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Twitter, free steaks and reality: a morality tale


Bill Smart, a nice guy who works for Dry Creek Vineyard, a great California winery, and who is a regular commenter on my blog, wrote in yesterday about my recent post, “Can a winery get buzz from Twitter? Probably not.”

Now, I got my butt kicked all over Twitter for saying that Twitter can’t really help wineries in the only way they want and need to be helped–selling more wine. Some people tweeted the usual BS that I’m a dinosaur who doesn’t get it (interesting that these people who say I don’t understand social media don’t get a fraction of the readership on their blogs as I do! Not to mention my Facebook traffic which also is big). Others agreed with me. That’s to be expected. Everybody’s entitled to his or her opinion in these United States (except evolution deniers).

Bill played it down the middle, arguing that while “Twitter doesn’t sell wine,” it can have a fantastic effect in individual cases. As proof, he sent me the link to this amazing story told at Peter Shankman’s blog. It’s a good blog; Peter describes himself this way: “An author, entrepreneur, speaker, and worldwide connector, Peter is recognized worldwide for radically new ways of thinking about Social Media, PR, marketing, advertising, and customer service.”

Please open the link and read it. I’ll summarize: Peter loves Morton’s the Steakhouse. He was on a airplane flight and expected to return home hungry and tired.  As a lark, he writes, “I jokingly tweeted the following: Hey @Mortons – can you meet me at newark airport with a porterhouse when I land in two hours K, thanks.” Well, you know how this ends. Peter arrives at Newark, “started walking to the door” when, “Um, Mr. Shankman,” a guy said to him.

“I turned around.”

“There’s a surprise for you here.” It’s a bag with “a 24 oz. Porterhouse steak, an order of  Colossal Shrimp, a side of potatoes, one of Morton’s famous round things of bread, two napkins, and silverware.”

Writes Peter: “I. Was.Floored.” He continues, “I was joking in my Tweet. I never, ever expected anything to come of it other than a few giggles.”

Back to Bill Smart, who commented, “This is one of the most powerful examples I have seen recently about what kind of impact Twitter can make.” Even if the whole thing was a PR stunt, Bill writes, “The bottom line is that it worked and as a result has created THOUSANDS of POSITIVE tweets and impressions for Morton’s.”

Okay, come, let us reason together. I accept Peter’s claim that it was not a PR stunt–he really was just joking. I also accept that the entire episode generated a gazillion tweets and retweets, and Morton’s the Steakhouse got some juice out of it, even though it cost them a few bucks. Here’s my problem. If I, or you, or anybody else had put that same joke tweet up, do you think we would have been met at the airport by a guy in a tuxedo carrying a full dinner? I don’t. Peter Shankman was, apparently, because–in his own words–“I’m a frequent diner, and Morton’s knows it. They have a spectacular Customer Relations Management system in place, as well as a spectacular social media team, and they know when I call from my mobile number who I am, and that I eat at their restaurants regularly.”

Peter is, in other words, a Morton’s VIP, and in this case he was given the VIP treatment. I think he was a little disingenuous when he conceded that there had been “a few tweets from the other side of the camp [i.e., critical of him], specifically calling out that I have over 100k Twitter followers, and if I didn’t, this never would have happened.” I mean, that’s my conclusion too, and it seems obvious, doesn’t it? But Peter then writes, “But you know what? I don’t think that’s the case. I don’t think it’s about my follower numbers. I think it’s about Morton’s knowing I’m a good customer, who frequents their establishments regularly.” In other words, Morton’s the Steak House didn’t go to all that trouble to hand deliver Peter a warm meal at the airport just because of his Twitter followers. His numbers had nothing to do with that. It wasn’t because Morton’s “spectacular social media team” felt that they could get a million bucks in free Twitter publicity with a relatively small investment. No, it was because Peter loves Morton’s the Steak House, and Morton’s feels the love and just wants to love Peter back.

Ah, love, sweet love.

