Social confidence pays off in whisky

Licensees can reap the rewards if they use digital media effectively

• Going digital: Paul McDonagh and son Thomas at Glasgow pub the Bon Accord.

SCOTCH whisky may be steeped in centuries-old traditions, but it seems 21st century technology can help publicans to grow their sales.

Social media has come into its own as a marketing tool in recent years and, with Whisky Month getting underway across Scotland, there’s no better time for publicans to jump in and stretch their digital legs.
Jamie Milne, brand ambassador for William Grant-owned single malt Glenfiddich, said operators should check out the VisitScotland website for details of Whisky Month events happening nearby, consider introducing their own events or offers and then promote these via sites like Twitter and Facebook.
“When I go to a whisky festival I either want food before or after it, and if I’m having food after it I’ll probably have quite a few drinks as well,” said Milne. “So you can tap into a fairly captive audience that are going to be tipping out of an event and draw them in.”
Using Facebook or Twitter, licensees can contact organisers of local Whisky Month events to help promote their own.
“That’s kind of how social media works,” said Milne. “It’s kind of ‘I’ll scratch your back you scratch mine’. If an outlet near their venue wanted to put up ‘if you’re attending Whisky Stramash drop in…’ I can’t imagine the [Whisky Stramash] guys would have any problem with that at all, because you’re mentioning their event.”
Not everyone will have a Whisky Month festival or event taking place in their locality, of course.
But even outlets located away from the action can still use digital media as a tool for attracting whisky fans.
World Whisky Day, on May 17, was launched in 2012 by Aberdeen student Blair Bowman. The website, at, features details of whisky-related events from across the world. And Milne encouraged licensees to get involved.
He said: “Blair is very happy for bars to create an event themed around whisky and then register that event on the website. People will certainly see more interest in whatever it is they’re doing. Whether that will drive trade for that event, who knows. But what it will do is drive awareness, and that should have a longer-term effect.
“People might think ‘I can’t get there for World Whisky Day, but they obviously know how to do a whisky event, so if I’m in the area in a few weeks time I’ll pop in and try some of their whiskies’. That’s free whisky-related PR for outlets.”
Aside from cross-promotional activity, publicans can use their own websites, Twitter and Facebook channels to promote developments at their outlet, whether it’s a promotional offer, menu or new bottle on the back-bar.
“People tend to respond better if it’s a photograph rather than just words,” said Milne. “So use a picture, get it up on social media, and just get talking about whatever it is you’ve taken a photograph of. And what has it cost you? Nothing.”
Glasgow publican Paul McDonagh, of the Bon Accord, said social media has transformed the way customers interact with the trade.
“When I came into the pub game 30 years ago you couldn’t even get people to phone to book a table,” he said.
“Now I’m checking Facebook, Twitter, email, listening for the telephone and getting walk-ins from people booking, and it’s absolutely fantastic.”
And online has become a key tool for tourists, said McDonagh.
“If you’re planning a trip, no matter where you’re going, you’re going to go online and check the best pubs there,” he said.
But it’s not enough to set up a website and then rest on your laurels, said McDonagh. He said he regularly updates the Bon Accord’s Facebook and Twitter feeds, has appeared on the YouTube channel of whisky ‘vlogger’ Ralfy Mitchell and is proactive in promoting the bar in person.
McDonagh said a vital part of ensuring people check your outlet on social media is “being out and about, going to the whisky festivals, being there personally so people know who you are, being out with the business cards”.
“I was out in New York for six days [recently] and I must have used three hundred business cards,” he said.
“Everyone’s on these apps all the time now. It’s very easy.
“Even sitting in a bar and your friend’s away to the toilet. You pick your phone up and it’s ‘come on and we’ll go to that pub up the road. It’s got a reputation for good ales’.”