An advantage craft breweries have over their bigger, less mobile conglomerate competitors is the ability to innovate. They have the chance to let their imaginations run wild without the constraints placed on them by various layers of stakeholders – and this doesn’t just apply to the beer they brew. It’s also in the way they present themselves. And right here, right now, the place to make a name for yourself is the modern day wild west frontier of social media.
For obvious financial reasons, social media is particularly vital for smaller companies who aren’t sitting on multi-million pound above the line advertising budgets (smaller companies, like, say…. a craft brewer). They can shout from the digital rooftops to thousands of people for next to no money. And most importantly, it gives the opportunity to have a two-way conversation with current and potential customers alike, which is the most effective way to drive all-important brand advocacy that can kick up a tail-wind that leads to unparalleled success.
It all boils down to the fact that people want to talk to people on social media. Social media is about your friends and what interests you. Not automatons and gumpf.
Let’s say for example you had a buddy who ran a brewery, and you asked about their work on Facebook. You wouldn’t expect a copy and paste answer from them would you?
In my opinion, there are three main ways breweries can currently create this fandom typhoon: transparency, humour and fan interaction. And at the moment, there are three breweries in the UK who are leading the way in these categories and interacting in the optimum way to increase brand advocacy. So without further ado. Here they are…
1. Transparency – Cloudwater
For those of you unfamiliar with Cloudwater, they’re essentially the Dele Alli of the UK craft scene. They’ve come out of nowhere and, at this stage, are already doing it better than most of the stalwarts. For those of you who do already know them (let’s face it, if you’ve come across this blog you’re probably somewhat crafty-beery-inclined), you probably don’t need me to tell you Cloudwater are on an absolute roll. It’s hard to believe they’ve only been on the scene for two years considering the impact they’ve had. And while you’ve probably twigged that they make amazing beer. You may not know just how good their social media presence is.
What sets them apart is the way Cloudwater talks to people in such a conversational yet knowledgeable and honest way. They keep people informed with goings-on around the brewery – building hype for new products in the process. They offer an opinion on the zeitgeist and let everyone know what impact current news from the brewing world is having on them. And, if they’ve made a (rare) fuck-up, they’ll very quickly put their hands up and provide a solution for the world to see. This final point in itself is massively admirable in a space where a lot of companies would hide such news and hope it vanishes quietly.
This level of openness (and perhaps even vulnerability) is what successfully blurs the line between a business and a personal account on social media. If someone asks Cloudwater a question, they’ll answer it. And they’ll answer it well, giving brewing and business insight to substantiate what they’re saying (just as your mate who ran a brewery would if you asked them). A level of transparency is something the consumer has come to expect in this day and age, but going above and beyond like this and not being afraid to embrace it – this is what takes a company from good to great.
The above is also bolstered by fantastic photography, giving fans the closest thing to a visit to the brewery short of driving them there personally. I obviously wasn’t on the Cloudwater trip out to NYC, but from the photos on Twitter, I can smell that Cool Ship at Trillium and I can imagine that cat ruling the roost at the Other Half tap house. Whether it’s intended to or not, this visual storytelling latches on to the emotional part of the brain, and builds a key resonance with the brand. And I can only doff my cap to Cloudwater for pulling all of these feats off so adeptly.
2. Humour – Pilot
It used to be a case that all advertising was purely an interruption in life. We all sat through it because we knew it was (one way or another) paying for a service or product we were enjoying. Social media has turned this around though and, while it can still partly be intrusive, we’re now welcoming what are essentially adverts into our lives by clicking like or follow.
In the big bad social media brouhaha, there’s a lot of brands that provide an awesome product; and then brands that cement that fantastic product with a great tone of voice that hits a sharing trigger with the reader. In turn, this endears people to the point that they actively seek out the brand’s marketing to be entertained. Innocent Smoothies are the FMCG masters of this. Paddy Power have it nailed in the gaming world. And our very own craft beer example is Pilot Beer.
Pilot makes great beer. And the way they shout about it is just as good. With humour as the primary trigger, Pilot make people (both blatantly and subtly) WANT to hear about their brews. They challenge brewing and social media cliches; they make humorous observations from both the beer and “real” world and, perhaps most importantly, they aren’t afraid to poke fun at themselves and their potential customers. Beer fans are generally a cynical but good-hearted lot so, no doubt, can’t help but laugh when some of the sillier beery behaviours are pointed out to them. In doing this, Pilot are (again) talking to people like a friend does. They’re that mate you’ve got on Twitter who is ACTUALLY funny every time they post. But they also provide the additional bonus of delicious beer.
One of the real shames here is that the account only has just over 7,000 followers. Its feeds are deserving of much more. So I beseech you, next time you see a Pilot tweet that makes you laugh, share it with a friend. Because the more people that see this shining of example of how a brewery (read company) has perfected building brand advocacy and communicating with customers, the better the world of social media will be (and the more people will seek out the beer of this very underrated Scottish brewery).
3. Fan Interaction – Beavertown
Now to the final instalment. Once again it boils down to how people interact with other people on social media. Go back to your imaginary friend with the make-believe brewery for a moment. Say you share an awesome photo of their beer you’ve taken. You’ve gone to all that effort to let them know you love it and they totally blank you. Nadda. Now imagine the reverse. Not only do they reply to you, and praise your photo, but they share it with all their friends and tell them how great it is. You’d feel a lot better and like that person a lot more if they did that, right?
At this moment, there are few better than Beavertown at engaging a rabid audience and making their fans feel valued.
Beavertown’s social media channels capture the shenanigans around HQ – and regularly use interesting formats, such as stop motion, to do so. This brings the fun and games (as well as the products) to life in a way that makes the fans of the brewery want to shout more about the beer they love due to its engaging nature.
Like Cloudwater, it’s the level of transparency that endears people. You feel part of the team seeing all these antics, and Beavertown bring this full circle by actively sharing fan involvement on their channels for the world to see. This then creates that oh so sought after virtuous cycle of people being more likely to shout praises, due to the love it gets from the brand (not to mention the chance to have their content shared to thousands of people). Beavertown then gets a further plus because the beautiful content that fans make can then be showcased for free. It’s a win-win.
Admittedly, it is a balancing act. Do it too much and you become spammy. Set a precedent and stop doing it? “God those guys used to be so cool now they don’t care about their fans!” But right here and now, Tottenham Hale’s finest have struck the perfect rewarding balance. And long may it continue.
As a sign-off, I’d like to pass on one piece of advice to these breweries and others who adapt a similarly successful method for their social media. The beer business is pretty unique in this social sphere. And that’s because of the nature of the product and its consumers. At the moment, your key channel to talk to your customers is likely run by either the decision-maker in the business or someone very close to the decision-maker. This is why it’s so authentic and successful. As you grow as a brewery, which you inevitably will because you’re awesome, make sure you don’t lose sight of this. And make sure you don’t become just another brewery on social media that has to um and ah about every Instagram hashtag or Facebook post they make, like the big breweries do. This level of sign off and assurance is very necessary for some businesses (and I’d never advocate letting someone you don’t trust go freestyle on your social media), but it needn’t be for craft beer. If you start wading too deep into this quagmire, you’ll quickly see those fans who shout about you the loudest leave you. And that would just be shit for everyone involved.
You can follow Cloudwater on Twitter here.
You can follow Pilot Beer on Twitter here.
You can follow Beavertown on Twitter here.
And you can follow me on Twitter here.
As a final caveat, I chose only to focus on UK breweries in this blog but who knows, if there’s demand I may even go #WorldWide with a follow-up.