So, with the bit between my teeth, and the potential risk associated with a runaway creature, I feel it is time for me to explore writing about a deep angst I now experience and has possibly taken me close to mental illness. Yes, 2016 was that tough, I hope this post will turn into therapy.
I've built a lot of my business through the internet. Back in 2008 I had been exploring various ways of making my business do better. I was advised, amongst other things, to write a blog. Engaging Facebook was also seen by various business mentors to be a thing, although I continue to have my doubts about how useful that is. Applying SEO1 to tempt Google to rank higher is a thing I studied courses on.
I started to write a blog about my business, and searched for other blogs to see what people were saying about pubs and beer. That was over 8 years ago. I became engrossed into the whole discussion about beer and pubs, cask and keg, sparklers and CAMRA and numerous subjects. I even won an award with the Guild of Beer Writers, which gave me immense pleasure and even briefly made me think that I could do it for a living.
In 2009 a thing called Twitter started to gather momentum and I joined in. It can be great fun and I've met a lot of people via that medium and reached customers I'd have never achieved to with any other form of communications. We pushed out our message and continued to work to promote Hardknott beers through our move away from a brewpub to stand alone brewery.
Broadly it has worked. I have very little doubt in my mind that I would not have progressed Hardknott anywhere near as far as we have without interactions on social media. I haven't always got it right, and certainly have made some mistakes. There have been good natured discussion on many occasions, and equally some flame-wars at other times. When it goes well the feeling of success, of acceptance by the wider community as a person of knowledge and wise words, it is an incredibly useful motivator by way of emotionally uplifting feelings. Money almost doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things2 when it goes right.
When it doesn't go right, things can go very wrong indeed. After the euphoria of success of the early days there comes the realisation that staying on top becomes more difficult as more and more people enter the game. I am now realising the huge buzz of success can be replaced with a downer so large as to create withdrawal cravings similar to what I imagine a drug addict may experience. It does make me ponder the damage that might be done to emotions as a result of attempting to promote a business on the internet.
I do like a good discussion. I like to think I can consider a point of view that might differ to mine and put across an analysis of the situation in a calm and collected way, providing the other person is trying to do the same and not just being antagonistic. However, when I am arguing for my very existence, when I know that for several years I've been making fairly substantial losses and I am fighting through my blog, or twitter, or whatever to keep alive the passion in my heart it becomes very difficult to not see some commentators as just being deliberately disruptive. I like a sensible discussion, but not an all out argument, and definitely not anything that resembles being flamed, or where I feel the need to flame someone else because they appear to me to just poking a pointy stick for the sake of being nasty. I feel it is especially difficult when it seems to me to be for the sole purpose of undermining my own convictions.
I truly believe in what I am doing. I do have a passion to brew great beer, to make a difference in the beer world and try to realign the drinkers view of beer. I think to some extent over the last 11 years of brewing I have done that. But the passion can sometimes manifest itself as great hurt when I feel I care more than those that I interact with and when those people I feel ought to be my friends. Indeed moreover, when to me they would actually benefit by my attempts to improve the lot of the general micro-brewing scene should they allow me my point. It is difficult not to just see it as being malicious.
I don't know if it is me, struggling to make my own business work. Perhaps it is the desperation of others who feel the need to attack anything I do that is aiming to big up my own beers, or justify something I'm doing. Of course on some occasions it could be my own paranoia creating an imaginary enemy, which is an explanation I oft considered3. It is highly likely that it is a combination of all of these. However I have felt lately that in most forms of on-line interaction an incredible increase of tension and uncomfortable situations.
My main form of promotion for my brewery has been, and probably still is via the internet. I have felt an increasing sense of discomfort recently to the extent that I feel I have developed a level of depression, a form of adversity and reluctance to engage. Perhaps I am too needy, perhaps I am not as cut out for on-line engagement as I thought I was, perhaps I am just too sensitive and if that is so then perhaps this is another reason to consider more carefully my future.
There seems to be significant information suggesting that social media is creating mental illness in young people. I can't find a really great link that is not just sensationalist news items that say we should be watching out for our kids. Why just young people? Can old people like me not suffer too?
It has drawn me to consider the risks of promoting a business via social media. I notice one eminent brewery owner reduce his on-line activity stating it is due to feeling uncomfortable with some of the interactions. It also makes me consider that perhaps all writers who take themselves seriously find themselves needing to gain sufficient praise and acceptance and that perhaps only a small dose of cruel critique may send them into a spiral of unhappiness.
It is important for me to try and get the balance right. The purpose behind this blog has changed, to some extent. Moving from being a brewing pub-owner to being a brewer has certainly changed my perspective. It is essential for me to work at promoting my beers and the best way in my mind to do that is via my blog. It is obviously not helpful to my own state of mind or for the promotion of my beers if I continue to try to manage, with carefully constructed arguments, comments that appear to be trolling.
I know I haven't always engaged appropriately when dealing with comments on here, or discussions on twitter. Indeed, sometimes I have felt huge stress and even anger, which is incredibly unhelpful to everyone, and may in fact make me look a little like an internet troll myself. So, time to fully engage comment moderation and be selective about the comments I permit to be posted. I can normally tell when a thread is likely to drag me into a difficult situation. I also think it is important to try to avoid starting to respond, or even look at the comments elsewhere that are likely to create a situation.
Besides, I want to feel happy, and want to be able to write and engage. I can't do that if I'm scared to be here.
There might be a wider issue here; I know many brewers are struggling at the moment. Since our New Year post I've been contacted by several brewers saying their lot this last 12 months has gotten worse. This is in addition to the already strong indication that all is not well in the industry. Perhaps we are all feeling the pinch and taking it out on each other, I can't imagine that is a good thing. Let us focus on fighting those outside our own impassioned group of dedicated brewers, rather than appearing to tear each other apart.
Over 90% of the total beer brewed in the UK is made by less than 2% of the breweries. They are the true enemy.
Less than 1% of the total beer is made by over 90% of the breweries (those under under 5000hl), which includes me and many very great breweries. Will simply must stop pissing each other off.
1SEO = Search Engine Optimisation
2If I were honest I don't care about money as such. I do like new toys, I like to live in a nice house and it would be nice to get way on holiday, but to me money is a way of measuring success, but only one of them.
3Although, when casual observers say to me "I thought <insert name>