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Social Media for a Social Business

Posted on  | April 24, 2013   Bookmark and Share
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Wine is social. Sure, you can drink it solo, but it’s best enjoyed with friends, food and conversation.  Selling wine is social, too. Canny wine marketers know this in their bones. The job isn’t about moving a bottle of wine across a counter. That’s just the transaction. The job is about great service, gonzo enthusiasm and killer personality.

They approach a customer, ask the right questions, listen carefully, suggest wisely. If the customer goes away smiling and the wine is a hit, the customer will come back. And next time, bring friends.

If any industry is tailored for social media, it’s wine. The proof is in the data. According to VinTank, a social media software company for the wine business, 14 million people have mentioned wine online at some point, a number that grows by 450,000 people every month. And they’re talking a lot, having 1.5 million conversations about wine online—every single day.

The bulk of this chatter happens on mainstream social networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, plus wine-centric apps like CellarTracker and Delectable. People post tasting notes, bottle shots, and ratings from 88 points to Yuck to Wow! They tag their friends, who share it too. Think of social media as the breeding ground for digital word of mouth.

Now, producers, retailers, restaurateurs and buyers have joined the conversation. Getting up to speed in social media means learning a new technology, but that’s not so different from learning a new point-of-sale system (and arguably a little easier). Happily, many wine pros find that success online requires the same kind of sensitivity and savoir-faire their jobs demand in real life.

“Customers are going to talk whether you’re listening or not,” says VinTank’s CEO, Paul Mabray. “You’d answer the phone if they called you. You’d answer an email. It’s fundamental customer service to answer a tweet, or a post on your Wall. And you don’t answer in stupid promotional ways. You just say, ‘Hey, how are you doing?’”

But social media success does require a slight shift in thinking. Traditional marketing was about push. A marketer publishes a notice about a holiday sale, or the arrival of a scarce Bordeaux, hoping customers will come pouring in.

Social media is about pull. Instead of broadcast-and-pray, a marketer goes where the customers are, connects with them, and engages with them on their terms.

A restaurant, for example, might monitor their mentions on Twitter and follow and reply to customers who tweet about them. A retailer might set up a Facebook page and run a promotion targeted at locals with food and wine interests. Or they might share a photo of a bottle one of their staff had on vacation and loved so much that the store is now stocking it. The engagement happens in bits and pieces, and not just between one customer and one marketer, because others can chime in, too. It’s a conversational marketplace; and not just two-way, it’s multi-way.

Over time, the conversation takes on a life of its own. Alex Moskovitz, who runs social media marketing for Anfora, a wine bar in New York City, might post a tweet about what’s happening in the bar, then watch as followers start kibitzing with each other. “I don’t have to be the only one talking with them all the time,” she says, “And that’s what a bar is.”

Not surprisingly, the online chitchat reaches a peak on evenings and weekends—and it’s always wine-o’clock somewhere. Hospitality pros can’t expect to connect with their core customers if they’re only online from 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. “It takes constant monitoring,” Moskovitz concedes, so that “you’re always able to reach your guest, and you’re always reachable. You don’t want people to feel unimportant.”  

This always-on nature makes it important to commit first to one or two services, then add others only as bandwidth permits. “I don’t believe in trying to be everything to everyone,” says Pia Mara Finkell, director of social media for the award-winning Vibrant Rioja campaign. “I’d rather do a knock-down job on fewer channels than try to be everywhere and do it poorly.” Facebook and Twitter are the best places to start, with Facebook a bit more effective for consumers, and Twitter slightly more weighted toward industry.

One advantage of digital is that it’s easy to measure. Google Analytics tracking on a company website can show which social media services drive traffic and sales. Facebook’s tool called Insights offers stats about engagement. For Twitter, third-party services can show growth in followers, mentions and re-tweets. But be careful what you measure. Facebook promotes a sketchy metric called “Reach,” which is merely a rollup of the number of times your content has appeared. True engagement is better measured by the “Likes” and “Talking About This.”

Knowing what’s working lets you divert effort away from what’s not working, and balance your communications mix. Recently, after selling 400 event tickets using only electronic channels, Moskovitz realized that social media is a great starting point. “I’m more likely to post to Facebook and Twitter first. I can sell out on Twitter. That means I can send less email, and use it more strategically,” she says, adding, “No one wants another email.”

But can social media really sell wine? Yes, and many stories prove it. Melissa Sutherland Amado, former marketing director at 67 Wines in Manhattan, used analytics to demonstrate that on average, social media accounted for five to eight sales per week last year, worth from $250 to $500, and mostly to new customers.

Sue Guerra, director of marketing at Gary’s Wine and Marketplace in New Jersey, said that within hours of posting a recipe for homemade Limoncello—a slightly counter-intuitive move, since Gary’s sells Limoncello—a customer came in asking for the exact vodka used in the recipe.

Similarly, Jameson Fink, of Seattle’s Bottlehouse wine shop and tasting bar, snapped a picture of an unusual sparkling rosé and posted it to Instagram. Within minutes, a customer replied he wanted two bottles.

I leaned heavily on Twitter and Facebook when I headed consumer marketing for Bonny Doon Vineyard. Tracking let me identify all e-commerce sales resulting from posts by the winemaker, the corporate account, the restaurant account, and my own accounts on social media. All of them moved wine, sometimes by the case.

