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How Breweries Are Embracing TikTok

How Breweries Are Embracing TikTok
Mike Zoller

It’s the fastest-growing social media network. It hit one billion monthly users in just four years, half the time it took Facebook to hit that same number. TikTok is a global phenomenon and breweries are slowly getting on board.

For those not familiar with TikTok, it’s a social network that focuses on video content, up to three minutes, as well as trending hashtags and sounds. While a few businesses have built a large following, like Duolingo, it’s still very much a platform that is dominated by individual content creators.

Some breweries have been on TikTok for a few years, but there’s been a growing trend in the last 18 months for breweries to jump on the app. But it’s not like Instagram or Facebook, and breweries that might have thousands of followers on those networks aren’t seeing the same audience growth on TikTok.

“Instagram of yesterday was all about the perfect shot,” Revolution Brewing’s Chief Strategy Officer Doug Veliky said. “The video on Instagram and Facebook is crisp and perfect – that’s what those networks portrayed and that’s why people went there. TikTok is doing the opposite.”

Veliky said that if breweries are looking to join TikTok, now is the time.

“TikTok has provided a new opportunity because it’s in growth and user acquisition mode,” he said. “Your opportunity which won’t be there forever – is now.”

Great Lakes Brewing Co. out of Cleveland also saw the need to be adapting with the trends on social media.

“As a legacy craft brewer, showing people that we’re innovative in everything we do is critical. We have sizable followings on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, but it would be a mistake to assume those platforms will be relevant forever,” said Adam Ritterspach, Multimedia Coordinator at Great Lakes Brewing Co. “We have to stay on top of the digital landscape or we risk being left in the dust. TikTok is one of the hottest social platforms right now and it’s growing rapidly with the 25-34-year-old demographic and beyond. By embracing new platforms like TikTok, we’re not only going to where the people are, but we’re demonstrating that we’re paying attention to what they’re doing and that we are invested in that community too. It’s just another way for us to stay in the discussion, and it keeps our 30+-year-old brewery relevant in an extremely crowded space.”

Hopewell Brewing joined TikTok in 2021 knowing the potential to expand its social reach.

“Hopewell can reach a larger audience through the TikTok algorithm,” Hopewell’s Samantha Ducey said. TikTok will show a Hopewell video to someone that follows other breweries or beer-related content. Not only does it allow us to give people a sense of who we are but it serves the functional purpose of information sharing.”

So knowing that TikTok is growing incredibly fast and is an easy way to reach thousands of people, do breweries need to be on TikTok?

“(Breweries) don’t need to be on TikTok,” Veliky said. “To be on TikTok you have to have someone in your organization that is into TikTok and consumes it themselves. If you’re not understanding the platform, you’re not going to do well with it.”

The Right Person

Veliky was able to get a position created at Revolution for an individual that would be dedicated to short form video, not just for TikTok but for all of its networks. Veliky himself is on TikTok as BeerAficiando, and said that to be successful on TikTok you have to use the app to view and understand the content on the app, and can’t simply go on there to create content. 

Part of the app is to take part in trends that go viral across the platform. Whether it’s a specific sound, meme, or filter, there are opportunities to quickly jump on a trend and get more exposure.

“One thing that sets TikTok apart from other platforms is its embrace of meme culture,” Ritterspach said. “Trends can take off on any social platform, but memes are part of TikTok’s DNA. Using trending hashtags, sound effects, or filters to create content can feel fresh if you add your own twist to it. In the year we’ve been on TikTok, some of our best-performing TikToks have utilized some sort of trending sound or meme. That said, some of these trends feel very exclusive to TikTok.”

Amy Jones, Master of Marketing & Planner of Plans at District Brew Yards which houses four breweries, has been running its TikTok for a few years now. She spends time understanding trends on the platform, finding the right sounds, and taking the time to create content. 

“TikTok is still the Wild West of social media platforms, and we’re still learning about it all the time, especially from a business perspective,” Jones said. “We spend a lot of time on the app to figure out trending sounds to use in the context of the Brew Yards. It takes the pressure off trying to come up with original content all the time. We dedicate a couple days a month to filming with lots of those favorited sounds and saving them in drafts to be used throughout the month.”

