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How 3 Millennials are using social media to build careers

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1. Hallzfreak. She’s a Korean young woman (I’m guessing about 22 years old) who is becoming a YouTube sensation through her Ulzzang videos. Ulzzang is a Korean term for “good looking,” which is something that many South Korean young women want to be. Makeup is a huge part of being good-looking for a young woman, and Hallzfreak’s videos are tutorials in the art of making yourself up. Some of the videos on her YouTube page have more than 100,000 views, and Hallzfreak also has a Twitter page. Her YouTube channel page had 460 comments (last time I checked).

2. DaveyWavey. He’s a NYC gay dude, young twenties, and his revenue stream is selling his yoga, workout and inspirational videos — shirtless, and sometimes pantless (although he’s got on his tighty-whiteys). Needless to say, DaveyWavey has a great body. He’s only got 888 Facebook friends, but 11,422 people follow him on Twitter, and his YouTube channel has nearly 7,000 subscribers; one of his many videos has 831,878 views. I’ve got to believe he’s selling his books and videos to lots of admirers around the world. I think DaveyWavey has Richard Simmons in mind as an entrepreneurial role model.

3. Liba. She’s a young woman, Middle Eastern I think, who owns a falafel truck. She lives next door to my friend, KJ, who told me about her. She makes homemade falafels, organic salads, hummus, raita and sweets “baked fresh in the LIBA kitchen,” then sells them from her little truck. She’s what’s been called a “guerrilla café” (the Times reported on the “street food boom” earlier this year), one of a small army of itinerant food vendors who hit the lunchtime streets of San Francisco and the East Bay, a different place each day, and let people know where they’ll be through the Internet and digital alerts. She’s on Facebook, Twitter, and of course she blogs.

All three of these young people have discovered interesting, charming and profitable ways to use the Internet and social media to forge careers for themselves. Which brings me to wineries. I don’t see how a winery can take this same approach. Hallzfreak, DaveyWavey and Liba are selling unique services, as well as themselves and their personalities. They’ve carved out niche areas in which to work. A winery by contrast is not a personality, and wine is not a niche product. There are thousands of brands all competing against each other. Who’s competing against Hallzfreak, DaveyWavey and Liba? Nobody, or almost nobody. That’s why they’re making it.

  1. Steve – I don’t think it’s a matter of competition. It’s a matter of being unique among the competition.

    There are actually tons of people competing against each one of these examples. Take DaveyWavey for example. There are about a BILLION fitness and wellness bloggers out there – so there’s tons of competition out there for him. However, DW has found a way to stand out. He does his vids shirtless/pantsless and NOW he’s unique.

    Just because a winery isn’t a person doesn’t mean it has no personality or brand. Businesses like wineries can (and SHOULD) do the same thing as DW – but for the most part keep their shirts/pants on.

    For wineries, look at social media like another tasting room. There are THOUSANDS of tasting rooms in California alone, but that doesn’t mean a winery shouldn’t have one. Each winery can be unique and stand out in the experience they give consumers. It’s the same way with twitter or facebook or a blog. All it takes is a mastery of the medium.

  2. DaveyWavey could buy a winery in Napa after he makes millions.

  3. Who competes with Steve Heimoff’s writing? Nobody!

  4. Matt, thanks very much.

  5. Good points, Leah. Maybe wineries should do what DaveyWavey does. Or, on second thought, maybe not : >

  6. Unfortunately the reasoning in this piece is heavily flawed. First, Leah’s points are important. Each of the examples provided involve individuals who are competing in massively competetive markets – in some cases far outclassing that of wine (cosmetics and beauty products, fitness). There are two more fundamental mistakes of logic here:

    1. Wineries are not personalities: There are two main problems here. First, this conflates personalities and brands and suggests that social media cannot effectively market brands that aren’t based on “personalities”. It also mashes all industries into a single mushy free-for-all. Different industries brand in different ways and different companies within those industries also brand in different ways. If, as most social media experts will tell you, social media is merely a tool that extends traditional word of mouth marketing, then any industry that benefits from word of mouth should theoretically benefit from appropriate and effective use of social media. Social media helps build communities and there are many wineries out there that rely entirely on the communities established by word of mouth.

