Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Open Letter to Craft Beer Breweries

Firkin my desk.

Dear rising stars of the beer merchandising scene. Where do I begin? I'm talking to you breweries. Not all of you, but pay attention and you'll know if it's you of whom I'm speaking. I have something to get off my chest, so here it is...consider it some friendly advice, if I may be so bold to suggest.

I nearly tweeted this out today in 140 characters or less:
Rant time! Today I am unfollowing twitter accounts that never follow/reply back. Talking to you, breweries. Step up your social media efforts.
I thought better about pulling the trigger on that, but still, there is a nagging reason behind it. I now write about craft beer, ales and all beer for that matter, full time since quitting my job. I have a vested interest in beer, like you. Although I am not a brewer of beer, nor a marketer or merchandiser or distributor or even a retailer, I just like the stuff and have for as long as I can remember. I am one of many on the sidelines that cheers your efforts on, and do so by blogging about it from all angles. So what is my beef?

Beer is first and foremost a "social lubricant" which brings good people together for good times. In other people's words, "Beer is what you do, when you're doing other things." The craft beer scene burst out in the mid-eighties, about 30 years ago. It wasn't long after Jimmy Carter had signed the home brewing exemption law. From that point on, micro, nano and pico brewers have sprung up. Numbers in the thousands now - numbers not seen since the turn of the 20th century. In fact, this week the Great American Beer Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary which is about as long as this craft explosion has been occurring.  There have been a couple of contractions and expansions in the past thirty years, but craft beer has had phenomenal and expansive growth. It's pervasive; in every nook and cranny from brewpubs to breweries with tasting rooms, pizza and beer pubs. It has even begun to creep into restaurants, being paired with great food, just as with wine.

Now, at the heart of my gripe is what I explained before. Beer is a social thing. In the past thirty years we have also seen the explosion of another phenomenon, namely the internet. And as beer heads into its biggest expansion phase coinciding with the recent advent of "social media" on the internet, something has become all too apparent. The "social" part has given a new meaning to how we, the beer consumers, have given rise and credence to these emerging craft beers.

Okay. Enough background. What frustrates me is that pico, nano or micro, you need to realize this and stop using Facebook and Twitter and the rest as just an electronic billboard. Behind the Fan Pages and name handles are your real consumers. Stay connected, damn it! I have been following so many brewery accounts for so very long, yet, they are loathe to follow back or at the very least reply to intelligent requests. Set a social media policy just as you would a business plan or disaster contingency. If you don't, you not only risk losing your fan base, (your consumers), but also the demographics you can reap from it.

I started writing out of love for beer and being able to put a few good words together on a blank screen of pixels. It is frustrating to me, that a business such as yours tends to ignore rather than engage your audience of fans. I am not suggesting answering back every post or tweet, but at least you can acknowledge the meaningful. After all, How many of you sport a quarter million "likes" or "followers" anyway? There are few out there that have those numbers. But those that do have discovered it is better to have a person relate to those fans, than to ignore and lose the customer base. And as one who seeks this type of employment in your industry, I am shocked at times as to the governance and seeming lack of care with which many of you ascribe.

Though I have met many brewery reps, owners and brewers and have connected with them personally, I don't think that everyone should require this to get occasional attention. The better business models are built on making the business grow one consumer at at time. I am grateful to those that communicate with and mutually follow myself, as this provides tremendous insight when it comes to writing about your particular beers, ales, restaurants and all the other ventures and collaborations involved.

With all humbleness and humility, I hope that the handful of folks that read and interact with my blogs will get this message. Sometimes it can feel like your screaming in a vaccumm. Thanks for letting me vent.

How about we all discuss a bit more, perhaps over a beer?


Not Firkin Around...


  1. I could see the larger breweries making it an official part of their PR staff's duties to keep up an active social media presence.

    I can also understand not having the time/manpower to devote to something like this. Often (it seems) the Twitter account is that of the brewery owner, who just simply might not have the time to wade through all the tweets and posts to mine out the valid requests.

    Good food for thought, though

  2. I have been harping about this for months, I want to interact with the breweries, I want them to interact with me, I want to know what they are a cooking and have them know what I love and sometimes hate. I a frustrated with the number of Breweries I follow on twitter and facebook who will not engage, follow back, reply or even listen. Well said, well done.

  3. Ryan, I thought those scenarios through and they do have merit. The smallest of the small should have no problem with an occasional response as the demand is not that great. And I agree the larger brewers have staff to handle the load. But there are a few in the middle that get it and use it, but still, others just don't seem to realize how powerful and influential it is to their business. Thanks for the reply and your thoughts.

  4. Thanks Hazel, I feel your frustration. I want to write more, visit more and have some insight while there. It is always a better opportunity for me when I am able to meet the folks that run the places I write about.

  5. Rick,
    I recently felt this frustration, too. It seems as though breweries have the right idea (they at least got their pages up and running) but day to day LIFE of running brewery ("hey T, I'd love to chat but I'm fighting our pumpkin beer right now. Call me later?") gets in the way of interacting with those of us who use social media regularly. They can't see the value in taking the time or making the time for social media because it's not in front of them in a physical capacity, it's not a priority.
    We (bloggers, social media addicts, marketing people) see it as a slight. Why don't they understand how important social media is?! Chances are, they probably KNOW it's important but moving forward seems daunting so they take the easy way out: the electronic billboard. If there's someone you really want to talk to, I suggest email and calling them. Twitter can be an easy way out sometimes.
    How do you get breweries to be more interactive? Offer your talents and services as the social media expert you are...for free. I would suggest offering to hold a tweet up at a brewery to demonstrate how awesome social media people can be.

  6. Tamre, that is my exact frustration expressed in this post. I really want to help, and have offered, but those I've approached either don't see the value or have other legitimate priorities such as making the beer and paying the bills, as you expalined. I am right there with you.

    In a way, although my post may belie this, I am reaching out. A big part of it has to do with the possible loss of control and originality that the brewers wish to retain, rather than have another speak for their brand. So, here I sit until someone gives me or another blogger a chance to perform this function.

    I do like the tweet-up angle...we do those from time to time as a group on multiple different beers. Don't see why we couldn't make it brand specific to the brewer. Thanks for the great suggestion and the post. Cheers!

  7. Rick, if you want to discuss the tweet up idea further, let me know! I'm happy to share what I've learned and how to approach breweries and turn it into a great event that highlights the awesome relationship of social media and craft beer.

  8. Hi Rick - Just curious if you would be willing to share your thoughts on which craft breweries are engaging effectively through social media?


    Zoe Geddes-Soltess
    Community Engagement, Radian6

  9. I absolutely agree. For such a young, vibrant, and especially "trendy" industry, they sure haven't jumped on board with social media they way many others have. I have even unfollowed some of my favorite breweries because the lack of interaction is so frustrating to me.