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Can a winery get buzz from Twitter? Probably not

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I saw Biz Stone on C-SPAN talking up Twitter, which of course he co-founded. He told the tale of a New York night club that was struggling to get attention. When a local celebrity tweeted that he was going there, badda bing, next thing you know hundreds of people were trying to get in.

That’s a great example of the Twitter influence. Another, on a much more massive scale, is the way that kids in the Middle East are pulling off the Arab Spring, using Twitter to alert each other. This kind of stuff is exciting, and clearly establishes Twitter as one of the most revolutionary advances in the history of human communication.

So what does this mean for wineries?

I’ve been saying for years that it means nothing. Put me down as a Twitter skeptic. There are vast differences between popularizing a night club, mobilizing crowds against a regime, and boosting the fortunes of a winery. And anyone who confuses or conflates these instances is bound to be disappointed.

We can dispense with the Arab Spring use of Twitter immediately. Political movements have always depended on the ability of a core group to communicate widely with a constituency, whether it was by putting tracts up on church walls, broadcasting shortwave radio messages or, nowadays, Twitter. That’s all Twitter is for modern politics: the most up to date way for constituencies to talk to each other. But does anyone think that the choice of a wine brand is a revolutionary act, comparable to overthrowing a government?

Now, let’s think about that New York club. In that example, a lot of people already were ready to go out on a particular night. They were looking for someplace cool, when lo and behold someone cooler than them told them to check out this club. So of course they did, and in so doing they created, and became part of, buzz. They had nothing to lose by going to that club. If they didn’t like it, they could always go someplace else, probably in the same neighborhood. Manhattan has plenty of clubs.

The hope among winery proprietors is that they can use Twitter (and social media in general) to create this same kind of buzz–an energy that will send people flocking to buy their wine (hopefully direct from the winery, so they don’t have to deal with distributors). But I haven’t seen any evidence yet that this can be done. It was different with the night club. Clubs are driven by buzz, same way that restaurants are. Whatever club is the buzziest at any given time will get the crowd. And when it comes to creating buzz, there’s nothing like a celebrity endorsement. People have always flocked to clubs that had celebrities in them, from CBGB and Studio 54 back in the day to San Francisco joints like Infusion and DNA Lounge.

But how can a winery get buzz going? Can you think of a single instance? I can’t, and I’ve been watching this scene for a long time. I suppose in theory one could imagine a celebrity talking up a winery or a wine brand, and it could have a certain impact. Lil’ Kim sang about Moscato (“still Over In Brazil sippin Moscato,” from Lighters Up/Welcome To Brooklyn), and that, among other things, is said to be responsible for Moscato’s popularity, especially in the hip hop community. But let’s say Lil’ Kim’s lyric was, “still Over In Brazil sippin Fetzer Moscato.” Do  you think hundreds of thousands of people would be out looking for Fetzer Moscato? I don’t. Besides, celebrities usually don’t mention specific brands unless they’re paid to endorse them.

Take it a step further. Let’s say someone famous with a high likeability factor, like Bono, tweeted that he liked Fetzer Moscato, and then, somehow, that tweet got retweeted so much that it became a trending topic. I suppose that would give Fetzer Moscato a certain boost. But it wouldn’t last for long. It couldn’t, because before long all the other Moscato producers would figure out what was happening. They’d hire their own celebrity endorsers, and the whole thing would become absurd. Either that, or the shelf life of such an endorsement simply would expire beyond a certain point, probably within a matter of weeks.

I understand the theory behind the night club tweet story. It’s an urban legend, simple to understand, and compelling. All success takes is a tweet; little wonder that winery proprietors are so enthralled with the possibilities that social media dangles before their eyes. All I’m saying is that so far those possibilities have not materialized into reality, and the logic of the situation suggests they’re not likely to in the future.

  1. Steve – seems to me you are confusing the concept of something going viral on-line and creating a temporary (and significant) “overnight success” bump, with the real value of twitter, which is engagement.

    The former is like my band putting an MP3 on the web and waiting for overnight success (good luck with that one); the latter is like getting the band’s music into multiple channels and interacting with fans who are really passionate about the tunes, in the hopes that they will talk about it with their friends and the buzz will grow, just at a much slower pace and more organically than in the (very) long-shot example of breaking big in one enormous splash.

    Your take on this is a matter of not understanding how to use the tool to its greatest effect, or its most likely best use for 99.999% of the businesses out there who want to engage customers directly.

