Organizations and businesses may reveal their marketing strategies through their social media presence and efforts. Social networks, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, provide opportunities for organizations to engage with audiences using specific types of messages, revealing clues as to their marketing objectives and target audience. Though sales and revenue may be the underlying goal, organizations must also learn to do more and interact with their followers to elevate their program. Scott (2015) provides insight, where an effective organization “uses the channels to actually engage with customers rather than try to sell products” (p. 289).
Firestone Walker Brewing Company
As one of more than a thousand microbreweries in California, Firestone Walker Brewing Company (Firestone Walker), has emerged as the sixth-largest in the state centrally located in the city of Buellton (Richey & Watson, 2013). Firestone Walker develops dozens of craft beers, creating a wide offering of ales, pilsners, stouts, IPAs, as well as many limited-edition releases. Firestone Walker employs the craftsmanship and methodologies of the finest wineries, using aged barrels for many of their prized beers—some with an ABV (Alcohol by Volume) of 14% or more (Firestone Walker Brewing Company, 2020).
Social Media Activity
Firestone Walker leverages social media networks to help convey messaging and grow their following. Though the company was established more than two decades ago developing wines, their renowned Barrelworks brewery, founded in 2013 (Wolinski, 2019), has established a consistent social following, which is evident in the number of followers among Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
As of late March, 2020, the Firestone Walker Facebook page (https://www.facebook.com/firestone.walker/) boasts approximately 108,100 likes with over 111,900 followers (Firestone Walker Brewing Company, 2020), which compared to Twitter and Instagram, appears to be the platform they may have invested most. The social platform Twitter (https://twitter.com/firestonewalker) maintains 82K Firestone Walker followers (Firestone Walker Brewing Company, 2020) with an additional 236K supporters following on Instagram (https://www.instagram.com/firestonewalker/) social platform (Firestone Walker Brewing Co., 2020). Based on the consistency and style of messaging among these platforms, it is more likely that some level of agency resources are being employed to maintain social communications.
Using a web archive service, such as the Wayback Machine, records indicate Firestone Walker had 70.2K followers on Twitter five years ago (web.archive.org, 2015), revealing a follower increase of approximately 15% over five years. On Instagram, archives indicate a 33% percent increase (web.archive.org, 2015). However, this doubling of Instagram followers over Twitter does not suggest an alternate marketing strategy, whereby using hashtags, “anybody can see and like your [Instagram] post — even users not following you,” which can indicate diluted data (Smith, 2019, para. 27). Archived data was not attainable for Facebook pages via the archive.
Based on the activities of these social networks, Firestone Walker has been most active in promoting their brewery between 2011 and 2013. This activity may have contributed to the extensive site traffic in 2014, according to archives of firestonebeer.com (web.archive.org, 2020), which records crawl activity—a likely indicator of overall site activity. Facebook activity may have contributed to an additional increase in traffic site in 2016, the year these social networks appear to have gained the most followers based on archived data. Since 2017, follower growth activity has decreased or reached a plateau.
Messaging for Firestone Walker extends beyond the promotion of beer and offers, instead, they focus on lifestyle imagery and brand—depictions of people, friends, places, and activities that include the brand and its many labels. These messages were consistent across all three social platforms, which indicate an underlying strategy that targets active and adventurous (younger) audiences with aspiring images that promote the value of friends, mutual values, and well-photographed beer.
This approach is consistent with other companies marketing spirits and alcohol, which work to, “embed alcohol brands as “friends,” utilizing “real-world tie-ins and blurring the lines between user and alcohol brand-generated content” (Niland, McCreanor, Lyons, & Griffin, 2017, p. 273). Research also indicates three prominent themes linking online marketing of alcohol and social media, including: “friendship endorsements and invitations, shared friendship fun, and intrusions into friendship activities” (p. 277), which was evident in Facebook. A recent Firestone Walker Instagram post embodies the approach by supporting a local 27-year-old motocross rider. “Here at Firestone Walker, we celebrate the people who pursue their passions in the same way we pursue our passion for beer: wholeheartedly and thoroughly. Dylan Gordon – filmmaker, photographer, artist, adventurer – is one of those people” (Firestone Walker, 2020).
