Social Need-ia

Social media may be older than you think. Examining its timeline, its roots can be found as far back as 1973 when ‘Talkomatic’ was first launched at the University of Illinois. A tentative, but brave first step, into a world where students could connect almost instantly. Little did they know, they were the forerunners for what has now become an almost entirely connected the world. Things have changed since those early days, though. They’ve changed a lot.

The early 2000’s welcomed in a new age of technology and social media platforms. Despite it not being the first on the scene in 2004 (remember when Myspace was a thing?) Facebook has rapidly taken over other businesses and, more worryingly, our lives. Now owning other everyday apps such as WhatsApp, Instagram and Oculus our reliance on the company (now named Meta) is more evident than ever. The same can be said for our much-loved craft beer industry too…

However, it seems that there may be turbulent times ahead especially when it comes to Facebook and Instagram. Why? The dreaded ‘A’ word; algorithm. For those unfamiliar with the photo-led platform, Instagram is almost unique in its approach to how people use it and interact with one another. Beer Twitter has a strong beer community, but it is almost entirely text and conversation driven whilst Facebook has groups and small pockets of various communities and interests.

Instagram however, originally setup for the photogenic food community, operates almost independently by bringing people across similar interests together with an ever-so complicated algorithm based on followers, accounts followed, hashtag usage, geographic location and liked content. Just to name a few variables.

But recently, this algorithm has betrayed those who rely on it so heavily. Businesses who depend on the platform to announce new beers, upcoming events and, ultimately drive sales, are bearing the brunt of Instagram’s programming. Businesses such as Beers of America, North Brewing and Brew York have had accounts restricted and even banned for posting content that seemingly is doing no harm.

At the time of writing, Beers of America and North are back fully operational, however Brew York are currently sat in Instagram jail. All of which have had no justification or reasoning as to why, or what guidelines they have broken, with no apology for the time they have wrongly served. But it begs the question now, if Instagram and Facebook are beginning to restrict or even block beer content, where does this leave those companies and other breweries like them?

Instagram is a phenomenal tool for breweries to convey their message & show off their latest wares and, dare I say it, use their fans and ‘influencers’ (insert shudder here) to further spread their good word. With beer being such a visual product, Instagram is the perfect fit for showing off the latest hazy IPA, barrel-aged stout or strikingly vibrant sour beer. What’s more, writers such as myself depend on Instagram to promote articles such as this in order to further promote the good work being done within the UK’s independent brewing scene. If we can’t showcase that, how will people find out about new beers or breweries looking to break onto the scene?

Generally speaking, there are more active users and followers on Instagram compared to Twitter too, leaving a huge hype-sized gap that once may have existed if this platform becomes insistent on shutting down accounts, or worse, permanently excludes them. Sure people can head to a breweries website and shop to keep up to date with their latest releases or check their inbox for the latest mailer, but let’s be honest who does that these days? We’re a fickle and lazy bunch, wanting everything in one place, with minimal effort required to connect us to our hobbies and source of entertainment.

When it works, Instagram’s algorithm is a great thing. Its timeline works organically so, if you’ve liked, commented or shared a profile’s posts before, when a new one is posted it’ll put it at the top of your refreshed feed. Unlike Twitter’s chronological format, it brings bespoke news and posts your attention. Yes Twitter has a recommended setting where it shows recommended content, but I’ve never used it so I don’t know how this works in comparison. But, again, when Twitter is more text driven than image driven, the user’s first reaction isn’t ‘oh my god look at that new beer!’ Their limit on characters and inability to edit posts doesn’t help either.

This isn’t an anti-Twitter post either, it’s more an awareness piece that, with breweries having so many followers on Instagram, how many would move over to Twitter? Would they reach the same number of people and grow in the same way? With companies like BrewDog the only ones who have huge marketing campaigns, capable of making it into mainstream advertising and media, this presents a potentially huge problem for our beloved craft producers. How do they advertise and where? Does craft beer need its own platform where breweries are free to showcase their latest wares? Or do Facebook and Instagram need to accept the craft movement for what it is, and limit its tirade on people trying to make a living.

Particularly in months like January, where our industry can be decimated, and the current worldwide effect of Covid dissuading people from going out as much as they once may have done, it feels like beer might need its own safe space. A place free of bans, algorithm worries and bots that constantly spam comments and inboxes with irrelevant & inappropriate content. Or Instagram could just use its powers for good and shut down said bots, spam accounts and those in contravention of the community guidelines…

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