Prior to working in beer and actively using social media, I was a forensic accountant at a consulting firm and held a designation called a Certified Fraud Examiner (CFE). To pass that exam, you have to memorize every known financial fraud scheme, how to detect it, and how to prevent it. The training teaches you how to identify red flags on a company’s financials, reports, & analysis, instilling a natural suspicion. This background is how I ended up working in Internal Audit and eventually running that department for Reyes Holdings. I mention this only to provide context to why this topic jumps out at me:
Breweries of all sizes are feeling the pressure of 7,000+ competitors, a fatigued consumer base, and increased restraint when it comes to drinking and purchasing habits. As Facebook & Instagram have continued limiting how many followers see a post (~10%), breweries are always seeking out alternative means of getting consumer eyes on their newest products. Enter that dirty word that we love to hate, influencer.
An influencer typically generates content that has the potential to steer their audience’s opinions and purchases. They have a sizable, engaged following who trust their tastes and recommendations. Successful influencers are often some combination of smart, honest, creative, forthcoming, funny, interesting, responsive, and most importantly, genuine. An influencer could be Tomme Arthur, founder of The Lost Abbey, who is willing to make time for the biggest and smallest creators, providing sage advice and honest takes through podcasts, articles, etc. Alternatively, an influencer could be a journalist, photographer, world traveler, comedian, reviewer, or industry personality sharing the beer world through their own vantage point.
Proactive breweries have someone reach out to these individuals and offer to send samples in hopes that the beer might make an appearance in their work. It’s pretty harmless from my perspective, which is, “hey, you’re doing something cool that is helping generate interest and/or creativity in beer, can I send you some beers?.” When I’ve provided samples, it’s usually to photographers who do cool shots of the beer, or writers/podcasters whose work I enjoy. If they like it enough to include it in their work, awesome, if not, maybe next time.
Sure enough, over the next few weeks, I saw both of these beers all over my Instagram feed and Explore tab, in some cases from talented individuals whose work I enjoy. That made me a little sad, not because I think they “sold out” or anything like that, but because they don’t value their time, talent, authenticity more than a free beer or a $25 gift card. Writing, photography, editing, and building an audience takes a hell of a lot more time than these offers give credit for.
Despite this NOT being a lucrative field, the prospect of being insta-famous and the money, free beer, glassware, tickets, and access that accompanies it has resulted in a vast sea of wannabe influencers. Like authentic versions, the imitators come in all shapes and sizes, each in search of a piece of the action. The time it takes build a strong following by generating meaningful content is too daunting. They look for shortcuts to appear more influential than reality, in hopes of getting noticed by breweries, or agencies working on their behalf. Here’s how they do it:
As a consumer, these tactics are pretty easy to ignore or just roll your eyes at. Where I take exception though is when the fraudulent influencers are initiating the conversation with the brewery and looking to form a partnership or sponsorship. These requests tend to include some stats about their account, which are often manipulated. If this happened once, I wouldn’t be writing about it, but it happens all the time.
Let's Do Better
Here are my takes on how this idea of influencer marketing can be more successful:
It's not influencers we dislike, it's the individuals trying to be called one without putting in the real work. Beer badly needs more voices to rise out of the shadows and continue pushing conversations, education, and interest. There's just so few of them out there. Create something cool, work hard at it, be patient, good things will happen.
Let me know if I can help.✌
Doug is a CPA with a knack for photography, design, and social media. Professionally, he is the CFO & Head of Communications for Revolution Brewing. Opinions are his own.