drowning in social media

Friday, February 26, 2010

The owner of a very fine Washington boutique wrote me this week with a question that I’m sure is on the mind of almost anyone with a more than full-time business and only a mom ‘n’ pop staff to run it. Not that I have all the answers, but maybe a few of them, and anyone who calls me Obi-Wine Kenobi deserves my best effort.

Here is the e-mail I received: “My head is about to explode from social media disease. I am turning to you because you see a broader view than most of this industry largely due to your history.

“I have 4 bloggers requesting samples right now. Recently I sent samples to one who posted a nice… ‘here is some really good syrah’ on his site; I’m not sure if it was worth the cost of the wine and delivery. How and who do I listen to? I have just spent 4 hours on the computer reading and researching blogs and I am more confused than ever. I feel like this social media has us by the throat. What if we miss that one site that actually has people that read it that buy wine? And which site would that be? What if somebody says something bad and they really don’t know what they are talking about… does anybody care? I feel like if I spent all the time they do on the computer I would not have time to buy and drink wine. Do bloggers and their followers buy wine?

“Your history, connections and human contact make you much more than a blogger. But, if I was just starting out as a winery or a consumer I wouldn’t know the difference between you and the Rhone Writer of Colorado. I’m sure I am not the only winery with no time to sit at the computer and figure this out… I need to rack wine and ship wine… have human contact! If you have any advice let me or the whole wine industry know what to do. Help me Obi-Wine Kenobi, you’re my only hope!”

PG (aka Obi-Wine Kenobi): These are important questions. Here is the advice I offered:

You are absolutely right. All this social media stuff has wineries in a twitter -- oops -- I mean dither. I'll tell you what; I spend probably 3-4 hours a day blogging, reading blogs, posting comments, checking Facebook. All unpaid time of course. But it seems essential, at least for now. Here's what I think is true. There are some metrics for bloggers and some proven sites that get a fair amount of traffic. How that relates to wine sales is anyone's guess. And even the most successful wine bloggers get about one tenth the traffic of the most successful food bloggers, just to put things in perspective.

I do think that if you focus your efforts you can extract the blogging information that is most valuable for your winery without getting buried from a time perspective. Start by setting up simple searches for your winery on Google, Yahoo, etc. You’ll get daily e-mails that capture most of what is being said online about your wines. Take the time to read those comments and comment back. That puts you in the social networking world as a participant, and in my view, it’s perfectly OK to express opinions, correct factual errors, and offer technical details if you identify yourself as a winery principal.

If there are specific markets you wish to develop, look for bloggers with a regional focus and work with them. Keep an eye on public forums where wines are discussed such as the Mark Squires eParker bulletin board and the CellarTracker forum – both free. If your winery is being discussed, you'll want to chime in.

The bloggers are coming to Walla Walla in June. Why not plan to participate in some tasting activity for them? The Wine Commission can guide you with that. One site I visit daily that nicely summarizes much of the important news and links to the most influential wine blogs is www.winebusiness.com. As for Facebook and Twitter... that is where the big time suck starts to happen. I don’t know that either is as important for a small winery as maintaining your own website. That means totally up to date and accurate technical information, pricing information, and names/locations of distributors around the country.

I know there is a lot more that can be done, but this is a start. Anyone with ideas about how a small winery can get the most social media value for the least amount of time, please leave a comment.

Now, I’m off to oil my light saber...


Cabfrancophile said...

As far as submitting samples to blogs, wineries should look for blogs that already get lots of samples. Why? They already get samples because they have a readership and say nice things about most of the wines they taste. That's the most any winery could ask for: an uncritical writer writing for a broad uncritical audience. Also, send them a special high priced cuvee. The idea the blogger got a $80 wine for free will lead top a more gushing review.

Unknown said...

I've seen a limited impact on our sales through bloggers and this article seems to back me up: http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2010/02/19/FD8R1C1BRR.DTL&type=food

Dave N said...

Two suggestions from the blogger's perspective.

1. The winery Web site is crucial. Most of the wine I review is purchased (much to the dismay of my wife). I then refer to the Web site for background on the wine and winery as well as bottle shots, labels, winery photos, etc. Having the "trade" section is important to me.

Also, keeping a current calendar or list of upcoming events means that a blogger like me may find it during a Web search and run a story.

2. Keep and expand a good e-mail list. Send announcements and newsletters with plenty of links. Bloggers must constantly "feed" their blog content and are likely to pick up your promos.

In the region I primarily cover (Ohio, Michigan, Finger Lakes, Ontario), a blog can provide promotion that smaller wineries may lack.

