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Do it urself


On my way home from Dry Creek Valley I made a stop in Santa Rosa, where I’d agreed to speak for an hour to a group of winery officials at a wine industry event. It was held in the Wells Fargo Center for the Arts, and the hallway convention space was filled with entrepreneurs and vendors selling everything from cork jewelry and crystal stemware to T-shirts with funny wine slogans. At one booth, there was even a guy you could hire to do all your social media for you, if you don’t know how to do it yourself.

Which brings up the subject of this post. I’d been told by the event’s organizers that, although the official subject matter was improving tasting room profitability, I could talk about other things — since tasting room profitability is not something I know very much about. The attendees, I was told, would be interested in my perspective as a traditional, print-based wine journalist who also happens to be doing a little non-traditional social media, mainly through this blog. So I began my talk by citing some facts and statistics, all of which were pretty gloomy, and underscored the fact that the wine market is in dismal shape. That makes it all the more important to figure out how to sell wine, I continued; and while that’s a complicated topic, there are certain steps vintners can take to foster sales. Certainly, improving the tasting room experience is one. But another, I told them, is to get involved in social media.

(I know I’ve said in the past that you can’t sell wine through social media. It’s best used for branding. But I’ve also said that you may be able to sell wine, someday; so you might as well jump in now, given how inexpensive SM is.)

I could see a certain number of faces express dismay when I said they should do SM. Lots of people really, really don’t want to get engaged in it, especially older ones. That’s why the guy in the hall who was selling his services as an external SM manager was there. But I’m afraid I did his business no good by telling the audience that, IMHO, nobody needs to hire a SM manager. (Hardy Wallace had spoken to the group the day before, but I don’t know what he told them.) Social media is not hard. It doesn’t require a “strategy.” I used this analogy. Let’s say you’re a winemaker. You get up very early every morning and, as a routine, you hit the local breakfast joint for your scrambled eggs and cuppa joe. (The Boon Fly Café, at the Carneros Inn, is the perfect such place.) You see a bunch of the guys sitting at the corner table. (They can be gals, too. No gender test anymore to be a winemaker.) As usual, you head over to sit with them. You don’t plan a “strategy” on how to interact with them. You don’t think in your head, “I’m going to sit with the guys, so I need to figure out what I’m going to say in advance, and how I’ll say it, hmmm,” etc. etc. (At least, I hope you don’t think like that.) No, you just sit down, say “Mornin’, guys,” and jump into the conversation.

That’s social media engagement. Simple, unplanned, more or less spontaneous, friendly, engaged and engaging, human, sometimes inartful and inarticulate, but always sincere. Sincere: from the Latin: without deceit.

I had talked to the guy in the hall and asked him a typical service he could provide a client. He began by saying he would write the winery’s blog. Well, maybe it’s just me, but I couldn’t imagine hiring someone to write my blog for me. How would they know what to say? How could they know what I’m thinking and feeling? Could I trust someone to put words in my mouth that reflect what’s actually happening in my head and in my heart? I don’t think so. (It would be even worse if the guy who wrote the blog wasn’t even physically present at the winery.) If I were the winery owner and I hired somebody to blog for me, I’d have to take the time to check what the guy wrote. If I’m going to take that time, I might as well take the same time and write it myself.

If you let someone else write your blog for you, it seems to me it’s the opposite of sincere. It’s “cere”: deceitful. Am I going too far with that one?

I told the group that in a blog you just say whatever’s on your mind, no matter how dumb or trivial it may be. Not every day offers a big, fat, juicy topic to write about, like the death of a beloved icon or the absorption of a big winery by a bigger one. Sometimes, you just write about what happened to you yesterday.

  1. You wrote; “If you let someone else write your blog for you, it seems to me it’s the opposite of sincere. It’s “cere”: deceitful. Am I going too far with that one?” Yes, you most definitely are. Many many people use ghost writers. Very legitimate and in most instances much more effective, and no less sincere, since the nominal “author” is dictating what s/he wants said. Easy for you to communicate disdain for such a service, since you are a writer, not a vintner. Is Presdident Obama being ‘deceitful’ when he uses writers to craft his speeches. I think not. Your response baffles me.

  2. Steve,

    I really appreciate the pragmatic approach you’ve taken to being considerate about social media. You’re not a “dinosaur” in this regard and you’re ability to listen and learn certainly makes you much younger in sensibility than your years may indicate.

