21 Jan 2010 @ 10:39 PM 

Back – way, way back in internet years – just after last year’s Craft Brewer’s Conference, I wrote a little piece about why and how breweries should be using Twitter. It was originally a bit of a followup from watching the internet panel at the CBC. I wasn’t confident that the panel really convinced people why they should be using social media. In fact, I’m not even sure if left people with a favorable impression. So passionate was I about this, that I got together with a couple of great people to put a panel together for this year’s conference.

I’ve been planning on writing a few columns in support of the panel this spring as I work through collecting my thoughts for later discussion. The first was going to be what I perceive as the effective differences between Facebook and Twitter, built for a craft beer business perspective. That’s still coming, but via the magic of the internet, I was pointed over to a thread on ProBrewer that kind of got me by the short hairs.

Let me see if I can summarize this thread for you:

“What’s this Twitting thing? Is that on the Google? I can’t understand what those kids are saying without my ear horn!”

It makes me want to slap people. There is nothing in this world that pisses me off more than willful ignorance. The idea that you can’t understand something because it’s new is a one-way ticket to stagnation and failure. In the end the real issue is that you’re scared. Grow a pair. It’s a plastic box with electronics in it. We call it a computer. You use several every day, probably even to make beer.

I’m sure that all of the guys that posted to this thread are smart. You have to be smart to brew beer and run a business. You have to know a good deal of chemistry, physics, and biology. You have to have business sense and be at least relatively decent with numbers, you have to be savvy enough with people to know your customers, know what they want, and know how to get them to buy your product. And then you put something out like “I could really give a s#$t if those who read our company tweets consume my beer. If they would take guidance from a simple message from a stranger, they’re idiots.”

Shit, man. You just described marketing. You ever watch a commercial? They’re on the television now. Oh, right- that’s another plastic box with electronics in it. Forget I asked.

Nevermind, the lovely irony of asking “Has everyone willingly given up privacy?” on a public message board using your real name as a username. Liam, buddy: Misdirected ire. You must have been having a bad day that day, eh? I hope I can get up to Yellow Belly the next time I’m in NL to try your beer, regardless of that fact that you’ve completely written me off as a customer. Hey – does that mean I can drink for free?

And I don’t really mean to take the piss out of Liam here, it’s just to easy to troll and be snarky when people give you such opportunities! Moving on:

Allow me to address a few of the points that I’m going to summarize out of this thread (and countless freakin’ others out there):

Social Media is for “young people”

Almost 40% of Facebook users are between ages 36 and 65.

60% of Facebook users are over the age of 25.

Those damn kids. They’re probably planning your 30th high school reunion using the Facebook. Maybe you should get in touch.

Social media is a fad.

Facebook reported hitting 132 million users in December 2009. MySpace reports almost 50 million. Twitter reports 23 million. They’re not all overlapping users, though many are (there’s the followup column I’m writing, see?).

Allow me to translate that into math:

If every drinking-aged adult in the country (~200 million) buys beer (they don’t), and craft beer makes up ~5% of the market share (they do), then more people over the age of 26 use Facebook (79.2 million) than drink craft beer (10 million) by a factor of a whole shitload. Fad. Sheesh.

I don’t have time for social media

I don’t have time to promote my business! I don’t have time to get people interested in my brand! I don’t have time to sell my product! I don’t have time to interact with my customers! Waaah!

Really? You know how long it takes me to send out a tweet? Like 25 seconds. To be fair: I type fast. Let’s say it takes you TWICE as long as me to type – no! Three times as long! Finger-pecker!

Ach! My aged fingers can not stand typing for over a minute! I can’t take 75 seconds out of my incredibly busy day to interact with my customers just once!

If you’re that busy, you’re probably at a point where you could consider hiring someone to help you. If you make the point of hiring somebody who’s not an anti-social curmudgeon, then chances are you could make managing social media part of their job and then you don’t have to worry about understanding anything fancy and new.

Look, there’s only one excuse for this type of response: You don’t get it. And you know what? That’s okay! It’s totally fine to not intuitively understand something the first time you look at it. To assume that it’s stupid because you don’t understand it is folly.

You don’t have to spend a lot of time on social media. Can you? Certainly! It can be borderline addictive. I’ll get into that in my next point.

It’s all anti-social crap for people with ADD!

You’re confusing social media with iPhone owners. (I kid! (Mostly!))