  2. Hey Steve. I think you might be fighting an uphill battle here – most bloggers seem to love twitter. I do agree with you that there is a lot of hype around it, and perhaps unjustifiably so if used without some innovation. Still, being able to interact with clients from their cell phones on the convenient platform can only be a positive.

  3. Hi Steve,

    I have to agree with 1WineDude…and I have actually seen twitter successfully used for wineries. It is a great tool for connectingand engaging with potential clients. As a matter of fact I have sold 90% of my wines on twitter and facebook. I have been able to use social media to get the word out about Passaggio Wines where only a few would have heard of me at all…

    This has helped me launch the brand and I am now growing…

    Cynthia Cosco

  4. I think Twitter has great potential, but personally I haven’t seen that potential realised yet.

    As an example, last week there was a “tweetup” (am I the only one who feels stupid saying that?) to promote pinot noir. In the followup to justify everyone’s efforts, tweetreach statistics showed that “…#pinotsmackown reached 368,924 people, 4.8million impressions from 800 contributors with over 2700 tweets”.

    Well that’s certainly impressive. But I was watching it all and I would say that 99% of all those involved were in the wine industry.

    So how does that help sell wine? Surely it’s not about how much you can talk to your industry mates about your wine, it’s about how much you can get OTHER people to talk about your wine. Surely it’s all about engagement, isn’t it?

  5. Have to say that I am with “the Dude” on this one. Social media is much more about the constant engagement of the consumer through multiples of channels in order to establish a sincere and consistent message to the market. Twitter is simply one of these channels to foster outreach. The best social media programs rely upon much more than just Twitter to engage existing customers and prospects.

    Going viral can present as many problems as it does opportunities to a brand and unless managed well will fizzle leaving a bad taste in everyone’s mouth. Losing control of your core message only to have today’s fun, hip line become tomorrow’s bad joke isn’t anyone’s idea of a communications win.

    While the 800 people who were contributing to the #pinotsmackdown thread may have been in the industry, it is relatively safe to say that the 4.8 million impressions successfully reached and influenced consumers. Especially when you stop to consider that the online stream was a reflection of real-time events being hosted in the real world, serving real wine to real people. That is an excellent result for a communications event.

  6. I view twitter as not being about buzz, but as another channel to build on the foundational awareness of a label, brand, winemaker, cause, or whatever it is you’re tweeting about. On its own, buzz is rarely going to move wine off the shelf in any immediately quantifiable way. Jay-Z’s Armand de Brignac “Ace of Spades” and Ch Lafite-Rothschild in China are examples of when it does work, but neither was particularly twitter-driven. In the wine world, twitter can be the avenue to a establish a “prequel to buzz”.

    When used properly (ie: as a means of conversation, not as an overt sales tool), twitter give you an opportunity to add a sense of personality to your brand and create a bond (tenuous though it may be) between the wine and the potential consumer. If they’ve heard of your wine via social media, consumers are more likely to give it a try when they see it on a wine list or on a retailer’s shelf. If they like the wine, then they tell their friends and that’s where consumer engagement and buzz kicks in.

  7. There are several brands I now buy almost entierly because of Twitter. I agree that it is not a magic bullet, but I also think Joe Roberts summations are 100% correct.

  8. Social media is just a piece of a complete marketing plan, not the only piece. Just as running an ad in a glossy like the Enthusiast isn’t the full marketing plan. In “Crush It” Gary Vaynerchuk talks about spending close to $10K on a perfectly placed billboard, which generated a small amount of immediate directly attributable sales. He posted a discount code on Twitter and sales exploded for the promotion. But then again, Vaynerchuk spends a great deal of effort on marketing his product on social media channels, if you do something in a half-hearted way; you’re more apt to get less than optimal results.

  9. Wayne, which brands do you buy because of Twitter, and why?

  10. quote: “Wayne, which brands do you buy because of Twitter, and why?”

    Bonny Doon for one. I didn’t know the whole story (good and bad) of Bonny Doon and Randall Grahm until I started following them on Twitter. It then became a personal connection for me and I regularly interact with them now. They have a balanced approach to social media and I think use it in the correct context, to engage on a personal level. But the reason I now promote them practically like I am on their payroll, is because I once sent Randall this, “I would love to work with you some time,” via Twitter.

