TikTok is a place for dancing, lip-synching, duets, sea-shanties and … craft beer?
For both breweries and beer lovers, Facebook, Instagram or Twitter have long beer online communities frequented by those eager to snap, chat and dissect beer. But, if TikTok is the fastest-growing social media platform in the world, surely craft beer is on there?
And, if people are talking beer on there, should breweries be on there too?
“It’s a portal for interaction with your consumers and people like to drink and be on their phones,” says Alex Kidd, founder of the popular American beer site, DontDrinkBeer.
Before looking at #beertok, however, let's begin with a brief explainer.
The video-sharing platform is owned by the Chinese company ByteDance and was launched as Douyin in 2016. While it still bears that name in China, the global rise of TikTok began in 2017; it has been reported as having 800 million active users worldwide.
Originally the user experience on TikTok was focused on lip-synching but, today, the videos shared across the platform featuring anything and everything, including live streams akin to Twitch or Instagram Live.
Much has been made of the impressive algorithm that sits behind TikTok. Effectively, it's a type of AI that continually learns to serve new videos that become increasingly tailored to you. The app’s landing page is called the For You page and TikTok prioritises videos it thinks you want to discover over those made by accounts you follow. If the AI isn’t dystopian enough for you, think of it as a social media platform where you don’t need a single friend or have to follow any page to spend hours scrolling.
What TikTok does have a focus on is being social on the app, through Duets between accounts, and sharing audio grabbed from others, while the filters and effects you can add to your video are impressive and diverse. Posting and editing videos on it is fairly simple while the length of posts is limited to one minute, with most running a fair way shorter than that.
If you use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram then you’ve likely seen TikTok videos shared across those platforms; Instagram Reels was introduced last year largely as a way to compete with TikTok’s rise.
But, as one Generation Z brewery worker said recently: Instagram Reels remains a far sadder, Walmart version of TikTok. Though he’s unlikely to use the same words, Instagram’s head said earlier this year he wasn’t quite happy with Reels either.
All of which brings us to who’s using it. The app is often associated with teenagers and, while it's true they make up a large part of the audience, its user base in Australia is expanding rapidly. Roy Morgan data released last year showed that nearly 2.5 million Australians were using it in June, which accounts to around a million new users in six months. Nearly 70 percent of Australian users are born after 1991, which makes them either members of Gen Z or their successors, Gen Alpha. Each older generation uses it less than the generation born after them.
Right, so now you might be thinking, why should I care about a platform if it’s mostly for kids to show off their dancing? Why would I talk about saisons on TikTok? And can you step back a bit and talk about the sea shanties?
The answer to the last one is no, but as for the others: let’s go.
One Australian finding a beer-loving audience on TikTok is Simon, who runs the account Mighty Sour. At the age of 50, Simon’s a little past Gen Alpha and, with more than 22,000 followers, he's established a following that’s substantially bigger than most Australian brewery social media accounts and the majority of Beerstagramers.
Each and every day, Simon reviews a new sour, though review isn’t a word you’re likely to hear him use.
“I’m not like a sour beer reviewer, I’m more a sour beer experience guy,” Simon says. “I crack it in front of you and I drink it and you get my reaction.”
Simon says he's not a fan of how convoluted and complex beer reviews and ratings can be, so instead he gives a simple rating out of three to let people know how sour the beer is, and he thinks the simplicity works well for the platform.
“I came up with sour beer levels," he says, "the Mighty Sour Sour-O-Meter.”
Working in software engineering, Simon says he pays close attention to new social media platforms and originally launched Mighty Sour on Instagram in March 2019. He wasn’t taken by the platform or the review-based nature of it so relaunched on TikTok close to a year later.
“TikTok is going bananas,” he says. “People want to be happy and I just love to bring the energy and make it a fun thing.
“For me, it’s a very creative outlet. I really enjoy making something different or finding a new way to do it or say it, or a new place to be for it.”
Simon’s sour-focused TikTok is the second he’s made for the platform and he quickly discovered the appeal and amassed followers.
“I became obsessed and I started getting someone followers; it kind of grew slowly but most of my followers came from three reviews.”
Showing how far TikTok’s algorithm can take posts that do the right thing, his reviews of sours from New Zealand brewery Urbanaut have picked up well over 400,000 views, which saw his following skyrocket.
“I went from five, six or maybe seven thousand followers to 15 or 18 [thousand] in three weeks just from those three reviews.”
Simon says he thinks the posts' popularity was driven by the fact so few people had seen a beer like those he was pouring, with Urbanaut’s Beer Blender series featuring two beers, sold stuck together, and designed to be enjoyed as one. Those beers in particular seemed to find Simon an audience in the States, where 70 percent of his audience resides.