Alfonso Cevola said...

anytime anyone, blogger or otherwise, requests samples, it's a red flag. I'd avoid those requests if I were in those shoes. Seek out the influencers and then email them and ask their policy on said matters. And go from there

PaulG said...

Alfonso, It's no secret that Wine Enthusiast sends out regular requests for tasting samples. My coverage includes all of WA and OR - over 1000 wineries in all. The only possible way to be both fair to all and comprehensive is to request samples. Every WA and OR winery has a level playing field as far as access to me for potential reviews. In no way does "free" wine influence my reviews or scores. The notion that I do this work for the free wine is just plain silly. There may be bloggers out there who are infatuated with free samples, but I assure you, it's quite different when you are reviewing thousands of wines annually.

Ed Thralls said...

As a wine blogger, I agree with Alfonso that if you have someone asking you directly for samples it is probably a red flag and I did not realize that was actually happening. Paul gives some great pointers in the post and certainly the WBC in Walla Walla is a great opportunity to learn how social media can help.

Unfortunately, Steve, that SF Chronicle article doesn't prove anything. While strict quantitative results of ROI and sales figures is currently elusive, there are several examples where online reviews or winery stories by bloggers have resulted in traffic to the winery as well as purchases (see nectarwine.com and twistedoak.com for just 2 examples). However, the greatest value of social media for wineries is brand awareness, directly connecting with current lovers of your wine as well as potential future customers that you wouldn't normally meet outside of the tasting room, and "listening" to what people are saying about your brand and being in a position to get into that conversation. Social media helps you be in a better position to control your brand and message than ever before, especially if you are a small/boutique winery that doesn't have the distribution strength and scope. But, yes you probably need some help by having someone manage this for you while you stick with your core competency which is making wine.

Also, keep in mind that social media is not 100% sitting in front of computer but rather also, and MUST, include face-to-face interaction to help solidify relationships with your customers, club members, prospects, etc.

Chief Grape said...

Steve and Paul,

I have to chime in here and state unequivocally that the winery website is critical not only to bloggers, but any customers, retail or trade. Far too many winery sites have old, out-dated information on them. Events and wine details are of particular importance. I know that many wineries have limited time and staff to deal with this, but it is so important. Wrong, or old information, casts a bad light on the winery and the wine. If nothing else, make a note to review this information at least once a week. You and your site visitors will be glad you did.

PaulG said...

Absolutely true, Chief! I'm on winery websites all the time, every day. Most are marginal, many are worthless. Even the big ones let you down. For today's (March 1) blog I went to the Northstar website looking for technical info on the 2000 Walla Walla merlot. Nothing there. All they list is what is currently for sale. That's pretty lame for a major wine company.

Anonymous said...


The winery you mentioned is not alone. There does seem to be a lot to digest in Social Media. In today's fast paced ever changing world, there is such a huge need to be 'online' because that is where your customers are.

To Ed's point earlier (I think he was referencing me and my site is actually drinknectar.com) - Wine bloggers do have a limited influence - some of the best examples are ones that are regionally focused. If your product is not widely distributed to Florida, why would you send a sample to a blogger in Florida?

I've never asked for samples. I am flattered when a winery sends me something to review because I feel it means they've done their research and they agree with my style, philosophy, and feel that the review will create brand awareness (it may not directly impact sales, but brand building is key).

Managing your brand mentions is important to wineries. At the very least a winery should be googling themselves and scrolling through the pages to see how they're being mentioned. Google is starting to index Facebook and Twitter feeds. Another big step is a product called OWNIT Your Wine Your Way (yourwineyourway.com) - this seems like a great way for wineries to monitor their brand.

I'm very passionate about this topic and don't want to take up your comment space, Paul - but great work.

@nectarwine on Twitter

PaulG said...

Josh, please, take up space. Your comments are welcome. I've added drinknectar to recommended links - should have done so sooner.

1WineDude said...

It's a tough time for wineries without PR / marketing representation, in trying to navigate wine blogs.

Having said that, even if/when you locate the blogger that has enough of a following and whose readers might be really interested in your product, it's probably a mistake to think that sending a sample to anyone (blogger or print media) will generate sales or should return x amount of sales to offset your investment.

What you should be focusing on is what that blogger can do for your brand. Potentially exposing the brand to 10,000 people for the cost of a bottle is a good opportunity and probably makes a lot of financial sense - and that's essentially what you could get in sending wine samples to bloggers.

Denise said...

Paul - I feel for the winemaker that wrote you and I envy them a bit for being in the position of having to field so many requests for samples!