    However, will these efforts grow their direct to consumer sales by 20%, I doubt it. In that sense, I think you are correct in your larger point, that Twitter or other social media tools won’t shift the tides in your direction as a winery. There is a lot more to it than that.

    Also interesting, there are several brands that came into my radar in a more positive light because of Twitter, like Jordan (who I thought was an old man brand because of how they present “their look”). Alta Colina, Thomson Vineyards (a grower not producer), Donkey and Goat, are all examples of people I will seek out because I know something more of their product than a 89 and a few tasting notes. I keep up with all of them on Twitter.

    Conversely, there are a few brands I have lost a lot of interest in because of their misuse of social media, they shall remain unnamed.

    I don’t think it is for everyone (I don’t think we will see an @ManfredKrankl anytime soon) and I don’t think it is sound business to count too much on it. If you make 250,000 cases a year, social media might have less impact on moving sales than if you make 2,500 cases. With that in mind, if you are a small to medium sized winery, I have no clue why you wouldn’t be using Twitter and other tools to connect to consumers.

    This is too big a topic to sum up with out me rambling on. I know what social media and particularly Twitter has done for me. I also know that I don’t read Wine Enthusiast (I should) but you Steve, are still influential in some of my thoughts on wine because of this blog (I have also welcomed your resent and slightly expanded use of Twitter). I guess my point is, every new tool opens up some new doors, some are dead ends, others change everything, the way the Internet did, and blogs, and Facebook, and Twitter.

    Platforms and tools change. The principles of good communication do not.

  11. I blab too much.

  12. So Wayne, sre you buying Randall Grahm because you actually like his wines, or because you have a perception he’s engaging you on Twitter?

  13. Steve, great question.

    I remember remarking to a friend at a wine shop how much I liked the Australian’s approach to wine labels and he said, “an attractive label will get you to buy the bottle once, but if it is no good you won’t be back.”

    Same story with social media.

    In Randall’s case (although I had had his wines some years before not knowing what they were, Cardinal Zin when he still made it)it was a case of the contact on Twitter leading to the exploration of his wine. I like the wine so I buy it, a transaction made sweeter because I also like Randall and what he does. Perceived or not, Randall is my homie and I like that and it does create a reason to buy a few of his bottles every few months.

    But this speaks to your bigger point Steve, that social media might be good for one transaction or possibly a few, but it won’t cause people to bang down your doors if you make poor quality wine or overpriced good wine. (Or in my case, you are part of the Evil Empire of large producers)

  14. Steve,

    In the short term, wineries need to sell wine, and for that, short of gimmicks, twitter doesn’t really work. In the long term, however, they need to sell themselves. The days of wineries with faux french names and the air of superiority are long dead. We now want wineries that have a personality. Twitter is an excellent way to communicate that personality and display a personal connection to these seemingly nameless faceless producers. It may just take that extra personal affinity to close that sale 2000 miles away unbeknownst to anyone, and impossible to track.

  15. I’d like to stand up behind Joe and with Cynthia. Twitter has given me a way to engage directly with those who buy our wine to sell, those who serve it and those who drink it .. in real-time. I find myself tweeting with a barman in Vancouver as I pour out breakfast cereal, or advising someone about drinking windows for superlative vintages. And as well as a slowly growing gang of people with whom I interact regularly, I have purely Twitter generated sales, visits and contacts to prove it. It has provided a platform for discussing canopy management in four different countries, along with countless other debates or exchanges about the growing season or other wine-related matters. I don’t think buzz is what I’m after but a way to locate people who know us or who would like to know more about us. And then, of course, the truth is in the bottle!

  16. Over two years ago I dipped my toe into Twitter out of curiosity (I had been told that social media was the way to reach millenials.) Trying to wrap my middle-aged mind around it made my head hurt (literally) for a while but, much to my surprise, I quickly became fairly active.

    There is no question in my mind that Twitter has created a slow, steady, sustainable buzz. (Millenials are only a small subset.) It’s not a sales tool, though it has begun to drive quite a bit of traffic to the winery.

    It has been a fun way to plug into a like-minded community. One of my favorite Twitter stories is that my daughter and husband stayed with one of my twitter buddies during a college tour on the east coast last spring. (I have yet to meet that twitter buddy in person.)