Blind Pig Brewery’s Michael Heldebrandt has been in charge of the brewery’s TikTok and overall social presence.

“TikTok has become just about my favorite social media platform,” he said. “I saw TikTok as a great, fun, new tool to introduce some video storytelling to our brand. I wish that I had jumped on board with TikTok earlier.”

While other social networks might just need a well done photo and a good description to garner likes, TikTok is different.

“It’s time-consuming,” Jones said. “You need to spend time watching a lot of videos to find out what’s popular, and then you need to think about how those trends fit into your brand.”

The time commitment needed was a big reason why Veliky pushed so hard to have a dedicated person at Revolution. While the brewery has a TikTok account active, it’s not as successful as he knows it can be.

“We didn’t have the right person to spend the amount of time making it successful, but didn’t want to ignore it and have it not exist,” Veliky said. “Anything you’ve seen that account thus far is just a random idea we did when we had the time.”

Quality conent creators, though, are hard to find.

“These people are huge in demand right now,” Veliky said. “They can do really well for themselves if they can show the ability to play in the space. I’d encourage breweries not to undervalue how important this is and how much a person who can do this well is worth. Some would immediately declare this an entry level position. You want someone who’s familiar with the app and it tends to skew younger but it doesn’t have to. It shouldn’t come at the lowest entry level cost.” 

But having the right person is just the first step. Now you need to ensure you have content.

Content

There is a pretty stark difference between the content that works on TikTok and the other social networks.

Brands are quickly finding out that highly produced and edited content might perform well on places like Facebook and Instagram, but that content doesn’t do as well on TikTok. 

Heldebrandt noticed that his highly thought-out content that he thought would perform well wasn’t, while easy low-effort videos reach a much larger audience.

“If I spend a lot of time shooting, editing, tweaking, and perfecting a video and the whole time I’m thinking…’this is it. This is the one that’s gonna get so many views’, and then it doesn’t do anything,” Heldebrandt said. “But a quick, no-effort video of just me driving in a car with the windows down gets the most views we’ve had on TikTok.”

Breweries hoping to repurpose content from the other social networks will face the harsh reality that that content usually won’t perform as well on TikTok. Having someone who understands TikTok is incredibly important because it operates differently than Instagram or Facebook.

“I knew a big part of my role would be to tell a cohesive story of our concept,” Jones said. “If breweries and other small businesses want to start a TikTok, they must have someone truly excited to champion the platform. Once you get the hang of it, you’ll quickly find sounds and videos that align with your brand.”

The key, according to Jones, is to try a lot of different types of content and find out what works for your brand. But also, don’t be discouraged if some content falls flat.

“Not everything is going to perform well on the app, but make it anyway,” she said. “TikTok allows you to share directly to other platforms, and we always reshare to Instagram, where we get great engagement from our followers.”

Great Lakes had a TikTok account for an entire year before posting any content. They didn’t want to rush into it and took that time to learn more about the app.

“It took time for me to understand how TikTok could be used,” Ritterspach said. “A Great Lakes account was registered for a solid year before we ever posted, and I spent a lot of that time observing the platform. I’m happy I did. It’s tempting to rush into such a red hot platform, but giving myself time to sit back and watch allowed me to think about how Great Lakes might fit into the world of TikTok. It’s easy to lose your brand voice on such a trend-heavy platform, so I’m thankful we took a moment to figure out how we might participate in a way that made sense for us.”

When it comes to content it’s ok for brands to be silly on TikTok. Content doesn’t have to be well-polished. Brands just showing a video of a beer that’s being released is good every so often, but it can’t be the focal point for the account.

“I see way too many hype videos, like people canning a beer,” Veliky said. “Occasionally one will blow up if it’s showing you the entire process, but a sweaty can dripping with condensation and the can rotating to exotic music – that is an example of old Instagram material. They probably made it for Instagram and threw it up on TikTok. We’re 100% guilty of that too.”

Thinking outside the box and doing something you might event think is ridiculous can blow up.