Kindness (2018) describes follower engagement as a matter of interaction. “It only takes a second to tap the ‘like’ button, but typing out a comment requires time and thought. When someone leaves a comment, it shows that you’ve really caught their interest and connected with them in some way” (para. 39). This metric may help to identify opportunities that organizations can adopt, where ratios of likes-to-followers are low. On Twitter, Firestone Walker publishes one to four tweets per day, however their likes are in the low teens—a dismal number for the 82,000 Twitter followers or the 1,800 or so users Firestone Walker is following. According to Kindness of Agency Analytics, their engagement rate is only 0.024% for their average tweet—dividing likes by total followers.
Firestone Walker’s Facebook engagement fairs somewhat better for some posts, but still lacks replies and comments. For example, a message of support regarding the recent COVID-19 viral outbreak yielded 205 likes on Facebook, but only seven comments and twenty-one shares. Written as a message from the brewery’s founders, David and Adam, it lacked a reason for audiences to continue the conversation, perhaps offering similar sentiments of strength and perseverance with personal examples.
As a whole, the social media marketing apparatus of Firestone Walker likely grew as the company grew rather than being the success of a highly effective social media strategy. While it is also possible that the underlying approach was simply to emphasize memorable brand personas, such as capturing moments and mood akin to the Marlboro Man (See Figure 1.), or Dose Equis’ Most Interesting Man (or Woman) in the World, Firestone Walker still has an opportunity to differentiate. Honigman (2020) addresses social stagnation by developing engaging messaging—promoting engaging topics, stories, comedic life-hacks, etc. to help “carve out a niche for itself with its customers beyond promoting its products” (00:48), while, “ensuring they’re engaging, relevant and complementary (01:14). By creating goals for engagement using social media, Firestone Walker stands to benefit from a more national audience, hence developing greater demand for their products.
As such, Firestone Walker may benefit from more captivating stories such as questions they can pose to their followers that incite conversation, challenges and contests that promote offline activities, and recommendations for venues and special occasions for the pairing of their beers, which can all invoke the notion that Firestone Walker is not just another established brewery, but one that integrates with personal lives, communities, and the world. With growth in mind, they should consider what audiences expect on social media and who may be engaging elsewhere, which indicates an opportunity to do more through social interactions. Appropriately, social media channels such a Facebook, Twitter and Instagram are more intended to engage with audiences than ever, paving the way to a more customer-centered, exchange.
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@FirestoneWalker. (2020). Your Next Adventure Awaits [Instagram Post]. Retrieved from https://www.instagram.com/p/B81sOBOl2Mh/
Firestone Walker Brewing Company. (2020). Firestone Walker Brewing Co. [Facebook page]. Retrieved from https://www.facebook.com/firestone.walker
Firestone Walker Brewing Company. (2020, March 29). Firestone Walker (@FirestoneWalker). Retrieved from https://twitter.com/firestonewalker
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Firestone Walker Brewing Company. (2020). Twenty-Two. Retrieved from https://www.firestonebeer.com/beers/products/twenty-two
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Kindness, J. (2018, November 1). 7 Instagram Metrics You Must Track to Measure Performance. Retrieved from https://agencyanalytics.com/blog/instagram-metrics-to-measure-success
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Richey, D., & Watson, B. (2013). An Economic Impact Study. Retrieved from http://www.californiacraftbeer.com/files/Economic-Impact-Study-FINAL.pdf
Scott, D. (2015). The new rules of marketing and PR: How to use social media, online video, mobile applications, blogs, news releases, and viral marketing to reach buyers directly (5th ed.). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons.
Smith, K. (2019, September 27). 8 Important Instagram Metrics Every Business Should Track. Retrieved from https://www.lyfemarketing.com/blog/instagram-metrics/
web.archive.org. (2015, November 30). Instagram.com/firestonewalker [web archive]. Retrieved from https://web.archive.org/web/20151130092440/https://www.instagram.com/firestonewalker/
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Wolinski, C. (2019, February 8). 11 Things You Should Know About Firestone Walker Brewing Company. Retrieved from https://vinepair.com/articles/firestone-walker-california-lager/