As a small, relatively unknown winery, I'm the one reaching out to bloggers. Why spend my precious little time dong this? Because as 1Wine Dude points out, they're having a conversation with potentially thousands of people and if I'm included in this conversation my brand will become exposed to that audience. Of course you have to do research and determine if that audience is a good fit for your wines. So yes, it means actually reading their blogs (and more importantly the comments sections) commenting and participating yourself and paying attention to their influence. Start small. Narrow it down to five bloggers who meet your particular criteria. Mine happens to be regional influence, a focus on more unusual varieties, blogs with readers who post comments, and great writing. It does not matter to me that they are the biggest, baddest blogger. They just need to be polite and honest and good at what they do!

Well, I guess that puts you in that category! Cheers,
Trio Vintners

PaulG said...

Josh, I'm not as optimistic as you are about wineries doing that much research before sending samples. But let's face it - it doesn't cost much to send out a couple bottles of wine! Pick 5 or 10 bloggers who have a following and know how to write and take a shot. See who responds. As 1WineDude notes, it may or may not generate trackable sales, but it's the cheapest kind of advertising. I rarely - I mean almost never - see a blogger taking a shot at a specific wine or winery. Even someone as acerbic as the HoseMaster gives some excellent reviews to deserving wines. So wineries, as Mrs. G often says, "Go Big!"

Leslie said...

Have to weigh in as a small winery with a huge staff of three to do everything we feel the pain! Our focus on the blogger/social media community started about a year ago. Don't know if that makes us veterans but here's our approach with input from several bloggers along the way hope it helps as many of us struggle to prioritize it all 1)As many said website has to be top priority, agree it's where the most people will go to find you first 2)Google & Tweet Alerts get them going they are VERY useful, read them and comment when you can - also search yourself on search.twitter.com 3)Facebook & Twitter accounts,if you can start building a base now great. We share the duties of posting and TRY to get out there once a day but sometimes several days go by 4)BOWW Bloggers of Wash. Wine site a great way to check what the bloggers are saying gives the last few posts on one site. We believe we are seeing results in the tasting room and with brand recognition. As far as samples haven't done a lot of that so far but based on these comments we can see doing more of it. Good luck - go as big as you can. Remember when websites were something everyone was struggling to figure out the value of?


Chris said...

Interesting post and nice commentary Obi Wine. IMO, the WBC-Walla Walla is something Washington wineries need to know about and it's probably affecting the current dynamic they are seeing. Various contests are encouraging bloggers all over the U.S. to drink and blog about Washington wines. I'm new to this, but it appears that is happening with greater frequency and it's not surprising out of state bloggers are requesting samples, particularly for wineries without wide national distribution. My expectation (which may be wrong) is that this wave hitting Washington now will subside once WBC is past. Between now and June though, this is Washington wineries' chance to get a brighter focus from the blogging community. I'd encourage them to do everything others have suggested, but sending a dozen or so samples over the next 3-4 months might mean some impact nationally if that's where you want to grow.

As a disclosure, I'm lucky enough to live here, buy everything I blog about, and don't want samples shipped to me. I have hard enough time coordinating any club shipments with the FedEx or UPS guy since my cat can't sign for the shipments yet.


Austin Beeman said...

One idea to discover which of the retailers in market are also blogging. I, for one, run a small but eclectic wine shop and write/video for my blog.

When winemakers or owners are traveling in my area (toledo, Ohio), being able to interview them for the blog is FAR MORE VALUABLE THAN A FREE SAMPLE.

It helps me stand out as a blogger and retailer.
It helps me sell the wineries wine, as I send my blog to my customers via email.
And I, of course, only want to interview a winery if I like the wine. So you know your time isn't being wasted.


Erika Szymanski said...

As a brand-new wine blogger, I can't fathom asking anyone for a free bottle even ten years down the road and if I had a substantial readership. On the other hand, I have wondered what etiquette and protocol deem suitable as far as tasting and tasting fees go. If I visit a winery or tasting room with the intent to write about the experience, is it:
1. Reasonable to mention my intentions and ask about points they might like me to mention?
2. acceptable to ask for waiver of the tasting fee?

"starving grad student" that I am, tasting fees (and tickets for formal tasting events) often limit where I go and therefore about what I can blog. My interest is in meeting winemaker and educating anyone and everyone about wine with a focus on local independent wineries. Helping to support small-scale winemakers is exactly what I hope to do!

Finally, especially if someone offers to waive a fee but even in any case, am I -- or to what extent am I -- beholden to write only complementary things about the wine? Does anyone have suggestions on what to do if I really don't think much of a wine?

My thanks!

PaulG said...

Erika - Please see my post for March 10 for my thoughts. Thanks!

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