Winning With Megaphones

September 2009
by Pete Blackshaw
In today's web-driven world, customers have more power than ever. Thanks to "consumer-generated media"--blogs, social networking pages, message boards, product review sites and now Twitter--even a single customer can broadcast his brand testimonials or complaints to millions.

For the wine industry--a vertical that already relies heavily on word-of-mouth and recommendations--this is a very big deal, and a golden opportunity. For starters, it means the relationship-marketing activity you've already been doing is more important than ever. The concept of a mailing list or "wine-club," for example, is finding new, extended shelf life on dozens of new social media platforms.

Many of the online options available to wineries--Facebook, Twitter, YouTube--can be turned on almost immediately, and at extraordinarily low cost. The big challenge is figuring out how to thoughtfully engage and nurture consumers who use and prefer these channels to build your brand or service over the long term. Winning with social networks also requires new levels of ability to sense and respond. This is something the wine stakeholders should be primed to exploit, given your foundations in relationship marketing.

Where to start?
In this new environment, wineries need to know whether the current conversation online indicts or rewards their brands. In many cases, the conversation rebuts or contradicts your winery's desired messaging, and you just can't start a credible conversation or relationship until you know where you stand.

There's no excuse not to get started. Free, quick and easy tools abound across the social media landscape for metering conversation, from the free blog search provided by Nielsen's "BlogPulse," to free Twitter tools like TweetDeck. A basic Google search for your brand name is also a smart starting point, as a growing percentage of Google content is now first person.

Keep in mind that the listening pipe not only opens up a playbook of insight and strategy for your brand, but also around your competitors--and, equally important, your retailer or channel partners. For example, conversation on blogs and Twitter is highly revealing of why red wine trumps white in online conversation, or why Australian reds dominate buzz relative to other varieties.

Before wine labels elect to start conversations, they must be attentive to what I refer to in my book as the "Six Drivers of Brand Credibility": trust, authenticity, transparency, listening, responsiveness and affirmation. The empowered consumer shines light (or negativity) against each of these key drivers, and your brand must know where it stands in the credibility matrix before jumping into the conversation.

Is your message credible?
In most cases, brands get themselves in trouble online because consumers see a conspicuous credibility gap. Viral negatives attract link-love, which in turn influences brand search results, which in turn impact user perceptions at what we might refer to as the first moment of online truth: search.

Of course, brands can also shape positive outcomes, but it takes work and investment. I typically counsel brands obsessed with social media to focus first on the fundamentals like customer service or basic feedback forms on their website. Before you set up a Twitter account, call your 800 number and ask yourself: Are we true listeners? Do we really care? Are we sufficiently empathetic and inviting? Do we make the consumer feel important?

It's also critically important to add a social media or Web 2.0 layer to your existing web content. If you have a basic wine site, make everything sharable. Make it easy to access content on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Flickr and YouTube. Embed videos you place on YouTube throughout your site. Virtual wine tours, how-tos and historical narratives are all perfect content for nurturing wine mavens or influencers. Net--you don't have to conduct a complete overhaul to start reaping the rewards of social media.

Last word of advice: Don't get too analytical. Trust your inner-consumer. Today we're all wearing consumer hats ourselves in different ways, whether through our Facebook pages or MySpace accounts, and that affords us a great opportunity to penetrate the psyche of our own consumer. If we apply our own consumer expectations to our wine social media strategy, everything will be much easier.

Pete Blackshaw is the executive vice president of digital strategic services for Nielsen Online and the author of Satisfied Customers Tell Three Friends, Angry Customers Tell 3000 (Doubleday). Blackshaw wrote this Viewpoint to summarize advice to wineries in his keynote presentation, "Dancing and Drinking With Megaphones," at the recent Wine Industry Technology Symposium. To comment on this column, e-mail
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