How Social Is Your Beer?

Last spring I watched a documentary on the election of Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi. This is a man who entered a crowded field of candidates with almost no name recognition. A 38-year-old Muslim in the Stampede City who had never served in public office outside of student politics, he knew he had to do things differently to beat the favourite (an alderman with nine years on City Council) and a very popular TV news anchor.

The thing with Nenshi: he was a Harvard-educated marketing professor who understood that financial obstacles (his campaign was funded by credit cards more than contributors) could be overcome if he could get his message to connect with the people in the best position to support his brand. To do that he had to go where they were meeting, and very often that was online.

Think of Barack Obama. His first campaign for the Presidency began at a time Hilary Clinton was pretty well assured of the Democratic Party nomination. It took online engagement across a variety of platforms to turn the primaries, then the race for the top job, in his favour.

Most social media platforms are free, which means that with strategy and the right tool set you have the opportunity to meet beer fans pretty much anywhere, with no additional material costs. Why wouldn’t you share your message with them? They’re beer fans. They already like beer. They WANT to spread your message. You just have to give them something worth sharing.

I began 2014 by removing myself from some accounts, closed down a couple others and even gave a few to friends with fledgling businesses. In total I cut myself off from close to 20,000 ‘followers’ and ‘likes’, including more than 10,000 from one Facebook page alone.

Whereas I once managed seven Twitter accounts from my phone at one time, I’m now down to two. I can still access several Facebook pages, but again I limit myself to two. Do I miss the Pinterest and Tumblr accounts? Yes, but my message is more focused, and I’ve opened up capacity to take on other accounts.

Before drilling down to the different platforms and how each can be harnessed to complement your online strategy, it’s important to consider what you hope to accomplish. If you’re already brewing at capacity and aren’t focused on expanding your market, then maybe social media just becomes about retention and showing appreciation for the great people that drink your beer. You, my friend, can take a lighter, less involved approach.

If, on the other hand, you’re looking to grow, it’s worth spending a bit of time to figure out short- and long-term goals, social media as part of your larger marketing strategy and the right mix of tools to reach your targets efficiently and effectively.

The most important decision is staffing

The most important decision is staffing. Can one person run all your social media, or do you share the Twitter and Instagram passwords with your “brand ambassadors” so they can post relevant photos from (and thereby show support for) your valuable clients? If your crew is large you’ll be changing passwords every time someone leaves and will still require a Social Media Manager (SMM) to handle the replies and messages, ensure consistency and track developments. A smaller staff can probably be trusted to be more selective and share the workload, but won’t drive the same volume of traffic.

The advantage of assigning an SMM is having someone who is responsible, and holds others accountable for their individual contributions. Social media can – and probably should – be shared among staff. The SMM oversees the plan to bring all the pieces together.

At my last job I did everything for our Toronto, Montréal and Vancouver offices. For a while a coworker in Montréal took care of the Instagram account… until she mysteriously stopped one day with no explanation or forewarning. She didn’t last long. Another co-worker, also in Montréal, insisted on helping with Facebook, but I had to stop him because he wouldn’t adhere to protocol and was costing the company valuable exposure. Because it was my job to oversee each of the channels (even when others were charged with providing the content) the Instagram account continued seamlessly and the Facebook page was cleaned up with almost no interruption.

Whether you’re looking to hire an SMM, contract it out or assign it to somebody already on the payroll, make sure whomever represents your brand understands your core product.

Have a look at what happened when a local beer importer’s Twitter account posted a flaw-plagued infographic. A few of the better known Toronto beer cognoscenti ruthlessly, publicly picked it apart, with one very prominent writer offering this to his 3,000+ followers: “It’s actually quite irritating, and @________, you should know better than to propagate this.”

Obviously it wasn’t the company owner – a very likable guy, well known in the community – who sent out the tweet, but his name is also the company name, so rightly or not it reflected on him.

Next, give some thought to who you’re trying to reach. If you covet the 19-year-old drinker, get somebody who starts each tweet with “Guys, …” and hyper-punctuates each message.

Personality is more important than technical ability

Want a more mature beer lover? Employ someone that communicates on their level. Whomever leads your social media should be the type of individual your customers would enjoy having a pint with. Your SMM has to be someone that can strike up and carry a conversation with a stranger, at the next bar stool or online. Personality is more important than technical ability.

Now consider the whole online / in-person relationship. It’s symbiotic. Social media isn’t meant to replace face-to-face experiences. Done well it should create more of them, just as someone having a positive, personal experience with your beer may inspire them to go online to seek out other opportunities to engage with your brand.

When the SMM works in tandem with your sales and event staff to support your accounts and show appreciation for your / their customers, new connections get made at each level. When that happens you’ll start seeing organic growth.

Think of it like a brain

Think of it like a brain. Over your lifetime the brain continues to build new connections, while unused synapses eventually degenerate. The more active your brain, the more efficiently it builds connections while keeping old ones from dying. You want your brewery to be operating like a well developed, highly functioning brain.

A brainy way to build connections is by kicking your SMM out of the office. Ideally you want a field reporter – a correspondent that can pack a laptop and file stories from your client’s bar, your taproom or the festival.

Your customers (existing and potential) should drive the content, which again, is why your SMM’s personality is more important than their technical prowess. Social media platforms get more user-friendly all the time, and some third-party applications can make them even easier.

Let’s start by looking at the channel used by nearly every Ontario brewer. This Twitter tutorial is my most in-depth look at any social medium, and likely the most valuable.

Proceed to the Twitter Tutorial »


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Beer as part of a healthy lifestyle

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