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Why wineries should embrace social media

2009 June 30

It’s hard to believe that right here in Microsoft’s backyard, most wineries know very little about social media. Sure, there are a few who have embraced the latest technology, but even those who have worked at big technology companies and left with fat stock portfolios to start a winery are often not social media savvy. Just because they worked for a big company doesn’t necessarily mean they use the latest technology. Besides, even CEO’s of big companies have been slow to adopt social media as shown by this latest research from ÜberCEO. Many wineries aren’t willing to take the plunge for some of the same reasons:

  1. Fear of the Unknown – Fear of making the wrong choice. With so many social platforms to consider that they simply choose not to choose.
  2. No expertise – Many wineries believe that just to even get started, they need to be experts on not only their winery, but with the technology.
  3. No time – Learning something new takes time. And maintaining a presence on a blog or Facebook or Twitter takes time too.

Writing my blog allows me to meet a lot of winemakers and winery owners. A few weeks ago, I had a chance to stop and chat with Leslie Balsley of William Church Winery at the Seattle Wine Awards. She expressed what I hear quite often from wineries, which I’ll paraphrase here:

We just don’t have time or knowledge to do all this social media stuff. We have our web site. Isn’t that enough?

winerymedia1No, it’s not nearly enough if you plan to thrive in the wine marketplace but especially during tougher economic times like now. Social media is changing the entire landscape of how consumers research, enjoy, share and buy wine. It’s also forced many businesses to adapt to this new way of marketing to consumers and especially to the millenium generation who grew up on this stuff. Besides, if planned properly, social media shouldn’t take a lot of time.

In the past, the tiered system of wine sales dictated how wineries interacted with consumers. Wineries provided the wine and information to distributors who chose what they provided to retailers who in turn sold to customers. The laws created, after Prohibition was repealed, are to blame for our outdated distribution model and the bottlenecks created by powerful distributors. If you want to know more about how all this came about, read Tom Wark’s Fermentation blog about this very topic. This one-to-many model had wineries producing whatever marketing collateral the distributor needed.winerymedia2

Some laws have changed and in many states wineries are now allowed to sell and ship directly to the consumer. This allowed wineries to bypass the middlemen and sell wines and share information previously controlled by distributors, retail establishments and restaurants. Consumers increased as did the number of wineries since the smaller wineries were now able to sell direct to consumers, retailers and restaurants. With this change came a change in how wineries market wine to these different audiences who have little knowledge about them, however, it was still a one-to-many media model

winerymedia3Some small wineries rely entirely on the direct-to-consumer model, bypassing not only the tiered system of distribution, but also traditional print media, their points rating systems and critics. Their view of the social media world would be like this simple diagram. Some have even gone as far as maintaining a blog with the ability for consumers to comment on the winery and their products. But they’re only scratching the surface of social media, since this model is still one-to-many or one-to-one marketing. They are still pushing information out to the consumer and not truly engaging them.

Eventually, all the other media will shift to become one aspect of the social media arena. When that happens, the media model may look like this, where wineries, blogs, traditional media and other key influencers provide a platform for wine to be discussed, rated, and hopefully, freely bought and sold. Except, of course, if you’re in Michigan. Then you’re at the mercy of the distributors in that state…sorry.


Don’t believe me? Then you really need to see Pamela Heiligenthal’s post on Enobytes along with the TED video by Clay Shirky about the transformation of media.

Not only will everyday people be consumers of wine, but because of the ability of social networks to widely share information, each consumer also becomes a critic and an influencer, if only in their part of the web world. Considering the costs when compared to traditional marketing, it’s hard to ignore.  But utilizing social media to drive sales is akin to Boeing advertising on television about their airplanes. They aren’t likely to sell an airplane to television viewers, but those ads are meant to promote brand awareness and improve consumer confidence. Social media for wineries is similar in that it allows wineries to promote their brand and engage with their customers thereby creating goodwill. Conversations on SM may not have anything to do with wine and it likely will not result in direct sales, but the brand awareness it creates will help when the consumer is faced with so many choices at a wine store or supermarket. The goodwill from SM may result in a winery visit or word-of-mouth marketing. You remember that shampoo commercial: She told three friends and they told three friends and so on and so on. Oh, you don’t? I guess I’m dating myself once again.

