An interview with Diggs

I met with Diggs, a man with an unusual career in beer.  What does it take to manage a brewery’s social media? Read on to find out.

Diggs

Brian “Diggs” Diggelman, Director of Digital Dank!

Craft breweries, by and large, don’t advertise.  They don’t have the money, for a start, but for most craft drinkers, advertising probably wouldn’t do much to sway their beer choice anyway.

Instead, your average small brewery is very active on social media.  Beer fans, especially the younger generation, tend to head online to discover and debate their favorite beers.  So that’s where breweries focus their efforts.

In most cases, the representation of the brewery in the digital world is the task of one lucky individual: a guy or a gal given the great power of managing what the company says and does online, but who also has the great responsibility of…managing what the company says and does online.

If you’re a rabid beer Twitter fan like yours truly, some of the social spokespeople for breweries have become minor celebrities, creating their own large following on top of that of their employer.  Folks like MillerCoors’s Lisa Zimmer, Boulevard’s Jeremy Danner and Firestone Walker’s Jemma Wilson.  Or they’re just completely integral to brand of the brewery, like Sam Calagione’s wife Mariah, who to this day writes every post you see from Dogfish Head.

The line-up at Atlanta's SweetWater brewery the day I visited. Thirsty?

The line-up at Atlanta’s SweetWater brewery the day I visited. Thirsty?

In Atlanta, GA, there’s a pretty tight community of breweries, united in their struggle not only to make Georgia famous for great beer, but also to campaign against the pretty extreme regulations that don’t make it easy to grow a brewery in The Peach State.  This means if you ever follow one Atlanta brewery, chances are you’ll see a fair amount of chatter between its Twitter handle and those of its brewing neighbors.  In fact, it often feels like you’re eavesdropping on a light-hearted argument between drinkers bellied up to the bar at closing time.

“I can’t quite remember how that got started,” I was told by SweetWater Brewing Company’s Director Of Digital Dank, Brian Diggelman, when I visited the brewery for the second time last week.  “One of my goals when I joined SweetWater was to make it feel local to Atlanta, and I wanted to show how we’re fans of other local breweries.  I started out tweeting to breweries and Jonathan Baker at Monday Night began to respond.  Then the guys at Terrapin got involved, Orpheus started too once they were up-and running, and it became a bit of a thing.  But people seem to like it, so we keep it up.”

Georgia Brown

A pint of SweetWater’s Georgia Brown. Don’t criticize the pour, it was a very hot day!

Universally known as Diggs, Brian has been the man behind the SweetWater social accounts since 2013, when he joined from an Atlanta marketing and PR agency.  Diggs was well qualified for the job: a passionate, knowledgeable beer fan with the bandwidth to stay super-connected to the online beer scene and the judgment and creativity to create an authentic voice for the brewery in the social world.

“Just like in making good craft beer, the key to successful social media for a brewery is to be authentic,” Diggs explained to me, as he poured me a pint of SweetWater’s smash-hit summer seasonal, pineapple-infused IPA Goin’ Coastal.  “I had a background in managing social media and PR for products I didn’t have much connection to, so coming into SweetWater I was able to step away from the day-to-day internal stuff people wanted me to post about and try to tell a true story about the brewery in a way that someone who isn’t familiar with it can relate to.”

The brands I’ve worked on in my career in marketing have always used an agency-led model, employing digital experts outside the company to create the brand’s online presence.  In beer, the trend is veering hard toward in-house social media managers.  This is led by craft but it’s happening at big breweries too.

In fact, my beloved Guinness (disclosure: I do consulting work for Guinness and used to work there) recently employed ex-Sixpoint Head Brewer Heather McReynolds at its agency to be the full-time online correspondent for the brewery, and MillerCoors has its own blog written by full-time employee Sara White.

“Craft beer has the benefit of 95% of breweries not even being able to afford to pay someone to do any social media, so it’s usually the guy who’s cleaning out the lauter tun who’s also tweeting about it,” Diggs explained. “That creates a culture of authenticity which I think is really natural; it’s beer, you don’t have to put make up on it because it’s already cool.  Just talk about what goes on every day.”

