Maneuvering Your State Laws on Social Media

If a brewery is careful with how they curate a social media account it can provide its consumers with meaningful things to see and talk about, especially on a photo-sharing site like Instagram.

But Four String Brewing‘s Larry Horwitz feels that his brewery’s presence online still has room for improvement.

“But I’m excited about that platform,” the Columbus, Ohio-based brewmaster said.

The messaging can be a mixed bag, he noted. Four String has planned and programmed stuff and they intentionally wrap a plan around that.

“Social media for us is a little fluid in who’s doing it,” he said. “We do a lot of it internally. We use a little third-party expertise for things that frankly were not so great at — getting the right images to the right places at the right time.

“It sounds dumb but sometimes that can be a challenge for a small business and making sure that everything that we’re putting up aligns with our values and shows who we are. Because we want to be authentic about that we don’t want to give the wrong idea about who we are.”

The counter to that is always making sure that the team stays on message, Horwitz added.

“I feel like we’re doing a pretty decent job at that,” he said. “We always have to keep revisiting it because the landscape changes week to week and month to month. But if we’re focusing on that stuff, we feel it’s a good return of our effort and it allows our customers to engage directly with us, which we really like.”

There is a challenge in the state of Ohio for breweries that Horwitz points out. Right now the way the law reads, breweries cannot actively and directly market for its retail partners. That means that bars and restaurants who are selling Four String beer, for example, the brewery cannot provide a thing of value to a different tier above a certain dollar amount a year.

“And that dollar amount is pretty darn low,” Horwitz said.

“If I was to post ‘Hey! I’m at Rusty Bucket (a Columbus restaurant group) across town. We’re tapping our beer this week,’ the state law forbids that. Because that looks like advertising that I’m providing them for free. And currently that’s illegal.

“Now you and I both know that it’s kind of hard to call an Instagram post advertising, and how do you put a dollar amount on that? What’s that worth? If it took our social media person three minutes to put a picture in and a phrase, I think we could actually figure out what the dollar value was. At least the cost to us. Ten bucks maybe? But the state doesn’t currently allow that.”

Horwitz pointed out that a change in that law could have repercussions though.

“Small breweries are always worried about what big breweries will do if the gloves come off in that kind of stuff,” he said. “Those rules exist to protect one large hegemonic organization from just coming into a market and advertising somebody out of business.

“Small breweries struggle with that because it can keep somebody like ABI from coming in and money-whipping the market. But it also ties our hands a little bit on a marketing channel which is, frankly, very cost effective and and will allow us to get and show connections with our customers in a really authentic way.

“So we love the social media channels. They’re vital to our marketing and communication efforts. But we have to walk gently around them.”

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