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How Craft Breweries Are Schooling Big Beer Brands on Social Media

Ranjani Raghupathi

A beer fanatic friend of mine says God created the world in 6 days and on the 7th he made beer, so that man could live the life of Gods. Sounds about right. In the US, beer drinkers are split into two distinct groups: those that like the big beer brands, and those that have taken a liking to the beers produced by the microbreweries that have popped up across the states.

On the face of it, microbreweries can’t compete with the staggering amount of money big beer spends on sponsorship, marketing, branding and campaigns. Yet, microbreweries’ market share is growing and some inside the industry are looking nervously over their shoulder. Could it be because social media is helping to level the playing field? Are microbreweries able to build better, more engaged communities than their bigger, richer rivals?

It turns out the answer is not quite as clear cut as you might think. Sure, microbreweries are creating buzzing online communities, but the big brands aren’t slackers either. Whether it’s Budweiser’s buddy cup (which has now been scraped off) or Heineken’s Crack the US Open and Departure Roulette campaigns, digital and real world are constantly intertwined when it comes to marketing campaigns.

For this analysis, I took the top five big beer brands and top five microbrewery brands according to their Unmetric Scores. Let’s take a deeper dive to see where the battles are being fought and won.

Twitter

Twitter’s 140 character limit has allowed brands to customize the medium to their need. Many service orientated sectors such as aviation, telecom and banking use it as a customer service tool, sectors which have consumer products have been using it as an advertising and marketing medium.

To get an overview of how these brands are performing on Twitter, I used the Unmetric score, which is the first ever sector aware benchmarkable score that takes into consideration multiple quantitative and qualitative metrics to score and rank a brand against its competitors.

Going by the Unmetric score, the top 5 brands are all microbreweries. Dog Fish Head beer (which was obviously named after several rounds of their product) leads the pack with a score of 77 with the other four microbreweries following. Heineken comes in first amongst the larger brands with a score of 49.

Follower numbers, while not an important metric for many, gives an idea of how popular a brand is within the online community. The surprising result from this chart is that the microbreweries are killing it when it comes to number of followers. New Belgium Brewery has the largest follower base followed by Dog Fish Head Beer.

The rule of thumb on Twitter (social media as a whole, really) is to engage followers. Tweeting regularly with appropriate, relevant content is the secret to success. The tweets might be replies, retweets or original content. Dog Fish Beer and Carlsberg tweet over 13 times in a day which is the highest when compared to the other brands. While Carlsberg’s tweets are predominantly proactive and retweets, Dog Fish’s tweets are replies. The proactive tweets are many a time about product launches/ updates, events or just simple engagement oriented tweets.

I think one area where brands tend to go wrong is that they are afraid to participate in the conversation and think that replying is about solving a problem or complaint. Some brands, like American Airlines, take this to the other extreme and seem to reply to everything, even a “meh”. In the case of beer brands, which don’t really have much to do in the way of customer service (if the first beer didn’t succeed, have another), it’s all about joining in the conversation, contributing and being seen as part of the community.

Talking about the community, three brands dominate the Twitterverse when it comes to @mentions (wherein the brand is specifically referenced with the @ symbol, rather than in the text), no surprises for guessing that they are all microbrewery brands. Dog Fish Beer, Sierra Nevada and New Belgium all saw between 8,500 and 9,500 mentions between them for the time period analyzed. By comparison, Heineken, a beer enjoyed the world over, barely mustered 3,200 mentions, nearly a third less than Dog Fish Beer.

Though all these brands participate in conversations, the response rate (@mentions versus replies) is actually comparatively low, an indication of resource constraints microbreweries have, perhaps? With the exception of Carlsberg, all brands responded to less than 10% of mentions. When it comes to what people are asking the beer brands, the overarching theme for microbreweries is about availability (to which they reply with a link to their beer tracker so the customer can find the nearest store carrying the brand). For the larger beer brands most mentions in general are statements which roughly translate to “I love your beer”. Big beer could be doing something here to get more people asking questions about the brand.

Dog Fish Beer comes out on top with the most replies (354 replies to 9,435 mentions) with an average reply time (ART) of 142 minutes whereas the sector average is 602 minutes. Carlsberg’s response rate is better; but this is because they have replied to just 74 tweets in an average of 233 minutes and were only mentioned 368 times. Though the ART of some of the other brands are impressive, their response rate is rather low. It’s quite clear the larger brands are taking their own sweet time to reply to tweets with Corona in a world all of its own.

