Social media on tap

November 23rd, 2009 by Kirsten Mortensen

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Today’s guest blog comes from Kirsten Mortensen, a marketing communications strategist based in Rochester, N.Y. who – in the cause of investigating social media best practice – has found herself in the pub…

Many businesses today are wondering whether to invest in social media.

Others are pretty sure they need social media-but haven’t quite figured out how to do it.

And then you have people like Joe McBane, who have taken to social media so naturally it’s become a seamless extension of his business.

Granted, McBane is in the hospitality industry-and if any industry is ready-made for social media, this would be it.

McBane owns the Tap & Mallet, a two-year-old pub in Rochester, New York.

Rochester, if you’re unfamiliar, is a community in the United States “rust belt” best known as the hometown of the iconic film company, Eastman Kodak. McBane himself, however, isn’t a Rochester native. He’s a Sheffield, UK transplant who first put down roots as bar manager at The Old Toad, Rochester’s studied version of the authentic British pub. His Tap & Mallet is something altogether different, however: more an American-style neighborhood bar-but with a decidedly upscale and 21st century focus on craft beers.

McBane’s pub also happens to appeal to a demographic perfectly suited to a social media-based marketing strategy. His customers are students and young professionals-exactly the people who tend to have Twitter accounts and Facebook pages, who follow blogs and reach for Google, not the phone book, when they’re planning their weekends.

And McBane is a natural marketer. He loves his business and loves telling people about it.

These caveats notwithstanding, McBane’s experience proves that social media can pay off richly for business owners who take the time to use it.

His strategy is multi-pronged. He has a website, where he publishes his beer and food menus. Because Tap & Mallet’s selection of draft beers changes continually, the site gives customers an easy way to check what’s on tap.

His website also hosts a blog, where McBane posts short articles on the pub and on any topic that strikes his fancy-any topic, that is, that relates back to beer. The blog serves two purposes. It lets customers stay in touch with McBane and his pub. And it serves up a growing collection of beer-related content. That, in turn, contributes to Tap & Mallet’s respectable Google rank: if you search for “beer + Rochester New York”, the pub’s home page appears within the first five or six results.

But it’s Twitter where McBane most clearly demonstrates the power of social media. A year after opening his Twitter account, McBane has cultivated over 500 followers. He’s also recently launched a Tap & Mallet iPhone app that followers can use to check the pub’s menu and even place orders if they want.

Sometimes his tweets are links to web articles about craft beers. (He uses hash tags on terms like “craft beer” and “Rochester” to help people find his tweets via the software’s search function.)

For the majority of his tweets, however, McBane has one goal in mind: give followers an excuse to drop by for a pint. His selection of draft beers is continually rotating, for instance. So McBane tweets when new beers go on tap. He tweets updates when he’s holding an event-a beer social or a pig roast or a tasting. And he tweets Twitter-only specials.

“People like the exclusivity,” he says.

McBane, for his part, likes the fact that it’s marketing with a clear and tangible effect. He’ll broadcast a secret word that customers can use to get a special price-and within an hour or two, fifteen or twenty people will show up.

It’s marketing with measurable results.

But there’s more to it than that. Social media allows McBane to extend Tap & Mallet into the virtual world. “We’re a beer and food community,” he says-and adds that it’s also a business where you “live or die” on your regulars. By making it easy to stay in touch with his customers, social media helps ensure Tap & Mallet regulars return. Regularly.

And it costs McBane pennies-a couple minutes of phone time, his web hosting fees. Nor does he invest huge amounts of time-maybe 20 minutes a day, on average. Convenience, in fact, is a priority. He recently installed a Facebook app so he can update his Facebook page from his phone. His website beer menu doubles as his on-site beer menu-when he needs new copies of the print menu, he prints them out from the site. That way he only needs to update the menu in one place.

McBane hasn’t abandoned conventional marketing altogether. He generally has one print ad running at any given time in one of Rochester’s local weeklies. That, no doubt, helps him reach people who wouldn’t find him on Twitter or Facebook.

But print is a static media, and McBane understands the lure of variety. Even outside the sphere of social media, he gravitates toward marketing ideas that build on the same kind of novelty afforded by a constantly changing beer menu. His pub doubles as a gallery space for local artists, for instance. This generates good will in the local arts community (most artists sell at least one or two pieces per show). It gives customers something to talk about. But equally important, it ensures that the pub walls are periodically refreshed. “You hang pictures on your wall in your house, and after awhile, you don’t see them any more,” he says. “It’s the same here, for our regulars.” Swapping out the art every few months injects a bit of proverbial spice into the pub’s atmosphere.

McBane also recently purchased a 1956 Austin Princess limousine on EBay. (You can see pictures of him towing it to Rochester from New Hampshire ) “It needs some mechanical work and a re-spray,” he says-a paint job that will include adding the Tap & Mallet logo. “I’ll have it on the road next summer.”

At first glance, using an antique car as a marketing tool might seem a world apart from Twitter.

But it’s not. For McBane, a cool old car is all about personality-or perhaps more precisely personableness: a means of connecting, on a personal level, with customers.

And it works. “We grew our business during a recession,” he says. How much? “I would have been happy with this rate of growth in any economy.”

Yes, social media takes a bit of creative flair. And yes, it helps when your target market is social media-savvy. But as Joe McBane has found, for a relatively small investment of time and money, tools like blogging and Twitter and Facebook can seed genuine word-of-mouth-and deliver a measurable benefit to a business’ bottom line.

6 Responses to “Social media on tap”


  1. Craig McGill Says:

    The beer and spirits sector seems to have taken well to digital. Here in Scotland, you’ve got the likes of Brewdog reaching out via online – http://www.brewdog.com – and the whisky company Whyte and Mackay broke the story of their whisky being at the south pole via Twitter, podcasts and their blog at http://www.themasterblender.com


  2. Jon Clements Says:

    Craig
    Thanks for your comments.
    I like the tag cloud on the Whyte and Mackay site: WHISKY. Says it all really – doing what it says on the bottle!


  3. Ross Says:

    Joe Mcbane is a great example, with all the different ways he’s experimenting with promoting his brand. It not just shows how social media should be embraced, but all promotional, PR avenues that many are unsure or not intrepid enough to integrate into their current strategy.

    Mcbane is what a company needs if they don’t have any any employees willing to try out social media. It’s an art as well as a science.


  4. Kirsten Says:

    Craig, Tap & Mallet had Brewdog’s Dogma beer on draft last week.

    Right now they have a beer that BrewDog and Stone did together, “BASHAH Belgian Black Double IPA.”

    Joe also has a short Brewdog write-up on his menu & blog where he tells the story of Brewdog’s “Nanny State” beer. Very funny :-)


  5. Kirsten Says:

    I agree with you, Ross, about the “art vs. science” point. That’s really true of a lot of things small businesses do, however. They often don’t have the resources to number-crunch every decision — instead they combine educated guesses with gut instinct. The downside is that many fail (they say over 80 percent). The good news about social media is that small businesses can try it without risking a lot of money out-of-pocket. As long as they’re willing to invest the time . . .


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