Wineries Tap Twittermania
'A Really Goode Job' demonstrates the medium's reach
The pithy posting -- a "tweet," as it's called in Twitter lingo, does not exceed 140 characters, so as to be transmittable on Short Message Services (SMS) such as cell-phone texts -- innocuously said, "Watching this video: tinyurl.com/cjau3h."
Upon glimpsing the unassuming tweet and clicking on the link, "followers" (Twitter parlance for those who receive your tweets, akin to "friends" and "fans" on Facebook) discovered a 21st century job listing -- a YouTube video entitled "A Really Goode Job," set to a surging soundtrack and paired with footage of smiling, quaffing 30-somethings -- seeking a passionate wine lover, savvy about Web 2.0; willing to relocate, rent-free, for a six-month stint as the winery's social media guru. This so-called Murphy-Goode "wine country lifestyle correspondent" would be paid $10,000 per month.
"We were thinking about how to have a direct dialogue with our consumers (and with the Millennials), and none of us really knew how to do it," said Dave Ready Jr., winemaker at the Healsburg, Calif. winery for the past eight years. "So we decided to make a splash."
That splash gave way to a tsunami. What ensued was a bona-fide media bonanza; not only was the unconventional job listing featured in the San Francisco Chronicle, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, CNN Radio and CBS, ABC and NBC television news affiliates around the country, but Ready was invited to plug it on the Today Show, Fox & Friends Weekend and Tony Bruno's sports radio show, among others. Many of these appearances were the subjects of subsequent tweets. Pick-up then traveled around the world, with mentions in New Zealand, England, India and elsewhere.
But more to the point was the cyber-riot of commentary in the form of replies and "re-tweets" (a re-tweet, or RT, happens when one of your followers reposts your message to their followers, beginning with the RT acronym, thereby capitalizing on Twitter's viral power), and chatter on blogs and in forums, resulting in an estimated 1,200 conversations in its first 16 days according to Evan Cover, CEO of Cruvee.com.
Ready's immediate analysis showed that 72% of the conversation about the job posting was happening on Twitter, another 19% on blogs, and the remaining 9% in other forums, such as chat rooms, message boards and comments on YouTube.
As a result, in the first week alone the winery received hundreds of applications, though only about 100 of them adhered to the required 60-second video format.
"A couple hundred were incomplete or went over the 60 seconds," said Ready, who added that the winery continued accepting applications through early June.
By 7:43 a.m. the morning after Murphy-Goode's first tweet, the winery's website had received a record 5,000 hits -- approximately 10 times the number it had received on a typical day the week before. (As of press time, the traffic is holding strong at about 5,300 daily.)
Though it was too early to gauge the campaign's effect on sales (the winery has an annual production of 150,000 cases), Ready said, "Our salespeople are really fired up, and we're enjoying more name recognition."
Ready had an epiphany with meaningful consequences for his brand's relationship with its consumers. "In the wine industry, we assume people know certain things," he said. "We toss around the word malolactic like it's a varietal. We take so much for granted in assuming that people know what malolactic is, but some have no idea. Yet having a person (onboard) who's passionate and yet not ne cessarily wine-educated will help us relate to the people for whom wine is new."
Between April 2007 and April 2009, visits to Twitter in the U.S. increased more than 59,000%, and between January and April of this year, when Oprah tweeted for the first time on national television, traffic has grown 450%, making it the fourth most-visited social media website -- and the 43rd most-visited website overall -- as of May 9, according to Hitwise, the Internet usage monitoring company.
"We were surprised at how quickly businesses took to it, and in a smart way," Stone said. "They didn't alienate customers but attracted them."
His advice? "Mix it up. If all you do is talk about this deal or that, and people start un-following you, then maybe you're not doing it right."
Mixing it up is Sokol Blosser's Twitter mantra. Kitri McGuire, marketing communications manager for the Dundee, Ore.-based Pinot producer, oversees the winery's Twitter page, and her updates consist of musings on everything from bud break to Earth Day to the Portland Trail Blazers' first-ever advance into the NBA Playoffs.
Among her recent tweets: "Happy Earth Day! What wines will everyone be drinking tonight to celebrate?" and "We are excited for Blazers vs. Rockets tonight…go Portland! Does anyone know of a good basketball-watching wine?"