    But, saying that there isn’t a strategy involved in social media (or that there shouldn’t be one) is really not something you should be saying to a bunch of people sitting there looking for wisdom. At best, it’s a disservice, at the worst it’s wrong.

    While you’re b’fast analogy holds water if you don’t think about it, most people that are accountable for revenue in any form work with a plan for connecting and communicating that drives results. That’s not insincere, nor disingenuous. It’s life.

  3. I’m with Mr. Merle on this one. Blogging or even writing is not for everyone. It’s fairly easy to be a major blogger or writer to forget how difficult this can be for some and asking for help should not be seen as insincere (or cere as you put it).

    I cannot stress enough that savvy businesses already understand the value of Social Media. It is like instant word of mouth. All you need is the hook to get people interested. Take a look at what’s going on in San Francisco with taco trucks (or roach coaches or whatever you want to call them). These are mobile businesses that use Twitter as their sole tool for marketing and many are enjoying success. Their hook: you can only find them with Twitter. A winery could, either directly or indirectly through someone like SFfoodie, reach literally thousands of people tasting right now or considering a day trip through Twitter by simply saying “Get a free taste of our new to the market super fancy dancy Syrah today only.”

    And while young, the marketing engine of social media will grow tremendously as the 18-24 demographic start engaging in wine, never mind their siblings who don’t even know a world without social media. There’s still a window to get in, but that window is slowly closing and I suspect anyone not in social media marketing game within the next 2-3 years will be shut out.

  4. I agree with Steve. For better or worse, my name is on the bottle. I did it. The same for anything I write. These things are the product of my spirt, they are my expression of logos. Without deceit.

  5. Jeff, what I meant was that lots of winery owners think that social media is like hoses or barrels or cover cropping a vineyard: just hire the right people, give them the money to pay for it, and it will take care of itself. I think social media is the exception to that rule. In that respect, I’m really paying social media a compliment. I think it’s the one thing an owner/vintner can’t outsource. The bloggers have taught me that. If you hire someone to blog for you, how about hiring someone to tweet for you. I, personally, would have little or no faith in anything from a winery through social media that I thought was written by somebody who was just doing it for the money. Would you?

  6. kelkeagy says:

    I agree that the thoughts should be authentic and sincere… but if your blog is representing not only your thoughts but your brand’s image, shouldn’t it be fairly well written and articulate? Not everybody is as adept at writing as you are Steve. I don’t think there is anything wrong with getting help as long as the general theme/topic remains authentic and sincere.

  7. steve H.,
    There’s a big difference in having someone write a blog under your byline and another in having someone tweet the news about what’s happening, organizing tweetups for tasting parties, making sure that facebook is updated, etc. A cynic would say that everything done in social media under the auspices of a for profit company lacks sincerity (which is self evident to me), but the degree is debatable. Someone can be getting paid to do a job and still have tremendous passion for the work, even if for profit companies. Are magazine writers any less sincere or passionate if they take a paychecks? I understand a blog where someone is going specifically to hear from you, but people make a conscious choice to follow XYZ winery rather than Mr. or Ms. Vintner themselves.

  8. I dunno…maybe I’m wrong on this. It depends on the blog. If anybody has an example of a REALLY GOOD blog written by a hired hand, please share it with me.

  9. Steve – I don’t think you are wrong on this. I believe the Venn diagram for SM and PR only overlaps about 25%. Tom Merle mystifies me when he equates Obama’s speechwriters with the hired hand ghostwriting a winery’s blog – the goals of the two activities are so different that the overlap is essentially zero. For my dollar, people who think of SM as just another way to promote the brand. like some new inexpensive route to push the traditional branding and PR message, are the ones who really don’t get it. When it’s done authentically, and well, social media allows us to reach our consumers in an entirely new way.

  10. John, totally agree when you say “people who think of SM as just another way to promote the brand. like some new inexpensive route to push the traditional branding and PR message, are the ones who really don’t get it.” That cheapens the promise of social media. Maybe it’s inevitable. I hope not.

  11. Note to SM believers: see me in 20 years (if I’m still around) and let me know how the sincerity thing went.

  12. This is an interesting discussion. I think I’ve always pretty much assumed that whoever is tweeting or blogging for a winery is doing so out of their job description, especially if the winery has a consistent presence in social networking. The most important people at a winery are probably have too much going on to do it effectively.