    Second, many wineries do, indeed, have or are based on personalities. Sean Thackrey, Manfred Krankl, the late Didier Dagueneau are all examples of wineries where personalities have become the driving brand behind the products. Not to mention all the “star” winemakers out there that shift from project to project (Heidi Barret, David Phinney, etc.). Given that many wineries have effectively marketed themselves based on personalities, effective use of social media can theoretically either improve the reach of these exisiting personalities (if even needed), or can provide a tool for future personalities to begin creating word of mouth reputations for themselves.

    2. Wine is not a niche product. Unfortunately, this statement is simply incorrect. Perhaps if we aggregate the entire industry into one giant blob we might think that wine is not a niche market. However, wine is a heavily segmented industry, and there are many niches for different products, ranging from those who pursue scores to the natural wine crowd, to prestige buyers (all in different markets), to budding wine enthusiasts, etc. Not to mention that most small wineries effectively operate as niches, as do most community wine stores. Since niche markets rely heavily on word of mouth to establish and maintain their market presence, a tool that is extremely cheap and effective at increasing word of mouth about a particular niche could logically be very beneficial to those in the industry who rely on such niches to make a living.

    The real questions that this article completely misses is HOW did these individuals use social media to build their brand and WHY did it work in their particular case. Then, one needs to extrapolate from these case studies to determine if the causal factors are relevant to the particular niches in the wine industry that could theoretically benefit from greater use of social media. Understanding what is effective and ineffective use, and understanding the true impacts of social media, is an important bit of market research and analysis that all in the wine industry would benefit from. Drawing faulty analogies from limited case studies tells us nothing about the importance of social media to wine.

  7. Shea, first of all, the famous winemakers you refer to were “made” by traditional print media critics. Critics continue to be able to make or break wineries and winemakers. There is no example of a wine brand that “made” itself online. Yes, as you point out, “effective use of social media can…improve the reach of these existing personalities” but I do not see any evidence that social media can create that sort of fame for a winemaker, or, as you put it, “provide a tool for future personalities to begin creating word of mouth reputations for themselves.” You are making a huge assumption for which there is simply no evidence. Aside from Gary Vaynerchuk, name me one wine personality who has achieved any level of success online.

    As for wine being a niche product, certainly it is not. It is a mass-produced product. There may be a niche for one type of wine or another (Vin Jaune, let’s say), but I see no way for an unknown producer to use social media to leverage his fame. He would have to do it the old-fashioned way: good reviews, hitting the road meeting with accounts and customers, etc. Social media could be one part of his formula, but if that winemaker depended on SM totally or to a large degree, he’d never make it.

    It’s obvious to me how the 3 people I profiled are using SM to build their brands. What is not obvious to me is how any winery can borrow their examples and emulate them. If you hear of a wine brand that succeeds in doing so, please let me know!

  8. Adrainne Hanusek says:

    I lean toward agreeing with Shea here. Unknown producers certainly can use social media to leverage fame, but it has to be done correctly. Just because you set up social media accounts doesn’t mean you’ll be discovered, you have to engage and interact frequently – it is hard work. I’m sorry, but I don’t pay attention to critics most of the time, I don’t ever remember what I see on billboards and if I do I don’t pay attention, I rarely watch commercials – usually change the channel and go back, and I don’t look at ads in magazines. I, who is a Gen-Y/Millennial, engage much more via the internet and social media. It may not work for everyone, depending on generation, but It has a lot more hold with many people. If wineries stay in the past when it comes to media, they won’t get anywhere any faster. I think all media avenues should be used rather than one versus the other, and social media should not be left out by any means.

  9. Steve,

    Thanks for the reply. I think you took what I said too far. I did not say that social media has already accomplished what old world of mouth marketing has done. I also did not say that old-media critics had nothing to do with making these reputations – they obviously were hugely important – thought I would also argue there are many examples of effective word of mouth marketing that never benefited from a critic’s review.

    What I did say was that social media is in the same vein as old school word of mouth marketing and that, theoretically, it has the same potential. However, the cost of the tool is far less and it allows wineries and wine makers to control their messaging more effectively.

