Breweries in the U.S. have reached an all-time high, bolstered by a surge in small manufacturers. The number of breweries  grew 15% last year, with independent brands accounting for 99% of the total.

Not only do these small brands pose a threat to the growth of large beer makers, they are waves ahead in digital performance. Independent craft brands boast above-average scores in L2’s Digital IQ Index: Beer, indicating their capability to keep pace with industry giants in areas from social media to search. That’s no small feat, considering they have a fraction of their budgets.

Craft brands perform better than their larger competitors on multiple social media platforms. While corporations have an obvious advantage on pay-to-play platforms like Facebook, craft brands benefit from enthusiastic fans who generate consistent interactions. On Instagram, smaller breweries dwarf larger ones in both community size and interactions; on Pinterest, Stone Brewing Co. outperforms every other Index brand.

Beer brands on Instagram

And while small brands might lack the vast advertising budgets of their rivals, they enjoy an advantage in branded searches thanks to high scores on community sites like BeerAdvocate, which controls 11% of first-page results. Craft beers score an average rating of 89% (“very good”) on BeerAdvocate, while non-craft brands score only 62% (“poor”).

Beer branded search

Big brands are taking note. Anheuser-Busch bought several craft breweries in the past few years, and even Budweiser has moved from mocking craft beer fans to courting them with its Bud & Burgers campaign. As small breweries reshape the beer landscape, mainstream brands will need to step up their digital investments.



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