“When breweries were first allowed to do home delivery to customers, as a one-time goof, I put on an inflatable T-Rex costume and delivered some beer to a friend in the Blind Pig Brewing company vehicle,” Heldebrandt said. “Well, apparently people saw that and started calling and requesting that the dinosaur, dubbed #DelTheDeliverasaurus, deliver beer to their homes.  And that was my life for about 3 months. We got a lot of publicity in the local newspapers and local TV stations for finding a creative way to keep the business going.”

To help with content, finding trending sounds or hashtags is an easy way to get the account going. By scrolling through the main page of TikTok, called the For You Page, content creators can get ideas from other breweries or businesses and create unique pieces for their page.

“A good strategy is to think about TikTok trends as a way to find your page for the first time,” Veliky said. “That’s how you get on FYP, embrace a trend, make a point or add humor that has intention and that’s even better. It’s OK to admit you want to build a following. Do the trends.” 

But one theme from everyone running brewery TikToks was clear – keep posting.

Consistency

While having a consistent presence is important on any social platform, perhaps none is more important than being consistent on TikTok.

“The way you get found on TikTok is to be consistent and be out there a lot and try a lot of things knowing some things will fall flat,” Veliky said. “Some quick silly thing will blow up. You do it by a lot of repetition.”

With Instagram putting more of an emphasis on Instagram Reels, being consistent on TikTok has provided Brew Yards with more content for Instagram where they have more of a following.

“We’re no huge TikTok success story, but we are consistent,” Jones said. “We only have 370 TikTok followers. Our videos typically only get around 200 views on TikTok. But, on Instagram Reels, that same video will average a 33% engagement rate with our following. That engagement is unheard of and makes the effort totally worth it. More of our following is on Instagram, that’s where they see us, that’s where we’re growing and that’s totally fine.”

Other social networks do require more consistent publishing to build a following, but that could be just a few times a week to daily, but not much more than that. Some of the most successful TikTok creators and several TikTok coaches (yes, they’re real) recommend posting 3-5 times per day. Now that level of content might not achievable for every business, but it shows how important it is to have content go out all the time.

Even with being consistent, breweries shouldn’t expect to see their followers explode overnight. Make the content they like, have fun with it, and overtime the following will grow.

“Whether or not we have a huge following or get a ton of views or interactions on this platform yet, hearing that people enjoy our content is pretty rewarding,” Heldebrandt said. 

TikTok in 2022

All the breweries I spoke to are excited about the potential of TikTok in 2022. They’ll continue posting content throughout the year and keeping the account active, which is priority number one. But also understand that it might not work for every brewery.

“Though it does make video creation easier, creating for TikTok still takes time if you want to do it well, and some breweries may not have the bandwidth,” Ritterspach said. “I have to imagine there are a lot of brewers out there thinking “I can barely keep up with creating content for Facebook and Instagram, and now you want me to do this?” That’s certainly a thought that crossed my mind, but the idea of starting at zero and building up something new was exciting.”

Brew Yards introduced some reoccurring “characters” in 2021 and those characters, like The Beer Bros of Summer, will return in 2022. They also use the app to really promote and highlight their Advent Calendar, which they plan to do next year as well.

Blind Pig is going through some big shifts as a business right now, and Heldebrandt knows that TikTok might be one of the best places to showcase those changes and have people connect to them.

For Revolution, with its new employee in place, they’ll put a greater emphasis on TikTok with more consistent content than ever.

“We’re about to go on with a full on blitz in the new year,” Veliky said. “Anything thus far is just a random idea when we had time.”

Hopewell is hoping to bring more beer education to its TikTok account while still promoting the beers they’re releasing.

“The most useful application of TikTok has been in marketing; we can quickly make short “commercials” for our beers, merchandise and taproom that are cost-effective,” Ducey said. “The plan in 2022 is to keep engaging with our audience as much as possible. We’ll be posting about our exciting new beers, our classic favorites and maybe dive a little deeper into some beer education TikToks.”

One thing is for sure – for an app that didn’t get a lot of attention a couple of years ago, TikTok’s presence in the brewing space is growing.

“When I first started my account I got laughed at,” Veliky said. “I’m getting laughed at less now. Still getting laughed at – but less.”


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