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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.

  1. I can underscore the points made here about social media (and in fact all media) not being a magic bullet relating directly to wine sales.

    There is a small Napa winery making excellent wines who received a write-up not too long ago in the magazine Wine & Spirits. They told me that as far as they could discern, the feature & positive reviews amounted to exactly one sale that they could attribute directly to the write-up. One case of wine.

    ONE sale of ONE case.

    The point, as has been said by many more knowledgeable than I on the topic of social media & bottom line sales, is not that media can equate to sales with a direct-line correlation. It’s the exposure, over time, of the brand and the medium-to-longer term effects of that exposure, both positive and negative.

    Add into this the various other things that play into wine sales – distribution, availability, price-point, etc. – and it’s not surprising to me that coverage didn’t equal sales. What it equals is some exposure to people who otherwise might not have thought about the brand or the wine. It’s also an opportunity for a winery / winemaker to join in the conversation on the blog piece about their wine – through comments, etc. – and therefore help to control the message being sent through the blogosphere about their wine.

    Interesting topic for discussion, in any case!


  2. I doubt if I could move a case of wine on my blog. But I do know that when a wine gets a good review in Wine Enthusiast, it has a huge impact on sales. What that tells me is that, despite predictions of the “death of print media,” it’s very much alive and relevant.

  3. Totally agree, Steve – this is underscored for example by the Top 100 wine sales list, which I recently blogged about. It’s clearly driven by value (< $20) and scores (90 or above from WE, WA, WS, etc.).

    Blog coverage is really about *exposure* at the moment (not sales), and the opportunity to engage a few thousand people that otherwise might not know the story about you and your wine.

  4. David Cole says:

    Thanks for sharing Steve! I’ve been using social media to help my brand for a year plus now. I can’t really put an ROI of my time or say that I have opened one dealer from it. I have sold wine direct and that is nice, but it’s like anything, it takes time, patience and determination. It’s not really much different than traditional media, except it’s more fun, more interaction and get instant feedback.

    Let me explain. If I go traditional, I mail off samples, don’t interact with the taster, writer, magazine or anything. The reason I say that is because your not going to interview us all, you don’t have the print space. Even when our 2004 got a 91 from WE and we paid for the label to be in the publication, it didn’t get the sales expected. That doesn’t mean it’s WE fault. It comes down to distribution. If you have, you move wine, if you don’t, it’s a long hard road. No one said it would be easy, but a lot of people make good to great wine. Not a lot of people can go out and sell it! So social media over time helps, it’s more write-ups, more discussions, more opinions and there is plenty of space for that!

    The best approach is likely a little of both print and internet media, but time will tell about the balance. Keep up the great work!

  5. I believe that much of what “Social Media” is about is meeting people and letting them get to know you – both your name and what you are about. Iimagine it like a party — you meet someone, you talk, they smile and seem interested. Nice, but no guarantee of a date. Same thing with Twitter — you meet someone, tell them about your wine, they seem interested, but no guarantee of a sale. In either case you are farther along than if you had stayed home, not gone to the Twitter party. Obviously you should not spend all your time at parties, nor on Twitter. A good bio (important!) and occasional tweets will get your name out there a little, and may lead people to your website, where they can get to know you a little more, and MAYBE make a purchase.

    What I like about Twitter is it can be quick and easy for the tweeter. We use it to post the Featured Wine at each day, at, with the intention of getting exposure for the featured wine, and to invite readers to the website. We also have a Twitter account to help get the word about about the new wine competition, It is, of course, a two way street, and I’ve learned about wineries and PR folk, about new AVAs, the progress of harvests and winemaking, etc.

    Twitter also helps me find interesting discussions like this one.

  6. While the three of you are all outstanding professionals in your respective modes, you really don’t represent the users or the consumer/trade. Josh has sold his wine largely on the merits of his blog and his excellent command of the language (and his persuasive personality), not on the juice. Let’s see what happens when his Pinot finds it way into the marketplace, whenever that is. It would have been useful for Rusty to find a few representative producers whose experience over the past few years could serve as real case studies.

    Who comes to mind?

  7. Tom, well I think Rusty’s panel was pretty good! But if you’re wondering about other producers, how about Twisted Oak, Tablas Creek, Clos Pepe and Dry Creek Vineyard?

  8. As we discussed in the class, there’s no way to really measure the impact of social media. It’s not about dollars, it’s about exposure. There’s no measurable ROI… but, it’s there in the long run.

    I found the class totally fascinating, because Rusty had three people, each from a different sector, each with a completely different perspective, so there was no one answer that was the be-all-to-end all.

    To Rusty’s credit, it was a brilliant mix for what each of us are doing with and for social media. (Not saying I’m particularly brilliant, just the structure of its parts was brilliant. I live in the knowing land of lots to always be learning.)

    And Josh was right… each of us is/was an early adopter. When we each jumped in, we had no idea – only the idea that we had a need that demanded forward movement – that it would give each of us a unique position for the future.

    I noticed that when Rusty began the class (I was in the back), when he asked who’s already using social media, there were very, very few people already engaged. I saw about three hands for Tweeting, for instance. They’ve all been busy making wine, now they have to figure out how to sell it, and the importance of social media exposure cannot be underscored… along with all those traditional methods.

    It’s a busy world right now.

    [Thanks, Steve, for your vote of confidence. Very lovely. Good luck tonight with your book signing at the Sonoma County Wine Library.]

