Gallo’s social media strategy: First, do no harm
David Bowman is vice president of premium and fine wines for E&J Gallo. His portfolio consists of brands like Louis Martini, Mirassou, MacMurray Ranch and William Hill, but not, say, Barefoot. In other words, Gallo over $9 a bottle. When I asked to be connected with Gallo’s top social media person, Bowman, 38, is who they hooked me up with. We spoke by phone last Friday.
SH: Does Gallo have a social media strategy?
DB: It’s all starting to develop. We’re in the early stages of trying to understand what role it should play in our media mix. We’ve taken a watch and wait role. Is it disruptive to something we’re already doing? It defies some of the characterizations we generally apply as marketers. What is the intent? What is the net result? But because social media is very democratic, it appeals to a broader audience than a Wine Enthusiast reader.
That’s all very theoretical, but what are you actually doing?
From a public relations perspective, Michael Heintz [Gallo’s PR director] is actively spending time with bloggers. He does outreach to certain bloggers. We send wines to certain bloggers.
How are those bloggers chosen?
The criterion is how influential we think they are, how broad an audience they garner.
How do you determine that?
A lot of it is based on the facts you can see. A lot of them make claims, “This is how many people read my blog.” Some of it is by reputation.
What would you consider a good enough readership?
I wouldn’t put a specific number on it. It might be geographically based, or this person has credibility in a particular region.
What does “credibility” mean?
Well, this is why I said it defies characterization. You’re going to a place where an individual consumer can instantly become a wine reviewer and influence a wider circle of people. This has to do with the democratization of wine.
So is print becoming less relevant?
From a credibility point of view? It can become much more marginalized in importance.
What will replace print?
That’s the hard part, with 1000 blogs out there, as opposed to setting up one meeting with a famous wine critic. He [Michael] is now interacting with hundreds of people. And that becomes difficult. How do you tell if someone’s credible or not? There are no rules. How do you know if they have reach? It’s very, very hard.
Can there be a single strategy at a company like Gallo where you have so many dozens of brands?
Great question. Each and every brand has a personality and a set of reasons for the consumer, retailer or restaurateur to believe the brand makes a great wine and has a good story.
Does anyone at Gallo actually blog?
From us on behalf of the brand? Not as of today.
Well, we’re trying to figure out the best way to do it. Here’s the challenge. Think of Facebook: There are issues of protecting your trademark. And how relevant will you be in that context? Five or six years ago, everyone ran to the Internet thinking they needed a website. But what brings people back? So when you enter Facebook, I say make sure you have something to talk about! The last thing you want is to have a site on Facebook and say “I’m here” without having anything to talk about.
How do you figure out what to talk about?
Depends on the brand. Take Barefoot, which is in Stephanie Gallo’s group, not mine. They’ve been assertive in moving into the social media space. Now, I could argue we haven’t done anything on our premium portfolio, but it appeals to a much more narrow audience [than Barefoot], and we’re still trying to figure out what we want to talk about so someone will log in. For example, what role will Michael Martini play [at Louis M. Martini]? What’s happening on Highway 29 today? Because if the content’s not fresh, why should the consumer care?
Well, how long will it take to figure out what you want to say? You can’t just think and think about it forever. Eventually, you have to just get out there and start talking.
I agree. I’m just saying it’s important that you have something to say. If you have nothing to say, don’t get out there and say it! For you, Steve, you have something to say. From my seat, as an individual brand, I wonder if there’s enough for the consumer to come back, because the last thing I want to do is bore them.
How do you keep that concern from becoming an impasse?
I understand where you get to a point of paralysis. We do have a lot to say — we just haven’t organized around it to ask who’s responsible for policing our site? Who’s in charge? It’s like any company that’s new to this social media space — defining who’s accountable. This is why this area lacks so much definition in our industry. It defies characterization. You want people to be passionate. But somebody also has to be responsible to make sure there’s relevant content that’s fresh and accurate and doesn’t subject us to liability.
Is it conceivable that, ultimately, social media might not be a strategy that’s in Gallo’s future?
My answer is unequivocally no.
So what concrete steps can I expect to see you take over the next six months?
Well, you’ll see without a doubt some of our brands start to enter into a more active participation on Facebook, blogging, Snooth, podcasts, talking about what we’re doing at the winery. In my portfolio, the brand that makes the most sense is Martini.
Could you see Gallo hiring a Director of Social Media to oversee all brands?
Probably not. As it relates to individual brands, from my perspective I’d rather push that responsibility down. It will be up to the brands to make it work and keep the content fresh.
What did you think of the Murphy–Goode thing?
I thought it was an interesting P.R. exercise. They hired this blogger to be a blogger but the tent was for P.R. They capitalized on the broad interest in social media to exercise a P.R. tactic. It said, “This brand is progressive and thinking about the future.” But from my point of view, whatever we do it has to be based on authenticity.
Is it possible for any winery to be perceived as authentic in social media, when people know what you’re really trying to do is sell a product?
The consumer of today, my generation, Millennials, they are very sensitively marketed to. They tune it out instantly, and they want a sense of truth and authenticity. They understand if you’re online and have something to sell. They’ll enter into the relationship already knowing that. But they’re willing to accept it, because there’s something of value to them.
Are there any wineries you respect in the social media sphere, other than Murphy-Goode?
Umm. [long pause] Not in the true sense of social media. Everybody’s still toying with it. A lot are doing it to capture consumers for the wine club. The funny thing is the consumer and someone like yourself who blogs are most empowered by this format, but brands are still trying to figure out what this means. It’s not like a traditional P.R. campaign or buying a TV or magazine spot.
Do you yourself regularly Facebook or blog?
I do not. It’s a conscious decision. Mostly I’m in a sensitive position given what I do. If I’m online talking about wine, anything I say could be construed by consumers or press, so it’s more self-restraint. I’m very opinionated but right now it would be irresponsible for me to do so. But I’m online a couple hours a day, and I do it inbetween [other tasks]. Snooth has an interesting operating model. And Michael [Heintz] brings stuff to my attention constantly.