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Are you living social?


“Do any of the people who make up your company, agencies, partners and so on actually live social?” That’s the question David Armano asks in his opinion piece in the Harvard Business Review.

His point is that a company (a winery, for example) shouldn’t just go out and hire somebody to manage their social media campaign if the actual people who run the company aren’t “living” it. That is treating social media “like a temporary advertising campaign,” an adjunct to traditional business practices rather than a revolutionization of them. If a winery tries “to control [the message] rather than participate in the discussion…then you’re not living social.”

I take Armano’s point. If a winery thinks it can just hire an “ad agency, PR firm or business consultancy to go out and ‘be social’ for them,” this will indeed “limit potential success.” But I’m not sure I agree that all management, everywhere, has to be SMATT [social media all the time]. It’s more complicated than that.

It’s too early in the evolution of social media to predict what will work and what won’t. I think, for example, of those wineries (Murphy-Goode, Jackson Family Farms and St. Supery come to mind) that already have hired social media directors.  In a sense they’ve done exactly what Armano says not to: Farmed out the social media sphere to hired experts, while the senior partners and owners who pay them do not necessarily “live social.” They (in Armano’s words) “assume that they themselves don’t have to be social (open and collaborative) to reap the rewards (cost savings, marketing ROI, effective reputation management, and search engine juice) they think they might get from social media.”

Well, this is only proper business practice. You identify a need and then hire someone to fill it because you don’t have the time to do it yourself. It’s in the job description. It’s all well and good to say that a winery that wants to use social media has to “live social” from top to bottom, but that’s a little like saying that a general heading up a war has to peel potatoes and scrub latrines in order to be “honestly engaged” with the troops or that Steve Jobs has to twitter and Facebook all day for ROI. (Does he?)

And yet Armano is spot-on when he suggests that the crass, reflexive use of social media by wineries will be instantly and harmfully recognized by other users who “look askance at posers.” “If you’re not genuinely, honestly engaged in the social network,” he warns, “you’re not going to get far with those who are.” This is true, as I learned when I started blogging. Some saw me as a poser. The idea that I wasn’t “honestly engaged,” that I was merely crashing a party others had started, was false, but it took me a while to get that message across. Wineries are going to have to put bets on social media before the wheel stops turning.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, which I think is endemic to the social media world, it’s that you can’t please everybody all the time, as tempting as that may be. Individual bloggers soon discover this; so do wine companies. There will be carping and criticism of everything, and if you’re a highly-structured company, this may be a problem. Armano deals with this in an indirect way when he asks “Where does social media live?” by which he means, Where inside the company? “Is it marketing? Is it public relations? Is it IT or corporate? Is it a combination of multiple business units…”? These are questions every company asks itself — so far, without answers. My own feeling is that it doesn’t matter where you house social media. That’s an old-style tactic that doesn’t fit in with the new paradigm, which is non-hierarchical. It doesn’t matter who represents the winery’s face or what her title is. If it’s done passionately and with talent — and let’s not pretend this is some junior position because it’s not — it will help the winery’s bottom line.

New paradigms are hard to recognize. Even if you’re lucky enough to recognize you’re in one, it’s hard to know exactly how to adapt, and impossible to see clearly where it’s going. Nobody who hopes to use social media should get too locked-in, or addicted, to anything. That means not believing the hype. Twitter could turn out to be this generation’s Nehru jacket. Even Pluto was downgraded from a planet to an asteroid. Nothing’s safe.

Whenever I hear about “living the social media life” it makes me worry. People already spend too much time on it, at the risk of being disengaged from the real world. Yes, the digital world is not the real world, in case that fact has escaped anyone’s attention. Remember that “social” had a profound meaning for humans before “social media” existed. Does any Twitterer believe he’s created anything new, beyond the medium, which is Faster! Stronger! New and Improved from anything we’ve known before? Can any social media relationship be as good as an old-fashioned relationship in which the participants actually meet in the real world, hang out together, eat and drink and laugh and talk with and see each other?

HAPPY NEW YEAR! See you in 2010.

  1. Steve:

    Thanks for a interesting year of reading. See you in 2010.

