Craft beer is taking off in the U.S. and there’s no denying it. By the end of 2015, there were 4,269 breweries in America, the highest number in history, of which 4,225 were independent, according to the Brewers Association. Despite the massive physical presence, craft brewers only accounted for 12 percent of the market share.
Big beer means more than massive profits, it also means big budgets. Anheuser-Busch InBev and MillerCoors collectively spent over $1 billion in advertising in 2014, and they’ve taken notice to craft beer’s emergence. InBev, maker of Budweiser, used 30 seconds of Super Bowl ad space in February (at the price tag of $5 million, according to AdAge) to tout its non-craft status.
Multimillion-dollar ad budgets and expenses are far beyond the reach of many independent breweries, but that’s where social media comes in.
“Craft beer is still only five percent of the overall beer market, so buying a billboard or running a TV ad are not effective ways to reach the millennial generation,” said John Cochran, co-founder of Terrapin Beer Company, at a digital marketing conference in 2012.
Instead, craft breweries have taken to social media to tell their stories and directly engage with their customers — and they’ve done it well. New Belgium, who has heavily embraced the use of social media, has amassed 245,000 followers on Twitter compared to InBev’s 32,000 and Budweiser’s 148,000. Even Jacksonville locals, Intuition Ale Works, have sent out nearly half the number of Tweets as Budweiser.
Although New Belgium’s 822,000 Facebook likes is dwarfed by Budweiser’s 13.5 million, they’ve managed to find themselves in the conversation—about 10,000 people are “talking about” New Belgium on the site. Budweiser, despite having 16-times more followers, is only talked about 60,000 times.
The difference is in the approach.
Big beer companies use social media for advertising, and the goal is to have the brand seen. Scroll through Budweiser’s Facebook page and it’s a stream of photos highlighting their beer, with everything else out-of-focus. The brand, the logo, it’s all that matters.
Alternatively, small breweries use social media to create their brand. New Belgium’s photo album, for example, looks as though it belongs to a good friend or family member. They make the point that their beer is more than a logo — it’s people, dogs, bikes, nature and beer is a part of those experiences.
According to the Pew Research Center, 90 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29, used social media in 2015. Cochran pointed out that craft beer and social media are rapidly growing at the same time and it makes sense to merge them. Many brewers don’t advertise and rely on word-of-mouth or one-on-one interactions, according to Cochran. Social media, he said, is a way to have that communication with a lot of people at once.
Beer-focused social media app Untappd and community forums on websites such as Beer Advocate have only helped to increase the conversations between brewers and consumers.
That interaction adds to the essence of craft beer— more than a drink, an experience. Social media is allowing people to “meet” the brewers, see photos of new equipment, hear about local happenings and feel like they are apart of the brewery family, even if they’re thousands of miles away.
With craft’s numbers on the rise and big beer’s numbers doing the opposite, the point can be argued that this marketing approach is seeing more success than, say, changing the name of your beer to an entire country for a season.