Social media is a wonderful way to communicate directly with customers, but it has its pitfalls. It seems that with so many new breweries opening and operating and a growing number of beer drinkers, there are more chances for conflict than ever before. How do you balance your message among the occasional criticisms?
How can you keep things professional when the attacks feel so very personal? Senior Editor John Holl talked with social-media managers from breweries across the country and asked about tips, tricks, and best practices when it comes to managing social media.
Ambassador Brewer, Boulevard Brewing Co. (Kansas City, Missouri)
“As someone who’s often in the public eye representing our brewery and beers, I wrote a set of personal guidelines that instruct/inform the way I behave and engage with folks in public forums whether it’s online or in person:
“Sincerely celebrate beer. Talk about beers, breweries, events, and people that I think are awesome. Spread love for Boulevard and the craft-beer scene through positivity and friendly engagement. When possible/required, offer friendly, properly packaged advice and education.
“Let the haters hate. With greater audience size and more influence come haters, folks who just want attention for their negative behavior. I will ignore them and simply let them do their thing. Trolls can’t survive if you don’t feed them. There’s zero point in engaging folks who just want to spew negativity. At the same time, when beer drinkers do express concerns or share constructive criticism, it’s important to engage them to 1) thank them for caring enough to take the time to reach out and 2) do my best to address their concern. As a representative of Boulevard, I’m incredibly lucky to work in an industry that has such passionate consumers. When someone takes time out of their day to share his/her thoughts about our brewery, beer, events, or people, I absolutely owe him/her my time and respect.
“Consider the audience. Most of the people I talk to regularly on Twitter know that while I’m often sarcastic, I have huge love for all things Boulevard and craft beer. This causes me to forget that new followers or folks who don’t interact with me regularly might not get my sarcasm, especially when it comes across completely deadpan. This isn’t helped by the fact that text doesn’t offer the benefit of tone to cue someone in to the fact that I’m being sarcastic. It’s not always possible to imbue bursts of 280 characters with the required context/history/perspective. Each tweet lives on its own and should be analyzed as such before being sent.”
Brand Marketing Director, Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, New York)
“It’s called social media for a reason. It’s supposed to mimic the way we interact in person although we know that’s not often the case. Every scenario is different, so we try not to hold ourselves to any hard-and-fast rules when it comes to audience engagement over Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc.
“Similar to real life, sometimes you say something, and people react differently than you anticipated. When that happens, we ask ourselves, ‘Is there something positive we can contribute to this conversation or should we let this run its course?’ More often than not, it’s the latter, but we will jump in if something is factually incorrect and we need to set the record straight. We encourage conversation on our platforms, but it has to be based on the truth.
“It’s rewarding when our content sparks passionate discussions, and it’s important not to be scared of that. As soon as a brewery becomes afraid to ignite debate among its audience, the content becomes bland. Beer is edgy and irreverent. That’s why we all like it so much, right?
“Craft-beer enthusiasts are incredibly passionate people, and there’s a lot going on in the industry right now. We’re a global brand, and our product and content make their way into many homes and onto many devices all over the world. Of course people are going to have strong opinions about something we say, do, or brew. But we feel strongly that beer is supposed to foster a positive, safe, fun community where people can comfortably share, ask, and discover.
“There’s also the customer-service side. If someone is dissatisfied with our beer or an experience they had in our tasting room or at one of our events, we will always handle the matter privately. People want to be heard, and it’s important they know there’s another passionate, quirky, beer drinker on the other side of screen. We’re all just trying to bring honest, delicious beer to this world, and it’s important to remember that when egos can easily get in the way.”
Copywriter & Digital Coord. Brooklyn Brewery (Brooklyn, New York)
“As a brewery and a global brand, we always keep in mind that the platform we occupy comes with tremendous responsibility to our fans and followers as well as the world at large. It is on us to communicate in a respectful manner, to know when to weigh in and when to stay out of cultural conversations, and, above all, to maintain the safe, inclusive community we aim to support.
“Craft breweries occupy a unique space in their drinkers’ minds. Their love of beer and all of its technical, social, and emotional aspects inspire a passion more similar to a sports team, music legend, or favorite poet than, say, a preferred brand of dish soap. We focus on providing the sort of informative content they enjoy and taking the time to assure that each interaction is clear, genuine, and respectful. It’s not terribly difficult, really—it’s the same sort of stuff that we as fellow beer people appreciate just as much.
“We strive to make sure that everything we post will make viewers feel that it was worth their time to see our messages. That can be fun, like slipping jokes into our event descriptions or tacking a perfectly weird GIF to a Tweet. But it also extends to showing respect to our audience, be it a one-to-one conversation in the comments or the overall tone of our voice. There is more than enough pain and anger in the world today without extending it to beer. If we can take the time to be responsible and welcoming to others, maybe people will follow suit.”
Social Media and Creative Dir. Hi-Wire Brewing (Asheville, North Carolina)
“We blend organic ‘off-the-cuff’ coverage of the brewery and our events with curated and targeted photography/videos. Our marketing and events team meets weekly to discuss upcoming events, beer releases, and more, and then we develop both short- and long-term marketing plans based off those meetings and analytics from Facebook and our website. “Hi-Wire is in an interesting place in regards to community engagement. We are extremely dedicated to the local Asheville, North Carolina, community while at the same time we distribute in six states, so we look for ways to serve multiple purposes at once. Targeted boosting efforts and narrowing demographics play a key role in this marketing effort. Juggling local events and taproom-only beer releases, specialty/sour beers with limited distribution, and year-round flagship offerings on store shelves can be a challenge, but we do our best to support everything we do and share it with our followers.
“Overall we like to keep it clean, simple, and vibrant. Responding to our audience and being engaged in our community is a huge focus for us at Hi-Wire Brewing. Social media isn’t an advertising platform; it’s a lifestyle platform. The goal is to create quality original content to share our brand experience with our online community. But what do I know? Our dog Oscar in a hoodie is our most-liked post to date. He’s basically our unofficial mascot and has grown up coming to Hi-Wire since he was a puppy, and we love him. You can follow him at @oscarnomical on Instagram.”
Clare Goggin Sivits
Master of the Digital Universe Rogue Ales & Spirits (Portland, Oregon)
“My advice is to approach everything with a sense of humor, especially social media. The Internet can be a mean place, and responding in kind to that meanness might be a knee-jerk reaction, but you’re not changing any minds that way, and you’re probably scaring away fans. If you see something that makes you want to start ranting, take a deep breath and maybe step away from the computer for a minute.
“When you come back, try getting to the heart of the issue and remember that sometimes people just want to be heard, and a simple response or follow-up question might be all they need. Plenty of times, we’ll hear from people who might not like a particular beer, but after we respond, they admit that they’re a huge fan of something else we do, which is great—not everyone is going to be a fan of everything you do. Plus you’ve got to remember that if someone is taking the time to complain, it’s usually something they really do care about. A simple acknowledgement might change the conversation altogether.
“Other times, people are just out to troll, and you can follow the old adage of ‘don’t feed the trolls,’ or you can have a little fun and troll them right back. We’ve written the occasional satire in response to a bad review or—more recently—banned a politician or two in defense of our neighboring independent craft brewer, but we’re not interested in berating anyone for having an opinion. And, sometimes, a little charm on Twitter can go a long way. It’s been a while, but one of my favorite stories is when we convinced a critic to go out and buy more Rogue by simply being charming. Even on Twitter, a little charm—and just listening—can go a long way.
“It’s just beer after all. It should be fun, and everyone should be able to have his/her own opinion. That’s one thing that makes our industry so innovative. We shouldn’t get angry about that.”