Social media is the opposite of anti-social. C’mon, people. “Social” is in the freakin’ name. Every interaction via any form of social media is essentially a part of a conversation. It’s not an update look-at-my-life-because-I’m-so-freakin’-awesome tool. It’s a human interaction please-talk-to-me tool. It’s not just:

“I had a Brooklyn Backbreaker at Tyler’s Taproom last week and I gotta say: pretty awesome.”

It’s also:

“Oooh, I’ve been wanting to try that one. Is it still on tap?”

People are talking about you. They’re talking about your product and they’re talking about your brewery. They’re talking about them a lot and having meaningful conversations about them. That is exactly why social media can be so addictive – interacting with people is fun. You do it in the bar all the time, right? Oh, right – I know: Only with people you know, or people who have the same interests as you, or maybe just the pretty girls.

Yeah, okay. Just like social media. Look, you don’t have to interact with anybody that you don’t want to. You choose who you follow and the people who follow you are enthusiastic fans of your business and your product. They are your good customers and your best evangelists. Not only do they want to have a conversation with you, they want to have a conversation about you to others. You can’t ask for better marketing than that – don’t you want to be a part of that conversation and have the chance to help guide it?

True story: I have met more new beer people in my area in the past year via Twitter, Facebook, and this blog than the previous 6 years I’ve been living here. And I’m talking great people – awesome people that I like to go hang out with after work and have a beer with, people that I have invited over to my house for dinner and drinks, and people that I hope I will not ever lose touch with because they’re such good people. Wow! Being anti-social is fun!

Social media is not a replacement for human interaction – it’s an augmentation.

It’s not a press release machine – it’s a customer interaction tool.

It’s an easy and effective tool that you can use to share your brand and your story with an eager-and-waiting audience and probably have a lot of fun at the same time. Use it. There is no downside and no reason not to.

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Posted By: erik
Last Edit: 21 Jan 2010 @ 11 30 PM

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 01 Jan 2010 @ 12:13 PM 

This post was originally going to be for this month’s Session, #35: “New Beer’s Resolutions, but I canned it. It’s a cute topic, but I can’t do it. I don’t believe in looking back at mistakes. To learn from your mistakes is paramount, to dwell on them is folly. They are done and I won’t revisit them, but rather stay positive with their lessons in mind and move forward to greater achievement.
The future!
At the same time, I feel like resolutions are bunk. The number one way to not get something done is to make it a New Year’s Resolution. If you want something to get done, you need to roll out of bed in the morning and do it. Screw tying it to the calendar. Just get up and go.

I also won’t attempt to make any predictions about what could happen in 2010. The problem with predictions is that they are based on the past; they’re based on our current knowledge set and our current environment. We cannot forsee individual random events or, even more importantly, what will be invented that will change the world in the next 12 months. It’s impossible and fruitless to speculate. You can only be ready for anything and enjoy the ever-living-crap out of it.

But! The dawn of a new year is an opportunity to look forward to all of the wonderful things to come that you DO know about. Here’s my personal list of things to come in 2010:

Homebrew and Competition

After withdrawing myself from homebrew competitions for a while, I plan to get my feet wet again to see what comes out of it. I’ve had some rather snarky judges in the past that have made me feel rather jaded about entering competitions, but in the spirit of “I’m going to start a business.” I’ve decided to say screw-all to the critics, throw my hat back into the ring, and wait for the Gold Medal to arrive in the mail. If the rest of my big bold headings work out as I expect them to, this will also be the last year I enter into homebrew competitions.

Here’s where my beer is going:

  • 2010 Winter Brew Bash, Carrboro NC: Start local, right? These guys are working hard to have what appears to be a really incredibly non-traditional homebrew competition. What I like about it is that it is built around a homebrew tasting, so that brewers and the public alike can come in and try all of the beers that are entered into competition. It’s a lovely PR event for homebrew and has the possibility of getting a lot of new people involved in the hobby. At the same time, I love sharing my beer with other people and it’s a good opportunity for that, as well. Finally, as far as I can tell, it’s not tied to category, and thank god for that, because I don’t fit inside categories well.
  • LoneRider Brewery‘s Brew It Forward: Another style-less competition, where the prize involves getting your beer made and sold. I’m not sure when this is coming up – spring sometime – but they’re so close to my house that it seems ridiculous to not send them some beer.
  • National Homebrew Competition: My opportunity to play to style and send something out, and maybe – just maybe – I’ll get a feedback sheet from a judge that doesn’t make me want to punch them in the throat.