In conclusion, I would like to say how much I love BMW. By the way, I’ll be flying up to Seattle next week to visit my niece and it sure would be nice to have a new 750i Sedan (red, please) registered in my name to drive to the airport. Oh, I also love Bill Harlan and his wines. Bill, I’m having steak this weekend with my friend Marilyn. Please overnight me two bottles of ‘97 Harlan Estate. You can throw in some BOND too. And did I ever tell Thomas Keller how much I love French Laundry? I do, Thomas, I do, and I wouldn’t mind at all if you give me carte blanche to walk in the door any old time I want to and get seated–on the house, of course, including tip.

You see, with love, and a spectacular social media team, anything’s possible–well, if not anything, then at least steak and shrimp hand delivered at the airport for a Morton’s VIP!

  1. Steve, man, you know I love you but reading about twitter on your blog is like taking romantic dating advice from a 14 year old; i.e., not enough experience. 🙂 You’re just not that active on the platform in engaging followers, so I keep feeling like you’re missing part of the trick. Tweeting is just a fishing pole to go fish where the fish are – and that’s where they are, for sure (have you seen the numbers behind the tweeting going on during the Right Coast earthquake yesterday, for example?).

    What’s wrong with Morton’s treating a VIP well *and* hoping to capitalize on his social media following? I don’t see a real problem there. In fact, I see this as being a good model for wine brands to follow in how they treat social media: influence the influencers. I am not saying that influencers should be sell-outs, but in the case of people who VIP customers, and are popular on social media but aren’t otherwise in the wine biz, then there is zero conflict and there’s zero reason why a savvy company shouldn’t be doing that. It’s just smart customer service. Now, if they also blow off first time customers who had a bad experience then the company is being a douchebag when it comes to social media, but that doesn’t seem to be what Morton’s is doing. Morton’s *should* treat frequent customers a little differently in terms of perks – those are their core peeps. Wine brands should do the same. And if those VIPs also happen to be customers with a large social media following who might spread the good word about their brand, then everybody wins. Just because Shankman might have overlooked that doesn’t make it wrong that Morton’s did it.

  2. Steve, you don’t get a lot of traffic to your blog and facebook pages because you are a social media guru, you get the traffic because you write for the Wine Enthusiast! While many people enjoy your writing, its your name that is driving readers to you. Other bloggers, who have no name recognition have to lure readers by twitter and facebook to their “publications.” Your work in the other direction. Maybe you were a very romantic 14-yr old, but I agree with Joe on this one.

  3. BTW, I should point out that the “14 yr old” comment is meant facetiously, just in case anyone is reading too much into that! Except the 14 year olds, they probably should take it personally but if they’re reading this blog then we are all in trouble…

  4. “Except the 14 year olds, they probably should take it personally but if they’re reading this blog then we are all in trouble…” Or that is totally amazing!

    Joe, well said to your above statements.

  5. Why are all the Twitter people so defensive?

  6. Steve, Twitter has a lot of issues, it’s down frequently, and no one has any idea how long it will be around because the folks behind it seem to lack any plan on how (or even if) they will ever make it profitable / viable. So I’m not defending twitter generally.

    I don’t think the commenters here are displaying defensiveness. It’s just mostly an attempt to clarify the discussion and some of us think you’re off-track on the posts here about twitter based on some fundamentals of how brands are effectively using it.

    It’s like this: If I try to drive a car through a swimming pool full of water and then say “screw this, I don’t get it, cars are just not worth it,” then I’m getting something wrong about the appropriate application and use of the car. That’s how I feel about trying to draw a direct line between twitter and selling, making money quickly, etc. It just isn’t supposed to work that way – it was built from the ground up to be a platform where people connect with one another (mostly) publicly. One offshoot of that, is that brands/companies can talk to consumers directly and build trust and engagement with them directly. That’s powerful because it means they can become trusted sources of info. for people, counter negative press, and help to influence the messages about their brands. Not necessarily a direct revenue-generator, but powerful nonetheless.

