As craft beer's popularity continues to climb, Instagram is emerging as one the most useful tools for key industry players to share their story, build a following and stay in touch with their fans. In an industry with so little budgeted toward marketing, a strong following should serve as a powerful indicator of both current and future success. To kick-off my project, I created a database of all Illinois breweries who are registered with the Brewers Association. I linked that database to their Instagram statistics and watched what happened over the last couple months. While I have a lot of more complex and interesting findings in the works, I wanted to start out with some basics. Let's first take a look at the top 10 biggest audiences in Illinois:
The first number I wanted to mention briefly is the 13.1% per month growth rate that Goose Island's Instagram audience has seen as of late. A lot of work goes into their feed and it shows. You could argue that Goose has the marketing budget that smaller breweries do not, but I prefer to think of it as prioritization. They clearly have a strategy and see the value in consistent, high quality content. I have a lot more to talk about with Goose Island, but will save that for future posts.
Most breweries tend to follow their distributors, piers (other breweries), retail accounts, influencers and sometimes their biggest fans. Lagunitas however makes an interesting and uncommon decision to follow zero other accounts. I can see reasons to criticize this strategy, but I actually believe it's smart in their case. All eyes are on Lagunitas as they prepare to make major leaps like we've never seen before, both in the US and abroad. With the entire industry following their progress closely, why bother trying to follow a handful of accounts back and likely ruffling feathers of those that you don't? What's the point? It should also be noted that a lot of small breweries' Instagram accounts are duel serving as their owner/brewer's personal feed. That is certainly not going to be the case with a company the size of Lagunitas, which would likely be run by one or multiple individuals in their marketing department who have their own personal feeds.
The Top 10 list is fairly predictable until you reach #6, Arcade Brewing. How does a brewery that just opened in 2014 already have an Instagram audience ranking 6th in the state? I believe there are a lot of interesting reasons which go beyond just "what's in the glass". For starters, think about the typical demographic who buys craft beer. I believe it's fair to say that a high % of these individuals grew up playing Atari, Nintendo, or Sega. Arcade's branding has the opportunity to create nostalgia, which leads to new customers and followers. There are 4 different bars within 2 miles of my home that are completely filled with and themed around old school video game machines. Arcade Brewing is a natural event partner for each of them, which results in cross-promotion through social media to a heavily targeted audience. In addition, the branding attracts the retro gaming crowd who may not otherwise pay attention to craft beer. This gives Arcade two different customer segments to draw from. While they may not be a lot of Chicago beer geek's #1 brewery yet, they are probably the favorite of a lot of gamers.
I was able to catch up with Chris Tourre, one of the co-founders of Arcade Brewery, who added "I believe our social media growth isn't just about us forcing our community to consume what we are putting out either. Social media growth happens when there is a true engagement and back-and-forth. Hot brands, regardless of industry, will have tons of followers. New guys like us rely on publishing provocative information, while also working hard to have an open dialog with our community. "
I'm glad Chris brought up this last point because it's one I am very passionate about. From my experience, it's just as easy to lose a follower as it is to gain one. The more content you put out there, the more you expose your fans to burnout. Arcade had the most active Instagram account of all Illinois craft breweries in August and the 7th most active in September. Engaging with your followers is one of the easiest ways to keep them around. Chris went on to explain, "Whether its 'cheers-ing' their posts, thanking them for posting about us, or simply being responsive to their questions/comments. Those are the simple things that we get continued positive feedback on from our community."
Here's a picture I posted over one year ago when Arcade packaged their second beer, a Grapefruit IPA which I brought out to California to share with my father-in-law Sal.
If you scroll up, you'll see I did end up picking up that bottle of Mega Milk, and it was delicious.