  2. Steve

    As I read this, I keep thinking of Twisted Oak.
    These guys live social. Just browse their blog. Look at the photos of their events. Now juxtapose that with a brand who may have club member dinners in the caves, etc., but whose social functions/interactions lack the spontaneity, exuberance and infectious energy you see in the photos on Twisted Oak’s site.
    All this is to say that if your brand is not social to the last fiber of its being, then all the social media practices, applications and campaigns are not going to transform you.
    So finally, before jumping head-first into the smedia pool, one would do well to evaluate the character and nature o their brand and establish realistic goals for what they hope to achieve.
    All the twittering, vlogging, facebooking, etc will not transform a reserved, reticent persona or brand into Gary V.

  3. What I did not articulate as well as I wanted is that there are different kinds of socialization:
    There is raunchy debauchery and there is dignified, conservative mingling and all points in between.
    One of the facts of the world is that more of the population leans toward the former style of socialization than the latter.
    If your brand identity leans towards the latter, smedia will not transform it into something with the appeal and numbers of the former.

  4. Very thought provoking, Steve. I think a major (perhaps THE major) impediment to corporate social networking is that control must be ceded to someone who is probably not at the top of the hierarchy. To be honest and open and transparent requires that the usual corporate communications “spin” be abandoned. Look no farther than your own blog (and mine as well) to see examples of what I mean. In any event, you have been a real pathfinder and an inspiration to me this past year, and I wish you all the success you deserve (and a lot less aggravation) in 2010. Cheers!

  5. Great topic! I’d challenge the view that Murphy-Goode, etc., are going about it the wrong way. Those budding experts in the budding discipline of social media can help to enact the cultural changes needed to embrace the new way of doing things in social media, after all. And I think that folks like Hardy and Rick Bakras *are* doing that. It will take time but those companies might be setting a new standard.

  6. Steve ended his essay with the question: “Can any social media relationship be as good as an old-fashioned relationship in which the participants actually meet in the real world, hang out together, eat and drink and laugh and talk with and see each other?” As good as? No of course not. But since winery principals can’t do this personal outreach with the reach of social media, SM is a kind of hamburger helper, allowing the winery to use a new technology to extend the sort of connections that heretofore could only be conducted in the flesh. Which is pretty much what Steve wrote in the body of his post.

    Yes, in the good old days, there were newsletters and other forms of communication, some very clever (Bonny Doon comes to mind), which humanized and personalized the principal. But there was no real interaction.

    If a winery is truly living the Social I suspect the vintner has to take the lead and not delegate, like Steve Mirassou and Jason Haas. Larger companies will have trouble, therefore, engaging at this level. SM can really only be effective at a smaller scale.

    Take one example of Web 2.0 in operation: Two long time winemakers, Peter Wellington (“Sonoma Bouliste” in the comment exchanges) and Scott Harvey (“ScottHarveyWines”), have created significant communities of wine consumers who have formed bonds with them and with each other. By placing their blogs in this 3rd party channel they have immeasurably expanded their contact (and no doubt customer) base. They are contributing to consumer education and appreciation that they couldn’t do any other way, in large part because they take the time to have an online conversation.

    Is this practice worth the candle, i.e., displacing other activities at the winery…? This is what we’ll be learning in the next decade.


    P.S. Stellar service you provide Steve H. through this blog. So pleased you kept at it to become one of best in cyberspace. And also thanks for putting up with my boorish comments that tend to dismiss the important function that professional wine writers perform in favor of user commentary. No amateur enthusiast can generate essays of the quality of journalists and others who make their living producing articles on the wondrous world of wine. As Eric LeVine notes, there are roles for both. And by bringing people like Jancis Robinson and Steven Tanzer into the CellarTracker data base he is putting his efforts where his mouth is.

    Onwards all!

  7. A really fine last piece for 2009. Thank you and Happy New Year!

  8. Thanks Paul. I am looking forward to seeing you at the end of January!

  9. Steve

    Good post – at Hard Row to Hoe Vineyards we live social 🙂 As much as time will allow anyway. Have a great new year!!


  10. Been following you throughout the year, Steve, and look forward to wading further into the sm stream with you (and others) in 2010. I have no idea where any of this will lead except that, intellectually, it’s a helluva ride. I wonder if aluminum-siding geeks have this much fun.

