all the little birdies go tweet tweet tweet!

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Yesterday morning I was the guest speaker at a wine marketing class here in Walla Walla. The students were enrolled in a variety of classes at the College of Viticulture & Enology, and they were a thoughtful and attentive group. Much of the discussion (it was not a lecture; I just sat in and fielded questions) was focused on blogging and social media and their impact and utility for marketing wines. One student's question in particular got me thinking.

He had recently attended a high profile wine event in Seattle, at which members of the wine press, along with consumers who bought the high-priced tickets, were granted early entry. He noted that there were many people who were tweeting and texting away, apparently comp'ed into the event because the sponsors wanted to engage social media activists.

This student was puzzled as to the purpose of it all. As was I. There was a big screen up on the wall, he said, and all the tweets were scrolling rapidly by. But what for? A focus group? Most of these people were strictly amateurs, he went on to say, with no media credentials other than tweeting skills. Did they really belong there?

I certainly am not criticizing anyone who grabs a free pass to a pricey wine tasting, and maybe some actual marketing rewards resulted from all the tweeting. But it seems doubtful. After all, unless you were already in that room, or perhaps standing in line with a ticket, wondering which wines would be running out first, who was following that barrage of tweets? The sudden and unexpected impact of so-called social media on wine marketing has led to a sort of gold rush mentality. Everyone wants to stake their claim, in any possible way.

So the gates are open wide to anyone with a Twitter account and a handle that suggests some sort of wine connection. Is there any actual marketing value? Perhaps in a really focused tweet-up, with a host guiding it, something of value can be gleaned. But I doubt that any actual blip in sales results from any of this. It costs very little (some free passes, a video monitor) to set it up, and it looks as if the sponsors of the event are really in the know about social media. But the reality is that no one is really in the know, because it hasn't sorted itself out yet.

I hope all the tweeters had a good time, and some of them actually used the opportunity to learn a bit about their subject, rather than just following the ready - tweet - aim philosophy. It's a good time to be a tweeter. Sometime fairly soon, we'll know if it adds up to anything of value.


Rand Sealey said...

Paul, I'm with you on this. Most of the social media types, especially the tweeters, are people under thirty. How much experience do they have with tasting and appreciating wines, especially in comparison to you and me with decades of working in the field? I doubt that these tweeters will have much to contribute.

Bryan Maletis said...

I disagree. I'm 32, new to the world of Twitter, and I have the palate of a 32 year old who loves wine. Rand and PG might have more experienced palates, but if I follow someone on Twitter, I follow them for a reason. It doesn't matter if their palate is young or old, I'm interested in a diversity of palate preferences. I find Twitter useful when you follow and tweet about interesting subjects. It might not lead to sales, but it allows you to connect with people, some of whom might be customers, or just friends and colleagues. @fatcork

MagnumGourmet said...

Wow Rand! I have to say that i've never looked at your reviews and after a comment that elitist, I won't be. Anyone that is willing to thoughfully consider a wine (whether it's the first glass or the 10,000) has something meaningful to contribute to the conversation.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Paul, I was interested to see at this year's Taste Washington that numerous people were using Twitter to make wine recommendations during the event and talk to their friends about what they were doing. While I didn't pay a lot of close attention to the #TasteWA hashtag during the event (difficult to do on my phone) a lot of people were before, during, and after. There were a few wineries in particular that I noticed got a lot of mention.

I was also interested to hear that when I tweeted about some wines I enjoyed at the event, several wineries subsequently said that they had people coming to the table mentioning the tweet and several folks on Twitter subsequently thanked me for the recommendation. Looking back at the Twitter stream I saw a lot of back and forth between people during the event so I think this happened with a lot of people.

I think Twitter is an interesting addition to the conversation about wine, allowing people to talk and discuss whatever they wish in a much larger forum. Twitter can definitely be used to generate buzz if done properly. Unfortunately it is often very hard to put a dollar value on what this is worth.

PaulG said...

