Wine and Web 2
February 4, 2011
Social marketing: what wineries need to do and what bloggers are already doing
A form of this article has been published recently in Meiningers Wine Business International
Over lunch in early September in Bordeaux, Taiwan importer Steven Fang of Château Wine & Spirit Co., Ltd. was not impressed with the intention of Château Léoville Poyferre to translate its website into Chinese. ‘That’s not enough,’ Fang told owner Didier Cuvelier. ‘You need to create content that is tailored to the Chinese market with a Facebook page in Chinese to encourage conversations with potential buyers,’ he suggested. Whilst sipping on a 1982 Léoville Poyferre, Fang explained that the Chinese want to read a ‘good story’ behind the château: ‘one that tells us more about the owner and his tastes, not just for Bordeaux wines, but what other wines he likes.’ Didier’s sister Anne, who manages communication for the château, busily took notes. ‘We know people who can do this in Chinese for us,’ she remarked.
Across the Atlantic in California, wine branding consultant Jeremy Benson, founder and president of the Benson Marketing Group, affirms that wineries must develop foreign language social media to promote their brands. ‘The next challenge in the coming months,’ he said, ‘is to tap into international clients who travel often and speak several languages.’ According to ‘Inside Facebook’, the blog of the social media platform Facebook, non-English languages, in particular French, Turkish, Spanish and Indonesian are growing quickly and contributed to its 500m users worldwide, announced this past July.
‘Using widely available demographic analyses and a bit of intuition, we are projecting that wineries will have more and more opportunities to communicate with consumers who find wine through international travel, food, art and culture,’ Benson told Wine Business International. ‘Just take travel – it’s a huge industry that indexes very closely to wine consumption. And now we have the social networks, digital tools and multi-lingual websites to make it easier to link these consumers to our roster of clients.’
Wineries cannot afford to ignore the potential, he asserts. When he visited Rioja on a wine tour in Spain recently, with 25 consumers, at least four countries were represented and two-thirds of them were in their 30s-40s and had smart phones. ‘But during the 90-minute tour and tasting, there was not a single offer to join their [Rioja] Facebook page or engage in the winery brand at all. What a missed opportunity!’
Mutual benefits of social media
Wineries, wine businesses and wine associations are taking notice of Web 2 – a term which refers to web applications that facilitate interactive information sharing and user-centered design. Such applications, from Facebook to Twitter, afford Internet users free choice to interact or collaborate with each other in a dialogue, as creators of user-generated content in a virtual community, in contrast to websites where users (consumers) are limited to the passive viewing of content that was created for them. Web 2 may sound bewildering to the wine world, but general advice is to jump in.
Constance Chamberlain works hard to promote Austrian wines as an employee of the Brand Action Team, an award-winning marketing agency, which helps alcohol brands in the U.S. market. Since May 2010, she manages a blog on Austrian wine, linked to a Facebook page, and tweets about articles [sending messages on Twitter] as they are written on the blog. ‘We have learned that social media isn’t just the use of one outlet; it is the use of a combination [of platforms], so that interested consumers can access information easily and in ways which suit their preferences,’ she said. Chamberlain is also the ‘curator’ for the majority of Austrian wine regions and grapes described on Snooth, another social media platform specializing in wine. Snooth editor-in-chief Gregory Dal Piaz, writes most content himself and manages a wine bulletin board. ‘Constance curates several pages, and with a fairly comprehensive wine database, it’s a win-win situation,’ Dal Piaz told Wine Business International. ‘Snooth gets well maintained pages and those regions get someone to update and maintain their pages, not to mention answer questions and interact with the Snooth community,’ he explained.
‘If a winery has marketing text that they want to feature on their Snooth homepage, we welcome it,’ Dal Piaz added. ‘It’s the place where they get to represent themselves, and we feel confident that our audience can judge each approach on its own merits.’
Back in Bordeaux, some châteaux are stressing W2 to reach out to younger buyers. ‘Today we have to face the music,’ remarked Corinne Conroy, communications manager for Château Brane Cantenac in Bordeaux, who regularly updates the château’s Facebook page and interacts on wine blogs. ‘There are so many ways of communicating that doing regular advertising does not suffice… our customer base is shrinking [old age], so we have to be in touch with the next generation and reach out for a younger crowd who will hopefully become Brane Cantenac’s followers,’ Conroy said. ‘They have no sense of space and time and everything has to be done instantaneously and right where they are, so if we want to be efficient promoting our brand, we definitely have to be where they are: on Facebook, on Twitter, on blogs, on web videos.’