  17. Steve,

    Your stated your case well. But, as with most things, it is a question of degree. Twitter is just another form of communication. So tweeting about wines improves communication beyond what it would otherwise be. The winery that was hosting Steve Tanzer’s tasting for his annual review of Washington State wines tweeted that one of our wines was the “wine of the day”. Getting that news out via Twitter won’t result in an immediate dramatic increase in our sales but it gets the word out to more people than would otherwise hear about it, like getting a positive review from a wine critic but to a smaller audience. The effect is more cumulative than immediate, picking up customers a few at a time.

  18. Staying with apples to applies, SH asked about using Twitter to create buzz which led to some positive action toward a transaction. The Gary V example is not quite on point. First he has a gazillion followers, but he did nothing more than offer a discount. So Twitter for communicating discounts does sell wine.

    But what about something close to the club opening or making the club scene to achieve buzz. There could be something that approaches this example. http://www.vin12.com is combining hitting a club and showcasing wineries. Bringing vino to where the scene is.

  19. Fred Reed says:

    My question is how do you qualify and quantify all of those tweets. Plenty of businesses have gone belly up while people were talking positively about them, but not BUYING.
    You have convert talk into $.

  20. Bill Smart says:

    I love this conversation. Great stuff everyone and thank you for being so insightful!

    I can understand Steve’s POV. I get it. Twitter doesn’t sell wine, why do it? BUT, check this out:

    http://shankman.com/the-best-customer-service-story-ever-told-starring-mortons-steakhouse/

    This is one of the most powerful examples I have seen recently about what kind of impact Twitter can make. It really doesn’t matter if it was a PR stunt or not. The bottom line is that it worked and as a result has created THOUSANDS of POSTIVE tweets and impressions for Morton’s. I can guarentee you all that someone following this is going to be looking to take a big client to a steak dinner and will choose Morton’s over all the other big name steakhouse chains. That is powerful stuff folks. I really love this quote to:

    “….customer service is no longer about telling people how great you are. It’s about producing amazing moments in time, and letting those moments become the focal point of how amazing you are, told not by you, but by the customer who you thrilled. They tell their friends, and the trust level goes up at a factor of a thousand. Think about it: Who do you trust more? An advertisement, or a friend telling you how awesome something is?”

    Sorry for the rant. I am just really passionte about this!

  21. I’d like to simply share some of my personal experiences and quickly say, i am no social media expert.

    I just received my bottle of VA wine after seeking some guidance from others in “the know” of VA wines. @myvinespot was one that gave some suggestions after a few questions. He’s an engineer by trade that visits VA tasting rooms often. I’ve never been in a VA tasting room so I was in need of some help. He makes himself available, is respected by many, seems to have a reasonable grip on the area, and very easy to approach. Twitter success! 1 bottle of VA juice sold!

    When I worked the restaurant business many years ago, if I had a story about a wine or winery i would tell it. Why? Because the people I spoke with would buy stories, they buy scores, and they buy opinions of others who do not have a motive. They might ask me for a wine suggestion, skip the sommelier and they would listen for it because they believed I had no motive.

    I’ve been able to get some on twitter to visit a business because of my suggestion. I’m nobody and certainly no expert, but they placed a value on my opinion and met the winemakers; which were nearly all on twitter. Another customer visit because of twitter.

    It is significantly easier to communicate on twitter about a winery when they too are on twitter.They can engage back unlike a website. It gives the person a warm fuzzy feeling that they will be treated well and meet friendly people. Did my suggestion create a buzz? No. Did that business get another customer visit, in multiple instances yes.

    I’ve read many of these articles because I see them on twitter. Success! Another website hit! Steve, I believe your following is large enough you do not even need to be on twitter because others will tweet this article……just like I will after typing :-) Maybe I can get just one more person to read this because of twitter? I doubt I’ll create a buzz about it with my small tweet.

    My father used to say “how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Twitter in my view is either one bite at a time or a media buzz that has someone famous saying something meaningful on the 6 O’clock news which could send droves to a nightclub.

  22. Steve – I have to agree with Wine Harlots. No one form of media (be it social or traditional) is the way to market your product – and this includes wineries. Using social media to enhance everything else you are trying to do just kicks it to the next level. Twitter reaches people that will never see your billboard and may never read your blog or even see you on Facebook. One tweet reaches thousands of people and if it does get retweeted, it reaches a few more thousand. It’s not the only solution for promoting your wines or winery, but used correctly in conjunction with a few other strategic forms of media, you can’t help but win!

  23. jon campbell says:

    I agree steve…I tried the twitter thing and found it to be a waste of time…..

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