As the Pinot Noir house's designated Tweep (the sales manager oversees the Sokol Blosser Facebook page), McGuire religiously tweets about twice a day and said she receives between one and 10 replies per tweet, depending on the topic.
Sokol Blosser now has more than 1,000 followers, including some local restaurateurs who, after being invited to tour the winery, have begun selling more wines, McGuire said.
"We are building relationships that will last through the economic recession," she said. "These relationships are incredibly important. The sales will come."
Wine and technology: An inevitable blend
The intersection of wine and technology is here to stay. In May, Vintank, the digital think tank for the wine industry, published the first white paper exploring the effect of online social networks on the wine industry, in cooperation with consultant Derek Bromley.
Among the paper's notable findings was the fact that the top 20 wine bloggers now collectively draw a larger audience than winespectator.com, and as of April, 7,896 of Twitter's 2 million daily tweets are about wine.
The 85-page report was downloaded some 4,000 times in the first week after a social media-only release, and, in the same period, it generated 1,000 conversations on Twitter alone, according to Vintank founder and partner Paul Mabray.
"Consumer embrace of social media literally turns the tables on marketers," said Tom Wark, publisher of the Fermentation wine blog, who wrote the forward. "Brands are being built and defined as much by consumers and communities as they are by marketers and suppliers."
Maggie Zeman couldn't find a better argument to get her clients tweeting. As managing director of the Barn Group in Healdsburg, she provides communications counsel and public relations services to wineries, and has become an advocate for social media marketing, specifically Twitter.
"Twitter as a way of communication is a natural step for wineries, because wine is about getting people together," said Zeman, who works with brands like Foppiano Vineyards, Clif Family Winery and Layer Cake, among others. "It provides instant access to consumers." (Facebook also figures into her recommended social media mix.)
"It used to be that when you were promoting wine to the media, you'd send the samples to the journalist, and the review would appear two weeks later," Zeman said. "But now that (American wineries) are competing with wines from South Africa, Chile and Australia, it takes much longer to get the wines reviewed, and even longer for the customers to be able to read the reviews."
Before her winery clients enter the Twittersphere, Zeman requires mandatory observation, also known as "lurking," and monitoring to grasp the tone and spirit of the communication.
She works with a graphics design firm to help clients project a brand-correct image on their page, and then she walks them through the unwritten rules of engagement, stressing the importance of authenticity in conversations. "This is not a sales tool," Zeman said. "It should not be used that way."
Most importantly, she urges her clients to make it their own, to tell their unique stories.
"At first I was nervous," said Natalie West, the 29-year-old who began making wine at Foppiano last year and attracted 40 followers in her first week on Twitter in late April. "I was over-thinking it, but now that I've started doing it, it's an easy truth. I don't have to make it sound beautiful."
West's recent tweets include:
"What a way to end the day, with my new '08 Rose!! PS, pairs well with Humboldt Fog cheesecake my coworker perfected," on April 27 at 4:57 p.m., to which follower Oenopunk replied at 8:24 p.m., "@foppianonatalie Humbolt [sic] fog cheese cake? YUM!" (The "@" symbol denotes a reply).
The next day, West responded at 4:48 p.m.: "It sounds odd, but it is amazing!"
For those who pine for privacy, an alternative to this public exchange, accessible to followers of both Oenopunk and West, is to send a direct message (a DM) to a follower, but this can be accomplished only between mutual followers.
Zeman said that though it's easy to become Twitter-fixated, tweeting as often as every 20 minutes is "overkill."
But Christina Anderson-Heller, marketing director at Lynfred Winery and a self-described wine princess, attributed increased pres s coverage and substantial growth in visitors to the Roselle, Ill., winery (up from 110,000 in 2007 to 120,000 in 2008) in part to her frequent and creative tweeting.
When she opines about a cheeseburger paired with a rose, for example, she might receive a reply inquiring about what wine might complement Cheetos or pork rinds. Her answer? "FAB with sparkling rose."
A regular follower who often asks for wacky wine pairings he can concoct over the weekend and then promptly re-tweets her answers to his followers, asked on a recent Friday what he might use to wash down a Krispy Kreme doughnut. (For the record, Anderson-Heller recommended ice wine.)