  7. It’s not about using Twitter, or Facebook, or any other method. It’s about going after where your customers are, and hitting them there. Fact is, you’re extremely shortsighted here to think that your customers who drink wine aren’t using Twitter, and that Twitter won’t help you sell more wine. Off the top of my head, I can think of no less than ten followers who actively follow vineyards and winesmiths online, and have received not only perks and information from them, but have actively gone out and purchased wine based on their recommendations.

    You might be great at wine, but you’ve got a lot to learn about social media before you can start actively offering helpful advice on the topic.

  8. If I follow this discussion correctly, Steve says Twitter doesn’t help wineries sell wine. Bill and Peter say that while Twitter may not help a winery sell wine it can create buzz by giving it away, as Morton’s did by giving away a steak. Joe talks of a minor earthquake triggering a veritable flood of tweets. No one, however, seems to dispute Steve’s premise. I must confess that I’ve been in heartland America the past 10 days, largely ignoring online chatter, so I missed the original post. Nevertheless, I’d like to see verifiable evidence that Twitter enhances wine sales.

  9. Hey Mike – what I’m saying is not exactly what you’ve interpreted.

    I’m saying that using twitter explicitly to try to sell more wine directly, and expecting a straight-line relationship between tweeting and selling wine, is like trying to use a screwdriver to hammer in a nail. It’s fundamentally misunderstanding how twitter should be used by brands.

  10. I can’t help but comment.
    1. Steve, you write for the Enthusiast? Seriously, I want to dispute the claim that’s why you have a following on your blog and facebook. Sure, it may have helped drive initial traffic, but your writing keeps your traffic coming back.
    2. I agree with Joe that you need to spend more time on twitter before discarding it. While, I do think it could go the way of the 8-track, it is a fun tool for connecting with people, but it requires engagement and a commitment to do so frequently. I’ve said it before, Twitter is to Facebook what instant messaging is to email, one is immediate and best when there is back and forth, the other is good for communicating a message that can be read at leisure. You can use both or not.

  11. Dude: You mean screwdrivers are not for driving in nails? Why didn’t anyone tell me of this?

  12. Thanks Lori!

  13. Bill Smart says:

    Steve – I’m glad you think I’m a nice guy. Honestly, it depends on the day. 🙂

    In response to Mike’s question about verifiable evidence of Twitter enhancing wine sales, why is that important? If my brand is creating buzz with consumers on the web via Twitter and Facebook and people ulimatley come to us because they told their friend, “hey, you should check that winery out, they seem cool” then haven’t I done my job? Twitter and Facebook should be looked at as relationship building tools. Once we get them in the door, then we treat them like gold and hope they become customers for life. Yes, it’s hard work and takes one on one interaction but it’s the way of the world these days.

  14. Bill, I hate that this has turned into an either-or where it’s Steve vs. everyone who likes Twitter! I never intended that to be the case. I’ve said from day one that every winery should blog, Facebook and tweet at the very least! I tell that to everyone who asks. All I’ve been trying to work out on my blog is what my own personal involvement with Twitter should be. The only objective argument I’ve advanced is that I haven’t seen evidence that tweeting sells wine in any measurable quantities. But that doesn’t mean I don’t think wineries should tweet! They should. I do, everyday, at least once. So yes, you’re right, you are doing your job by tweeting, being cool, making friends online and creating buzz. And if I had a winery and needed someone to do that for me, I’d hire you!

  15. Steve, if only you’d tweeted to BMW, Bill Harlan & Thomas. As it is, with just a blog post and a handful of retweets, no Bond for you.

  16. Steve, where are you getting you vs. everyone who likes twitter from? My and Joe’s comments were stating that you were claiming (correctly) that twitter isn’t doing something that it isn’t supposed to do. While some wine probably has been sold as a direct result of twitter, no winery has become an overnight sensation due to a single tweet, but that shouldn’t be the goal of winery twitter users!

    Also, people cannot respond to direct twitter messages if the sender does not follow him/her. So, were you referring to me in your message??? Cheers, and keep the provocative writing!

