Social Media: The Beer Facts

It’s becoming increasingly hard to be considered a thought leader these days unless you have something to say about social media, as my colleague Tim Parker noted here.  Inevitably, chiming in on social media to establish one’s thought-leadership credentials has resulted in a great deal of wrong-headed nattering.

Case in point: I read a blog the other day that argued that Anheuser-Busch and what is generally called “Big Beer” is failing to convert the buzz it gets from its clever, expensive television commercials into rising sales because its social media approach is lame. Unlike craft beer (the blogger’s argument went), Big Beer isn’t focusing its social media efforts on the taste of its beer – its hops and yeasts and whatnots – and therefore it’s failing to engage folks who blog and tweet about beer (and read blogs and tweets about beer) as the craft beer purveyors do. The blogger, who seems to know a great deal about the beer business, says that unless Big Beer captures “interesting, appealing, and compelling facts about its beer in a social-media context,” it’s essentially doomed.

But he doesn’t offer any ideas about how Big Beer can talk compellingly about what (let’s be honest here) is a commodity quaff, and I’d argue that he’s been swilling too many suds if he thinks Big Beer’s failure to talk about its brews on social media is why craft beer sales have been rising while Big Beer’s sales have been mostly flat. (Big Beer’s growth is coming from its new brands, horrible swill such as Bud Light Lime A Rita.) Craft beer – made and drunk by young-ish enthusiasts – is an ideal subject for social media chit-chat, and undoubtedly does drive interest and sales.

A couple of years ago, I interviewed Caitlin Jewel, co-owner of craft beer Slumbrew, made in Somerville, Massachusetts. According to Jewel, “Facebook is critical for our demographic. People search Facebook. They live on Facebook. They’re checking Facebook five to six times a day.”

That’s why social media engagement makes sense for Slumbrew, which a) can’t afford to advertise on television and b) primarily sells to people in their twenties. It does not make a great deal of sense for Bud despite what our beer expert says as it a) can afford to advertise, and b) is selling to the masses, not to the hipster elite.  

Here’s a statistic that puts Big Beer’s alleged social media difficulties (and its relatively flat sales) in perspective: According to SymphonyIR Group, Anheuser-Busch InBev (which owns Bud) rang up 39 percent of all U.S. beer sales in 2012, and the best-selling beer (by a lot) in America that year was Bud Light, which sold almost twice as much suds as the second best-selling brew in America, Coors Light.

Both taste like cold, bubbly water and that’s the way a tremendous number of Americans seem to like it.

Of course, neither of these beers are growing at the pace of Dogfish Ale, which grew by almost 30 percent 2011 – 2012, and now owns a whopping 1.3 percent of the market. 

All praise to Dogfish, but it’s playing to a different audience than Big Beer – the sort of people who will blog and tweet about beer. Bud Light drinkers (and they are legion) are not sharing “interesting, compelling facts” about their favorite beverage on Facebook; they don’t feel the same sense of community as craft beer drinkers do. And growing sales when you already dominate a market is far more difficult than when you’re starting from scratch.

Social media is important for some businesses; it’s just not equally important for every business. That’s important for a business to understand before all the social media shouting drowns out common sense.  

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