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Lets face it, the “social media revolution” has stalled


A few years ago, following the Murphy-Goode “A Really Goode Job” contest that the inimitable Hardy Wallace won, the Big News throughout wine country was wineries hiring Social Media Directors.

The idea, near as I could tell, was to bring someone onboard who was young, social media savvy, creative and hard-working, who would give the winery a strong presence on platforms like Facebook and Twitter as well as the winery’s own website. From there, the theory went, sales would soar as engagement with consumers took off.

Well, as far as theories go, it was all right–a good and necessary first step–but in retrospect I think we can all agree that the reach exceeded the grasp. Perhaps that’s why we began hearing less and less about Social Media Directors, as that function was transitioned either upward, as a rather small part of the Technology Officer’s or Human Relations manager’s duties, or downward, to a mere intern’s (or maybe a son’s or daughter’s) responsibilities.

The turnabout was to be expected. Social media arose so quickly in the U.S. that, not only did few see it coming, but even when it got here few knew how to use it. As usual, the adults thought it was just something for the kids. And the kids, well, they just liked it and didn’t over-analyze it or try to figure out how they could make money off it. (Okay, Mark Zuckerberg did, but you know what I mean.) It was like the Internet itself: when it came of age, in the 1990s, nobody knew what to make of it. Everybody said it was revolutionary and would change the world–but exactly how that was supposed to happen, no one knew. If you go back to the early and mid-1990s, you’ll remember the search for “the killer app.” It turned out to be search engine (well, actually, it was porn, but we’re not supposed to talk about that). And then after search it was social media. One-eighth of the population of the world has a Facebook account!

I suppose there could be even more “killer apps” in the future as the technology improves (keep in mind Moore’s Law), but it’s hard to wrap my mind around that, since we haven’t fully absorbed the lessons of the social media we already have. The focus so far has been on what used to be called B2C: the business-to-consumer use of social media. Given the temporary (let us hope) hiatus that so many wineries are experiencing in this area, some companies are starting to think of social media in terms of B2B (business-to-business). For example, Brian Margolies, the CIO of Allied Beverage Group, New Jersey’s largest distributor of wine and spirits, wrote last week that his company has spent the past year researching how to use social media to facilitate relationships with its clients (“liquor stores, bars, and restaurants”). As hard as they’ve worked it, Margolies writes, “[W]e’ve seen little discernible effect on sales, demand, brand awareness, usable business intelligence, or even facilitation of community.” He’s savvy enough to realize that this doesn’t necessarily mean social media is useless for B2B purposes. Maybe it was something Allied did wrong, or didn’t do right. “Have we missed something in our approach or not given the program sufficient time to evolve? Have we overlooked something obvious, or is our target community already too defined?” Good questions, and a good posture of self-examination.

That’s where the wine industry is at: the bloom is off the social media rose, but it’s impossible to shake off the feeling that it really, truly could be something incredible, if only…what? We still don’t know, which is why Margolies’s questions are so vital.

  1. Steve, you’ve written several times on this general theme and I remain a little perplexed by it. I suppose to the extent that wineries simply expected social media to lead to an explosion of sales while using it much like they have other forms of promotion, that clearly has not come to pass. Did wineries really expect this to work? Did someone actually promise these results after using social media this way?

    Social media does nothing for most businesses because they use it like businesses once used spam faxes. They just spam via Twitter or Facebook. No surprise really that this isn’t effective. I do believe a subsection of wineries are successful at boosting their sales through social media because they get it. They acually engage with their constomers, not with generic ads, but with two-way conversation. The wineries that succeed with this strategy are perhaps too small and too few to show up in some industry-wide statistical analysis, but I think there are many that would social media has actually worked. The problem is, I suppose, it requires a quality or characteristic not everyone has. You have to be “social.”

  2. Morton says:

    Am I the only one who has Facebook and Linked-In notifications going to Junk Mail? Avid Facebookers seem to like to provide TMI about themselves. And wineries seem to think the announcement that they have a new release is what everyone is on Facebook is dying to know. It’s a little embarrassing, actually.

    For me the key factor is that anything you do in business costs you money. Given limited resources what is the return on social media versus the return on other endeavors to build business? What is the return from interacting with facebook “friends” versus calling on a half dozen accounts or someone spending their day with a wholesaler rep? So far I would put my $ on the old fashioned, face to face method.

