As rural pubs struggle to get customers to come out for the night, some publicans are turning to social media to promote events from bluegrass gigs to knitting circles.
The Vintners Federation of Ireland (VFI) has now set up a Pubs of Ireland Facebook page to provide a marketing outlet for members who want to boost footfall with a little help from social media.
The Facebook page organises posts under headings such as #PubFact, #PubJoke and #PubBanter and bills the page as “a celebration of the craic, drinks, food and entertainment which can only be found in your favourite pub”.
Social media has proven a double-edged sword for publicans. "With your iPhone , you're never really alone. And because people feel they are never really alone, they don't go out," says Sean Ward, proprietor of the Fisherman's Thatch Inn in Ballybrittas, Co Laois.
“On the other hand, social media is fantastic for advertising, we find. It is the most inexpensive form of advertising, and you are targeting the people you want.”
The Fisherman’s Thatch Inn “wouldn’t be your average pub”, says Ward. “We don’t have Sky Sports. We had it once, and as far as I’m concerned we won’t get it again.”
Instead, the pub, where several music videos have been filmed, concentrates on hosting fishing clubs, camera clubs, bridge clubs and other activities into its function rooms – clubs that in turn recruit their members via social media.
“I’m not a young lad – in a month’s time, I’m 73, and I’m still getting used to computers. But most of my work is done on the iPhone, and I have a son and grandson who help me put up different signs on Facebook.”
Although the VFI’s Pubs of Ireland Facebook page zeroes in on the pleasures of the pint and common alcohol-fuelled occasions such as sporting matches, individual publicans are also using social media to market what sets them apart.
Joleen Cronin, a graphic designer and photographer, uses social media to promote her parents' pub, Cronins of Crosshaven, Co Cork, and lure in people "to the type of events that we do, that wouldn't be typical for a pub". These include regular photograpy and art exhibitions, as well as the bi-weekly "knit and natter" group that meets in the pub.
Cronin is the organiser of the now annual Irish Redheads Convention, which drew in 25,000 people to the village last year when it was part of The Gathering calendar. “It’s charity-driven, but of course when we started it [five years ago] we were thinking of more ways to generate business. The pub does very well that weekend,” she says.
Caitlin McConn, who runs JJ Harlow's pub in Roscommon town, uses Facebook and Twitter "in a big way" to highlight both its craft beers and the musicians, mostly folk and bluegrass, who play in the bar. "We put up links to their music, so people can see if they like it before they come in," she says.
McConn says social media has helped her and her business partner swell the Saturday night crowd since they took over management of the pub four years ago. “It has taken quite a while for people to trust what we are doing in relation to both the beers and the music, but we have built up a loyalty now.”
The VFI, which represents 4,200 publicans outside Dublin, hopes to persuade more members of the wisdom of embracing the digital age at its annual conference, which takes place in Westport next week. The topic will sit on the conference agenda alongside calls for new health codes, a revival in tourism and the contribution of rural pubs to the economy.
After 18 years in the pub business, Ward reports that social media promotion has helped alleviate “some tough times” of late and widened his pub’s appeal beyond the local community. Being on the tourism industry’s Irish Whiskey Trail means “hardly a day goes by when we don’t have Americans in”, he says.
“We get so many strangers coming in, no one bothers turning their head any more.”