The PR pro, the winemaker and the wine writer: 3 takes on social media
It was clearer this year than last, at Rusty Eddy’s annual winery P.R. class at U.C. Davis, that the way we see social media has achieved the Rashomon effect, which (pardon me) Wikipedia defines concisely as “the subjectivity of perception.”
Rusty teaches the class each December to winemakers, winery staff and others with an interest in the nuts and bolts of P.R. Just two years ago the class dealt with traditional P.R. — press releases, how to pitch a story, etc. — but last year Rusty decided to include blogs. This year’s agenda was practically a who’s who and what’s what of social media, including blogs.
There were three guest speakers: Jo Diaz, who (with husband Jose) runs Diaz Communications, Josh Hermsmeyer, a winemaker (Capozzi), whose blog is Pinotblogger, and me. Rusty had asked us to talk about the opportunities as well as the pitfalls of getting involved in social media.
I pointed out how a successful social media campaign can boost one’s brand (using myself as an example), but as for the pitfalls, I warned the students they are many: too long hours spent on the computer, no financial remuneration, and the possibility of people misconstruing your meaning, which can lead to tsouris.
What emerged through the other presentations, and especially during the Q&A session that followed, was an interesting insight into the fact that how you use (or see) social media depends on where you sit — i.e., what your job is and what you hope to accomplish.
Jo Diaz, who twittered throughout the class, used this activity to show everyone the marvelous ability of social media to get word out quickly and immediately engender responses. At one point Rusty announced he’d already gotten emails (on his cell phone) as a result of Jo’s tweets. That showed, in real time and the most powerful way, the force and scope of social media.
If you had to rank the three of us speakers in terms of how strongly we pushed social media, I’d say it was Jo first, Josh second and me third. Jo is very high on all forms of social media and of getting involved to the highest degree. As a P.R. specialist, she’s an expert at branding, which is the art of getting your name (brand, winery, whatever) out there in the public consciousness and then keeping it there, associated with, of course, pleasant, positive images. I could easily see how, if I were a P.R. professional with clients to publicize, I too would be twittering and facebooking and blogging and everything elsing all the time, both to boost my clients’ visibility and that of myself and my company; if you’re doing P.R., what’s good for your clients is good for your firm, and vice versa.
Josh also was a big booster of social media, and he blew me away when he told us how he’d pre-sold 1,700 cases (I think it was) of his as-yet unreleased Pinot Noir, through the power of his blog, a popular read. The implication (as I received it) was that it had provided Josh a short-cut to the market, without the need for distributors or traditional marketing. That’s pretty cool; if I were a winery, I’d listen closely. But Josh also told the class it’s likely that he (Josh) benefited by being an early adapter of social media, and that others who try to copy his method may be disappointed; everybody’s doing it now, which means it will work for fewer. He used the phrase “diminishing returns,” which I took to mean that just because Josh sold Capozzi through pinotblogger doesn’t mean anyone else can replicate his success.
(Along these lines, one woman described how her winery had a very positive write-up at 1 Wine Dude, a major blog, but as far as she’d been able to determine, that hadn’t resulted in the sale of a single bottle, which she found disconcerting. This seemed to underscore Josh’s message, as well as mine, that social media is not a magic bullet for anything.)
In my talk I used the word “debunk” concerning social media, but that should be seen in the context of who I am: a wine writer/critic, with a day job for a major print publication, Wine Enthusiast. In other words, I don’t have anything to gain by being online all day (as Jo does) nor do I have anything to sell by making thousands of friends or followers (as Josh does). All I get out of blogging and Facebooking is fun and personal gratification. But there, too, there’s a point of diminishing returns: If I spent any more time online than I already do, it would become boring, and also would interfere with my day job. So for me (and, I would think, most wine writers), social media has its limits.
And then of course there were the students themselves. What were they looking for, who had come to hear Rusty and his guests pronounce on social media? It was hard to tell what was going on in their heads. Most asked no questions. Everyone took notes, or seemed to; maybe they were doodling. Several, like Jo, pecked away on portable devices. The most cogent question came from a guy connected with a winery, who wanted to know how many sites a day he should follow. He had been persuaded that social media could help his business, in some inchoate way. But he wasn’t sure where to go, or what to do when he got there. I felt his pain. My suggestion was that he shouldn’t worry about it — if he wasn’t sure what to do, then do nothing, until he knew what he wanted to do. This led to the sharpest division of opinion of the day, between me and Jo concerning the viability of social media for the working professional. As I pointed out above, social media is central to Jo, not just to her job but her conceptualization of it. Less so, to me. So that’s the question people should ask themselves from the get-go: paraphrasing the famous Jewish Passover question, “Why is social media different from all other sorts of media?” Your answer will determine how you use it.