Coronavirus: Social drinking at a time of social distancing

By IWSR Drinks Market Analysis

As people move their drinking and social habits to the online world, social media content and engagement that offers a sense of discovery, community and social giving will do well in today’s climate.

Now more than ever, consumers want to stay connected to the people, places and products they know and love. As the world goes into lockdown in a bid to stymie the spread of Covid-19 the use of social media will become even more pervasive.

“Connection is the one thing people need right now. Engagement via voice, text and image is taking the place of human-to-human interaction,” says Brandy Rand COO of the Americas at the IWSR.

“This is why there’s a massive increase in video conferencing software downloads like Zoom, as people migrate towards interactive group engagement. What’s telling about this is the real need for human connection that a simple Instagram post cannot replace entirely.”

Both consumers and industry professionals are leveraging social media as they adapt their social drinking habits to the virtual world.

Virtual bars and happy hours

As feelings of boredom, loneliness and powerlessness set in during lockdown, people will turn to social media to carry on the social traditions they enjoy, key of which is happy hour and/or after-work drinks. Virtual happy hours, hosted on video-chat platforms such as Zoom, Houseparty and Google Hangouts, tend to be small-scale events, limited to a particular group of friends or colleagues.

However, brands can get in on the action by promoting virtual happy hours via their social media channels and offering advice on how they could be run and what beverages could be consumed.

Some have even set up their own campaigns – for example, the New York State Brewers Association launched a virtual happy hour that will take place on a different member brewery’s Facebook page every day, focusing on a particular topic or game. This type of virtual happy hour is less intimate but can reach thousands of people and keep brands top of mind.

On-premise operators are also experimenting with virtual bars, which extends the concept of virtual happy hours. Through virtual bars, on-premise operators live stream bartenders offering recipes or live mixology, live-stream DJ’s, or offer interactive virtual Q&A sessions with industry influencers, brand ambassadors or leading bartenders.

Social media “challenges”

Hashtags promoting friendly “challenges” between friends online are also keeping consumers engaged while, in some cases, helping to also raise relief funds for the industry. For example, the #liftyourspirits campaign encourages people to make a video of them mixing their favourite drinks and to post it to their social media account while tagging specific friends to take the challenge too. This specific campaign suggests participants can make a donation to the National Restaurant Association Education Foundation that turns tips into donations for industry relief.

Meanwhile, campaigns such as #virtualdrinkshospitality and #virtualdrink4hospitality encourage people to start a tip jar every time they have a drink at home, with the goal of them later donating their tips to an industry cause and/or on-premise establishment in a gesture of solidarity and support for the drinks community.

Virtual tipping

Out-of-work bartenders are also tapping into the power of social media, usually by offering engaging and/or educational content in return for virtual tips. Bartenders upload videos and content offering recipes, mixology tips or live Q&As, in return for virtual tips through services such as PayPal or Venmo.

“Twitter and Instagram Live tastings have proven popular in the past and could be effective in keeping consumers entertained at home as well, while linking them to a wider network of drinks fans,” adds Rand. This is something both bartenders, as well as brand owners and on-premise operators can leverage. Rand adds, “an extension of this includes offering private virtual events, where virtual tastings can be tailored for private virtual parties.”

As people move their drinking and social habits to the online world, content and campaigns that offer a sense of discovery, community and social giving will do well in today’s climate.

IWSR measures country, category and brand performance through local market insight and analysis

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