Bryan, I never meant to say that Twitter was not an effective means of networking. But is it valuable as a marketing tool? That is the question I am trying to look at here. Magnum, I think you are over-reacting. Rand is simply stating a truth that applies to virtually everything. In two words - experience counts. That is not elitist; it is simply a statement of fact. Sean, when I mentioned focused tweet-ups I was thinking of your events, which have a focus, a purpose, and a moderator. That doesn't necessarily sell wine, but it certainly adds value to the dialogue.

MagnumGourmet said...

I agree that experience counts for a lot. However, what I am reacting to is the last line of Rand's post "I doubt that these tweeters will have much to contribute.". Implying that if you don't have vast tasting experience, you don't really matter. I find that elitist.

dean guadagni said...

Hi Paul,

I would like to offer up our Twitter white paper, featured on, "Leveraging Twitter as a Prospecting Machine" gleaned from our work with a Napa Valley winery:

We believe Twitter is a very effective tool for prospecting, marketing, crowdsourcing, and reputation management.

We would greatly appreciate your feedback, and your audiences' thoughts, on our work. Thanks Paul!

PaulG said...

Dean, I'd love to see the white paper. Please email it to me at

Many thanks!

dean guadagni said...

Hi Paul,

Thanks so much for embracing my suggestion. I just sent the white paper to you. Let me know you received it- thank you!

Rand Sealey said...

Magnum, I do not consider myself elitist. I do not review wines that are not readily available in the marketplace or from the winery. My purpose is to evaluate wines in a way that is helpful to the serious consumer.

Sean's comments are particularly revealing in how Twitter transmits information in practically real time. That, I am sure, is a help to those who are on the scene. But I wonder how much that helps other consumers who are faced with a bewildering array of wines in the marketplace. It is my belief that wine reviews, mine and Paul's are intended only as a guide to the consumer, not as an elitist dictum on what to buy.

I guess the point of all this is that whatever information gets out to the consumer is worthwhile, whether it is by blogging, tweeting or whatever. It's great that everyone gets to have their say. It's just a question of how effective, comparatively, these methods of communicating are. Maybe Dean's white paper mentioned above will throw some light on that issue.

dean guadagni said...

Hi Rand,

You make some very good points. I would like to address your last paragraph.

I agree that information that gets to the consumer via their choice of channels is always a good idea. The power of Web 2.0 social media is the fact we now control our information, have a voice in delivering our information, and do not have to rely exclusively upon the mass media for exposure.

Our white paper focuses on Twitter because we believe it's the best "real-time" tool to connect with consumers, recognize them as valued prospective customers, and solidify the beginning of an ongoing relationship.

Thanks for the mention; if I may shed light on any questions you have, feel free to connect.

Sean P. Sullivan said...

Rand, I think that is an important point about Twitter. Twitter is very much about real time. If you ever want to prove this to yourself try looking back at a Twitter feed 6-12 hours later. It's almost impossible to do without your eyes crossing.

One of the Twitter experiences I always refer back to was a discussion a number of folks had about Washington Chardonnay a while back. Someone asked for recommendations. One person jumped in. I added my ideas. Someone else jumped in and added a few more. A discussion ensued with a few more people seconding the wines mentioned. Suddenly someone, who had been silent, said "Thanks for the thoughts. Just picked up a bottle on-line of one of those wines." Wow! I hadn't met any of these people before but we had a conversation on-line, much like we could have had at a party, that resulted in someone deciding to buy a wine. That's pretty interesting. Again, how do you put a dollar value on something like that? No idea.

1WineDude said...

If you use a hammer on a screw, things will usually not work out so well. Any tool can be misused, or used poorly, and twitter is a tool when it comes to engaging customers who are also using it. If you're marketing in wine / wine PR and are looking to stake a claim on twitter, then you've already gotten it wrong; you should be asking how you can connect and create relationships with the people having the conversations there, not wondering whether or not you think those conversations are valuable - that community has **already decided** that they are valuable so the discussion on that topic is totally moot anyway.

Put another way, fish where the fish are, and twitter is where some of the fish are.

PaulG said...