  17. I grew up in a time when cigarettes were marketed on television. As an eight year old child, I knew cigarettes would not be good for me. Yet the marketers were there hammering away. I beieve this is why I have little use for advertising today. I don’t believe tracking cookies will make my life better and I don’t believe twitter will enrich my life through some sort of buzz.

    I do think that twitter will continue to develope and eventually find its place. Just like Morse code and the telegraph found its useful purpose. Even though it wasn’t for everyone.

    I may be wierd, but I refuse to respond to targeted advertising. So here’s my contribution. A new phrase? …”I don’t give a tweet”.

  18. Refreshing take on social media yet again. Keep it up Steve! Twitter in particular is way overblown. Sure it’s been known to take down a dictator or two, but its value to business in terms of driving sales is tenuous. Awareness building, yes. And engagement: thx, OMG, #ww, #ff. Yep, pen pals 2011. Steve, your tattoos give you all the authenticity you need when it comes to the social. In the words of U2, “don’t let the bastards grind you down” – and when it comes to bastards, I lead the charge.

  19. More of a lurker here but wanted to say that regardless of what side you fall on this is great stuff for those in the wine industry to see it from both sides as Twitter pros/cons are weighed. (pros… create buzz, engage users, pr stunts as detailed, build brand etc; cons… need to hire person/team?, ROI?, sufficient “fish” in the pond? etc)


  20. Steve: This a great post. Please spend more time on twitter and tell us if it works, generates followers or is even fun. I twitted a few dozen times, wound up with hundreds of followers I never interacted with and got creeped out.

    Yes, I know that I am older. Even of the twenty somethings that i know, I do not know anyone that I respect who spends a lot of time on twitter or admits it. My question would be that if you have the time for that, do you really have the a job and money to buy high end wine?

    By the way, I found your blog due to WE and read it because it is good.

    Lastly, and just in case it works, I really love Range Rovers.

  21. Peter is a friend – and I questioned him on this too. Directly. He says he didn’t expect it, and I believe him. I do think he’s probably a bit naive to his own celebrity, however. What did this cost Morton’s, $100 w/fuel? For what? The kind of coverage that a well-placed TV spot might garner? It’s a great move by Morton’s, but an obvious one.

    Two years ago, something similar happened to me, on a much smaller scale, that included Red Bull: (I’m not link baiting here, but it is relevant). If brands are paying attention, they don’t really need services like Klout to tell them who is influential – they only need to pay attention to what is being said about them. The good, bad and indifferent. And then act on some of these things. Sadly, the numbers matter. That’s just life. What Morton’s did was less a great act of customer service, and more a great use of social media to generate positive WOM advertising.

    Also, you’re a good writer. I just wanted to say that.

  22. Jim Mitchem, thank you.

  23. Nice article and fun to hear!

    I’m always interested to hear about everyone’s perspective and their are a handful here. I have my opinions on social media, but feel there is another important perspective missing from the responses.

    I can tell you after spending the years I did in the restaurant business and being told we do not tell “guests” the word “no,” that I do have some understanding here for Morton’s play outside of social media.

    I’ve had guests request from me (pre-Twitter or Facebook) in a high end restaurant a item the restaurant did not offer. We would make it happen if it involved sending a busboy in his car to the store and buy that requested item. All of this just so the guest could have a star fruit in their water instead of lemon. Wacky to some, but to those that spend very large sums of money to eat in such restaurants that offer 94-97 vintages of Harlan, where a BMW 7 series is parked in the back lot, get what they want including star (fruit) treatment.

    I know of experiences where a restaurant delivered food to the hospital for a regular guest that does not use social media and did not even place the order. It is all about guest relations, AKA customer service. I would suggest that Morton’s may have done the same if I were a regular, but they made good no question. Would you have known about this story had I not told you? No because the man in the hospital is not on twitter and neither is the lady that requested star fruit in her water.

    It all comes down to how you make people feel. Make them feel special and they will be loyal customers. Morton’s obviously “gets it” when it comes to guest relations.

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