Social Media Smackdown: Magic Hat vs. Bell’s Beer

I have a highly embarrassing confession to make: I drank a lot of Coors Light in college. I think the beer gods have mostly forgiven me at this point – I was young and stupid! But thankfully I’ve graduated to the world of craft beers and microbrews. I’m currently partial to Magic Hat, brewed in South Burlington, Vt., but my Midwestern pals on Twitter are continually singing the praises of Bell’s Beer out of Kalamazoo, Mich. I can’t find it in Upstate N.Y. and thus I have yet to try it. So since I can’t do a blind taste test, I’ve decided to pit these beers against each other and see how their social media strategies fare in a head-to-head (get it?) competition:


Round 1: Twitter

Both beers are on Twitter: @magichat and @bellsbeer (along with more than 50 other craft beers, btw). So far, despite both acquiring legions of followers, neither brand is terribly engaged with its fans. Here’s the shakedown:

Magic Hat: Following 3,110; Followers 2,829; Tweets 71
@magichat’s first tweet was nearly 11 months ago and so with only 71 Tweets, it’s not a terribly active account. Tweets have included some coupons, a few twitpics of a recent promotional event, a couple of contests, and links to some videos of its brewery. There are some replies sprinkled throughout its Tweetstream, but not many. If you look at @magichat’s statistics from TwitterFriends, it earns a CQ (conversation quotient) score of 14.9 percent, versus a 41.8 percent average. Its LQ (link quotient) is 53.6 percent. Its Twitter rank is 3329 out of 56585.

Bell’s Beer: Following 1,469; Followers 1,509; Tweets 56
@bellsbeer started Tweeting in July of last year and with 56 updates, it’s also not terribly active. It ranks 9500 out of 56585 according to TwitterFriends, but its conversation quotient is much higher than @magichat’s, scoring a 33.3 percent. Its Tweets are primarily informational – where to find their beers, info about beer events they’re attending, answers to questions. But Bell’s Beer does seem to be more engaged with its fans – more replies and a more conversational tone. Its replies tend to be answers to people’s questions on everything from where to find the beer to nutritional information to how to find the date each beer was brewed.
Point: Bell’s gets the point for engaging with its customers via Twitter moreso than just pushing out information.

Round 2: Facebook

Each brand has a Facebook fan page. Magic Hat has 8,924 fans and the page is chock-a-block full of activity. A video post of a recent Mardi Gras parade it sponsored and 47 accompanying photos. An event announcement for Philadelphia Beer Week. An info center with graphics that link back to pages on the company’s web site (including its “Sip Code Locator” to find beer in your area). There are dozens of notes posted to the page that announce new beer variety packs, upcoming events, contests, and new distribution locations for its beer.

Bell’s Beer currently has 16,901 fans. Its wall includes 359 posts and there are three discussion boards. One is a forum for fans to discuss changes made to the variety of hops used in its Oberon brew. Bell’s hasn’t weighed in on the discussion at all. The photo section only includes images of each beer case design. There are 40 fan photos, many of them of a cycling team wearing Bell’s jerseys.

Despite the fact that the Bell’s Beer fan page has almost twice as many members, it doesn’t appear to be utilizing the space very well. Magic Hat is creating buzz about its beer and using Facebook as a platform to showcase its fans and customers using the product – pictures of people at Magic Hat events, for example. Its fan page makes you want to engage with the brand, while Bell’s Beer is pretty static.
Point: Magic Hat, hands-down

Round 3: Web site

Magic Hat’s Web site design is right in line with its trippy Vermont roots. If you click on the “People’s Place” blimp that floats across the screen, you’re taken to the “epicenter of all things Magic Hat.” There’s a blog (called a “glog”) that repackages some of the Facebook notes found on its fan page. You can create a login to become part of the community and see Magic Hat events in your area. The site includes polls, photos from both Magic Hat and the site’s users, an FAQ section, and an online press center. Badges on the left side of the page direct you to Magic Hat’s online presence on Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and MySpace.

Bell’s site is a much cleaner and more traditional design. The beer itself is what dominates the site – just about the only images are of beer bottles! You can find during which season each of their varieties is available, purchase Bell’s shirts and products, and find a local distributor. But the site itself doesn’t lend itself to connecting with other Bell’s fans. There’s really no interactivity. You can sign up for an RSS feed of Bell’s Beer news items, but you can’t comment on them. The site doesn’t direct you to its Facebook fan page or its Twitter page. The design is nice, but in the end, it’s your basic static Web site. To beer fair, the home page claims that the site will be updated in the coming weeks.
Point: Magic Hat, for creating an online community that highlights its customers and allows them to connect in several different ways.


