Social Media Marketing For Beer Distributors

A Step-By-Step Guide

The world of marketing and advertising is changing. Consumers are more educated, more expressive and perhaps more demanding than ever before. They value transparency, information and feeling connected to the brands that they buy. When used well, social media can be an extremely powerful tool to connect with these consumers and build an audience of advocates around your brand by telling stories that share the culture, ideas and feeling of your company.

Whenever we work with beer distributors, we usually get this question early on: Is it worth it? Is it worth all the time, effort and money necessary to develop a strong social media following? As a marketing agency with a strong digital emphasis, we may be a bit biased but we believe the answer to be a clear and resounding yes. Why? Because it's a powerful way to reach a targeted group of consumers who are already interested in your business: beer. They're already using the internet to make purchasing decisions, so why wouldn't you want to be on their phones to be a part of that conversation?

Then we get a follow up question: is it worth it for distributors to be on social media? Again, we believe the answer is yes. Here are some reasons why: 

  • Build Your Reputation: The best way to build a positive reputation in the eyes of customers and consumers alike, is to tell stories about the great work you’re doing. It doesn’t work to tell people you do good work, but it is important to SHOW them you do good work.

  • Account Support: If you’re able to build a robust audience around your distributorship, you’ll be able to offer marketing support to your accounts around activations, placements or features

  • Brand Support: Anytime you can offer the brands on your portfolio additional exposure is a win. If you can do it in an extremely targeted way to people who have already proven to care about what you have to say, that’s a bigger win.

Below is a step-by-step guide for building and implementing a social media strategy for your beer distributor. We'll be using a fictional wholesaler called Big Shoulders to show you exactly what we do so that you can apply the process to your own businesses.


Step One: Establish A Brand Identity & Strategy

The Who, What, Where and Why

Before you send a single tweet, or post a single photo on Facebook, it's worth taking some time to establish a brand identity and develop a quick strategy. A brand identity is the summation of who you are as a company, essentially, it's the answer to the following questions: 

Who are you?
Who are you talking to? 
Why are you talking to them?

If you can't clearly answer these questions, how can you expect your audience to get who you are or why they should care? 

Who Are You?

To answer this admittedly, very big question, we started with a bunch of research. We sat down with team members at every level of Big Shoulders, from senior management to sales reps, to delivery drivers, to merchandisers and asked questions about Big Shoulders. Then we met with some of the distributor's retailer partners and asked the same questions. Our goal was to get a feel for their strengths and weaknesses, as well as the existing and desired perception of the brand of Big Shoulders.

We learned that while Big Shoulders has a major domestic brand on their portfolio, the range of their breweries is relatively small. We also learned that the company places an extremely high premium on education of their employees, and that the sales representatives know a lot about beer and their portfolio.

We then took all of this information and condensed it into a "Voice Guide", which is a document that outlines the ideals of a brand, their strengths and their communication style. Here are some excerpts from that document.


Knowledgeable Sales Force
Highly educated and well-versed sales team
Curated Beer Experiences
Use their knowledge of the portfolio to recommend the right beer
Domestic, Imports and Craft Brands
Each are of equal importance
Chicago Pride
Live and work in the city
Casual Language
Approachable, friendly, trustworthy
Persona: The Friendly Bartender
The owner of a corner bar who's been there for years and knows everyone by name. He's friendly and approachable and takes pride in being able to help find the right beer for each patron. Sometimes it's a domestic beer, sometimes it's an import, sometimes it's a local craft beer. He’s never pushy or stand offish or condescending. 

Who Are You Talking To?

Now that we had a basic understanding of who Big Shoulders is, we set out to understand who we're talking to. To do this, we define a number of "user groups" of the types of people likely to interact with our social media profiles. Because of the unique qualities of a distributor, we can already divide this into two main groups: retailers and consumers.



Bar/Restaurant Beverage Director
Decision makers, well-informed
Family Liquor Store Owner
Varies widely, decision makers
Knows what their guests are ordering, influencer


Craft Curious
Largely domestic drinkers but interested
in craft beer
Beer Geek 
Highly opinionated, seeks new, different and unique
Fans of Other Things
Passionate about other interests (food, music, video games, etc)
Chicago Events 
Enjoys going out to unique local events

Why Are You Talking To Them?

Now that we had established who Big Shoulders was and identified our audience, we got to work connecting the two. Our job now was to define why our hopeful audience would care to hear from Big Shoulders? So we asked ourselves a bunch of questions: What about us is interesting or beneficial to our audience? What unique information or characteristic do we have? How will we make their lives better? And from there, put together a list of things that Big Shoulders has to offer. 


