I like to write about social media. I also love craft beer. It’s rare when these passions collide but in the case of what New Belgium Brewing is doing on social media, it’s too cool to avoid. The individuals most responsible for the New Belgium brand on social media — self-proclaimed Social Networking Nerd Michael Bussmann and Brand Activities Manager Adrian Glasenapp — were kind enough to share their brand driven insights with us. 

Disclosure: I drink a lot beer including many New Belgium brews (my personal favorite is plain ol’ Fat Tire). Not sure how this could color my insights but I thought you should know. Cheers!

You said recently that even though New Belgium is the 3rd largest craft brewer, your competition is less the bigger fish like Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada and more niche regional brews. How has social media been helpful at the local level?

Michael Bussmann: Social media allows us to have a large and small presence at the same time. Our regional/city-specific Ranger Facebook pages help us stay relevant in local markets. On the local pages we speak to local, on-the-ground consumers in a way we cannot from the main page. Local events get listed there and the admin at the helm of the local page gets to answer the local drinkers’ questions. What is relevant in the St. Louis beer scene might not make for good content on the broader, main page. Our Rangers that are running these pages live in these markets, so they get to have a strong, localized voice, and speak to their friends, neighbors and NBB consumers.

You have your main Facebook page as well as 38 local pages across 28 states that are maintained by your “Rangers.” Tell us how you handle ceding some of the control over your brand.

Michael: We give the Rangers control. There are a couple/few admins of the main NBB and Fat Tire pages. These couple admins are also admins on the Ranger’s pages, but the content on the local pages is controlled by the Ranger living in that market. They know the region/city better than we do, so it is better that they contribute the regular content. We do have (and are working to improve) a content calendar for things that are nationally relevant: new beer releases, national events, significant NBB cultural happenings, etc. But for the most part the Rangers are handed the keys and told to get after it.

You also have a Facebook page for your most well-known beer, Fat Tire. How do you determine what merits its own social presence and what doesn’t?

Michael: Honestly, the Fat Tire page started very organically, and on its own. That page was created by a fan and it grew and grew. Facebook has a regulation that states if a product based page reaches 30,000 fans the brand behind that product has to become involved. So we got involved. The fan that created the page is still an admin and regular contributor, but at that 30,000 fan mark we had to join up with him. There are lots of other New Belgium-based fan pages out there that our drinkers have started, but other than the Fat Tire page, none have hit the fan numbers requiring us to be involved. We like the fun nature of our fans running the show on the beers they enjoy.

Can you tell us about some of the custom apps you’ve used to enhance your Facebook pages?

Adrian Glasenapp: Our Mighty Arrow Social Collaboration (Spring 2010) is likely our best custom app to date. We teamed up with Outside Magazine and our respective local humane societies here in Fort Collins and there in Santa Fe (Outside HQ). We promoted the app on the seasonal beer back labels and invited people to share images of themselves enjoying their favorite seasonal beer with their best friend. People uploaded over 10,000 images and we gained a heap of likes and so did the Outside Facebook page. At the end of the day it was fun for our fans and we got to give back to our community.

The Mighty Arrow campaign perfectly illustrates how New Belgium continues to lead craft beer in engagement, creative utilization, integration, content and most importantly: collaboration. Our team, comprised of both internal and external players, will continue to innovate and experiment with custom social media applications, campaigns and contests that are compelling thousands to comment, upload, like, share and put themselves at the center of our brand story.

You recently came up with an interesting means of measuring the value of your Facebook community. Can you tell us a bit about that?

Adrian: “Interesting” — nice choice! It’s simple. We asked our fans how much New Belgium beer they buy. We did the math. Its obvious that being able to connect directly with your brand advocates and have conversations (and seek feedback) with them is extremely valuable. We were just trying to get some numbers behind this value. At the end of the day it was a survey and surveys have their faults just like every measurement system relegated to marketing. We will keep trying new things and asking questions. It’s important to stay curious around your consumer, especially to say relevant and lead on social. Monetizing an audience allows you to justify more resources. Ultimately we want to keep our fans engaged, interested and stoked, you need resources to do that.

Social media is moving target for brands. What’s next for New Belgium?

Michael: We are continuing our constant and consistent interaction on Facebook and upscaling our Twitter presence. In terms of the new, we are really hitting Instagram (@NewBelgium) pretty hard. We have 5 folks located around the country that are all chipping in on the photo content and follower interaction. We thought it best to split the visual eyes for a better overall aesthetic and more points of view. And then we are trying to figure a plan on Untappd. They recently started allowing breweries to manage their own content for check-in-able beers. It has been a bit of work to just get in there and clean up double entries and fix statistics and the like. We would like to dive in further, but we need a plan, and that is what were trying to wrap our heads around presently. Also, we would like to push the NBB blog a bit further. Take some risks, get more regular readers and give our drinkers a good sense of what’s happening around here.

If there’s one word you could use to sum up the benefit that New Belgium gets from social media, what would it be and why?

Michael: Relationships. Social media allows us to have conversations with our drinkers and develop relationships with our fans.

Thanks Michael and Adrian! If I had to pick a favorite line from this interview it has to be, “We like the fun nature of our fans running the show on the beers they enjoy.” Talk about building a community.

How are you empowering your fans to be a part of the conversation around your brand on social media? Is there control you can cede in favor of long-term benefits to your community?

Photo via Flickr user betsyweber