  11. I should be the last guy to talk about social media. I just don’t get it. Sure, I have a Twiitter account and maybe something on Facebook someday.

    But, I so far do not see much coming back my way from it with the possible excpetion of blogging–which I put in the category of talking pretty much like the old-fashioned wine discussion groups. The difference is that some learned person talks first, set the table for the discussion and then we all jump in.

    Maybe its just me, but the serious, thoughtful, and yes, even humorous, discussions that we have here and on other great sites like Fermentation, Good Grape, Wine Dude, Hosemaster (if Arthur is right about “raunchy”) seems like a lot more likely to gain a serious audience than an endless string of Tweets.

    And I don’t think anyone needs look further than this blog to see how one individual can become a recognized national phenomenon beyond his own publication through the creation of an important blog.

    Well done, Steve.

  12. a company who is not sure of its direction and meaning will follow what others are doing, just like a consumer who cannot think for her/himself. mr. arthur, winesooth, says it spot on: “if your brand is not social to the last fiber of its being, then all the social media practices, applications and campaigns are not going to transform you.” it has nothing to do with delegating the role to someone not at the top, because truth is, if a company lives social to its core, like mr. arthur says, then all employees should live it, too — it’s an internal culture and behaviour that is inherent in a strong brand.

    on another note, i no longer care about murphy-goode’s smedia, when i did look forward to it GREATLY. after maybe 10 or so facebook posts, it felt so redundant and, well, corporate. an obvious outsider who, although greatly talented and witty, was simply doing a job.

  13. Great post Steve. I fully agree that people managing social media campaigns need to understand and be passionate about the information they are sharing. See my blog post: “Sold on Social Media” here:

  14. Morton Leslie says:

    Thanks for drawing my attention to Armano’s article. It’s hogwash, but it’s comforting to realize people in influential positions have such shallow notions. He did not point out one fact or one piece of evidence that his point has any factual basis. Where is his evidence that the people who use surrogates are ineffective? There are a huge number of celebrities, musicians, and producers of product who are effectively using social networking to create an image, sell products, or simulate a personal touch through hired guns. It is an effective strategy to reach people who listen to and believe this nonsense. Who knows whether P Diddy is actually sipping on Crystal as he says in his tweet, or instead it is just an effective product placement by his marketing team?

    For me, social networking by a producer of a product is impersonal noise. As a consumer looking for information about what to buy, be it wine, food products, electronics, whatever… anything that comes over a social network does not weigh in my buying decision. Whether is from the proprietor or a hired gun, it’s still self-serving noise.

    Each year I buy hoshigaki from a small grower in the Sierra Foothills as Xmas gifts. I enjoy a brief back and forth email each year with the producer. I always compliment his product when I order. He may answer a question I ask, or ask for me to email him notice of product delivery. But it is a private conversation which is part of the buying experience. I have no interest otherwise in the daily life of this person, where he vacations, what music he likes, who his friends are, or what his favorite quote is. All I care about is the quality of his product and a simple personal, private communication. Anything else is just noise.

  15. Totally agree…

  16. For businesses, social media IS a form of Marketing. There is no other reason to do it, no other way to justify its expense.

    (I should add that, receiving and responding to customer feedback is also a form of Marketing. It’s just called Customer Service. And everyone knows that brands are defined by the level of service they provide.)

    For businesses, blogging is actually A LOT like a temporary advertising campaign. That is, if it’s done right.

    The simple act of posting or tweeting – of serving up a topic and kicking off a discussion – is what the best advertising does. It stimulates, engages, and ultimately, shapes peoples’ perception.

    Blogging is a way for businesses to signal to readers what is important to them. To share their passions, not just their products.

    The trouble with winery blogs, post & tweets is that they can’t seem to find anything to talk about beyond their products or their “factory.” This underscores how ill-defined the vast majority of wine brands are.

    As everyone who reads this blog knows, wine is so much more than what’s in the bottle. It’s about geography, history, travel. Art, architecture, science. Cooking, eating, laughing. This ought to be liberating for a winery looking to distinguish itself beyond the realm of scores & reviews.

    Who is ready to start the conversation?

  17. Fred. Thank you. I hope I have already started the conversation and am playing it forward.

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