"I guess the point of all this is that whatever information gets out to the consumer is worthwhile, whether it is by blogging, tweeting or whatever." Not sure I can entirely agree. The key word here is information. Old school journalism clearly delineated information from opinion. Researched, verifiable fact from personal, subjective critique. Blogging, tweeting, etc. do no such thing. Opinions fly about unanchored by fact, experience, or (in some cases) even a basic grip on reality. So, to borrow the Dude's phrase, everyone is getting hammered and then screwed. I have no bones to pick with tweeting as a pastime, but as a critical tool, or a marketing tool, I'd say it is a lot of chaff and not much grain. Later today I'll read thru Dean's white paper and post up some further thoughts. Thank you all for the interesting dialogue!

Anonymous said...

Interesting dialogue, I would have to say that the marketing value of twitter is limited, especially with something as nuanced as wine.

It can go one of two ways, either the winery has control over the tone/direction of the which case it's basically a real-time email blast. Or, like at the Taste of WA, everybody chimes in and a handful of wines get voted most popular while it creates a disregard for the wines that aren't being mentioned. yes, that's like real life conversation, but feels more weighted because it's rapid and faceless.

I don't tweet, and while I see the value in using twitter to get tips on neighborhood hotspots or deciding which movie to see, I think the crowdsourcing nature of twitter at events creates a mob mentality and forces people to put too much weight on what they should be drinking instead of what they want to drink. It doesn't replace a wine reviewer or an experienced palate, where you can form your own opinion based on more details. Would you rather be able to talk to your fishmonger face to face or tweet all your followers about which salmon to buy?, as you can see, I have a hard time saying anything in 140 characters

Sonoma William - Simple Hedonisms Wine Blog said...

wow. You really need to get a deeper understanding of Social Media, branding, integration with traditional marketing, building brand ambassadors, and consumer engagement.

Whether there was value in allowing all the people into the event or not is one thing.

But to extrapolate that into a statement that says "Twitter account and a handle that suggests some sort of wine connection. Is there any actual marketing value?" ...?

This is one (minor) example of a use of Twitter.
As consultant to several major brands, head of Social Media for the Rhone Rangers, and someone who works closely with great organizations like the North Sonoma Wine Road, Hospice du Rhone - there are many many effective, demonstrated use cases of Twitter as an effective social media engagement tool.

PaulG said...

Hey that's great Sonoma William, and I have no doubt that I need a "deeper understanding of Social Media." Which is why I do the blog and ask the questions. I am willing to look like an idiot compared to experts such as yourself in pursuit of some actual learning. So give me some specifics. That was the whole point of my post. Chewing me out for my own acknowledged ignorance does not further the discussion.

Larry Olson said...

Here is the deal from my perspective, Paul. Marketing 101 tells you that people by from people. After 20 years in sales and marketing I can guarantee that this is the case. So, if you could use a tool that can make your brand more about relationships, information sharing, education as well as have fun doing it, wouldn't you?

I love to see information on how fermentation is going, how things are tasting in barrel, what new projects my favorite winemakers are working on next. I even like to see twitpics of Brennon Leighton after he had fallen in a bin during punchdowns. It drives the connection a consumer feels to a brand and more specifically to the people behind the brand. Most of the people I know aren't using it to tell people (or be told) what is popular to drink or what they _should_ be drinking. It's all about sharing experiences, connecting with people that love wine like I do and staying in touch with brand ambassadors. Those brand ambassadors are typically the winemakers themselves.

Getting long-winded here, but I have one more point that I think is being overlooked. The wholesale generalization of the under 30 crowd by Mr. Sealy. Complete and utter hogwash. I've been drinking wine (seriously outside of Boone's Farm, LOL) for about 12 years now. I'm 36. My palate in those 12 years has been everywhere from South Africa's finest to the smallest producers in Sicily. From Napa to Bordeaux. The Mosel and Long Island's best (and worst). There are literally millions like me and far more coming up behind me in their mid to late-20s. Trying to disenfranchise an entire decade of people seems short-sighted at best. I am sure you should rethink your opinions. They may not have 40 years of tasting experience, but they are the biased old guard that is heading off to pasture, either.

Larry Olson said...

One last point...

If you are starting a new winery from scratch and want to connect with wine drinkers, wine writers and maybe even the odd distributor for future use, wouldn't it make sense to do it for free? It's like a whisper campaign that doesn't need an advertising agency to run it.

