Social networking and social media. They are the new word-of-mouth advertising helping to deliver new beers directly to the mouths of Australian drinkers. They are very powerful marketing tools readily available to practically anyone and, best of all, are a free and relatively unrestricted channel for promotion and marketing, reaching all corners of the globe.
The Australian beer community is enthusiastically embracing this technology. Brewers, speciality beer bars, beer shops and beer writers are all logging on to social networking tools such as Twitter and Facebook to share their “status updates” with fellow drinkers. In doing so they are expanding the general public’s knowledge of beer and brewing and also of their own products.
The internet provides everything you ever wanted to know – and even more that you didn’t — and it is all just a Google-search away. However, sorting the wheat from the chaff can be very difficult with the source and credibility of information often difficult to establish.
Now, social media is providing a connection between the information and the source, helping consumers to better gauge its credibility and giving businesses a chance to communicate directly with – and grow – their customer base.
It also provides a personal channel direct to the customers, as customers seek direct access to the providers, in a world increasingly sceptical of impersonal corporate monoliths.
In return brewers and beer sellers are receiving valuable feedback, constructive criticism and market insight like never before across a massive spectrum of clientele, from industry colleagues to the average consumer.
So what do social networkers users want from our beer community?
Whilst a brewer’s exact formula or techniques may forever stay a closely guarded secret, there is a wealth of insight and information that can be shared with followers to fire their interest in, or desire for, their beers.
Product anticipation is a very powerful strategy and perfectly suited to the word-restricted length of social networking tools. Brewers can drop hints about their next seasonal or experimental brew, while sellers can do the same with the next special release that they are anticipating. This can result in customers jumping all over the product on its release.
Bars and cellar doors can entice drinkers down to their establishment on a quiet night by informing followers of the speciality beer that they have “just tapped”. These forms of customer contact are very immediate, particularly as they can be sourced from the phone in every customer’s pocket.
Is the Australian beer community using social networking effectively? Is it working?
Yes and no. There are good ways and bad ways to use social networking for a business and, like brewing a quality craft ale, you will only get out of it what you put in. Following a wide range of users will quickly demonstrate to you the winners and losers.
Social networking has left its infancy and is fast growing into a rowdy pre-teen. Therefore, it needs to be treated as an established mechanism with some accepted practices and approached with an understanding of how the online world works.
At this stage, many Australian beer businesses are just not doing enough with social networking to penetrate the market.
Some of the key topics that beer consumers love to read about in short messages are:
- Bars – Which beers are currently on tap at your bar. Beer and food matching recommendations. Promote any entertainment or deals/specials available.
- Breweries – New places to find your beers, other than the brewery. What is currently brewing in your tanks. Which other brewer’s beers are you enjoying or finding inspiration in.
- Beer shops – Tasting notes of the products available through your shop. Recommendations of new stock that is just about to hit your shelves.
On the flipside, there are plenty of potential traps and pitfalls to avoid using social media. These are primarily due to the relatively unrestricted nature of the medium and the forever tricky online demon of privacy. Being overly negative, giving too much away or underestimating the online influence of your followers could backfire on your operation. Therefore, consideration and restraint is important. Applying standard IT etiquette and security, plus common-sense measures will protect you here.
Here are some key points to consider when using social media for your business or operation:
- BE REGULAR: You do not need to update your status or provide output every hour of every day. However, posting only once every couple of months will not give you any credibility or provide any impact on this hungry and fast moving online community. The more often you update, the more followers you will obtain and the wider exposure and penetration you will gain with this free facility. Having something like a smart-phone, iPad or netbook will help with this. If you are lost for something to say, trying thinking about what you would say to a friend at that moment and post it (but try to keep it relevant!). Alternatively, simply “re-tweeting” a follower’s mention of how they are enjoying your product provides an effortless testimonial.
- BE SOCIAL AND NETWORK (Don’t forget the “Social”!): Social networking is a two-way street! The most important aspect of using these tools is to interact with your followers. You do not need to reply to every comment or mention you receive. However, users will fully expect that you are at least monitoring your contacts and will provide a response when warranted. Otherwise, your presence is pointless.
- BE REAL: Savvy social media users will spot a fake in an instant. Therefore, define yourself as a person or a business, then take a personal or organisational approach to your output. Avoid pretending to be someone/something you are not or using your output purely for pumping out slogans, marketing spin or prepared form responses.
- BE READY TO EVOLVE: Social Networking is moving quickly and changing fast. Be prepared to move and evolve with it as new systems come online and new ways of communicating are established. Currently the most common channels and tools are Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and blogs. However, they all potentially have a saturation point and lifespan. As the struggling MySpace shows, dominance can be brief as the next big thing may only be a few lines of computer code away!
Combine all of the above by at least having a basic social media strategy for your business and ensure you get the most out of the tools you use by having a consistent and sustainable approach across your whole operation.
Finally, if you are going to start using social media, then commit to it! Why? Because it is easy and it is free.
Who to follow – examples of Australasian beer businesses effectively using Twitter:
- Epic Brewing’s Luke Nicholas, perhaps the poster boy of beer social networking
- Karen & David Golding of Red Hill Brewery
- Ben Kraus of Bridge Road Brewers
- The Local Taphouse: St Kilda & Darlinghurst
- Mountain Goat
- Biero Bar
- Stone & Wood
Short Case Studies of Social Networking wins for Australian beer:
A Breakfast Event
Earlier this year, this author was experimenting with beer for breakfast, conducting a bold investigation into combining a pot of Mikkeller’s Beer Geek Breakfast with a hot cross bun for Easter Sunday breakfast. My conclusion: whilst the beer itself was magnificent, the choice of beer for breakfast was a fail. I turned to Twitter to ask the question “What is the best breakfast beer?”
This question sparked a lengthy online conversation across the local beer loving community, which ultimately lead to the BeermenTV team putting on the hugely successful “Hair of the Dog” Beer Breakfast event, held at Melbourne’s Beer De Luxe. Eight Australian craft beers were matched superbly to various breakfast foods for over 100 people showcasing just how good craft beer can be enjoyed for breakfast.
Naming A Beer
Prolific tweeter, Ben Kraus of Bridge Road Brewers, was considering the new name for this year’s special anniversary ale, a Black Belgian IPA. He had been building anticipation by dropping hints about it on Twitter for some time. Ben called upon his followers to help find an excellent name for this special beer.
When his Twitter followers heard that his planned “B2 Bomber” title was only a working-title for the beer, the call to make it the actual label was loud and clear and “B2 Bomber” became the official name of another very successful anniversary ale from Bridge Road.