Two years ago, about 25 people gathered for a couple beers at VBGB, loosely organized under the hashtag #instabeerupCLT. The idea was simple: Let’s get all the people we kind of know from social media together in one room.
Then they did it again. Within a few months, they were bringing in more than 200 people. Nowadays the crowd is reaching 400+. When #instabeerupCLT celebrates its second birthday this Thursday, I expect there will be even more.
Not much has changed, really. There’s still no big-name guest speaker, no program and no tickets. So how did #instabeerupCLT become an institution in Charlotte so quickly?
The organizers are super smart and well-connected.
Amy Herman and Corri Smith are both very successful outside of the beer meetups, and both know how to bring in a crowd.
Amy is the brains behind Vintage Charlotte, the masterfully organized pop-up markets that bring in hundreds of people multiple times per year. It’s so successful that people pay to get in early — and it’s completely worth it.
Corri has been in marketing for some of Charlotte’s most socially relevant institutions, like Heist Brewery and the N.C. Music Factory. She now owns Black Wednesday Social Co., a marketing firm with clients including Customshop and the catering company Kre8.
Sure, #instabeerupCLT was a side project for them, but they gave it instant credibility. And they brought in the type of people that other people want to meet.
They tapped into the zeitgeist.
#instabeerupCLT launched at just the right time. Charlotte had shaken off its post-recession hangover and cranes had returned to Uptown.
NoDa Brewing had just won a gold medal for Hop Drop ‘N Roll and enthusiasm for local craft was at a new peak. The second wave of brewery starts was newly underway, and more than a dozen breweries were in the pipeline.
Charlotte’s creative community was coming into its own and new people were moving to the city as quickly as apartments could be built. And they all wanted a chance to get together.
“I think #instabeerupclt caught on because Charlotte is so young as a city,” Amy says. “There is a lot of malleability in the identity of CLT and people want to be involved with that change.”
They gave people a reason to explore the city.
Each of the past 20 gatherings has been held at a different location, with the venue growing as the group did. People are hungry to try out new locations, and keeping up with #instabeerupCLT has been a convenient way to do that.
Tomorrow’s two-year celebration will be at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery, the first time a location has been reused.
Some of the gatherings have served as introductions to new cool locations. The February event at Legion Brewing came only weeks after it opened.
They’ve stayed consistent.
In the past two years, only four months have gone by without an #instabeerupCLT event — and most of those were around the holidays. This meetup has kept its momentum without needing to change.
“Truthfully, the event has evolved very little, but that is intentional,” Amy says.
They borrowed only the best from traditional networking events.
Yes, there are name tags. But the atmosphere is more casual, there’s no agenda, no long presentation and no pressure to stay. It feels more about getting to know more about what’s going on than finding your next client.
They’ve added sponsors strategically.
Corri and Amy aren’t trying to make money off these events, so they’ve structured the sponsorship deals in a way that only benefits the people who attend. Most of the time, a company will buy everyone’s first beer, or buy beers until their budget runs out. Fantastic way to get people in the door. Sponsors can also donate things for a raffle, and who doesn’t like door prizes?
“We actually have made it difficult for businesses to get engaged to keep the event clean and agenda-less,” Corri says.
So what’s next for #instabeerupCLT?
Nothing different, really.
“We’ll probably spice up the sponsorships, locations and event activations but for the most part I think it’ll stay the same,” Corri says.
Want to check out the Instayearup party?
Event starts at 6 p.m. and runs until 10 p.m. at Olde Mecklenburg Brewery. There will be some free beer giveaways sponsored by Yellow Cab and a ton of raffle prizes.