  13. I actually believe Social Media, including Twitter, can involve a great deal of strategy. These range from small decisions (how frequently or infrequently do I want to be communicating) to large ones (what do I want to be saying when I communicate).

    While I agree that part of the benefit of Social Media is exactly what you described – heading over to the table and sitting with people, in this case people you wouldn’t normally be able to do that with – wineries still need to think about who they want to sit with, how they want to conduct themselves when they do it etc. People make similar decisions obviously in the ‘real world’ but don’t necessarily have a conscious strategy behind it, although some do. I believe having a strategy is especially important because people tend to be somewhat less filtered on-line than they are in person, saying things that they wouldn’t normally say. Although this can be beneficial – and interesting – it can also be detrimental. Following the Twitter stream is evidence of this. Some wineries say things that they shouldn’t necessarily be saying, or say things that perhaps they should consider saying as individuals instead of as part of their brand.

    I heard an interesting example of this recently from a friend who heard about a winery, went to their Twitter page, and saw that they were following Sarah Palin and Glen Beck. This was a big turn off for her. Now, perhaps others would love that the winery was following these people, but whether it’s a good decision or not for the winery to be doing this all depends on what their underlying strategy is.

  14. Here’s the overlap I was trying to draw, John. Of course the import of one is far greater than the other modest activity. But in both cases you have someone crafting words that are being delivered by the principal to persuade. And whether one is the Pres. of the US of A, or president of Usa winery, those words have to seem sincere and authentic. But I’m just restating what I said, so I guess I can’t lift your mystification.

  15. Full disclosure: this comment is from the Farmers Millennial daughter who has communications and business degrees; read: I acknowledge the points many of you have made that lots of winemakers aren’t “writers”, can’t build a SM strategy on their own, etc. Some will try to claim that I am at an advantage having had formal training in the discipline and I’m a “Millennial” which anoints me as some sort of SM demi-god. I call shenanigans.

    I think the point Steve is trying to convey is that we have made blogging and SM the monster under the bed. And “I don’t have time” “I’m not a good writer” “No one cares what I have to say” are cop outs.

    I have sent one very well respected viticulture PhD and one very successful and intelligent winemaker we sell fruit to “Twitter Crash Courses” in the past two weeks via email. Two men who are completely capable of engaging on a wide array of interesting topics in the online space but say to me “I don’t get it/I don’t want to do it. Can you do it for me?”

    Because of the demi-god status Steve and other wine bloggers have achieved in recent years all of a sudden the commoners – winemakers, vineyard managers, everyone who doesn’t have “Social Media Engagement Director for such and such winery” in their title thinks you have to be some magnificent storyteller and write blogs which require anecdotes and statistics and an eventual conclusion with a punch line.

    I’m here to remind us all what blogging originated as in it’s truest simplest form: A quick musing, idea, note that was published in the online space for private or public use to get something out of your head and into the universe if you will; 300 words or less.

    A quick reminder to the “I can’t do it” camp: Twitter is micro-blogging. You can get 140c out a day of a whim, thought or musing and the eventual on-going daily 140c post – THAT becomes your story, with a funny anecdote and oh Sh*t moment in the winery and a conclusion that will probably end with some sort of punch line.

    This morning, before I go to the SF Vintners Festival at Fort Mason, I’m planning on posting my two Twitter crash courses on the Thomson Vineyards blog because they make Twitter far from scary monster under the bed.

    My final point on this silly little social media matter is that I half jokingly told our followers on Twitter the other day that any winery who purchases Chardonnay, Pinot Noir or Merlot from us this year gets free SM consulting. I actually meant it. And while it’s a nice added value, it’s more with the intention that if wineries support growers in the online space and growers support wineries and your PCA or Vit guy occasionally talks about what a great site visit they had at your vineyard – all of a sudden you’ve increased your marketing army on behalf of your brand 10 fold. And isn’t THAT the point of this scary monster under the bed – unify as an industry and get more wine into the hands of more consumers?

  16. Steve,

    Why do people need a social media trategy? So they don’t waste their time.

    A lot of people in wineries (especially small ones) don’t have a ton of time to spend outside of their traditional roles.

    A strategy – simple or complex – can at least get them where they can do social media and still have time to go home to their families without feeling like they were shouting into the wind.