  9. Rusty did ask me to participate, but the date didn’t work out for me. I’m hoping I will be asked and can attend next year. That said, Josh was a great choice – he’s even way more up on this stuff than I

    I bet your blogging etc. actually does have the effect of promoting your personal brand and your day job. Putting yourself out there like this is increasing your value to your audience.

    Also, I would leave out the word “social” and just say that MEDIA is not a magic bullet for anything. I’ve not seen any obvious bump from any 90+ scores we’ve received (though I truly believe someday there will be great demand for 92 point Tempranillos ;). On the other hand, we’ve seen success from being mentioned in magazines like Sunset, and from being discussed on various wine forums. It just depends…

  10. Jefe, that 06 Spaniard was pretty good. You guys have come a long way with that wine. But it’s not all Temp is it.

  11. Steve, your post summarizes perfectly what I took away from the course. The differing opinions among Rusty, Jo, Josh and yourself helped me to understand where I might fit in the social media world. Social media is another avenue to create relationships and one can put as much or little into it as one feels comfortable – much like traditional networking. Unlike traditional networking, however, social media allows you to connect with others around the world more easily than ever thought possible. I was one of the few people who raised her hand in class as having used Twitter (for myself and Mind’s Eye Winery). Recently, a Twitter and FB friend introduced me to a prominent wine shop owner in Napa, who subsequently tasted Mind’s Eye Cabernet and agreed to carry it in his shop. This is a huge honor for a small, brand new winery that certainly was facilitated by a social media relationship. In addition to making a new friend, I was able to open a door for Mind’s Eye. As stressed throughout the course, relationships are key no matter what avenue is used.

  12. An awful lot of small business people don’t understand the difference between long-range promotion and brand building and immediate sales from advertising, no matter what media they use.

    As Jo likely knows that the trick with gaining promotion results is to craft the message correctly and present it to the correct market for your product, not to mention pricing it for that market.

    The trouble with any media that is scattered is that it makes identifying the market a little harder. Just understanding that scores of wine drinkers use social media to stay in touch isn’t exactly enough for identifying your specific market. To do that, you have to analyze your image as well as your message. Still, there is something to be said for shotgunning or blanketing–it’s usually cheaper, and when it works it could be terrific, but it takes longer and it may not work at all.

  13. Steve – great post. I was hoping you’d write about the class. I attended last year and remember the points you made about social media – especially when you and Tom Wark were dicussing how blogging and social media were going to revolutionize how wineries communicate with their customers. I remember you saying “the train is leaving the station” regarding how quickly social media was changing the PR landscape. You were spot on with that.

    The next great step as I see for wineries at least, is how to monetize these methods of communication.

  14. Steve,

    You mentioned Tablas Creek as a winery using social media. Good call. Jason Haas runs a highly regarded winery that’s been on the scene for awhile. Jason might well devote his FB time to other activities since a winery of the size and significance of TC is active in every facet of the biz. But he remains a True Believer.

    I would encourage your readers who don’t catch his blog to peruse his Nov 22nd posting. Eloquent defense, not unlike Jo’s comments above.

  15. Here’s another take on Josh’s 1700 case sale via social media.

    1700 cases = 20,400 bottles. Safe to assume each bottle was enjoyed by at least two people, which creates 40,800 user experiences. All are an opportunity to further share the joy with friends and create the potential to expand and repeat the sales cycle.

    I think of it as seeds in the ground to nurture.

  16. Rusty Eddy says:

    Great stuff. In the 13 years I’ve taught this class, this is more discussion than I ever had in the class itself. Tom’s suggestion about the panel is well taken: someone from the trade who is active on Facebook and Twitter would have been a great addition.

    I think the bottom line is that social media is another tool that we have to build our brands and disseminate our messages. It’s not the magic bullet, nor will it ever replace the need to build good relationships and write a good paragraph (well, okay, at least a good subject line or 140 character tweet). But as an aging PR guy, it’s clear to me that I’d better keep up, or at least be on the train.

  17. Really interesting discussion… I was involved in a similar one down here in Paso Robles a month or so ago. I am incredibly impressed with Josh’s sales results (though, given that he’s yet to actually sell any wine, it may be sales potential rather than sales results). My own experience is that social media is great for creating loyalty, and fostering a feeling of connectedness between us and our customers, but that it is not a great way to sell wine. That is still done in the traditional ways: at a tasting room, at a restaurant or a wine shop, or through direct outreach through email.

    I wrote up a piece a few weeks back which summarize my thoughts on exactly this on our blog:

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Steve.

  18. From a supplier / winery perspective, this class was incredibly educational. Particularly to be able to get the three different perspectives on social media. I started blogging on our websites (Santa Barbara Winery & Lafond Winery) about two years ago, and it has been a great way for me to post articles that are interesting, announce winery events, suggest good wines for holidays, etc. I am limited by what I talk about because it is our business website, and should focus on that. I recently started tweeting as well, and although I have to remind myself to do it, it is a great tool to communicate with your ‘followers.’ My email signature has one line that shows how to become a follower on twitter if interested, which has been a great way to build up followers. My blog and Twitter do not have any measureable way to determine their ‘success,’ but building the brand through social media is an interesting avenue that we will all be exploring in the wine business for years to come.

    I did try to tweet through some of the class! Thank you Steve, Rusty, Jo, and Josh.

    Santa Barbara Winery / Lafond Winery & Vineyards

  19. Sigh, I am just addicted to twitter fans presently. They truthfully tend not to do very much for me personally, but yet it just simply offers me a pleased sensation inside realizing that persons are in fact, well perhaps looking at what I write about.


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