One audience he doesn’t really have to date is actual breweries. While the intention was never to receive free beer, breweries sending freebies are a common part of the contemporary beer community, and on Instagram, accounts can be sent beer with far fewer followers.
“I don’t want to play that game or be in that rat race,” Simon says. “The thing we should all be doing is helping these breweries get bigger by promoting them and raising awareness – we owe them, not the other way around."
One brewer who you will find on TikTok, however, is Michael Stanzel, head brewer at Burnley Brewing and the man
tasked with who loves running the brewery’s account. Like about a million other Australians, Michael started using the platform as COVID-19 first swept through Australia.
“The first lockdown happened and I went, ‘well I’ve got nothing else to do so let’s start watching TikToks’,” he says.
Michael says their sales rep Jessie Douglas was the one who suggested creating an account for the brewery and, given the collapse in keg sales nationally, it seemed like a good idea.
“[Jessie is] a Gen Z and really into TikTok and wanted Burnley to get one because it could be funny,” Michael says.
“There were no more rules during lockdown; we had to do anything we could to get beer to people since we’d lost pretty much all of our pub revenue.”
The Melbourne brewery has even drawn inspiration from TikTok for some of its beer names, with their fruited lager series referring to trends on the app such as the peach lager It Is What Is and the mango-featuring Take It Ezaa.
Though he needed Jessie to teach him the ins and the outs of the platform, Michael says they felt the brew team using it could offer a genuine peek behind the curtain. It’s similar to their approach with the Instagram account the brewers run called burnleybrewingbehindthebeer – one that's kept separate from their main account.
“That’s us in the brewery with stuff that brewers or homebrewers might relate to, but it’s a bit more niche compared to the normal Burnley one,” he says. “But, still, anyone can watch it and have a laugh or learn something and that’s pretty much the same with our TikTok."
While they’re yet to reach the kind of following enjoyed by Mighty Sour, Michael says they have been connecting to beer fans through it, with 94 percent of their followers Australian.
“We’ve had people asking for stockists in Newcastle and elsewhere in New South Wales,” he says.
Like Simon, Michael has enjoyed fleeting moments of virality: despite having around 250 followers, one of their videos has been viewed nearly 25,000 times.
He says: “I woke up and looked at my phone and there were [more than] 99 notifications and I was like, ‘what the fuck happened?’.”
While it takes time to run the account, he says filming, editing and sharing videos is very straightforward; the fact their team use it anyway makes it’s easy to keep on top of trends too.
“It only takes about ten or 15 minutes to make a video and post it and that’s if we’re being excessive,” he says.
Simon believes breweries should consider joining too, pointing out that any business needs to make sure they’re anywhere they can connect with potential customers.
“I think anyone who cares about their marketing and wants to promote their product needs to be on these platforms,” he says.
One brewery you won’t find on there – at least not for the moment – is Brick Lane. The brewery’s marketing manager Zoe Ottaway has looked into it, but feels it doesn’t currently suit their brand.
“While it’s not right for us now, it’s certainly not something that I wouldn’t keep an eye on and keep learning more about,” she says.
“Just because it’s not great for us now, doesn’t mean it might be in 12 months, or even three years.”
Zoe says Brick Lane's focus is targeted more towards drinkers who are newer to craft beer or who might be considering the category – typically an audience that’s a little older and still not using TikTok.
“They’re not really early adopters of new platforms like TikTok, and they are of an older demographic of where TikTok currently sits,” Zoe says, adding that some older beer drinkers might also be somewhat judgmental of those who do.
“But then they would have been like that with Facebook at one stage and now that’s one of our strongest platforms, but social media changes so quickly.”
She feels that for breweries with younger customers, or those who operate in a similar vein to some of their peers in America, it may well be worth jumping in, but cautions that breweries of all sizes need to be careful how they invest in any social media.
“Every social media platform should be assessed as to who’s on it and who your target consumers are. Social media is such an asset for any business but you don’t have to be on everything to be there for everyone because you’ll just burn yourself out, regardless of how big your business is.
“It’s about if those resources you put into it are going to be seen, which at the end of the day is the question you need to be asking with anything you do marketing wise.”
At Brick Lane, they treat each social media platform differently and find people engage with them differently on Facebook to Instagram.
“There’s no recipe to this stuff, that’s what makes it so fascinating and frustrating,” Zoe says.
Another challenge with TikTok is that the platform is built around short attention spans: users swipe to new videos incredibly quickly. While the videos can’t be longer than 60 seconds, they need to catch your attention in a far smaller timeframe if you want your post to do well.
