Now that I've set the scene with the IL breweries possessing the largest audience on Instagram, I think it's also interesting to keep an eye on who is picking up steam the fastest. There are 170 breweries in Illinois (per Brewers Association, 10/15/15) and another 54 in planning. For the purposes of this graphic, I only considered those with at least 250 Instagram followers. Here are the top 3 gainers as a %, over the last 2 calendar months:
I reached out to Pete Ternes of Middle Brow Beer Company, a unique brewery in Chicago founded by home brewers, which donates half of profits to charities. Like most co-founders of small breweries, Pete is involved in all aspects of the business including the execution of Middle Brow's social media strategy. First, I wondered if the 2nd place ranking was a surprise to Pete, to which he answered:
The comment about pulling back from other media had me especially intrigued as I've experienced very little success sharing my photographs anywhere besides Instagram. I asked Pete a little more about that and he didn't hold back any punches when it came to Facebook, adding "Facebook is hot, wet, air-deprived garbage...it's where posts go to die. Unless you pay to have your post seen by your followers and some other handful of people. And at first that means paying $3 to boost a post, but Facebook then reels you in and stops showing your posts to anyone unless you boost them for $6. then $12. then $25."
"This move is very shortsighted of Facebook. or of Facebook's bots. fine..." Pete half-joked, "They gotta charge companies for accessing their customers, not so surprising, perfectly smart of them. But to charge small businesses with very small marketing budgets even to reach 1-10 of their followers is nuts. They should be focused on helping us grow into big companies so we can start spending thousands of dollars per year on Facebook ads. Instead, they're stifling us. it's also really bad user experience for their individual users. I have loads of friends who ask me, "why don't i ever see any of your news? why do i always have to search to find things out about you?" So Facebook is missing out on a win-win-win here. Small businesses would be happier with Facebook (and use it more) if they didn't require boosting until you had, say, 50K followers."
It's an interesting point that Pete brings up, as Facebook seems to have become a pay-to-play platform which treats large corporations the same as small business, perhaps at the expense of their user experience. How do the small guys even begin to try to get big on that platform without pouring money into it right off the bat? Knowing the personality of most craft breweries, in addition to their small marketing budgets, I don't see much investment in Facebook moving forward. Middle Brow was willing to confirm my suspicion, at least as far as they're concerned:
I know from personal experience that maintaining an active and engaging feed, with fresh creative content is no easy task. A question I've always wondered is where craft breweries prioritize their social media presence and strategy. The answer is going to be different, depending on who you ask, and can pretty easily be evaluated by looking through a brewery's post history and response rate to questions. I always root for breweries to place a high priority on social media, Instagram specifically, but I had never asked anyone specifically about priorities until now. Pete explained:
"On our priority list, it's basically #3. That said, if you clocked the number of hours spent on tasks, it may look like #1. Let me clarify a bit. First and foremost we want to make great beer; we have to make great beer. We cross our fingers that people like our beer as much as we do. We've seen some evidence that that's true and we hope to see the amount of that evidence increase at an exponential rate as the months pass.
A close second to that priority is the work we do with local charities. We could have brewed beer for ourselves for the rest of our lives... but the imbalance we see in craft beer (and so many other industries) is what got us into brewing on a large scale. The imbalance we're talking about is the amount of money people spend on this luxury while so many people in our community struggle. Incredibly large chunks of people in the former group are constantly looking for ways to try to help people in latter group. So it's an imbalance that can easily be fixed if we can make enough beer and get ourselves in front of enough potential customers. But you can't do the latter unless you spend a ton of time on social media. so while it may be our 3rd priority, we find ourselves occasionally acting like it's our 1st."
The passion of the Middle Brow team is truly special and I look forward to following their progress through Instagram and of course supporting their efforts by trying their beers on tap and in bottles around Chicago. I didn't mention this to Pete, but one of my favorite things about Middle Brow is not just the money they donate to charity, but the time. They've organized a number of events such as cleaning up our Chicago beaches with Alliance for the Great Lakes and volunteering with the Chicago Food Depository to help build food packs for the hungry. Why would you not want to root for these guys?
I want to thank Pete for taking the time out of his busy schedule to help give us an honest, inside look at how Middle Brow views social media.