    And if I were Zuckerberg I would be cashing in on all those options he is about to exercise.

  3. Brian M says:

    Social media has been and always was overhyped. Social media, as you defined it, is a tool not a solution. As you surmised, once people learn how to use this tool, along with other marketing tools at ones disposal, will he see an impact.

  4. Local and loyal are the keys. Regardless of the media or product or friend for that matter. That is why SM works for retailers because their loyal customers – and customers’ friends – are local or loyal.
    Also, many people use their phones and tablets, not their computers, to communicate all things (whether they mean to or not).
    So, there is no direct link between a winery Tweet and fact the consumer immediately went to his wine app or called local store and discovered it was (or largely, was not) available locally. That consumer of a $10-25 bottle is not going to check with the winery or order direct etc. However, it will remind them to pick up a bottle for dinner. Industry wins, winery not so much.
    Back to the winery side, check with Gallo. Hired first Social Marketing Mgr 2+ yrs ago. Two related jobs few months ago.

  5. One of the factors affecting the B2B connection may be that many retail and wholesale accounts are not that tech savvy when one considers how wide the infrastructure for alcohol sales is nationally. Major urban or entertainment centers will have the staff, training and sophisticated tools and programs in place, but I imagine there are still lots of accounts who have a two year old copy of BIN underneath the cash register.

    Social Media was never going to be a silver bullet for sales because it would instantly become just another channel for noise, but then again consistently doing something well and measuring results, regardless if they manifest into $ has always been the black hole. Developing effective campaigns, that engage people to talk about brands needs to be fun, arouse curiosity and not be overly intrusive. That is the Media part and is very challenging.

    But how do you track effectivness? For wineries, I can’t think of a better way to measure the ‘pulse’ of what is being said about their brand, allowing the staff person in charge of managing the social messaging to interact with the person making the comment than Social Connect, from VinTank. I monitor a VinTank Social Connect account (BTW, they are free) for a winery and it gives me an amazingly concise dashboard of every conversation on the internet where that brand is mentioned. It is the first thing I look at in the morning and if someone (even Robert Parker), tweets about one of the wines. I know it instantly and can send that person a prompt ‘thank you’ or any other appropriate response. It certainly makes the social component a lot easier to manage and reduces my SM responsibilities to about 15 minutes a day.

    Obviously nobody is going to mention a brand they know nothing about so traditional marketing, placements of advertising and product in key accounts or hosted events help build the brand awareness. While not on the front burner constantly. A brand message will hopefully resonate with consumers when delivered in a social context.

  6. Talk is very inexpensive, revenue generation that actually pays bills for a winery and be tricky and expensive.

    I have asked every CRM software company and consultant in the social media space that has come across our path to show me from a data driven ROI standpoint how the time, effort and expense from whatever they propose actually makes financial sense.

    Although many have made significant claims, to date, no one has been able to show me the money. Click.

  7. has anyone ever heard a salesman say something happened on the street because of social media?

  8. Bill Green says:

    Your page views must be low, Steve. When in doubt attack social media and hope all the bloggers click and comment, eh? A bit obvious even for you.

  9. I have tried Twitter and Facebook, LinkedIn and Ping, blogs and old-fashioned advertising.

    Of that list, only old-fashioned advertising works directly. There is no easy, measurable impact from the others unless one includes some kind of identified offer.

    Smallish wineries that have accumulated a decent sized following can use SM for sales because all sales are important as a percentage of their business. Large wineries can only use SM for publicity purposes.

    The problem with SM for most of us is the incessant chatter that gets in the way of real communication. I see folks like Steve and Joe Roberts and others speaking directly to each other, and it all reminds me of the issue related chat rooms that used to dot the Internet. On the AOL wine boards and chat rooms, we could go on for hours and hours–with a handful of folks.

    The same is true of Twitter and Facebook–except it takes more effort is far more scattered. Do I really care how many people I have as Facebook friends like a picture posted by Joe Schmoe?

    Social Media will have a role, and perhaps there will be an Internet 3.0 or 4.0 or some other point-0 that will be more direct, better directed and more useful. For the moment, the trees are so thick than ou cannot see find the one you want in the forest. And that makes social media about as useful in most cases as Morton has suggested that it is.

