This is the first in a series of blog posts where Bueda will be profiling local Pittsburgh companies and organizations who are using social media in effective and innovative ways. Today we focus on Bocktown Beer and Grill and explore how Chris Dilla built a thriving virtual community around her establishment. (To read the original post explaining the series, click here.)
A few years back, Chris Dilla noticed a major inefficiency in the local dining scene; she recounts the dilemma she and her friends faced,
“We found ourselves going to one place to eat, and another place for some good camaraderie and better libations. That was all well and good, but we wanted one place where we could drink the best beers AND eat great homemade food, all while having fun with family and friends.”
To remedy this problem, Chris created the panacea that is Bocktown Beer and Grill: an establishment boasting 400+ craft beers (with 16 continuously rotating on tap), delicious Pittsburgh-friendly fare (picture a menu where appetizers are replaced by “Snacks N’At,” and “sammitches” hold sentimental names like “The Port Authority”), and a welcoming small-town atmosphere with live music and beer tasting.
It didn’t take long before Bocktown’s trifecta of great booze, grub, and fellowship won the hearts (and stomachs) of locals and beer enthusiasts alike. And after this community was established, it seemed only natural to start developing Bocktown’s virtual community and what Chris refers to as its “tribe.”
Forming the “Tribe”
After being introduced to Facebook and Twitter nearly two years ago, Chris instantly understood the “effectiveness [the] live interactive tools” could provide. Aside from being extremely cost-effective instruments in the promotion of her business (describing each site as a “virtual billboard”), she also saw these networks as an important complement to her main website—a way to “add a layer of instant communication” to her audience that a static site could not provide.
Most importantly, these tools would help her cultivate a “tribe”—composed of friends, patrons, business partners, and craft beer fanatics—that would act as an invaluable market research tool, aiding her with things such as menu development, event planning and the placement of future restaurant locations. She wisely realized that the tribe would decide what Bocktown “would become and what [it would] actually sell […] in the future.”
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Tapping into the Power of the Tribe
Of course to really harness the tribe’s power, one must interact with it. And interact with it she does. A lot. In between running one successful establishment and coordinating the opening of a second, Chris uses her Blackberry Storm to interact with her tribe of Bocktown fans on Twitter (posting updates as many as 20 times a day), Facebook, MySpace (used primarily to promote the bands that perform on Tuesdays), Foursquare, and perform general maintenance on sites like Yelp! and UrbanSpoon.
She also encourages businesses to become a part of others’ tribes explaining, “it only makes sense that you will grow your own audience by interacting with like companies. Their followers will become yours.”
The dedication and passion Chris shows for developing Bocktown’s virtual community is exactly what sets her apart from the crowd. While an array of local businesses have set up accounts on these sites only to post a few status updates and then fade away into the internet ether, Chris is constantly thinking of new ways to reach out and connect with patrons, fans, and community members.
See it for yourself: Follow her on Twitter and she’ll probably follow you back—but don’t expect her to be just another silent follower. Never shy to reach out, she’s been known to use Twitter to help secure one customer a ride to Bocktown on a Sunday night and help reunite a lost puppy with its owners. And by simply interacting with the people who wanted to interact with her in the first place, she’s been able to grow her network. In fact, many of Bocktown’s fans have heard about it only after their friends were conversing with Chris via Twitter.
Need more proof of her involvement? Check-in to Bocktown on Foursquare and you better believe she’ll be coming over to your booth to say hello and ensure you get that free craft beer (if you’re 21+, of course). And if she isn’t there, she’ll alert one of her staff members to take over her duties.
It doesn’t take long to realize that it’s not the ROI that’s motivating Chris’ activity—it’s her sincere desire to develop the vibrant Bocktown community—both on and off-line—and constantly improve the customer experience in any way she can.
The Advantages of Twitter
While Facebook is the most popular outlet for her patrons, given the amount of activity on her Twitter accounts (@bocktown for work and @uncapd for personal use), it should come as no surprise that this is her favorite method of engagement. She finds Facebook is a better platform for maintaining her current network of friends, whereas Twitter provides more opportunities to interact with new people and expand your business.
She also loves the semi-anonymity the 140-character service provides and feels something about the limited amount of information tied to a profiles allows users to be more real and honest, making it a better resource to gain feedback about her business.
Visit any of the social media pages Bocktown has an account on and you’ll find it hard to believe that less than two years ago the company had virtually no presence online and the woman behind the interaction was debating the right ratio of personal to official/promotional messages and “clean[ing] up the personal posts and replies just in case it looked too unprofessional.” Over time she realized that even the odd, seemingly unrelated posts essentially “all add[ed] to a whole, a mirror or history of [a] business.”
Here are some simple tips Chris has for other small businesses looking to get more involved with Twitter:
- Follow your vendors, partners, chamber of commerce, your competition, customers’ businesses, neighboring businesses, and especially the wholesale side of your industry—think of Twitter as a platform that enables a constant “modern day networking event.”
- Create and use hashtags to really stand out
- Read your direct messages often and respond promptly
Though ever so humble, she carefully reiterates she’s no “social media expert” and stresses “these are not new ideas, just new arenas for the same old ones.”
So, what can we expect next from this social media enthusiast?
An unsuccessful attempt at a Swarm Badge hasn’t discouraged Chris from experimenting with Foursquare. In fact, for her next endeavor she plans to utilize the LBS to organize a “virtual bar crawl” with other local bars and breweries. Similar to the concept surrounding the Ferris Bueller Tour in Chicago, patrons will earn a badge after checking into a certain number of participating locations—and don’t worry—this feat doesn’t have to be accomplished in one day. Not only would this be a great way to encourage participation and patronage, it could also introduce many Pittsburgh palates to craft beers (and hopefully help to mitigate this “icing” trend).
Bocktown’s main site will also be getting a makeover. The much anticipated opening of a second location in Monaca will coincide with a new site that will resemble a newspaper format. This redesign will allow more dynamic content to fill the pages to better reflect the restaurant’s involvement in social media.
Aside from these lofty projects, Chris would also love to tinker around with the idea of putting a live feed in one (or both) of her restaurants—a perfect edition to Tueday’s live music—and is not opposed to building up Bocktown’s presence on such social media kingpins as Flickr and YouTube. But all of these things take time…and Chris has a pretty full plate right now.
We’ll end this post with some words of encouragement Chris gave local companies during a recent speech at the Pittsburgh PodCamp:
“Stay with it, grow your groups, interact daily, and they will do most of the work for you! You do have to keep things fresh, update often, and keep it interesting, but the tribe will do the old fashion word of mouth thing for you via 40+ social media outlets!”
Tired of drinking Bud Light? Head over to Bocktown Beer and Grill in Robinson Town Center and try one (or two, or three) of their many craft beers and some traditional (and locally sourced) yinzer grub. Open 7 days a week serving the full dinner menu until midnight or later.