Stats and success stories like these can help colleagues can get on board with the effort, which is critical in a business driven by engagement. Still, social media is primarily about conversation, not conversion. Sales directly resulting from tweets and posts are indeed possible, but they’re not the main point. The value accrues over time, with persistence, as the brand and customers get to know and trust each other.

“Social media is not a tool for marketing. It is a tool for relationships,” says Shana Ray, a social strategist at Resonate Digital, which counts wine businesses among its clients. “We have made it into a tool for marketing, but at its core, it’s about relationships.”

In other words, in the old days, commerce was based on recommendations by real people. Nowadays, commerce is based on recommendations by real people. The technology has changed, but the story remains the same.  


Get an account (or two). Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are my top recommendations. Add Yelp and OpenTable if you’re a bar or restaurant. If only one account seems manageable, focus on Facebook if you’re a retail store or restaurant, and Twitter if you’re an importer, distributor, producer or brand manager.

Start by listening. Find and follow people in your circles—retail shops, restaurants, neighbors, customers, writers, winemakers. What are they saying about your category? Also monitor mentions of your brand and staff. Use a dashboard tool like HootSuite or TweetDeck to keep track of several threads at once. Hashtags (e.g., #malbec), are used on Twitter to categorize tweets and facilitate searching.

Engage, share, link. Ask questions! It’s a great way to get conversation started. Thank anyone who praises you publicly, and re-post to your own accounts. Respond open-mindedly to critiques and address problems quickly. On Twitter, follow-back anyone who looks legitimate so you can communicate via Direct Message—another demonstration of trust. A common misperception is that channels are awash in people (over)sharing mundane details of their lives. Tweets and posts are frequently executed with links that connect to more content on a website.

Be yourself. Remember that companies don’t talk, people talk. It’s OK to post an occasional update about your ski trip or your car breaking down. Christy Frank, of Manhattan wine shop Frankly Wines, has only one Twitter account for both her personal and professional life. “That’s one of the reasons my Twitter strategy has been successful,” she says. “People know who they’re talking to. It’s not just a black box.”

Tell stories. Show people what’s happening in the trenches. If your buyers are in Spain, have them take a slew of pictures. If a winemaker or rep is pouring wines in your shop that evening, post it or tweet it. Visual media is especially powerful.

Monitor, measure and adjust your mix. If you don’t have Google Analytics on your website and online store, get it installed. Track inbound traffic from social media and tie it to resulting sales.

Be opinionated. Tell your customers why you think this wine matters. Share your enthusiasm, and ask for theirs in return. “Brands can have a kind of heart—a pulse,” says Melissa Sutherland Amado. “If you show that, you’ll get that love back.”


Like any business communication tool, social media is used variably. Different strokes for different folks. Here, some wine pros at a retailer, an association and a distributor offer input on what aspects of social media work best for them.

Samantha Dugan
General Manager and Buyer
Signal Hill/LongBeach, CA

We use Facebook quite a bit. We like the immediacy, as well as the fact that multiple team members can interact directly with customers. The key for us is fairly constant usage and postings. Nothing long or drawn out. Our customers seem to like the postings we do from home, where we are actually eating and drinking.

I also recommend some Facebook-only promotions, little 10% off deals or what have you. This keeps them checking to see what deals are going. We’ve also had classes go from four sign-ups to sold-out at 40 in two days thanks to Facebook.
Because we are a wine store we have freedom for a little more adult humor, if you will. We get to show that we aren’t a big box store; we have a staff of smart, funny people and social media helps us convey that. The funny stuff gets the most shares, which are so valuable as each time someone shares something we end up gaining new followers.

Michelle Kaufmann
Assistant Communications Manager

I prefer Twitter. I know that Facebook has more users, but we get more engagement on Twitter and two-way communication from our followers. On Facebook, consumers may like a post and occasionally comment. But on Twitter people will shout out wines they are drinking or ask for help finding specific producers of specific types of wine daily.

We’ve also had wineries reach out to us on Facebook and Twitter about being involved in various events. And bloggers shoot me direct messages to check facts/stats on articles they were working on. These types of intersection are usually done behind the scenes from consumers, but it’s still an easy way to quickly track down information.

As general advice, post multiple times a day and make the content engaging. Make sure you’re checking direct messages and mentions often and respond, even if it’s just a retweet with a “Cheers” added.

Anne Drummond
Marketing and Public Relations Manager
Kalamazoo & Plymouth, MI

Our social media efforts are about four things: our brands (what’s new and exciting); industry trends; Imperial Beverage (our activities, institution, et al.); and “just for fun.”

Periodically, we do snapshots of logos. Day one, we publish a tiny piece, such as small piece of the landscape on a Sierra Nevada label. Day two, we publish the entire image. Over the course of the 24-hour period, we get a great deal of interaction from our followers, guessing what logo or label it represents. We’ve also published photos of a product display in one of our accounts, and invited followers to guess its location. This is a fun way to support our accounts.

One trend that we are witnessing right now is the transition of key buyers. Long-term, well-credentialed buyers aren’t a thing of the past, but their numbers are decreasing. Our accounts are employing (while not always younger) less-seasoned staff, which make our points of contact, relationship-building, training efforts and social media even more important.


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