As Chris and I have continued to work through various aspects of opening Virginia Beer Co., we have started to establish a humble online presence. We figured it would be better to have some presence in the world than none at all. So while we may still be a little ways off from our physical (eg, liquid) presence in the craft beer industry, we can at least reach into the world and connect with like-minded individuals and entities. The power of the online world and social media is such that even before a drop of sweet, sweet beer is produced for public consumption, we can span VBC across the state, the country, and the world, unveiling our plans to the public at large. It’s thrilling to put something like a link to a blog post out on Twitter and see the kind of response – any response really – we get from old friends and new friends alike. Seeing the number of followers grow, being delighted by more hits on our fledgling website, and interacting with our compatriots in the craft beer universe…well, it’s enough to convince you that meliorism in the craft beer world does exist! And hopefully a preview of the thrill we’ll experience when we can finally do the same in person once our beer is flowing in the VBC taproom and beyond.
As a brewery-in-planning (our first formal name at the CBC in 2012) the power of social media is not something to be overlooked. As soon as Chris and I (ie, Erin) settled on The Virginia Beer Company as the official name for our enterprise we quickly decided on handles for many of our social media accounts. That said, we had to make a decision on what social media accounts to create handles for; there are quite a few and it didn't seem prudent to have a lot of Virginia Beer Co. entities floating around in perpetuity with no content. We decided on a choice few to start, and Chris was the first to change his workplace on Facebook to The Virginia Beer Company, LLC, which, word to the wise, actually created an unofficial Facebook page for the brewery! We’re working to get the official Facebook page launched very soon, so keep your browsers at the ready!
It was easy to create social media handles across various platforms like Twitter and Instagram (and even Pinterest), but then we had to decide when to start using them on a regular basis. I've spent years following a lot of breweries - ok so like every brewery - on these social media outlets just to get a sense of what kind of updates they send out, how frequently, and to whom. And because I love beer. LOVE beer. Connecting with the craft beer enthusiasts of the world is definitely a fun part of the job, but it’s also part of a job. Making sure that we establish a brand name even before the quality beer we plan to brew is out there to speak for the brewery is an important facet of building the business. Just like any other part of the business plan, Chris and I spent a lot of time discussing different types of strategies for creating VBC's online presence. When should we start putting our brand name out there? What rules were there for craft breweries to follow (FYI - there are rules to follow)? What sort of hashtags and terms should we be using to connect with everyone? If it was too soon before the brewery’s opening, would we lose the excitement growing around a new brewery? If it was too close, would we miss out on amplifying excitement about something we couldn't be more excited about?
Knowing that our full time staff at this juncture was a team of two, Chris and I decided upon a methodical approach to immersing the brewery into the online community. We determined that a year or so from our planned opening was a good time to start interacting with our peers and supporters, not just from a personal standpoint, but from an official post within the brewery. And it just so happened that this year’s CBC in Denver presented itself along that very timeline, granting us solid opportunities to put Twitter and Instagram to work smack dab in the middle of craft beer’s Woodstock being held in craft beer's Mountain West Shangri-La. From there we had to decide how frequently we wanted to use these social media devices, how to split up management of the accounts, and what kind of content we wanted to send out. Between Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, and a new website & blog you don’t want to duplicate too much content across all venues. But you do want to find a level of consistency so that anyone going to any one outlet can find the relevant news and updates you're attempting to share.
I realize this makes it all sounds very business-like but the fact of the matter is, social media, especially in the craft beer world, is a big part of the business. Many a brewer will tell you that marketing should not matter; that in the craft beer industry, the beer should speak for the brewery. Brew a great beer (and then another and then another), and word will spread. This is true, and we plan to concoct a brew (and then another and then another) that will have the beer world abuzz. But what do you do when you don’t have any beer (at least not for sharing publicly) to speak for the brewery? Well then it’s up to the people behind the beer to hop on social media (pun intended) and similar resources and speak out to the world. Up to us to share our story. Up to us to talk about our facility and taproom plans. Up to us to describe our beers before everyone can try them! And then when the time comes, a healthy dose of social media and marketing combined with tankards of delectable craft brews shall help propel the brewery onward and upward. That’s the plan, at least!
Social media and its ability to connect Virginia Beer Co. to everyone around us is one of the most fun aspects of this endeavor. I truly enjoy interacting with the craft beer world at large, whether it be titans of the industry moving past production levels of a regional brewery to nanobreweries to those in between. And most importantly, with friends, family, and supporters – past, present, and future – who want to know more about VBC and what they can expect going forward. It’s amazing seeing all these people in person and just as amazing to connect with them through all these new social channels. Social media is free (for the most part), engaging, and a great way to promote your brand and connect with the world. If you use these tools correctly, and pay attention to the rules, it’s a great way to support a new business or a growing business, and it’s a great way to get word out about all the great beers that are going to be flowing from the taps. With all that said in the equivalent wordsmithing of 370 tweets: here’s to the future of #BurgBeer, #VAbeer, and #CraftBeer!
So check us out on Twitter (plus Vine) and Instagram and Pinterest (all at @VirginiaBeerCo); like us on Facebook; and leave a comment on the blog! We look forward to meeting all of you by word and image, and eventually in person to share a tankard in the future. Santé!