldn’t use floral-scented soap in bathroom. It messes with the aroma of the beer.