Facebook fans really "like" New Belgium beer -- so much so that they account for half the brewery's annual sales.
While it's tough for brands to value Facebook fans, the No. 3 U.S. craft brewer has a pretty good idea: It estimates its Facebook fans are responsible for $50.7 million in yearly sales. That's why the Fort Collins, Colo.-based brewer goes the extra mile when it comes to social and event marketing. It has made a notable investment in its Facebook presence, enlisting local salespeople (called "Rangers" in company parlance) to update 38 local pages across 28 states and Washington, D.C., and investing in custom apps and experiences. It also strategically targets Facebook ads to existing fans of its main page -- now 211,000 fans strong, compared with 138,000 and 134,000 for the No. 1 and No. 2 in the craft-beer category, Samuel Adams and Sierra Nevada -- to drive them to local pages for their region.
Since the market for craft beer is inherently regional, New Belgium considers Sam Adams to be less of a competitor than much more obscure breweries in its local markets. This is where a regional Facebook presence comes in handy -- especially when New Belgium is eyeing new markets like Michigan, where it will begin distributing this summer.
"With these pages that essentially become Ranger blogs, we're really able to talk about what we're doing locally," said Adrian Glasenapp, New Belgium's director-advertising and social media. "They highlight the fact that we have sales reps who live in these communities and work with local nonprofits [offering sponsorships]."
Rangers aren't required to follow a content schedule, Mr. Glasenapp said, with the exception of certain national-level content like an interview with Kim Jordan, New Belgium's charismatic CEO. Updates to Facebook can be done at their discretion and veer away from the topic of beer. For example, recent posts on New Belgium's Missouri page, 2,000 fans strong, include a status update addressing Missouri's recent win over Kansas in college football and an Instagram photo of an early-blooming flower in a St. Louis park.
"We want to use everything we do to brand nationally, but then activate it locally," said Greg Williams, media director for Backbone Media, New Belgium's agency that helped it conceptualize its social-media strategy three years ago, when it set the goal of attaining 100,000 fans. He noted that the local pages are supported with contests and custom Facebook apps such as "Catch a Foodbuzz," which helps users discover food pairings for New Belgium beers.
New Belgium now has 42,000 local fans in 38 markets and 400,000 across all of its Facebook pages, including 107,000 for Fat Tire, its best-known beer. It set out to figure out how valuable they are this fall by asking Facebook fans to fill out a survey, which nearly 3,000 completed.
Based on the findings, they concluded that the typical fan bought $260 worth of New Belgium beer per year, assuming that respondents drank 10 beers a week and that New Belgium made up 25% of their consumption, which adds up to $50.7 million spent yearly by unique Facebook fans.
New Belgium committed roughly $235,000 to its social-media presence last year that was mostly dedicated to Facebook, including both app development and advertising. However, most of its marketing budget still goes to print buys in national titles such as Wired, Rolling Stone and Men's Journal; niche publications dedicated to topics like cycling; and alternative weeklies and other regional titles.
"Traditional paid media is still super-important in terms of scalability and acquiring new customers," Mr. Glasenapp said.
New Belgium is looking to up its spending on digital in 2012, and its four seasonal beers that used to rely heavily on print will now be advertised exclusively on digital and social channels. It's also shifting resources into digital for the planned April 1 launch of a new beer, Shift, and broadening its focus beyond Facebook. Upward of $1 million is going into the launch, with 19% allocated to digital and social. That includes mobile ads and $10,000 to $15,000 in 10 different markets for a branded Pandora "Shift" station with a selection of music to play during and immediately after work.
Mr. Glasenapp says New Belgium will also invest more in custom Facebook apps, since "content is the driving force" for the brand's success on the platform.