Having amassed more than 1,600 followers as of mid-June, Anderson-Heller finds it challenging to keep track of Lynfred mentions in cyberspace. So she uses TweetDeck, a free dashboard-like application created independently from Twitter that allows users to manage their tweets. It is through the application's search functions that she discovered entrees to new customers. On "Follow Fridays," she enthusiastically recommends Tweeple (people who use Twitter) whose tweets she believes her followers might enjoy, and on May 5, Cinco de Wino brought "wine-a-ritas" (Rosé or Chardonel blended with a powdered margarita-like mix) to the tasting room.
A boon for small wineries
Twitter has proved a boon, particularly for artisanal and smaller-scaled wineries that have limited marketing resources and sell a large portion of their production direct to consumers.
Margaret Ryan of Olson Ogden Wines, where annual output hovers around 1,500 cases, said sales of its Russian River varietals have grown 25% in the past year as a result of social media marketing, including pages on Twitter and Facebook. Seventy percent of those sales are generated by word-of-mouth endorsements, many of which are happening online, she said.
"It's pretty intuitive," Ryan said. "If you're going to be authentic, you need to participate in the conversation, not bombard consumers with a marketing message."
The ongoing conversation on Twitter is an extension of the connections her husband (John Ogden, who oversees marketing and operations) and his partner (winemaker Tim Olson) have made with consumers at the many wine events they have attended over the years. "It's that personal connection with a winemaker that really drives sales," she said.
When the Epic Roasthouse in San Francisco began pouring the winery's 2006 Unti Vineyard Syrah, for instance, the news didn't quite warrant a newsletter blast, but Ogden did tweet about it. Similarly, when the winery's 2006 Stagecoach Syrah received 93 points from the Wine Spectator, Ogden encouraged followers to submit pre-release orders via a special URL on Twitter.
The 40-acre vineyard parcel on the Silverado Trail from which Titus Vineyards produces much of its 8,000 to 10,000 cases of Cabernet, Petite Syrah, Zinfandel and Merlot, does not have a tasting room where drop-ins can purchase wine.
With a club membership of roughly 500 and a mailing list of just under 2,000, Christophe Smith, the resident Web 2.0 expert (his Twitter handle is cork_dork), decided to bring the vineyard to his followers.
Using a variety of Web video sites including Ustream, viddler and YouTube to broadcast last year's harvest, Smith managed to pump up page views of the company's so-called Titus TV productions from 100 to 5,000 hits in one day. In September, Smith will reprise his live-stream of harvest, shooting a garden-cart-mounted camera and laptop production dubbed "Harvest Live," for the second time via video links on Twitter, Ustream, viddler and YouTube -- and any other viable channels that pop up between now and then.
"It's a way to get the word out and not spend on billboards and expensive magazines," said Smith, who currently has more than 1,000 followers on Twitter, amassing them at a clip of about 30 per day.
"Not even a plane ticket to the Napa Valley would guarantee a conversation with the winemaker," he said. "But Twitter enables you to talk to one person and create an army of people who go out and spread the message."
Measuring the twitter effect
Short of depletions and new account openings, how does a winery even begin to measure the effectiveness of all of this tweeting? Enter Evan Cover, the aforementioned CEO of Cruvee.com, a provider of social media analytics and interpretation to the wine industry.
Since launching in February, he has retained both wineries and marketing and public relations agencies as clients, aggregating the conversations and tasting notes from more than 2 million daily tweets; 19 million blog posts by 700 dedicated wine bloggers; and 6,000 forums, among numerous others.
"Cruvee is a customer-acquisition vehicle," Cover said. "Wineries need to monitor and talk to people online -- they can circle back and re-connect, and it really gives them the opportunity to see all the information about their brands in terms of people's real perceptions."
On any given day, of the 2 million conversations that are happening per day on Twitter, Cover estimated that between 8,000 and 9,000 of them are about wine. And beyond the realm of wine bloggers, Cover said, "There are plenty of bloggers on 'Mommy and Me' types of blogs who talk about the Chardonnay they had last night."
Thanks to a recent infusion of angel funding, Cruvee provides its market intelligence for a flat fee of $29.95 per month per brand, roughly the cost of a bottle of wine, which Cover noted is far less than the lifetime value of a customer. "We want to be able to give back," he said.
So what does Twitter co-founder Biz Stone think of all the online sniffing, swirling and slurping that has made his micro-blog the some-time No. 1 wine site? He likes the notion of using Twitter to organize impromptu tweet-ups, in which Tweeple get together to taste.
His wine of choice? Gloria Ferrer.