It probably shouldn’t come as any surprise that there is a spike in mentions on Fridays and Saturdays, and after 9 P.M, it is party time, afterall! The chart below reveals a missed opportunity for many beer brands, namely that they are not replying to people at the time when they are getting most mentions. It might be a smart idea would be to have someone replying to these tweets to increase conversations around the brand.

It appears the microbreweries have got their Twitter strategy sorted and it’s reflected in the follower numbers, mentions and overall conversation levels. The big beer brands just can’t compete: is Twitter the reason for the growing popularity of the smaller beer brands?

Facebook

When it comes to Facebook we are seeing the reverse of Twitter, wherein the big global brands like Budweiser and Heineken are outdoing microbreweries in terms of raw fan numbers. However, in terms of content and engagement metrics, the microbreweries, often without the promotional budgets of their bigger rivals, are matching up well.
A quick note about how Unmetric calculates engagement. We take the number of Likes, Comments, Shares and estimated impressions to create an Engagement Score, so a page with a lower fan base can still have a better Engagement Score than a page with a huge fan base even if they don’t get as many interactions. In this study, Miller Lite scores the highest average engagement followed by Sierra Nevada. However Budweiser sent out the most posts in the time period analyzed.

Beer brands mostly talk about themselves, product launches, events they sponsor and ad campaigns. Questions to fans and engagement oriented posts such as “like this if____” are also a regular feature.
Miller Lite manages to hit a touchdown with its fan engagement due to its heavy reliance on engagement orientated posts and also leveraging Fantasy Football with ex-playboy model, Pilar Lastra, as the presenter.

The most engaging post from all these brands comes from Sierra Nevada, a microbrewery beer from California. A series of abstract photos which showed how its beer is made saw an engagement score of 496, which is five times Sierra Nevada’s average engagement score and nearly eight times the sector average.

The bottom three brands are all big beer and I was surprised to see Heineken ranking so low when it came to engagement, particularly since they do so many campaigns that generate a lot of publicity. The microbreweries focus a lot more on the product and people, which is why they have a very slight edge over the big beer brands.

YouTube

I began looking through the YouTube account of these brands with more skepticism than I’d like to admit. However, the beer brands, blew my socks off (because of the videos, not because of the alcohol). The bigger beer brands, with their bigger marketing budgets, include videos of music shows, TVCs etc., while the channels of the microbreweries, much like their crafted beers often contain beautifully crafted videos. Though TVCs are also part of their strategy, videos of the beer being brewed, tours of the brewery (Dog Fish Head’s favorite beat) and thoughts from the CEO (Stone Brewing CO does a lot of this) are the main attraction.

While many sectors fail to catch the attention of viewers with long form videos, craft beers have managed to hold the attention of viewers for much longer than usual. Dog Fish Head Beer’s most popular video is 13 minutes long while Carlsberg’s is 3 minutes. The difference in video length between craft beers and big beers is clearly illustrated in the chart below, with craft beers uploading videos 2.5 times longer than big beer.

Budweiser has uploaded 48 new videos in the time period analyzed, but more than 30 of these vides are from their guitar painting event held at the Made for America Music Fest and are a TV friendly 30 seconds or less. Stone Brewing Co has added videos that talk about their 17th anniversary and Dog Fish has added videos of in-house beer making. Miller Lite, staying in sync with their Twitter and Facebook strategy, added videos of Model Pilar Lastra talking about (American) football.

What Big Beer Can Learn From Craft Beer

The performances of these two kinds of beer brands are balanced; while bigger brands like Budweiser and Carlsberg score in terms of quantity thanks to their wide availability across the globe, the microbreweries have scored just as much in terms of quality in content. Some might argue that goes for the products too!

On Twitter, big beer can be more responsive and community based, also, tweeting at the time they get most mentions would also help. On Facebook, the microbreweries are focusing much more on the product, process and people, which shows in the engagement levels – we are talking about social after all. On YouTube, the microbreweries really can’t compete with the massive production budgets of beer brands. On a platform where comedy rules, the big beer brands have got these sown up, yet given the limited reach of the microbreweries, the way they tell the stories behind the beers in longer video clips has resonated extremely well with the community.

Which beer brands have you liked? In your opinion, who is doing the best job on social media?

Methodology:
Unmetric compiled the report by sourcing data from its own social media benchmarking platform. The engagement score is calculated based on the number of likes, comments, shares and estimated impressions that each post receives. Data and Insights on all the brand’s activities on Facebook and Twitter were analyzed for the period of August 1st- 31st, 2013. Gain access to all this data by claiming a free 6 day trial.

This article was originally published on Useful Social Media.