Viewpoint

 

Does Social Media Sell? No, But Use It Anyway

January 2010
 
by Jason Haas
 
 

In early November, I sat on an industry panel in Paso Robles, Calif., to share ideas about the possibilities of social networking. The three of us on the panel were chosen because we were early adopters of blogs, Facebook, and/or Twitter. An hour-long discussion included a flurry of statistics showing the seismic shift in marketing away from traditional media toward social networking sites and lots of “best practices” tips.

There was a question-and-answer period, but one question I didn’t hear was, “Does social media sell wine?” In our experience at Tablas Creek, not directly.

A few examples are in order. In April, we offered a $10 shipping special, where we would ship any order, of any size, to any of the 28 states that we could ship to, for just $10. A few days before we announced this to our wine club, I posted information about it on our Facebook page, which at the time had some 800 fans.

We received one order in the next 24 hours. When we sent it out to our wine club (about 3,500 people) via e-mail a few days later, we received more than 100 orders in the following week. An e-mail to our non-wine club consumer mailing list (about another 3,000 people) produced another flurry of orders, between five and 10 every day for a week. Each month we feature a wine at a discount in our tasting room. We promote these features in our tasting room and by e-mail. I have stopped mentioning these specials on our Facebook page, because our fans don’t click through to our website, and don’t either “like” or comment on these posts.

Nor should you count on Facebook to fill your events. Last year, the Paso Robles Rhone Rangers used our Facebook group to promote the 2009 Paso Robles Rhone Rangers Experience. We invited the roughly 1,000 members of the group to attend, and received 57 “confirmed” as well as 167 “maybe attending” RSVPs. Eliminating the winery members who attended as a part of their professional responsibilities, I only know of two groups that bought tickets to the event who also listed themselves as attendees on Facebook…and one of those groups joined the Facebook group after buying its tickets.

So, why bother? What social media does is protect a business’s mindshare. No matter what a winery’s social media presence, it will still close most of its sales in traditional ways: at the tasting room, based on recommendations of restaurateurs or wine shop owners, or by referrals either professional or personal.

Social media’s contribution is more subtle. Each day, your customers and the people who make up your distribution network make dozens of decisions about what to promote and what to patronize. And this audience, like the rest of the population, receives an increasing share of its ideas through online interactions on social networking sites: 15 minutes per day, on average, for the 300 million Facebook users. (Twitter has about 25 million active users.)

A winery’s social media efforts will be rewarded by its followers accepting the winery as a more regular part of their lives, with all the benefits that implies. And while these benefits can be difficult for a business to measure, cumulatively they can be very powerful. Tablas Creek’s fan list includes our marketing agents, export customers, distributor managers, distributor salespeople, wine shop owners and employees, restaurant owners and employees, and other winery-affiliated personnel, as well as wine club members and non-wine club consumers. Being a regular part of their social network puts a finger on the scales in our favor.

And, in the same way that, as a Facebook user, I find it increasingly difficult to keep in touch with my non-Facebook friends, each member of our fan base is gradually losing some measure of connection with other wineries that are not using social networking.

So, what are the lessons for a winery? Don’t count on your social networking presence to increase your sales directly. Don’t focus on promoting sales or events. Instead, focus on broader topics that will appeal to a wide audience. Show your personality. Make your fans feel good about their choice of being your fan by sharing good news. Be responsive and interactive—doing so tells your network that their affection is reciprocated.

And know that what you’re doing is a long-term marketing investment. The tools may change, but the movement toward social networking—on both business and personal levels—is here to stay.

Jason Haas is partner and general manager at Tablas Creek Vineyard in Paso Robles, Calif., where he is a member of the winemaking committee, manages wholesale distribution of Tablas Creek, and directs local and national marketing efforts. He also writes Blog Tablas Creek (tablascreek.typepad.com), which was named “Best Winery Blog” at the 2008 American Wine Blog Awards. To comment on this Viewpoint, e-mail edit@winesandvines.com.

 
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