As the world welcomed 2015, we here at the Craft Gin Club team set a challenge for ourselves, for our craft distillery partners and for gin lovers all over the UK: to determine the nation’s favourite gin brand. Our February Gin of the Month, Warner Edwards, came out on top, earning over 10% of the more than 1,700 total votes. The “favourite” aspect of the survey, meant to demonstrate the level of loyalty felt amongst each gin’s fans, proved something to the more than 100 brands mentioned in the survey: that social media like Facebook are crucial to their business strategy.
For starters, if it weren’t for social media, the survey never would have seen the light of day. The cost of distribution otherwise - printing brochures, traditional and search advertising, email lists - would have been too great. But due to the nature of the question, “What is the UK’s favourite gin”, an eye-catching teaser for gin lovers, it resonated well on social media channels, which are pretty much word-of-mouth recommendations on steroids.
Distributing the survey was simple enough:
1. The Craft Gin Club posted links to the survey on its Facebook and Twitter pages, tweeting directly to over 100 distillers
2. The distillers shared the survey with their fans and followers
3. Gin lovers shared the survey with their friends on Facebook and twitter followers, feeding the domino effect
Not surprisingly, the distillers that most actively spread news of the survey on their social channels received the most votes. Every day during the week of the survey, Warner Edwards encouraged fans to show their support by posting links to the survey on their social media channels.
For independent craft distillers, brewers and budding spirits and beer brands, social media is integral to and essential for their businesses. Most of the craft distillers with which the Craft Gin Club speaks refer to the importance of the channel for their brand with some going so far as to say that if it weren’t for social media, they would not even have launched their business.
Tom Warner of Warner Edwards told the Craft Gin Club just how crucial the medium is. “Ten years ago when there was no Facebook or twitter, how did you build a fan base?” he asked. “Through social media and talking to bloggers, we’ve driven over 150,000 unique visits to our website. That’s huge traffic and traffic that once would only have been possible through traditional PR for which guys like I us don’t have the budget.”
Tom and the craft distilling industry are far from the only small businesses using social media to build their companies. Facebook claims over 30 million small business pages as of June 2014; twitter, 4.5 SMB accounts as of November 2013. Many of these businesses have accounts on a number of networks: LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat… the list goes on.
Outside of the occasional item that “goes viral”, the marketing budgets of small businesses are increasingly spent on social media that can provide more reach and engagement with potential customers than comparable forms of digital advertising. Targeting by age group, location, birthday, interests, etc. is all possible on these channels, allowing small businesses to get their message only to the people that are interested in them.
But unlike many small businesses, craft distillers and brewers have a significant advantage when it comes to interacting with and building a fan base: they have stories to tell. And stories engage audiences.
Just take the gin industry. There’s Elephant Gin whose entrepreneurs spent time in Africa and decided to dedicate a portion of their profits to two elephant reserves with which the brand works. This story has afforded it over 21,000 Facebook likes and over 2,200 twitter followers. Or a big brand such as Tanqueray whose first batch dripped from its Bloomsbury-based stills in 1830, granting it nearly 200 years of history on which its marketing can lean.
BOON OR BURDEN?
While social media provides obvious advantages for entrepreneurs of all types, the importance of the medium begs the question, “Have small businesses become too reliant on social media?” The issue first arose with Facebook which regularly modifies its algorithm, sometimes with detrimental results to its users. Beginning in 2013, the number of people that saw posts organically - reach for which businesses don’t have to pay - began to drop, and drop significantly.
One distiller with which the Craft Gin Club recently spoke expressed his concern that his Facebook posts’ reach had witnessed a fall of over 60% even while his fans nearly tripled. In more concrete figures, a study by ad agency Ogilvy showed that where 16% of a page’s fans used to see a page post, now that figure is often under 1%.
Simultaneously, Facebook introduced business pages with the option to “boost” their posts, meaning that they can pay money to make sure that a post gets seen by more people. Now, small businesses with limited budgets need to decide whether the platform is providing them with the results they seek or whether other channels will be more effective in getting their gins onto the tastebuds of their fans.
To learn more from craft distillers, we suggest contacting them via social media. They’d love to be your friend in gin!