    Too bad. I kind of liked my tweets. And so did others, but not enough and I had to wade through hundreds and hundreds a day to find any worth responding to-usually long after the poster had hung up and went back to real work.

  10. Thanks for the post, Steve. I think two important aspects of the “failure” of social media were not discussed in the post, and are crucial to success.

    EXPECTATIONS: Social media is advertising. Plain and simple. Really, it’s more like Guerilla Advertising than anything else. Many people and companies in the wine industry got incredibly excited about social media as a silver sales bullet. It’s not. Ask any winery and they’ll pretty much tell you they haven’t made a significant amount of money off of social media. It’s brand recognition, relationship building, and brand communication. Plain and simple. Based on these elements, it’s clearly a platform for advertising with a little customer relations built in. If you look at the latest Wine Market Council numbers, you’ll see that a huge number of consumer decisions are based on “reviews and recommendations.” Their definition includes reviews and recommendations from friends. Facebook especially is a hotbed for this. If a company is expecting increased direct sales through social media, then it’s a failure. If a company is expecting effective (and mostly free) advertising, then it’s a success.

    CENSORSHIP: The companies hiring social media directors are also the companies that have the most restrictive “brand standards.” Authenticity, images, and humor drive engagement on social media, particularly facebook. If you have an enormous company that will only allow the traditional corporate message on a social media platform, the only thing they’ll be putting out is “Our vineyard is so pretty” “Our wines are on sale!” “Event tonight!” “It’s Mother’s Day!” or worse, the typical long-winded watered-down corporate value statement linking to a similar blog post. Facebook is “a place for friends.” Meaning people. If a brand has no personality, no point of view, or nothing interesting to say to its consumers, it is absolutely a failure. Many of these social media directors you mention are smart, savvy individuals whose hands are tied by a corporate-driven fear of offending people or “cheapening the brand.” Until the parent companies get on board with what these platforms are about, they’ll continue to see failure.

  11. Partially agree. But don’t forget e-commerce in the late 90s. That was the killer app; back then we were laying the pipes at Cisco, then at Interwoven we were building the front-end stores. Hype ensued. Web masters were king, analogous perhaps to social media directors. And of course that bubble popped. But the pragmatic underpinnings – doing business via the web – is something we take for granted today. It was only in the last few years that Netflix crushed brick-and-mortar BlockBuster, and that was because of innovation that happened over a decade earlier. I think same will hold true for social media (but I’m hoping with the bubble crash part!).

  12. oops: WITHOUT the bubble crash part. One is enough for this lifetime.

  13. I look forward to this same exact post three months from now. It was just as enjoyable three months ago. Rinse, repeat.

  14. Evan: Thanks! Then you can write the same comment!

  15. PAWineGuy says:

    Right on Steve, stick it to the man!

  16. Mark F says:

    I think that the real effect of social media in wine is stall because the millenials are just emerging as a serious presence in wine (both as consumers and workers). I’d say in 5 years, you will see a huge not only impact but also dependence on social media becuase the demand of employees, consumers and younger business owners will force business to operate in that medium.

  17. I have to agree there is a lot of social noise out there but SM is not going away, nor has it stalled. But on the flip side, and more importantly, whether it is B2C, B2B or a B2E model, analyzing the data in a way that can assist businesses to make informed decisions based on their big data is a hot topic today. I can guarantee there is some useful data amongst all that noise in the Allied Beverage Group model. They just have to find the right level of analytics/information to take their business to the next level.

  18. Want to really see if social media works? Keep an eye on Visa for Olympics 2012 (ads etc start Monday).
    NYT: Visa’s Olympic campaign largest in 25 years. inclu…”comments, pix, video clips on Visa Facebook page…Twitter @teamvisa…#VisaGoWorld.” Agency: TBWA/Chiat/Day Las Angeles. No $ in story (mistake).
    Same with other major sponsors inclu Coke, McDo, P&G, Samsung.
    As it is global, exporters should pay attention IMHO if you are adrift in SM.
    Then, let Steve (and me) know.

  19. Harvey, Steve… One could make many of the same questioning comments about advertising – especially re wine. Bad Social Media, like bad advertising is a waste of money. But it’s probably a waste of rather LESS money!

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