+ Because education and beer and product knowledge is so important to us as a
company, one of the biggest benefits we have to offer our audience is information.
+ New Beer Releases
+ New Breweries
+  Invitations To Unique Events
+ Tickets To Key Sponsored Concerts and Sports Events
+ Education on Beer Styles and Terms


The Take Away
Think about your brand identity by answering three key questions: Who are you? Who are you talking to? Why are you talking to them?


Step Two: Start To Build Your Audience

Getting People To Pay Attention


Now that we had our strategy, it was time to start building the Big Shoulders audience. So we registered a Facebook "brand page", signed up for Twitter and Instagram, and got to work. Here are a few of the methods we used to get started:

First We Asked For Help

We asked each of the breweries on the Big Shoulders portfolio to send a tweet, a Facebook post and an Instagram post to their Chicago audience that mentions their Chicago distributor. We made things simple for them as we knew they had a lot going on. We supplied them with a photo, some example text and all the links they needed.

Then, we started asking people to sign up

We asked people to follow our social media accounts. Our sales representatives mentioned the social media accounts when they made sales calls and told consumers they could follow us to learn more at events.  

Then, we placed targeted social media ads

We placed a few ads on Facebook that targeted each of the user groups we had defined earlier. The ads had messaging that was designed for that user group and gave a clear reason why they should follow our account.


We placed an ad to reach foodies as part of our  “fans of other things” user group that gave a compelling reason to follow us as it relates to their interest: the place that beer has in fine dining.


We did a “Follow and RT” campaign on Twitter for a pair of tickets to a concert the distributor was sponsoring. We told our Twitter followers that anyone who followed our account and retweeted a specific tweet would be entered to win the tickets. We then enlisted the help of local bloggers to share the giveaway in exchange for tickets themselves.

All of these strategies are good ways to get the ball rolling, but they are by no means on-time efforts. These and more should be part of your social media life as you continue to build the online following of your distributor.


The Take Away
Take small steps over long periods of time to grow your audiences: ask your breweries for help, talk to consumers at events, place social media ads, and host giveaways.


Step Three: Plan Out Your Content

Deciding What To Say

Now that we were starting to grow our social media audience, it was time to start thinking about nurturing that community so that they would care about following us.

If the goal of social media marketing is to build an audience around your brand, we need to give the audience a reason to pay attention to us. There's a lot fighting for people's attention these days, so we need to make sure we're telling interesting stories, or no matter how large a following we build, we'll get lost in the noise. 

Content is the term used to describe any words, photos, videos, or audio posted on Social Media. But for our purposes, we needed to start thinking of content as "stories." Our goal isn't to use social media to make announcements, it's to tell stories that get our audience excited about Big Shoulder's beer. So we put our thinking caps on and started talking about the kinds of stories we could tell with Big Shoulders. 


Big Shoulders Content Topics
+ Digital Brewery Tours
+ Brewery Founder Interviews
+ Brewer Interviews
+ "From Ingredient To Glass" Stories
+ Beer Style Education Guides
+ New Beer Release Stories

We then took these content topics and began to imagine specific stories that we could tell behind them. Here's one we came up with to promote the launch of a limited edition "Chicago Sports Team " Cans.


Chicago Sports Team Cans
When the largest domestic brand on the Big Shoulder's portfolio announced a limited run of cans in collaboration with Chicago's major league sports team, we could have just posted a photo of the cans and said “go buy these.” But that's not interesting, relevant or memorable.  


Instead, we took this opportunity to tell a story and get our followers more interested in the release. We ran a series of Instagram photo features of “true Chicago sports fans” holding the branded cans, with a quote about their favorite team memory. Each photo featured a local fan from all walks of life (mechanic, banker, old, young, etc). 

Instead of the forgettable message of "go buy this can", these Instagram photos told a more compelling story: Chicago is united behind this "Sports Team" and our brewery is too. 


The Take Away
Think about how you can start telling stories instead of just making announcements. 


Step Four: Building A Content Calendar

Deciding When To Say It


A common misconception with social media is that it can only be created “in the moment.” This is especially problematic for beer distributors as we have a wide variety of breweries with a wide variety of news and announcements that tend to overlap. If we're not careful, it's easy to miss opportunities because so much happens at once. 

The solution is to write a content calendar which allows marketers to balance their promotions to give all of their brands the right amount of attention, and also lets you get ahead and create some really great content.

This doesn’t mean that you can leave out "spontaneous" content, that's a really important part. In fact, we even made a rule for Big Shoulders that at every event, someone should take a photo and send a simple tweet while there. This shows the company's commitment to the local scene and their support of their accounts. 