To benefit from this model of many-to-many interactions, a shift in thinking and marketing must occur. It’s not enough to push information out to customers. Actually, most social media customers will be turned off by more traditional selling techniques. You must become an active participant and connect with people beyond what you are selling. You need to be a real person behind the winery.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Larry Chandler permalink
    June 30, 2009

    It takes time for people to fully grasp the implications of social media. It’s hard to quantify and measure, though over time people will see how others are benefiting from it. Few people saw how websites could help sales until they saw their competitors succeeding with it.

    Part of the problem is that so many people position themselves as social media experts that even wineries that are interested in it don’t know where to turn. Big marketing firms may really be clueless about social media, a lone individual may know exactly what each winery needs to do, but how does a winery choose who to ask?

  2. June 30, 2009

    Eric … Thanks for the blog! I agree with your arguments that wineries need to take advantage of social media as a way to increase awareness and enthusiasm, and in so doing, increase sales. There are almost 7,000 wineries in the US alone. I can tell you from a recent bit of research that I did that a little over 500 now have a winery page on facebook ( The #1 page has over 3600 fans.

    The only thing I would like to add is that social media, although time consuming and requiring a different approach than traditional marketing, can be very targeted. You used an example above about Boeing advertising on television. The example is valid in terms of what Boeing is trying to do – increase brand awareness. However, in social media there is the ability to be very targeted with messages. As an example, you can target only people of drinking age, who are female, who live in Oregon, and have expressed an interest in wine. Bottomline is that the effort in social media can pay higher dividends if correctly understood, incorporated as part of an overall marketing effort, given suffcient resources to ensure proper support, and finally, provides high quality content that is of interest to the targeted audience that ensures an on-dialogue.

  3. Eric Hwang permalink*
    June 30, 2009


    Thanks for visiting. You bring up a good point about who wineries should turn to for social media. One of the things that the Murphy-Goode campaign showed other wineries is how effective a good social media campaign can be for generating brand awareness, but more importantly, it brought out the “experts” in droves. Some truly had a following and obviously “get it”, while many others claimed to have the experience yet are barely visible on SM and lack any understanding of the wine business. It reminds me of how everyone became an “expert” in creating web sites several years ago. So many of these web designers had created sites for themselves or friends and family and suddenly, they were web experts.

    There is no easy answer on how to choose someone to guide you through the social media maze. I requires some research on the who you choose as a consultant, knowing what you want to achieve, and a bit of luck in finding the right fit. One thing I have noticed about the wine business that is different from many other industries is the level of cooperation and camaraderie among people who are also competitors in the marketplace, especially among smaller wineries. This internal network of winemakers, growers, winery owners and PR people is an excellent resource for finding help with social media. Something to keep in mind.


  4. Eric Hwang permalink*
    June 30, 2009

    Hi Richard,

    Thank you for visiting my little blog world. You bring up another important point, however, I consider targeting specific market segments an activity that a winery would choose to do only after getting established on social media. Baby steps here. Getting a presence is really the first order of business, but that too takes time. I will mention a couple of first steps in another post I’m working on.

    Incorporating social media into existing marketing often fails because traditional marketing has always been more of a monologue where the producer sends out a message, targeted or otherwise, to the consumer. Social media is a dialogue between both producer and consumer and consumer to other consumers. Suddenly everyone in your social network becomes a potential advertiser. Most marketing plans don’t really take that into account. Being aware of the differences inherent in marketing through social media will enable businesses to address them in changes to or complete restructuring of their overall marketing plans.


  5. June 30, 2009

    Eric…well done. I particularly like the graphic images expressing the different relationship that the wineries have with their consumers. What I think they need is the time to understand, the ability to get through the clutter that is being created by so many voices (so much advise), and the ability to relate social networking with the business they know. I don’t think many are able to connect the dots.

    I believe few see how this will get them more sales! As wine bloggers we need to create a clearer picture of how the two relate, what simple things they can do to achieve some success, and how it will help them survive what I believe will be a prolong period of challenges for them.

  6. July 24, 2009

    Great post on why social networking is important and how it’s of value. I’m sold! Now on to the practicalities. Since I was quoted thought I’d weigh in. Larry makes a great point that many didn’t know how the internet would benefit their business when it first started. The issue for a boutique winery such as ourselves is two-fold, you have to be timely (note how long it took to post this response) and you have to keep up with it once you start to be considered relevant. As an example many winery websites are often woefully out of date. That said we are planning a blogging community event in Sept at our winery to discuss this topic especially regarding smaller wineries with limited resources. I will keep you poste on details. Thanks for pushing us forward.

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