You wanna see my pint of Goin' Coastal? Well you're gonna.

You wanna see my pint of Goin’ Coastal? Well you’re gonna.

As we sat down with our beers in the bustling SweetWater taproom, I had to ask how much time a person who gets paid to be on Twitter actually spends checking social media.

“It’s actually the minority share of what I do nine-to-five,” Diggs replied.  “In fact, I’ve got it down to about two hours a day.  The marketing team right now just consists of my boss [Marketing Director Steve Farace], a PR manager and me, so there’s a lot of stuff I have to do across a lot of different areas.”

“Overall, my job is to tell a cohesive story about who we are as people, and what SweetWater is as a product; the challenge is to maintain a balance,” Diggs continued.  “On any given day, the sales teams might want me to talk about tap takeovers, the field marketing team want me to promote a sponsorship, the brewers will want me to highlight a badass beer they’ve made, and I might even need to tweet about someone having parked illegally outside, asking them to move their car.  The challenge is to tell an authentic story across it all to someone looking in from the outside.”

Brian Diggelman

Believe it or not, this man is working right now.

10 Questions To Educate The Drinking Classes with Brian “Diggs” Diggelman, Director Of Digital Dank, SweetWater Brewing Co.

  1. Can you describe what your company does in one short sentence?

We make some hoppy beers and we have a pretty good time doing it.

  1. How long have you worked here?

Three years.  My role’s evolved a bit over time – I help with web design, audio, multimedia as well as managing SweetWater’s social accounts.

  1. How and why did you come to be here?

Why is easy: I was working at an agency doing social media, PR and stuff.  I was working on some pretty mundane stuff, like vinyl bath liners and a franchise selling to-go steak with four locations. It was hard to plan out what I was going to post on their behalf.

The how is that I had a friend working on SweetWater’s Save Our Water campaign, around the time SweetWater figured they had too much going on for one person in PR and social to handle.  They created a new role to focus on digital and asked my friend if he’d do it, but he passed and told them he knew someone who hated his job and would probably take the role for not a lot of money!  They were probably looking for someone a year out of school, but I had four years’ experience at that point, and was good with Adobe, web design and so on.

It was a little eye-opening to come here. At an agency I was used to all these layers of approval to get anything done, but my new boss basically gave me the password to the Instagram account and told me to go crazy.  And my first weekend was 420 Fest [an annual music festival SweetWater sponsors in Atlanta], so I was in at the deep end.

Diggs was kind enough to "dig out" (sorry) a bottle of SweetWater's Pit & Pendulum barrel-aged peach ale.

Diggs was kind enough to “dig out” (sorry) a bottle of SweetWater’s Pit & Pendulum barrel-aged peach ale.

  1. What is your daily routine?

On any given day I’ll wake up and see what people are saying about us online; see if there’s something I need to act on, like if an NBA player is talking about SweetWater.  We have a flexible work schedule, so it doesn’t matter too much if I’m at home or in the brewery.

I’ll usually head in to the brewery sometime in the morning, and get set up, check email and so on.  Then it kind of breaks down for the day – anything could happen.

For example, on Tuesday, I got motioned over to the warehouse manager right when I got in and it turned out someone had taken two trailers full of beer in the wee hours of the morning.  So that day was going in one direction, then went completely off the rails.

There’s a lot of variety and flexibility in the day-to-day – I always can do something else.  If there’s an email that gets to me, I can go down to the Brewhouse and see what’s happening and if I can take a vine or take a periscope.

I have a lot of things to get done, but consistency is really important.  I try to post once or twice a day on Instagram and Facebook, and six to eight times on Twitter.  In the evening I check on social media activity at least three or four times, because obviously that’s when most people are actually engaging with us online.