    I also mentioned that there needs to be proper research to determine the impact of social media, not intuition. Intuitive feelings about the importance of social media to wine are irrelevant next to proper market research. My point was more that your analogies were faulty and that your article does not provide any insight into the relevance of social media for wine.

    I am not fully decided on the importance of social media to wine. I need to see more research. However, the market trends suggest that it has a very high potential to be relevant. We are dealing with the baby stages of a tool that is changing the nature of information dissemination in our society. If pepsi co thinks social media has some impact (they pulled super bowl ads in favour of a social media campaign), then I’m guessing they had some real market research to back that up. This, along with reams of other examples, suggest that intuition is not a sufficient base to decide whether social media will be relevant to wine and will have the ability to catapult careers or brands into success.

  10. I should also add that I think you are misunderstanding the nature of a ‘niche’ product. Wine, overall, may be a large industry. But within that industry exist many niches. Eric Asimov’s recent article on California Syrah is a good example of how syrah has failed to make it as a main stream product, instead moving towards being a niche product. The examples you site in this piece are also niche products within larger industries (pantless workout regimes within the larger fitness industry).

    It is also incorrect to say that wine is a mass-produced product. Some is, some is not. That’s somewhat like saying ‘food is a mass produced product’, even though there are clearly huge segments within the food industry. I do not think Mario Batali would see his food as mass-produced, and I’m sure the small neighbourhood restaurant that specializes in “slow food” would see itself as operating within a “niche” of the larger food industry.

    These are precisely the niches that benefit most from word of mouth. I think your analysis of the wine industry as a mass industrial product is simplistics, and, frankly, incorrect.

  11. This is an interesting discussion and one that I often run into in many other businesses. Older, established business assume that what worked in the past for them will work in the future and that what is working for new businesses using social media is somehow unique or different. The new successful businesses have something unique that they can’t replicate. Success is a combination of factors that include promotion, customer service and quality. Liba would not be successful if her falafels sucked. DaveyWavey would be no where if people didn’t find his system works. The success of both DaveyWavey and Jack LaLane did not depend on Facebook.

    I am in the social media business and not the wine business but I started working with a small winery in Forrestville just a couple of weeks ago. We are just starting to work on their social media marketing plan but in the first weekend after we updated their Google Places listing the owner was getting results. The owner did notice a difference in the clientele. They were younger and more professional then his normal customer and they Googled Russian River Pinot Noir on their cell phones.

    A really good study was done last year by Wetpaint and the Altimeter Group: http://www.engagementdb.com/Report that measured the engagement of companies who used social media compared it to their profitability. Of course they could not directly attribute a direct ROI on social media engagment but they did find a very strong correlation between involvement in social media and profitability. Top of the list for both social media engagement and profits was Starbucks Coffee. The bottom of the list for both factors was AIG. But it wasn’t dependent on the type of industry. Thomson Reuters and SAP AG were in the top 10 and Wrigley and Hennessy were in the bottom tenth. It’s not what you’re selling but how you are doing it. And it’s not all one thing or the other but a combination of things. Again, if Lib was rude no one would twitter about her. I think there is a place for wineries in the space. At least I hope so or I’m not going to get any more clients!

    Oh, do check out http://www.engagementdb.com/Report. You can enter in your company’s information and see how you stack up against others in social engagement. They also have information about what the other companies are doing so you can check them out. And you can download the report.

    Steve I enjoy your blog and I couldn’t help but notice that you have 1, 037 Facebook friends. Good job.

    Tim Lorang

  12. Tim, thank you very much for your perspective and the valuable information you shared.

  13. Shea, Eric’s column was old, old news. He said nothing that everybody else hasn’t been saying forever. That’s deadlines for you! But I stand by my view. Mario Batali is a great example of somebody who “made it” by sheer force of personality. There are thousands of wannabe Mario Batalis who tried and failed. And Mario made it through personal connections, talent and television — not through social media. So I am still waiting for the breakthrough social media star who blazes the path and shows everyone else how to do it.

  14. Well Shea, give me examples. “there are many examples of effective word of mouth marketing that never benefited from a critic’s review.” Name one.

  15. Steve, first I appreciate your continued responses. Sure that column is old news, but I was only using it as a (well written) example of how wine segments into niches.