Round 4: Other social sites (Flickr, YouTube, etc.)
I couldn’t find a YouTube channel for either beer. Magic Hat has a Flickr account with several albums. The images feature the brewery and several Magic Hat sponsored events. I couldn’t find any sort of official Bell’s Beer Flickr account. Magic Hat’s MySpace page counts 3,746 friends and includes links to its “glog” posts. As far as I could tell, Bell’s Beer does not have a MySpace presence.
Point: Magic Hat once again

The Final Verdict: Magic Hat is clearly outpacing Bell’s Beer in the adoption of social media platforms to reach out to and connect with its fans. Magic Hat’s brand image is quirky and funky and it probably skews younger than typical Bell’s Beer fans, so maybe social media was less of a stretch for the company. I’d love to see Magic Hat become a little more engaged on Twitter and really interact with its fans in that space, rather than using it more as a platform to push information. And it would be great if Bell’s Beer could tap into its rabid fan base on Facebook and create a more interactive and engaging site.

But whether you kick back with a Two-Hearted Ale or a Circus Boy, either one definitely beats a Coors Light– and there are apparently thousands of fans online who agree.

Image via Flickr user dnolan36

8 thoughts on “Social Media Smackdown: Magic Hat vs. Bell’s Beer

  1. This is such a well done analysis, Amy. And even better, you present a such great template that can be re-purposed for analyzing the breadth and effectiveness of just about any brand’s social media strategy. I’m sure I’ll be coming back to this post. Cheers to you!

  2. Amy–

    Awesome post–and about one of my favorite subjects–Bells Beer! It’s almost like the old ESPN bit–advantage….push. Love it.

    I’m especially passionate about this particular topic as I believe Bells, and other specialty brands like it, have a golden opportunity with social media tools to arm their brand champions with the assets they need to sing their song for them.

    Think about it. If Bells served up photos, video and other brand “assets” to me on a platter (their blog, FB page, etc), there is no doubt in my mind that I, and other Bells fans like me, would use those assets to promote the Bells brand in blog posts, FB posts and other social media “activities.” On Twitter, they seem to miss the boat a little too. Instead of pushing out offers, events, etc, why not take this chance to engage their brand champions and learn how they can improve the product or experience? Or, discuss how customers like to enjoy their Bells beer? Basically, ask them to share their stories. After all, what’s more powerful than a story about your brand and the experience it helps provide?

    Maybe you should make this a running post series, Amy? Great idea. Love to see more smart stuff like this from you.


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  5. Checking out your redesign and stumbled across this old post. Magic Hat is one of my favorite breweries and they’re one of the few brands I’m a fan of on Facebook that regularly appears in my stream; on Twitter, not so much. I think the difference between the two platforms for marketers has to do with their product; Facebook is better suited for engagement while Twitter is better for driving traffic. Magic Hat is selling beer, not content, so Facebook makes a lot more sense for them.

  6. Guy – it’s funny you mention that, because I was just thinking the other day that I hadn’t seen @MagicHat on Twitter lately. Since I wrote this post a couple months back, it seems they’ve really amped up their Facebook strategy and backed off of Twitter. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was for a lot of reasons you stated above: content vs. engagement. Magic Hat has even done a couple of innovative online endeavors like hosting an online “tasting party” where they encourage everyone to buy a specific kind of beer and then they all taste and critique it on a given night and time and post reactions online.

    Bell’s Beer, on the other hand, has all but disappeared from Twitter and I can’t even find their Facebook fan page anymore. So clearly they’re still trying to figure out their strategy, or else have given up on social media entirely.

  7. Amy: You rock. Great article. I like the analysis. You have to get in the beer though. Craft beer is about passion. Sometimes that passion doesn’t come out through managed communication but rather conversation. Personnally I am partial to Bell’s. Circus Boy is good. But Oberon is the king of summer!

  8. Amy, I do like the article and realize I am posting this response long after it seems anyone is reading this. However, I feel the need to weigh in on Bell’s behalf, but not for their media prowess. I live in Kalamazoo and love Bell’s beer. I have had some of Magic Hat’s offerings and have enjoyed each one. Part of the reason Bell’s is not a force in the media, is that they do not need to be. They do have a rabid following just about anywhere their brews can be had. The brewery itself has a beautiful bar/restaurant with a large outdoor “beer garden”. On any given weekend there are always an eclectic mix of bands, both local and regional, to keep the crowd entertained. The crowd is just as eclectic as the bands. Bell’s as a brewery could probably grow to do large scale business, but has no plans to last I heard, from the Brew Master who I know from Ski Patrol here in South West Michigan. While they do try new brews from time to time, the do stick to their established line-up, because they have no trouble selling all they can brew. So if you still can not find Bell’s near you to try, I suggest you attempt to have someone send you a few bottles of a variety of their offerings. You would not regret it, and may even find yourself making a pilgrimage to our little town to sample some of the varieties they only serve on tap and meet some of the local zealots of Bell’s.

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