Pitfalls and payoffs of new age of social media

Creating communities around a brand has been key to the strategies of a number of brands, with beer clubs like Otherside’s Beer Tycoons or equity and reward crowdfunding campaigns.

But so many of these communities, both brewery-managed and consumer groups, have developed within social media, a potentially less resource-intensive medium.

Facebook groups like the Perth and Hunter Valley Beer Snobs groups and the Reschs Appreciation Society have been instrumental in developing beer-focused communities, disseminating knowledge about beer and beer styles and even lobbying breweries for change or greater focus on a product.

Many breweries too use social media platforms as the primary line of communication to their customers, before their own websites or email databases.

But there are pitfalls to this, as several breweries saw when Facebook shut down news pages on its platform after a spat with the Australian government.

Its scorched-earth approach was criticised, but it hasn’t prevented algorithms shutting down pages seemingly randomly ever since, with Boatrocker and consumer group the Australian Craft Beer Crew being taken down and subsequently reinstated.

It does however raise the question of whether businesses are putting themselves in an exposed position by relying purely on Facebook platforms.

Dr Adam Brown, senior lecturer in digital media at Melbourne’s Deakin University, said Facebook’s removal of those pages early this year prompted some interesting discussions.

“[Back in February] there was a broad umbrella of organisation pages that got taken down, even some activist and mental health support groups lost their access. It had the appearance of randomness but parameters were put up that were broadly applied in a scorched-earth approach and stakeholders paid a temporary price for it.

“The discussion of that might have petered out, but the implications will be seen for a while.”

It raises important issues about the central communications strategy of businesses.

“[As a business] you can’t afford to not be there and there might be other platforms that soon emerge and organisations need to be on.

“This comes back to the increasing sense that there isn’t this big split between on and offline world, even when your community is locally-targeted and geographically connected, you might still be very reliant on a virtual connection to communicate with them.”

But it also calls into question how much they should be relied upon by businesses.

Social media and websites: a symbiotic relationship

As social media has developed, companies have focused their efforts in this direction, and some new breweries focus on their Facebook pages before having their own websites.

“Having a Facebook page is fairly fundamental, I’m not diminishing that you need that, but it’s not going to be the same as having your own website,” Dr Brown said.

“One of the major reasons to be on social media, not just to connect them to you and each other, is to redirect them to an organisation, your own website.

“That’s where you want to get that traffic redirected.”

In terms of growing a community, Dr Brown said, apps are now being seen as inefficient.

“They are seen as an increasingly ineffective way to draw people in,” said Dr Brown.

“More responsive, interactive websites are being built now, which gives you a means of engaging your audience within your own website, but again you still need to get them there in the first place.

“These websites are inspired by social media design, people have looked at what consumers find so appealing about platforms that they spend three to four hours a day on a certain platform, sharing and viewing content.”

There are also downsides to using social media platforms.

“If you only had a Facebook page, which is incredibly easy to set up, that’s not necessarily going to be seen as having the same credibility, trustworthiness or legitimacy as having your own website.

“Any page or profile on these platforms looks pretty much the same, it doesn’t let you be as creative with your branding.”

Other social media platforms

While social media is of course here to stay, there may not always be the monopoly that Facebook enjoys across its platforms.

“Platforms shift over time and new ones pop up, less mainstream ones disappear before you even hear of them.”

But while some prominent new additions such as TikTok and SnapChat are being considered in new industries, there are pitfalls, especially in a regulated industry like alcohol.

“Tiktok as a specific example is interesting, when you look at its key demographics, not always in reality but in perception, you’re looking at underage youths – so as a brewery, you might need to invest in crisis communication before using TikTok!”

“It’s also harder to build peer-to-peer communities [on SnapChat, TikTok or even Instagram] but not impossible to get a following from an organisational brand. Facebook however has that longevity, everyone has been on there for that long, can you afford to not have a presence there.”

While a platform like TikTok might not be right for alcohol companies who want to be seen as responsible producers in the market, these platforms can teach the industry a thing or two about how to engage with new customers.

“What TikTok teaches us is that storytelling is changing, with everything from Instagram Reels and Stories, to YouTube shorts,” said Dr Brown.

“A lot of people like the convenience of micro-video as a media form and as a storytelling medium or mechanism, and convenience is central.

“That dynamic, audiovisual content however does raise issues around copyright and how they’re being made, so organisations have to be more careful than individuals.”

Brewers have also used this to great effect during lockdown, Willie the Boatman for instance went live on Facebook with tours of the brewery, whilst Mountain Culture posts regular updates from founder DJ McCready about the goings-on at the brewery and new beers, adding a human face to its marketing.

So we can learn a lot from new platforms about how to engage with new customers, according to Dr Brown.

“It’s showing us a lot about storytelling, and organisations need to learn, and some really clever ones have already been doing it, that people are engaged by the personal and personalised.

“How do you bring the human into your organisational identity? It might be easier in a smaller organisation to take key learnings of why people like connecting with people online and on platforms, and how do you translate that into action for a business?

“That’s what we’re grappling with – how to innovatively tell your story.”

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