    I am still not arguing that there are any clear examples from social media. What I’m arguing is that social media is an extension of word of mouth marketing, which has been operating for decades.

    I can give you an example of one winery that benefited from word of mouth and social media, in fact. Brown Estate was visited by the founder of twitter several years ago who tweeted about how much he loves his experience there to his huge numbers of followers. Immediately following this, they got many more requests for visits, greater sales and a huge jump in wine memberships.

    I can also say that certain wineries benefit a lot from word of mouth rather than critics reviews. Consider a winery such as Occhipinti from Sicily, which has established an exceptional word of mouth reputation for itself despite no large critics voice. There are many domaines in Burgundy that have done the same well before critics were on the scene.

    Again, my point is that word of mouth marketing has always been important and that social media is a theoretical extension of it. Whether and how it will be effective in the long run is another question, and one I cannot answer. Timothy provides links to some useful information that I will take a look at, and his suggestions and analysis make sense to me.

    However, the basic premise of your article simply does not make sense. Wine has all the factors within it that could benefit from social media marketing (personalities, brands, niches, etc.). The differences you suggest between your examples and the wine industry simply do not hold up to logical scrutiny. Again, thanks for indulging my comments.

  16. Though I follow Liba on Twitter, I learned about it because Gail parked near my day-job work one day and some of my co-workers noticed the truck. Now we’re frequent visitors (she’s close by to us on Mondays). The food’s delicious, but we didn’t learn about it through social media. And my take from the crowds around her truck is that her business has grown through old-school social media: word of mouth from people talking to friends and co-workers. Half my office knows about her because of my evangelism.

    The street food scene has certainly enjoyed success because of Twitter (mostly) — I think the Twitter dev conference recently had some of the street food trucks cater — but it’s worth remembering the old ways of doing business. Make a good product, be smart about location, and your customers will tell the people around them.

  17. Derrick, totally agree. Twitter/social media is only a part of the answer. One thing about Liba is that, as I understand it, she follows roughly the same schedule every week, i.e., if it’s Tuesday she’s on that corner in Emeryville. I think many of the other itinerant food vendors have random schedules which they post online (or send through alerts). That would be the only way customers would know where they are.

  18. “Social Media” – the internet open forum of communication, is an expanding channel to engage and brand build. To those who experienced the world before the internet and email, or their grandparents who may remember not having telephones, this is a similar evolution in the way we communicate. Print communication is still important, as is telemarketing and sending eblasts. Using social media (evolving as it does) is another arrow in the quiver, a tool in the sales and marketing strategy toolbox. I do think the dialog about it is becoming a bit tiring, and it is time to just do it!

    Gary Vaynerchuk is a fine example of a wine industry pro who has used social media and its various forms (blog, video, buy it now ecommerce) with phenomenal results.

  19. Erica, true what you say about Gary. But I think he’s an outlier — an unrepeatable phenomenon. His model will be very difficult for anyone to replicate.

  20. A lunch truck is not a niche service, but perhaps a falafel truck is. A wine is not a niche product, but perhaps a Sierra Foothills Tempranillo is.

    My wine brand has not yet “made it” by any means, though I would argue it is in the process of “making it” via a combination of social media, traditional word of mouth, and putting a sign on the highway.

    Maybe I’ll buy a used lunch truck and re-outfit it as a mobile tasting room. I wonder how long I could get away with that?

  21. Jefe, whenever people ask me which winery I think is working social media the best, I say TO.

  22. Eye Forget says:

    “Mario Batali is a great example of somebody who “made it” by sheer force of personality. There are thousands of wannabe Mario Batalis who tried and failed. And Mario made it through personal connections, talent and television — not through social media.”

    Well, he definitely did not make it based on his cooking. If he was a cook in Italy he’d be burned on the cross. His recipes are terrible. The ingredient proportions are all wrong and the cooking is wrong. What results is a treat for people accustomed to MacDonalds and Olive Garden.

  23. Steve,
    I second the kudos for Twisted Oak using social media at its most effective. When Calaveras County becomes trendy in its’ fifteen minutes in the spotlight, TO will be casting a generous shadow.

  24. TO does a great job.

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