    (I spoke to the group about how to interact w/ bloggers)

  17. Hi Hardy. I just react to the word “strategy.” It seems so, well, un-social media. “Strategy” conjures up images of suits and ties, meetings, finance, and — most of all, since it is a military term — “maneuvering forces into the most advantageous position prior to actual engagement with the enemy.” (Webster’s dictionary) I can see wineries using SM as a form of expression. But, you know, I’ve been in this business for a while, and one thing that wineries don’t do well (even those that make good wine) is express themselves. Most of them never learned how to do it, I mean in a mass market way. (Privately, they may be very expressive.) If you have a winery that is fundamentally inarticulate — that doesn’t have anything to say to consumers, except for some bland press kit statement — than using SM is not going to teach them how to do it, nor will hiring a SM director, even one as talented as you.

  18. Strategy should conjure up images of a plan- be it biz, social, suits and ties, or boots in mud. Wineries aren’t doing this for fun, but to positively impact their business. Winemaking has a plan, marketing has a plan, sales has a plan– If social media is an important part of someone’s business (they can decide that for themselves) shouldn’t it have a one too? If they have the skills to put a plan together, great, if not, they should find someone to help them. Most do that with sales, marketing, and PR anyway…

  19. I am with Hardy in this one! Plan, strategy, or what ever you want to call it allows you to find your voice and communicate your story in an effective way. SM for a winery should be integrated across the company; from winemaker, owner, vineyard manager, customer service, etc all should be involved. To effectively do this you need a plan. While stream of consciousness tweeting and facebooking can be fun for us, we should look at consumer data and learn why people follow wineries or other businesses and then play to those needs. SM for a winery is different then SM for a private individual! To be successful in any arena it all starts with a plan!!!

  20. I can appreciate Hardy’s point – the plan need not be disingenuous. It could be as simple as “I want to make more contacts among PR, consumers, and wine media.” Or, it could be part of a multi-step, extensive 5-year layout of milestones and goals.

    There should be at least *part* of an end in mind.

    I’d also add that they shouldn’t let the value proposition stop them just because *they* don’t see the value in what they might offer. They need to think about the value of a harvest report, or an insight into their operations, as having value for the people who buy their wines…

  21. A man, a plan, a blog.

  22. Morton Leslie says:

    A couple years ago I tried to talk a large group of winery marketing people into doing winery blogs. You know the spiel, write about anything, it can be about “nothing” (remember the Seinfeld episode), just get out there and be part of the conversation. Whereupon one smart mouthed, 20 something, fresh out of college and recent marketing grad, recently hired by a winery scowled and commented to the group, “Blogging? It’s just so 2007!” (This was in 2008.)

    So, Steve, I just want to say that Social Media? It’s just so 2009!

  23. Impressive, Morton. I am guessing from your earlier comments that you are pretty much my vintage, and when I think about Social Media, I feel so 1949. Maybe you should be talking to an old dog like me instead of one of those closed minds in their twenties.

  24. I think another aspect that should be considered in this discussion is the nature of the winemaking operation. If its a large operation (in terms of number of employees, cases, brand names, etc) then there will be an overlap between SM and PR and ghost-writers will be an option for them (with a greater or lesser degree of sincerity): But for a smaller op, then the picture changes completely. For me, for example, (a small startup) SM is the ONLY way for me to reach out to customers, and other players in the wine world.

  25. Love it! Lots of good points .. but in the end this is helping people in the industry to think about how to stay afloat – how to use this thing called social media to connect with current and prospetive customers. There is no one right way to pursue… like wine SM may be a bit subjective in how it is approached, but the mere fact that people are discussing its value helps everyone to think about how to leverage it.

  26. We’re talking about how blogs may stimulate sales.
    Which is most important wine-buying stimulus?
    1. Ghost-written blog that makes one hungry for the wine
    2. Inaccurate info in a blog (due to failure to check facts caused by deadline pressure or feeling it’s personal and doesn’t matter); re-quoted as fact ad-infinitum
    3. 40% off a bottle of wine (Twittered)
    4. News from winery blog C that winery A sold its vineyards to winery B
    5. Txt from sister-in-law about new wine she likes
    Yes, all those things above can be blogged. That’s why social media for a company is a business decision.

    And…if social media manager ghost writes blog, will we/should we be told?


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