Thanks for listening.


Terry Christiani said...

Twitter is one tool. If we isolate Twitter in the Social Media toolkit, we see a tool that is great for building brand awareness, customer service and promotion. Applying metrics to Twitter involves a few different pieces. First you want to look at "Reach" how far is your message travelling - are you being re-tweeted and by whom? Next you want to understand "Sentiment" when your company and/or product is mentioned is it positive, negative or neutral? Finally, you want to tie those metrics back to your own real world sales for the same time period. No one is only using Twitter in their social media strategy. There is always a mix of things going on and the organizations that are focused on growth will take the time and effort to set objectives, establish a baseline and measure their efforts regularly. Value of Twitter? It can be established if an organization is willing to engage and do the work. @terrychristiani

Rebecca Gunselman said...

As a small winery, I cherish any shout out I can get! If I'm at an event & a taster has their phone out, I tell them my handle (@ROBERTKARLWINE) & suggest they tweet their personal review of our wine.(Unfortunately, they are usually txting their spouse.)

As to experience, I certainly respect it; however, every taster needs to start somewhere. Additionally, like wine writers, if a Tweep is tweeting BS no one will follow but if you agree with a tweep's palate you'll respect his/her up/down vote on a wine.

John M. Kelly said...

I like Joe's point - "fish where the fish are." I use Twitter as a tool to be talking WITH the slice of the world that uses it, rather than talking AT them as consumers. I get really annoyed at the idea that everything I do to reach out to people who want to engage with our brand has to fit in the paradigm of metrics designed to measure the effectiveness of push advertising. @jkellyca

Rand Sealey said...

I apologize for the generalization about the under 30 generation. I readily admit that those who are serious about wine can learn awfully fast. And I have no desire to "disenfranchise an entire decade of people" as Larry above suggests. I am not of the "biased old guard that is heading off to pasture."

I do agree that person to person communication can be influential, whether it be by Twitter or word of mouth. In the old days (which BTW may brand me as an old fogy) the recommendation of a friend or a wine merchant was always respected.

That said, I believe there is a difference between spontaneous communication and the careful, studied reviewing done by experienced professionals. Evaluating wines and discovering the nuances they convey is a process that takes time and care.

Nelson said...

We live in a world were there is so much more information around us than ever before, and with the likes of Twitter, Facebook, blogs etc this is only going to grow as a trend.  We need to learn to harness and create value with this trend as opposed to treat it as a fad that will go away, because it definitely isn't.

We use Twitter for our brands to have a relationship with those that are interested through;
- listening to thoughts and opinions,
- answering questions,
- having conversations, debates on topics of interest,
- sharing information about our journey,
- sharing personal experiences of wines, restaurants and cooking,
- sharing useful information I come across (like everyones comments here).

I agree with Rebecca that one of the most important points with the likes of Twitter are that the reader will decide what adds value to them, and if there is sufficient value, choose to keep following or reading their future blogs.  They can also, of course, change their mind at any time.

Value can only ever be judged and measured in the minds and hearts of the consumer/reader.  This is certainly one of the most important truths in Marketing.  Twitter provides a forum for opinion and debate, which isn't being censored as in traditional media, i's more like a round table, candid discussion.

If BS is being 'pushed' by anyone, they will very soon have many other tweeters debating their BS which anyone can read and make up there own mind.  This BS type of tweeter doesn't last long, unless they are providing some value to their followers.  Since different consumers value different perspectives they will follow different Tweeters.  

With web 2.0 comes the growth of powerful tools to help us have a direct relationship with our potential customers, ambassadors and even critics.  All this at essentially no cost except for time. Those who yield these tools while always aligning them to their business goals, are the most likely to find true value to for their customers and hence them. 

Jeff Lewis said...

Hey Paul,

Great topic. Regarding "Is there any actual marketing value?" ...

One of the most impressive uses of facebook and twitter I've ever seen in terms of marketing happened this last winter in Seattle for the 50th anniversary of Canlis Restarant:

I can't tell you how much buzz built up in the foodie / online community in Seattle while it was going on. Just very clever, and I'm guessing resulted in bringing in new customers.


