Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Social Media, Again

A frequent (and therefore stale) debate among wine writers is the value of social media in promoting wines.  On the one side is the establishment, basically saying that social media is a distraction that will never amount to anything.  (Remember when Kodak said that digital was just a flash in the pan?)  On the other side is, well, everyone else who isn't threatened by this irreversible evolution.

In the most recently sparked round of this silly cry for help, the establishment is played by Steve Heimoff, a Wine Enthusiast writer of rather ordinary caliber.  And the other side is played by Joe Roberts, an equally ordinary, but forward looking writer Heimoff would probably refer to as "a blogger, not a real writer" (though not to his face).

Watching the virtual sparring in the comments sections of these websites is super fun - if you're a wine writer...and you know these characters...and you are bored out of your mind.  Otherwise, it's pretty rote. 

Since you've read this far, you must qualify as at least some of the above, so why cover it again?  Because, Joe's right: wineries are stuck in the past.  And why should consumers care?  Because engagement benefits consumers by enhancing the product consumption experience.  Sound fluffy?  This is no bullshit.

Let's recap on the main conclusions from last summer's article on SoMed:

  • 98% of the content generated on social media is complete crap
  • 1% is targeted advertising via tweets and news feeds available to companies on a shoestring budget - a way to get people sampling and talking about your product 
  • The other 1% is where the magic happens: companies actually dialoging with their customers
  • Social media monitoring tools like SocialOomph allow companies to filter through the 98% to see what corresponds to them - or their competition
  • Then, the very nature of the platforms let them engage customers directly
  • Done properly (which basically means not coming off as a pervert), engagement converts into repeat business, customer loyalty, viral exposure to their target market, increased brand equity, etc.
  • All of this is available at zero cash outlay and very little time spent.
So, will wine businesses not leveraging Twitter and Facebook soon be extinct? No.  But the real question is, and this is what Joe gets at in his piece today, why aren't more wineries leveraging social media?

Because, despite having heard this drum beat before, many wineries are part of the same establishment that señor Heimoff works so hard to remain a part of.


  1. Great piece Steve. It's very difficult to get air time in the established media without connections. In many ways, this makes sense; they're likely bombarded day and night with requests for exposure/review. When a known quantity delivers a new winery/winemaker to them, they're more likely to take notice as this is an introduction from a trusted source.

    But where does this leave the little guy? It used to be just south of Antarctica, but now there's social media. We can get the message out about our product and what we're up to without going through gatekeepers. As you stated, we can actually engage our customers directly - marvelous! And let’s not forget that for the younger generations, this isn’t new, it’s HOW they get their information – everything else is so yesterday.

    Why don't more wineries do it? It still costs time and/or money, both of which have to be rationed when you're a small business. Other than anecdotally, it's also tough to establish an ROI for your efforts...gross sales might be up, but can you clearly attribute them to your social media efforts? Probably more so than most conventional forms of marketing, but it still represents a challenge. It really has to be part of a comprehensive strategy (as you pointed out) to engage the customers and build customer loyalty over time.

  2. Thanks for chiming in - and thanks for the insider's perspective. You're right to underscore the need for social media to be AN element of the marketing mix, not the entirety of it. But the reason this topic gets so much air time is that SoMed is absent in so many businesses' marketing strategies.

    Quantifying the return on any marketing investment is challenging, to be sure, though tactics available in SoMed channels make it easier than with conventional channels.

    Looking into the future, however, consumers will demand social media engagement from producers of goods and services of all types. Just as SoMed gives small producers a voice, it also gives consumers a voice. And if it's not heard by producers, well, consumers will take their business to companies that care.

  3. Very interesting stuff here... I took the time to read the original post by Joe and the Response (sort of) from Steve H...and of course all of the comments on both sites. To some extent, this is more about old vs. new...establishment vs. emerging opportunities. Both sides appear to be a bit guilty of pushing (and thus attempting to preserve) their agenda and in so doing pushing the buttons of a few dedicated fans and followers. This in turn creates dialogue and the odd bit of vitriol…but dialogue seems to be the way to measure success in this new virtual socialmed paradigm. Who gets whom talking about the hot button topic du jour (even if it is recycled every so often). I read Joe’s Blog, and yours’ Steve as well as Steve H’s blog fairly consistently. I don’t chime in nearly as often as I should. Thankfully others do and usually write pithy, interesting comments…conversation makes the whole experience better. I did not read too much into Joe’s post about wineries needing to do more to engage customers…because, in general this is true. Nor did I read too much into Steve H’s post dedicated to defending the good name of busy winemakers who should not be asked to do more. To me…both sides are right. I know some winemakers who clearly do not spend enough time on their craft, but rather spend all day engaging customers and acting like winemaking and brand building is in reality some kind of popularity contest. Their wines suffer, but they have 10’s of thousands of fans on Facebook… Methinks that the fans are more fans of the conversation than the wines. On the flipside, I know some extremely successful winemakers that craft delicious and inspiring wines without the aid of cell phones or facebook, blogs, or twitter. They engage their customers face to face and put in a punishing worldwide travel schedule. There are others still, who craft amazingly high regarded wines without ANY regard for their customers. Luckily the wine world has room for all of us and enough consumers to go around. But the space is getting increasingly crowded. At our winery, we have decided to dive in and attempt to engage and to get to know our customers. It is not easy, nor is it instantly successful, nor is it very “cheap” (at least for something that is free to all). But it does seem worth it. I personally have enjoyed the experience and will continue to engage our peeps as best that I can. BUT, I will also continue to engage established wine critics, national (read: traditional) media, and old fashioned gate-keepers…because they too are all still a very important piece of the puzzle that is wine marketing. Consumers (rightly so) still feel very attached to the old-guard, and many are just warming up to the cacophonous voice of the online world. It would be insanely naive to think that the importance of social media is going to decline into the future. It reminds me of how attached I was to vinyl and tapes, and how I reluctantly became a fan of the new fad of Compact Disks…now more mp3’s and e-books are being sold than their real world counterparts. The digital revolution is alive and well…might as well be on the winning team? BTW…I take solace in the fact that vinyl record sales are on the rise again…You cannot count out tradition just yet…

    1. Andrew - thank you for your thoughtful and balanced comments. It's helpful to hear what people "in the trenches" are focused on in their pursuit of promoting their products. And it sounds like, as with most endeavors in life, there is no shortage of things to consume your time and success lies in finding the right mix of priorities.

      Long live vinyl!


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