  1. What is the hardest thing about your job?

Handling situations with people who are never going to be happy.  It might be someone who’s got a beer they thought tasted funny, people who might be offended by our packaging, or just someone who doesn’t like the line-up at 420 Fest.  This might not be the hardest thing in my job, but it’s an area where I’ve had to adjust.

I grew up in Atlanta and have always had a strong emotional connection to SweeWater, so I needed some help to avoid making knee-jerk reactions and make bad situations better.  Or at least not make them any worse.

You have to identify when you can actually make a difference, and send out a T shirt or something, or when it’s a lost cause and you just have to diffuse the situation or just stop altogether because you’re digging a hole.

  1. In your view, what does it take to make it in beer?

That really depends what “it” is!

For SweetWater, it’s to appeal to a large audience in beer – not to be the biggest brewery in the country, but I think we can get a healthy presence in all 50 states.  The company’s slogan is Don’t Float The Mainstream, but, ironically, we’re probably now considered a pretty mainstream brewery.  That doesn’t mean we have to do things the way mainstream beer companies do, and I think it’s totally legitimate to say that Freddy Bensch, our owner and founder, has built a culture in which we get to do things our way.

But these days making it as a brewery can mean a lot of different things depending on who’s running the show, and what their ambition is.

I’m never starting a brewery, but if I were I’d say success would be being the local beer, making the best beer you can for a really dependable local crowd.  I have a pretty local mindset, and I like the idea of being a destination spot that people will actively seek out when they’re in town.

Don't Float The Mainstream. But actually SweetWater now needs to convert mainstream beer drinkers to keep growing.

Don’t Float The Mainstream! SweetWater exists to lure mainstream beer drinkers into a world a little more different and interesting.

  1. What is success for you?

I was actually just discussing this with my girlfriend last night.  Our generation is supposed to be driven more by recognition than money.  And we eventually decided that’s probably true.

It’s definitely not money; if it was I would probably be somewhere else.  But when people appreciate what I’m doing, that feels good and I know I’m doing a good job.  You know, being invited to speak at a conference about a certain initiative, or when people pick out something I’ve done on the brand and praise it.

I love living in Atlanta and I really like working at SweetWater.  We have a really bright future.

  1. If you could change one thing about the industry, what would it be?

The negativity is insane.  You get people criticizing beers before they’ve even been brewed.  It’s a minority, it’s a very vocal minority, but some people feel they can say whatever they want without fear of repercussion and bash somebody’s efforts and creativity.  It kind of blows my mind.

I have a couple of friends who are even saying they want to get out of beer because the criticism can be so harsh. To me it’s simple: if you don’t like something, stay away from it!  There’s no need to try and ruin someone’s day by telling them how shitty you think their beer is.

  1. Apart from your own, what are your three favorite beers, and why?
    1. The one beer I always have around is Boon Kriek Mariage Parfait. It’s not the rarest sour beer in the world, so luckily I generally have it on hand, but it’s one of the most delicious.
    2. I love sour beers, I love potent beers; but I also love crushable, sessionable beers. Something you can have three or four of in a row. Creature Comforts Berlinner Weisse, Athena, fits that bill.
    3. New Belgium’s La Folie is the beer that my girlfriend and I both really like. We generally have it around and we’ve enjoyed it a lot together, so that’s got to be on the list.
  2. Apart from the SweetWater tasting room, where’s the best place to get a beer in Atlanta?

The place I go the most is called Smith’s Olde Bar, not too far from the brewery.  It’s like one notch above a dive bar – in a really good way – and has great apps, live music, good crowd.  Another place, where I probably drink the most, is Cypress Street Pint And Plate, which just happens to serve SweetWater IPA that tastes as good or, weirdly, better than in the brewery.

I’ll also recommend The Porter Beer Bar, which is where I’ll go to impress someone or if I’m jonesing for a good sour.  Their taplist never lets you down.  And the Brick Store, which is a hike from here, has an amazing bottle list and a great whiskey list too.

Trouser The Rainbow Trout

Trouser The Rainbow Trout, SweetWater’s brand icon, in his natural habitat.

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