Dave McIntyre said...

Twitter and other social media can be an avenue for wineries to build and connect with their customer base, especially for wineries that don't have access to the "winestream media" because they aren't on the West Coast or in an area traditionally thought of as "wine country."

This has been a big theme behind and the annual conferences we've had in Texas, Virginia and Missouri. The "Twitter Tasteoff" each year gives winemakers instant feedback from consumers and bloggers and generates buzz throughout the twittersphere. During the Missouri conference earlier this month, we saw people chiming in from around the country. In those few hours, Missouri's wine industry got thousands of "impressions". Whether anyone will remember a particular wine from a tweet may not be the point - lots of people who weren't even there heard good things about Missouri wine.

So yes, there is definitely marketing value.

uwp said...

Are the kids off your lawn yet?


I am annoyed enough as it is on Facebook when someone has multiple "status updates" in one day. I've never bothered signing up for an account with Twitter. But I do pop into some feeds when I'm looking for an update. I have no idea how people can process all the info that comes with hundreds of following/followers.

And I've been saved on more than one occasion by checking a winery's twitter feed and learning that the tasting room was closed for the day... so I guess it's not all bad.

Bob said...

Just a hunch, Paul, but I think you're going to gain a higher appreciation of Twitter and other SoMe marketing strategies as you amp up the marketing efforts for the new B&B. ;-)

Ed Thralls said...

Twitter is a tool that allows us to do the same thing we are (or should) already doing in sales & marketing which is reaching an audience for your product, engage them and build relationships such that they eventually become a customer and then an advocate - see the sales & marketing funnel concept. Only in this case the tool allows us to have much more reach as well as share the message and engage in a real-time manner. Simple as that.

78% of consumers trust peer recommendations, while only 14% trust ads

"Peer" doesn't mean someone with 20 years of wine experience - it's simply about word of mouth and who you trust.

For Rand, you may be interested to know that the demographic who tweets the most on Twitter is actually a 40 year-old male. Not sure where you get your facts. The fastest growing demographic on Facebook is 55+ year olds. While I am on demos, keep in mind that today's millenials are tomorrow's (and already today's) winedrinkers and they'll be bringing their technology with them, so you better be ready.

I agree with Paul that a more targeted tweetup could have better sales results, however, in thinking about the funnel again, a broad tasting tweetup like this brings together folks on this platform who are interested in a specific topic: WINE or perhaps even more targeted like #Cabernet or #TasteWA. While the tweets seem fast, furious and useless during the event to the skeptical, it is a wonderful thing to follow up later that day or the next and mine all those tweets as potential prospects to pour into the top of your S&M funnel. Reach out to them, thank them, ask them more questions about the wine they like, what they didn't like etc... take that conversation to the next level. We've never had the opportunity to interact in this way with so many prospects so quickly.

There is so much more to learn for all of us... so, just be open-minded enough to find the ways in which it can help you... which could be different in how it's helping the next guy.

Jon said...

Hi Paul,

Great topic!!! I wanted to add my thoughts from a retail perspective. My Wife and I opened up a wine shop a little over a year ago and twitter and facebook has been an integral part of our marketing....or should I say the majority of our marketing (besides sending information to our neighborhood blog and a weekly email). We have done some tests over the last year to see how events/tastings do when we tweet/facebook vs. no tweet/facebook. Our tastings are always better attended when we facebooked and tweeted the event....which results in better sales.

We participated in the #Cabernet tweet up last year and we were amazed at how much buzz was created and how many people came to participate in the event. We saw over 150 people that evening and a good percentage of those people were not a normal customer of our shop. (Several continue to come to our shop due to that event) The use of twitter has brought people to our shop that might not have even know about our shop..and in return, they tweeted about!! In that has been great value and the event was a great marketing event for our new shop. Sales were good, people had fun and we got great exposure.

Social media has been very valuable for us and the best part about it....It's free! As many above have stated...twitter and social media has no just need to find what works best for you and how you want your brand/business to be portrayed. Its been fun for us and we will continue to keep tweeting and sending out facebook posts to our followers!

Love your blog and the topics that you bring up. Good Stuff!!
Thanks again.
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