As big businesses discover the dangers social media
brings, there is a real opportunity for small businesses to create
more of an equal playing field in competition with the big
It will have escaped few people's attention that drinks giant
Diageo got itself into a spot of bother last week. It was a classic
David v. Goliath story, only tweaked for the internet age.
For those who missed it, micro brewery BrewDog had expected to
take the trophy for Bar Operator of the Year award at a dinner,
organised by the British Institute of Innkeeping Scotland. The
independent judging panel had made their decision and the trophy
had even been engraved with BrewDog's name.
However, a representative from event sponsors Diageo arrived and
spoiled the party, threatening to pull future sponsorship unless
the award was given to another winner. The reasoning behind this is
hazy, but apparently the issue was BrewDog did not hold membership
of the Portman Group, the industry body that promotes responsible
drinking. No matter, the award was handed to someone else.
In the past, before the advance of Twitter and blogging, BrewDog
would have been upset, outraged even, but the company would
probably have been resigned to the fact that there was nothing they
could do. After all, bullying by the big boys was not an unusual
But with the possibilities of social media, BrewDog, a
five-year-old craft beer company, found itself in a great position
to bite back. And it did. Founders James Watt and Martin Dickie
wasted no time in taking to their blog and Twitter accusing the
giant of dirty tricks. Soon Diageo was trending, for all the wrong
The big players should take note that they can no longer get
away with bully boy behaviour. The problem for large companies lies
in the vast number of customers; it is impossible to engage with
There is much less of a risk to smaller companies like BrewDog;
they know their customers, they understand what they want from
them. The reality for them is simple; if they don't engage
with and listen to their customers they won't have a business to
run for long.
Diageo is not the first company to feel the full force of the
Twittersphere. Fitness centre chain LA Fitness recently faced the
wrath of members who were unhappy with the less than flexible terms
of their membership.
A couple had been locked into a two-year contract, but when the
woman fell pregnant, the man was made redundant and they had to
move house, they tried to cancel their membership and was
told they would be charged a £780 to cover the last 15 months of
The Guardian newspaper published an article about the
couple's plight and soon social media users were writing angry
statements on Twitter, many announcing that they were cancelling
their gym membership in protest. LA Fitness announced - belatedly -
that they were waiving all fees, but the damage had been done.
The gym chain was shamed into taking action rather than take
control of the situation in a sensible way.
In reality the BrewDog episode is unlikely to cause Diageo any
long-term harm, in fact they were super speedy in coming out with a
grovelling apology for the "serious misjudgement". Put it this way,
people will not stop downing pints of Guinness or shots of Smirnoff
On the other hand a lot more people who'd never heard of BrewDog
will be looking out for their products. The smaller, nimbler
company skilfully turned the setback into a triumph and the PR
value of the whole episode potentially outweighed getting the prize
in the first place.
No doubt we'll see many more small businesses biting back on
social media, just like BrewDog did.
But they too should remember that Twitter works both ways. It is
a dream for small businesses wanting to promote themselves for
free, it's brilliant to connect with customers, get your message
out there and receive feedback from your customers. But when you
get it wrong it can go very wrong, very quickly.
Quite simply, there is nowhere to hide on Twitter.
To find out more about Brewdog, click here.
Or you can follow them on Twitter, @Brewdog