How to foster an online community of fans

What we can learn from a distillery marketing our product or service online

How to foster an online community of fans

Getting back from a few relaxing days in Schottland a while ago I am still impressed how some distilleries manage to foster their community both virtually and physically. Last week this year’s “Feis Illes” ended on Islay, Schottland, a small Island belonging to the Inner Hebrides that is famous for its smoky single malt whiskies. There are seven distillers on an island with a population just over 3’500 people. Their communities however are much bigger numbers. Ardberg’s “comittee” has grown to 120’000 supporters while the oldest Friends of Laphroiag by some estimations is closed to one million supporters.

You may wonder how this is possible that most of those people have never visited Islay nor the distillery. From my perspective they deliver a blended experience that sets them apart from the pack:

  • Authentic Digital Presence : Bread and butter theses days but all distilleries have a very profound internet presence. The first thing you usually see is their premises, the landscape even the rather ugly weather. 
  • Incentive to enroll their programs : The hook that people like me sign up to their newsletters is the promise to “own” part of the distillery / product. Ardberg by promising a dram (a glass of whisky) for each visits to their committee members. Laphroiag does this by assigning a square foot of land to each friend. Also here not something “general” but a specific plot that you can lookup/find on the online portal.
  • Fostering your community : To be part of the community comes with a number of community only benefits such as the option to buy special fillings, to exchange with other fans or to donate to the local community.
  • Deliver a personal experience: Here particularly Laphroiag excels. In their store they have a special booth where you are able to print the exact location of your plot. They also provide equipment such as the right gear to step on the wet ground and flags of nations to mark your plot. Off you go, find your own part of the field. I believe the ownership is an important part of their success.
  • Giving your product a face: And this both over the online channels as well as physical. The distillery management get’s personally involved in events on the islands as well as regularly writing updates to the community. 

While you may argue that those items are not unique, I believe the key to the success lies in two factors:

  • A blended experience that covers both your physical and virtual product or service
  • An authentic, curated and personal experience across both channels

As such


Maurus Riedweg 

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