Here's a look at how we built the Big Shoulders content calendar:


First, we put each of the distributor's planned events on the calendar. Then we added important beer-related holidays like Labor Day and July 4th. Next we added any major beer festivals or events that Big Shoulders' breweries were participating in. Lastly, we added spaces for the content topics we'd come up with earlier. 

Next, we began to turn each calendar item into a “piece of content” by coming up with the title of the story we would tell about that item. Sometimes it was strictly promotional (like when we decided to promote the Miss Jane Concert with a ticket giveaway for an evening in the suite with 10 of your closest friends) and sometimes it was a list (like when we wanted to encourage July 4th off premise sales by writing a piece called "5 Perfect Beers For Your July 4th BBQ").


The Take Away
Get out a calendar and make a plan. Determine key moments in your year, and then come up with story titles for those dates.


Step Five: Set A Social Media Marketing Budget

Taking Advantage of Social Media's Paid Features

There's a common misconception that social media is free. While the tools are free, if you're not taking advantage of social media's paid functions, you're missing out on a huge part of its power. As marketers, we can reach incredibly specific audiences to promote certain topics that are relevant to them. In addition, when someone likes your brand page on Facebook, that doesn’t mean that they will see everything you post in their news feed. In fact, they’ll see very little. When you post, Facebook gives you the option to “boost” that post, which means paying Facebook to show that post to people who like your page (and others).

To make sure that Big Shoulders takes full advantage of these tools, we looked at the content calendar we made, and developed an advertising strategy to match. 


One of Big Shoulder’s breweries ran a campaign where for every pint of a new beer consumers purchased, they would donate to a local charity. Big Shoulders agreed to match the dollar amount raised. To promote this idea and get people on board to support the cause, we purchased Facebook ads that told the story of the campaign, and targeted those ads at an audience that we knew would be highly likely to be interested. We told Facebook to serve the ad to Facebook members who are 21+, live within 25 miles of the city, like beer, and follow Toms Shoes (who have a similar 1:1 program) and other charitable organizations.  


It's very difficult to give general advice about how much to spend on social media ads because every brand, market, and campaign is different. That being said, there are steps you can take to determine a first-year budget, and then adjust based on successes and failures.


We looked back at the content calendar and saw that Big Shoulders is scheduled to post major Facebook updates approximately three times per week. Given their audience size, goals and overall budget, we allocated approximately $20 per post for "Facebook Boosts"

$20 per post x 3 posts per week x 52 weeks per year = $3,120

Next we decided that we wanted to run a Facebook ad and a Twitter ad about twice a month, and have each run for two weeks. We set aside $100 per ad for each Facebook ad, and $50 for each Twitter ad. month running for two weeks each, and devoted $50 to each ad.

Facebook: $100 per ad x 2 ads per month x 12 months per year = $2,400

Twitter: $50 per ad x 2 ads per month x 12 months per year = $1,200

Total: $3,120 (Boosts) $3,600 (Ads) + $5,720

Then we looked at our content calendar and found two extremely important events that we wanted to give extra budget towards. We set aside $200 for extra campaigns for each.

$200 per campaign x 2 campaigns + $5,720 = $6,120


The Take Away
Take advantage of social media's paid functions by looking at your content calendar and identifying key moments to promote. Set aside small budgets for each of them, then add everything up.


Step Six: Put Everything Into Action

Now that we've established the Big Shoulders Brand, started to build their audience, planned out our content calendar, and set our budget, we're ready to set everything in motion.

At Matt Tanaka Marketing, we have a little mantra that guides how we use social media. We call it "the social media cycle." We like to say that every piece of content should guide consumers “From Digital To The Real World and Back Again." Because beer can only be experienced in the real world, we want our audience to engage with something we post online, and then move to a real world experience with that beer, and then have a reason to come back to us online. Here's an example of how we do that with Big Shoulders:


Digital: Our “True Chicago Sports Fan” Instagram posts started in the digital world. 

To The Real World: We encouraged followers to nominate friends as “True Chicago Sports Fans” by buying them a beer and posting a photo of them with the hashtag “#TrueChicagoSportsFan.” In exchange, we sent the first 50 posts a limited edition coozie.

Back To Digital: We selected three winners from the nominees and brought our photographer in for a photoshoot with each "True Chicago Sports Fan." We then posted these on our social media which encouraged the friends of the features to follow our accounts. 


The Take Away
Focus on moving your audience from "digital" to the "real world" and back again by creating cycles of interactions. 


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