“You have to be so relatable – immediately – within the first four seconds, or you’re going to get swiped and the algorithm will nerf your content and say it’s not engaging,” says Alex from DontDrinkBeer.
Alex says when he started blogging about beer close to a decade ago, his focus was always on looking for an audience with a longer attention span, focusing on 800-word written reviews. However, character limits, short videos and Instagram Stories mean audience's attention spans are getting shorter and shorter with the rise of TikTok only adding to the change.
“It’s a distillation of the experience," he says. "You have to be able to capture, move quickly, and create more content that hits just as hard for an audience that has a shorter attention spans.”
Alex says he started using the platform more seriously in April last year when COVID quarantine kicked in, despite experiencing the usual trepidations of many in their 30s.
“All the cliches you’re going to hear about the platform from people who don’t have it or don’t go on it; that’s pretty much where I was at,” Alex says.
As a comedian, Alex often satirises certain types of beer nerds and over-the-top releases from hype breweries; he also coined the phrase pastry stout back in 2014 and is as big a proponent of the mantra "Barleywine Is Life" as they come.
When you consider that, to really understand his content, people need to be pretty far down the rabbit hole of craft beer, he admits that, in many ways, TikTok’s isn't his ideal platform. About half of users are under 25 in a country where the legal drinking age is 21 and few of those early legal drinkers care much about craft beer.
Of those users who might care about craft beer, Alex has found there's a broad church, although there aren’t many who would know what a saison or lambic is, or who would have experienced the kind of culture he’s satirising.
“TikTok, in a lot of ways, is the worst thing for me, for my particular art,” he says, adding that, since the platform relies heavily on reusing audio and duets, there's a major copycat mentality.
“You’re fighting for a really small patch of land on a platform where engagement, virality, Stitches, Duet, all these things are part of the parcel.”
So why use it?
“The reason I started using TikTok is to round out a portfolio,” he says. “And to make jokes either didn’t translate well with long videos or with text-based stuff, or to lampoon a type of consumer where it only takes a 15 second joke.”
As a comedian who’s studied improv and worked in sketch comedy and standup, Alex says he enjoys the challenge of TikTok, while as someone who’s experienced when it comes to making videos he has a lot of the skills needed to make the shots work. Compared to the earlier days of DDB, he now approaches a wider audience, whether through his podcast Malt Couture or the different kind of posts he makes online.
“One of the things I took pride in for a long time was essentially alienating people who didn’t understand my content,” Alex says. “It was almost like a badge of pride if you weren’t on a DDB level and couldn’t get my jokes.
“But it’s not a zero sum game, I can still write 500 word beer reviews and have a shotgun approach where I have different types of media to draw people in.
“It’s just a new tool I use to get people to care about beer.”
Compared to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter, Alex doesn't have the same follower base on TikTok, with close to 1,600 followers at the time of writing. He thinks it shows not many of his audience are users, with the TikToks he shares on Instagram often faring better.
He might not feel he’s doing TikTok particularly well, yet he still thinks there’s a place for beer content and for breweries.
“Certainly, every brewery should plant their flag, claim their name and get on there,” he says.
“For breweries, it’s essentially a platform to make very easy, short format commercials.”
He adds: “None of us are going to sit down and click a seven-minute YouTube link that’s like, ‘We got a centrifuge installed.’ You never seek that out,” he says
The rapid nature of content on TikTok might make it a challenge to get knowledge across, but breweries can still use it to show who they are, or how they make a beer, or add guava to a sour.
“Is it going to go crazy viral or is it going to be the kind of thing that people are stitching and using the audio? No. But it almost costs nothing and you can just create that sense of, ‘Here’s who we are.'
“It’s a great platform for attention, the real difficulty is going to be translating that into sales, IP and goodwill.”
It's a message echoed by Zoe.
“We can get so caught up with some technical details, because that’s important to us, that we forget sometimes that people connect with brands for other reasons,” she says.
“I do think they’re a really great way to get across the emotional connections to your brand rather than the rational ones.”
For smaller breweries deeply connected to their community, she says: “I think that’s going to just be a lot more authentic than some of the bigger brands doing anything too polished. At this stage, TikTok’s just not that platform to be polished on, it’s just those small bites that are really easily viewed and enjoyed.”
What's more, compared to Facebook and Instagram, there’s the potential to get a huge amount of reach and early adopters can benefit from becoming industry leaders on the platform.
“Facebook and Instagram are abysmal if you’re a business," Alex says. "It’s a pay-to-play platform where they’ll serve it up to two percent of your followers and then juice you to boost the post.”
So, should breweries consider getting a TikTok? Probably. Should you download it and use it? If you want to waste hours at a time with complete ease.
What's left to say? I'm going to be communicating about beers I like purely on TikTok from now on...