Quality over quantity
Although some social network sites – MySpace for example – seem to be in financial difficulty, social media is here to stay, most experts say. Their opinions are backed by stunning growth figures. Twitter, for example, has grown over 1,000% from early 2009 to 2010, from some 7 million unique visitors to 70 million. It is the ‘strongest and most influential of all the social media tools,’ said Hardy Wallace, who blogged and tweeted his way to fame in Murphy-Goode Winery’s A Really Goode Job campaign last year. Wallace was picked to run a 6-month social media strategy which led to the California winery receiving over 880 million media impressions, a 130% increase in sales revenue and a 70% increase in tasting traffic.
Wine brand marketing on the internet is like a ‘good dinner party,’ said Benson, and ‘the quality of the evening is based on the quality of the interactions, not the number of guests.’ It is not enough to have many Facebook ‘friends’, for example, but to ‘tighten up’ social media campaigns and ‘increase the quantity of interaction over the quantity of fans’. Such a strategy, Benson said, requires wineries to increase online interaction with consumers who have already tried the wines or have just visited the tasting room. ‘This often leads to a longer conversation, which is great for the consumer,’ he explained. ‘And great for the winery as we are able to hear their impressions immediately after exposure to the brand.’
Some wineries are still studying W2 and seem perplexed by the phenomenon. Patrick Maroteaux of Chateau Branaire Ducru in Bordeaux said that he has not found anyone competent enough to efficiently meet the challenges of rapid response in a multi-language format. ‘I would like to deal with this,’ he said. ‘I need to work on this, but have no time.’ He is also annoyed that someone he does not know created a Facebook page for Château Branaire Ducru. ‘I put a lot of attention into our website to reflect our image, to make it modern and agreeable,’ he said. ‘I have no idea who set up that Facebook page.’
But Terry Hall, communications director for the Napa Valley Vintners Association, tells his member wineries that ‘standing on the sidelines just isn’t reasonable today.’ He urges ‘anyone in the wine business’ to have Facebook and Twitter accounts. ‘Even if you don’t care to post as part of an ongoing social media strategy, these social media outlets give one a channel for reputation management,’ he explained. ‘In this day and age, where new media channels create so much discussion, being ahead of your message is critically important and a business like winemaking that depends on third-party endorsements really has to be engaged in the conversation—positive or negative.’
Wallace agrees. ‘People need to realize that claiming their online brands – on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube or any other social media channels) is as important if not more important than grabbing your URL. Getting your identity and name back is extremely difficult and the one way to prevent this is to claim it first,’ he said. ‘If someone is masquerading as a company on Facebook, I would immediately contact Facebook support (which is notoriously slow),’ wrote Wallace in an e-mail.
The growing importance of bloggers and wine bulletin boards
As general social media platforms grow, wine-specific social media on the Internet are growing, too. Cellar Tracker, which groups opinions of wine bloggers on its website – and has increasingly sponsored the writings of established wine writers and critics – generates anywhere from 300,000 to 500,000 monthly unique visits, said Cellar Tracker’s Eric Levine. In 2009, the site accumulated 400,000 wine reviews. In 2010, Levine estimates over 500,000. Wine businesses are taking notice. Just last month, I received an e-mail from Wine Library, the store made famous by ultra popular wine video blogger Gary Vaynerchuk to hype a special offer. Rather than start with Vaynerchuk’s flattering tasting notes, the e-mail self deprecatingly advised ‘Don’t take our word for it’ and proceeded to list four ‘actual customer reviews’ from Cellar Tracker. Could it be that wine bloggers and independent commentators writing on social media sites like Cellar Tracker are beginning to challenge established critics? Wine Library seems to think so, and it is using their opinions to sell wine.
