Two challenges encountered by craft breweries have been repeatedly brought up by my favorite industry writers, podcasts, and twitter accounts. The first involves how we get more people drinking beer, preferably good beer, instead of wine and spirits. The second involves how breweries can improve loyalty in the form of repeat sales, instead of serving as a “tick” for beer geeks looking to try everything once, but nothing twice. I would like to propose a simple, affordable strategy that will help the individual cause, while furthering the craft industry as a whole. Before explaining, let me give you some background:
About 3 years ago, I decided to create a social media account to log my beer experiences and chose instagram as the medium. I didn't have any specific goal in mind, but I knew I wanted to learn m̶o̶r̶e̶ everything about the industry and meet people who share a similar passion. After a few months, the feed was nothing special. It was filled with the classic pictures that everybody takes at least once, like your precious beer cargo fastened by a seat belt.
One evening during the Summer of 2013, I prepared to grill some burgers for the wife and I. I walked onto my balcony wearing Ray Ban sunglasses while carrying a bottle of Lagunitas' Undercover Shut Down Ale. While waiting for the burgers to cook, I lined up the beer for a quick picture. Instinctively, I looked at the name of the beer and decided to lean my sunglasses against the bottle. While preparing to post on Instagram, I played up the angle by tagging the brewery and writing "Undercover Shut-Down Ale is staking me out. Better drink it before it gathers intel."
Shortly after posting, Lagunitas fired back at me by commenting, “Roger that. Keep it very hush hush and on the QT.” It was fun and I got a good laugh out of it. The next time I was shopping for beer, I found myself gravitating right to the Lagunitas lineup. After all, Lagunitas and I were now best buds right? My wheels starting turning as I sized up their offerings. The following month led to more purchases, which lead to more instagram posts:
Craft beer enthusiasts want to be more than just consumers, they want to feel like they are a part of the conversation and I was no different. Spending time talking about beer and influencing piers through Beer Advocate, RateBeer, TalkBeer, Facebook groups, Untappd, etc. is one way this is accomplished. I chose Instagram as my primary means of connecting and it’s been exciting to see that platform grow. From Instagram’s inception in 2010 through January 2014, the #craftbeer had been used less than 1 million times. In January 2016, it now sits at over 6 million. That’s a lot of free content and advertising, the majority of which is created by the consumers
So back to my original questions, how do craft breweries continue to grow enthusiasm, while also improving customer loyalty? It's simple, interact with your fans on a more personal level. "Like" their posts, say thank you, make them feel a part of what you are doing because well, they are. Prioritize looking through all the posts you were tagged in on a regular basis and consider the different levels of engagement:
At a minimum, make #1 and #2 happen. It won’t take much of your time and even if it does, it’s worth it. Show your appreciation and enhance your odds of that individual making a follow-up purchase sooner. Their followers will see the comment, which will encourage them to create their own content. Regarding #3, I don’t blame any brewery who wants to keep their feed 100% original. However, at least consider the benefits of setting the precedent that if anyone creates an over-the-top, kickass picture of your beer, it’s getting shared. Now you’ll have a small, but influential subset of your most die-hard customers looking to reach that status. It’s free content for you and a tip of the cap to your best customers, who often have strong voices in the community. An extreme example of adopting this strategy is Six Point (Brooklyn, NY), who allows the majority of their feed be contributions by their fans. Their followers know that if they show a little bit of effort, they have a good chance of their post being shared with nearly 50,000 other Six Point fans. I tested this out a few months ago and sure enough:
Another brewery that I’ve been interacting with since the early days is Pipeworks Brewing here in Chicago. I reached out to someone who I have a tremendous amount of respect for, Kate Brankin, to confirm or deny my suggestions. Kate wears a number of hats for Pipeworks including brewer and social media. Whether she would phrase it like this or not, Kate serves as the voice of the brewery. By that, I mean she takes the entire team’s personality, mashes it together and conveys it to their fans in a consistent, funny, and creative style.
When I shared my overall thoughts above with Kate, she replied, “Engaging with consumers, in a real and genuine way is very important to us and, in my opinion, the craft beer industry as a whole. Unlike most other industries where the only conversation between the producer and the consumer is through monetary means (i.e. Oh sales are going up, people like! We must make more and not change a thing!), or unorganized sounding boards (i.e. I'm yelping about this...) there is a history of organized critical dialogue between the producer and consumer of craft beer. Websites like Ratebeer and Beer Advocate encouraged many initial consumers (including myself) to think critically about beer, and allowed for consumers to express not just if they liked something, but why. The craft beer industry is also interesting in that many of the consumers are also creative producers themselves. Homebrewers are still some of the most passionate taggers, posters, commenters and they know what they're talking about.”
The original comment from Lagunitas served as an “aha” moment for how I could differentiate my own account. The continued reinforcement from breweries like Pipeworks is what kept it going. As the audience built into the thousands, the feed evolved into my personal contribution to generating excitement about craft beer. And I’m not the only one doing this, not by a longshot. There are hundreds of stunning, creative craft beer themed Instagram accounts and tens of thousands of people sharing their craft beer experiences on Instagram. If breweries push the love downward to their customers more often, the enthusiasts will multiply and the occasional new influencer will emerge. Below are the statistics of my instagram feed to give you an idea of the level of engagement that one individual can contribute to the industry. Prioritize a little extra time to interact with fans, spread a little extra craft beer love, and watch as you brew more loyal fans.