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05.09.17 / Beer and Social Media Marketing – What Works?

It’s no secret that beer is a popular topic on social media, with over 3.7 million mentions over the past year. The reason we chose craft beer as our August trend, though, is because it performs particularly well, with a 13% growth in mentions since summer 2015. This has been reflected by a stunning 40% growth in sales over the past 2 years, and the market’s still going strong, despite the fact that total pub beer sales are actually slowing down. As we mentioned in our previous blog post, this year there’s been a significant shift in preference to quality over quantity amongst UK beer drinkers – but how has this been reflected in how individual beers perform on social media?

It would be difficult to write an article about craft beer’s social media presence without mentioning Brewdog, the fiercely independent craft-beer giant whose Facebook has garnered a significant 235,000 likes, not to mention their 115,000 Twitter followers and 175,000 Instagram followers. This month, following a new pledge to give away 20% of their profits to charity, they’ve exploded on Twitter, with over 7000 mentions this month, up 43% from this time last year. Brewdog’s branding is perfect for social media: quirky, down-to-earth, with an emphasis on personal connection and community as part of their business ethos. In fact, its founder, James Watt, regularly interacts with fans via his personal Twitter, which has 43,000 followers – more than Heineken and Budweiser’s UK Twitter followings combined.

Independent craft breweries without the clout of Brewdog are still managing to punch above their weight on social media. Well-known independent breweries Fuller’s and Shepherd Neame (whose Spitfire Ale campaign on Facebook was a Shorty Award finalist a few years ago) have both seen impressive double-digit growth rates in Twitter mentions this year, as have – as have smaller breweries Cloudwater, Brew by Numbers. These breweries have built up a high level of community engagement, and a following of fans who are actively interested in any company updates or new products they may be releasing. Most middling-to-large breweries have social media followings that rival those of international names. Cloudwater, for example, has 19,600-plus Twitter followers; almost exactly the same number as Budweiser UK.

Nevertheless, big beer has been investing more and more into digital marketing alongside other new marketing techniques such as experiential marketing, also designed to appeal to the young adult demographic. Lots of big brands are still lagging, though – for example, on Instagram, Tennents and Coor’s Light UK have a paltry 2.3k and 1.6k followers respectively. Brew by Numbers’ business is a fraction of the size and has over 9k. (That said, this trend is reversed on Facebook – Coor’s Light UK has over 250,000-plus likes, with Brew by Numbers not even hitting the 10,000 mark, a more accurate reflection of the mainstream UK market for beer.) Just as importantly, many larger beer companies own smaller breweries with non-negligible social media followings of their own. These subsidiary brands are more likely to perform well amongst craft ale enthusiasts, online and off. For example, Coor’s owns Sharp’s, makers of Doom Bar; Marston’s owns Hobgoblin; and Heineken owns the famously quirky Newcastle Brown Ale. Working to a similar end, Carlsberg has recently tried to get back to its ‘craft’ roots too with the launch of its ‘Expørt’ range. Unsurprisingly, this trend hasn’t gone down too well with the UK’s independent breweries, who view big brands as muscling into their territory and appropriating their marketing techniques. The Society of Independent Brewers recently mustered forces for a counter-attack by launching a seal of approval designed to give beer-lovers a better idea of just where their drink is coming from.  

So – what works for craft beer on social media? Brewdog performs consistently well across social media due to its strong branding, high engagement levels and the media attention it receives, both positive and negative. Newcastle Brown Ale is another strong-performing brand on social media; its humorous short videos have gone viral a number of times, and viewers don’t necessarily need to be beer fans to enjoy their wit. Shepherd Neame’s have a well-established, responsive social media presence. Their Facebook team typically reply within the hour to enquiries, and Facebook fans of their Spitfire Ale have almost doubled over the past 2 years, now totalling over 100,000 with a total reach well into the millions. Shepherd Neame have been building strongly since the end of 2014 when they saw their Facebook following increase twofold with a highly creative online marketing campaign. Meanwhile, Fuller’s London Pride have visually cohesive Facebook, Instagram and Twitter accounts, posting well-composed photos and topical content in their trademark red-and-gold colour scheme. One successful influencer photo last month triggered 3,000 engagements, while a recent Facebook post for the women’s rugby world cup garnered over 800; a good move to reach out to the female demographic, often disregarded by beer companies.

As more and more of the world moves online, brewers’ battle for the public’s affections will only continue. Even straggling brands will need to begin developing their social media presence, and for now it’s likely that they will continue to look to the quirky, ‘grammable image of craft beer as a model. Just don’t expect Brewdog fans to to be happy about it.

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