2010 Craft Brewers Conference Panel Presentation: I’m a Social Media Guru Now!
One of the things that I am both looking forward to and slightly terrified of is the 2010 Craft Brewers Conference where I will be part of a panel presentation entitled Storytelling 2.0: Social Media as Conversation with some colleagues that I feel rather starstruck about. Fullsteam’s Sean Wilson (one of my co-panelists) posted a nice up front review of what we’re attempting to do. Here’s the selected excerpt from our draft pitch that sells it best:

It’s time to stop thinking of Twitter, Facebook, and blogging as simple extensions of your press releases. Storytelling 2.0 will help you discover your own unique voice, and connect, build, and bond with your fan base. It’s time to talk with — not at — your audience.

Craft brewing is story-driven. Each individual brewery has a unique story to best engage its customer base. Social media empowers your brewery to include enthusiasts in that story, giving them access to your narrative voice in an unparalleled way. Well-crafted updates, photo postings, and personalized responses engage your customers, giving them a chance to see inside your operations and meet the characters in the story first-hand.

By the by, I hope nobody ever calls me a social media guru. I don’t use it enough (I’m sure my wife would argue that I use it way too much) – on purpose – because I feel like it’s easy to spam and therefore achieve negative impact through annoyance, but I think that automatically takes me out of “guru” running.

As we work on the conference panel over the next few months, you’ll probably see a few columns here about social media and how it pertains to breweries. These columns will not be meant as part of the presentation or may not even be related, but it’s the best way I have to work through things. At the same time, I hope that my ramblings will be useful to the internet/brewing community at large.

Know Your Brewer Re-Launches

We haven’t said a whole lot about this yet, but I am working with Sean over at Fullsteam on a little project that I think will turn out for awesome. Know Your Brewer, a website that was originally focused on North Carolina Beer as part of Pop the Cap 2.0. The site provided the basic template and early content for the North Carolina Brewers Guild website NCBeer.org, which I’m also helping on, but that left a domain and a concept unoccupied. I’ve somehow managed to convince Sean to let me help retro-fit Know Your Brewer for a new life.

The re-launch is coming and it’s coming nationwide. I’m not yet sure of our official re-launch date, I can say that I think it will be pretty terrific. The site will focus on the men and women behind craft beer – the people that make it, the brewers – and look at their beer and their breweries through their eyes. We’re hoping to have writers and bloggers across the country interviewing brewers from across the country, with lots of added content – recipes, Q&A, etc, all in a regular weekly format.

I’ve already done interviews at a couple of breweries and I have a half-dozen more scheduled in the next few weeks. It’s been a ton of fun talking to brewers about their work, how they got into it, and what they enjoy the most about it. It’s been a ball and I can’t wait to share it.

What you see there isn’t the final design, but it’s on its way. Look for an official announcement here (and, of course, on Know Your Brewer) soon. In the meantime, we’re recruiting writers – are you interested? Let me know!

Announcing the Location of Mystery Brewing Company

Finally, in either the second or third quarter this year, I will be making the announcement on the geographical location of my own startup: Mystery Brewing Company.

At that point, the blog will likely go through a slight transition where you end up hearing a lot more commentary about startup issues. On of my major criticisms with startup brewery content I have found, read, and yes, even paid thousands of dollars for, is the lack of practical detail. I get a lot of “you need to fill out TTB forms and apply for licensing.” And while it’s true, it’s not necessarily as helpful as telling me what forms are around, what information they tend to expect, and what pitfalls I should look out for. Not to say I’ll be posting how to fill out your TTB label forms here, but I will, whenever possible, post practical information about the startup process specifically pertaining to startup breweries in the hopes that others coming after me will find something useful. I believe that the future of the industry lays in continuing spread of the individual small brewery, rather than the continual creation of more megabreweries, and I hope that I can help the industry in the right direction.

Back when I was in high school, as a miserable teenager, I remember somebody taking me aside and telling me: “Remember these days, because these are the best days of your life.” And then I remember thinking, “Oh god – kill me now.” They were wrong. Totally and completely and in all ways possible: wrong. They were not even remotely the best days of my life. Every year that I’ve been alive, things have just been better and better, more fun and more awesome, and I can’t imagine that changing now. I’m looking forward to 2010, for all of these reasons up here and the hundreds of reasons that I haven’t found out about, yet.

Happy New Year, everyone. It’ll be a great one.

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