But who are these bloggers and ‘independent’ critics? Is there not a risk that anonymous posters paid by the wine industry write flattering notes to sell the wine? For Benson, blogging requires ‘100% transparency’. Many wine bulletin boards which group bloggers’ tasting notes insist on a ‘real names only’ policy and posters/bloggers must disclose their affiliation, if they are ‘ITB’ (in the business), for example. But experience also reveals identity, Levine said. ‘One key element to determine the authenticity of a reviewer is based on their “reputation” within the community,’ Levine said. ‘The more notes they publish that are found helpful, the longer they do so, the more likely they are to be authentic,’ he explained. ‘Stated differently, if you see that a reviewer has posted just a dozen notes, all on the wines from the same winery, high scores, no real track record of posting other notes, they have recently registered, well, those are all warning indicators.’
Wineries are taking notice of bloggers. I once received an e-mail from an angry winery about a tasting note I wrote that criticized the wine. In this author’s opinion, bloggers who are taken seriously by wineries tend to be those who have been active over a certain period of time and especially who write in more mainstream media, wine specialized or otherwise.
‘As with anything, there is certainly a hierarchy of bloggers,’ said Chamberlain, who reads blogs regularly as part of her job with Brand Action Team. ‘Once we determine the value of the blog, we cultivate a relationship with the writer based on who they are by participating in conversations they are interested in and interacting with them on a personal level through e-mail, phone, Facebook, Twitter, etc.,’ she said. ‘From there, we generally send out samples that interest them – and special requests are generally accommodated. Their names are added to lists for invitations for tastings and also for the Austrian Wine newsletter.’
Bloggers and journalists are ‘equally important’ said Conroy at Brane Cantenac. ‘We always invite them to Brane when they want. They can stay in our guest house, have lunch and dinner with us, just like regular journalists; they are gate keepers in their own ways and today, and I consider them important trend setters,’ she explained. Some of the bloggers she deals with include Allan Liska from Cellar Blog and Chris Riccobono, a video blogger in Pardon that Vine.
Wine blogger Brad Coehlo is known by many wineries in New York’s Fingerlakes district as an online critic. He has acquired a few hundred subscribers to his “Unidentified Appellation” blog, ranging from friends to industry professionals, producers and enthusiasts who benefit from his tasting notes, he said. ‘Initially it began as a creative venting space – an online diary of sorts with negligible readership,’ he said. ‘But as it and I grew, it became a networking tool of sorts.’ Like other more serious bloggers, he has increased readership by posting notes on established wine social media sites. ‘I would leave my blog in the signature,’ Coehlo said. ‘Those that were interested in what I wrote had an online card of sorts to look up.’ Such a pattern works all over the world. Take blogger Martin Barz, based in Berlin, Germany, who has established a following among German wine lovers with his “Berlin Kitchen” blog, which combines wine and food tastings. So much so that established German wine critic Nikos Rechenberg also publishes Barz’s tasting notes. The basic blogger strategy to obtain recognition is to get published in as many established media as possible, establish a niche, and earn a certain respect among the wineries covered. As Coehlo said: ‘Specialty seems to be the name of the game’ with different bloggers focusing on specific categories.
One of the most effective ways to come into contact with bloggers is to subscribe to a growing number of open wine forums, which often include bloggers. Because blogs grow like so many mushrooms in autumn, such wine forums – including wineberserkers.com in the United States, wine-pages.com in the UK and talk-about-wine.de in Germany – are reliable for uniting many different voices of the wine world, and often report breaking news. Wineberserkers.com grew from the shutting down of erobertparker.com just over one year ago. ‘We have over 3,500 members now and average about 30,000 posts per month,’ said founder Todd French. ‘For a wine specific repository of information, the forum is more effective than Facebook or Twitter’, he added, ‘as it is archived and fully searchable, and each thread is indexed by Google and other search engines, so the exposure in the wine industry is definitely more long lasting.’ Indeed, many winemakers and wineries monitor such bulletin boards to see what is being said about their wines, given the easy search tools.
Back in Bordeaux, Bernard de Laage de Meux of Château Palmer, another estate acutely attuned to W2, just hired someone with experience in online marketing who will devote her time to updating the château website, writing tweets, and interacting with online bloggers. ‘Blogs and social networks do not replace traditional wine writers and journalists but rather complement these professionals,’ he said. ‘W2 has in the end empowered the consumer, and Web 2 is an extraordinary tool to respect the opinion of the consumers. Facebook and Twitter today, tomorrow other tools, offers us the opportunity to listen to them, to reply to their questions and tell them about the château,’ he explained.