Figuring Out Facebook

Wineries discover ways to use it for personalized marketing

by Kate Lavin
Duplin Winery Facebook
With more than 4,000 fans on Facebook , Duplin Winery makes good use of the social networking site in order to reach customers.
The number of people who traveled to Duplin Winery's homepage via Facebook increased 683% in recent months, according to Christy Farrelly, who leads the North Carolina winery's marketing campaign. Boasting more than 4,000 Facebook "fans," the Muscadine specialist's presence on the social networking site has one of the largest followings of any winery.

In addition to watching the number of Duplin fans rise, Farrelly says she's noticed other wineries and industry groups are following Duplin's Facebook profile. Many smaller wineries with fewer resources, she says, are looking for tips about joining Facebook and how to keep content new and fresh.

One huge plus of having a Facebook presence is that it's free, but for a small winery with a tiny staff, is Facebook really worth the time and effort? More and more wineries are saying "yes." Keep reading to find out why.

What is Facebook?
Founded in 2004 by three roommates at Harvard University, social networking site Facebook welcomed its 200 millionth member April 8, and according to the company's latest statistics, more than half of its users log into the website at least once per day. Members utilize the site to send public or private messages to friends, join groups, play games, take quizzes and browse acquaintances' photos, videos, links and other interests. Tinkering with privacy settings allows a member's profile to be completely public, set to private or somewhere in between.

Though it was initially conceived as a social network for students, Facebook now is available to anyone who is over age 13 and has a verifiable e-mail address. The site, which is accessible in 45 languages and dialects, is free to members and uses banner advertisements to turn a profit. The company earned more than $300 million in 2008, according to Forbes magazine.

But in spite of the site's obvious popularity, many wineries don't have a presence on Facebook. From an industry standpoint, wineries, vineyards and brand managers have the option of advertising through the site, forming a group that Facebook members can join or setting up a product page to communicate with Facebook members who become "fans" of your winery.

Product page vs. group
In previous Facebook formats, product pages were nonexistent. Facebook members who wished to show their allegiance to a particular wine brand would form or join a group (in this instance, we'll call it "I Love Brand X Wine"). Each group member would be shown news from the group at login, and friends who visit the group member's page would see his/her affiliation with the I Love Brand X Wine group.

Starting a product page is the alternative to founding a group. It works like this: Consumers who enjoy Brand X seek out its product page and "Become a fan" of the brand. Using this feature, product page owners can send messages directly to their "fans," letting them know about special events, promotions and other entertaining happenings at the winery or in their area.

Both product pages and groups have their share of cheerleaders, but the majority of wineries we spoke to prefer the product page option. A major drawback to groups is that if a consumer joins several of them, the groups' respective messages all will be jockeying for space in the user's news feed. He or she is likely to lose interest reading each and every update, lessening the chance that your message will be seen. Additionally, members can adjust their settings to "Show Less" news from a particular group, thereby choosing not to view as many of your messages.

Lisa Mattson of Wilson Daniels began experimenting with Facebook in September in an attempt to spread the word about her company's 12 U.S. and 22 international wine labels. She told Wines & Vines that forming a group allowed her to send mass e-mails to members about new releases, special events and discounts. The endeavor wasn't without its challenges, however. "Some people say groups are easier to deal with," Mattson says, "but it doesn't allow very customized communication."

Timothy Elliott, principal of winery marketing firm Acan Media, falls on the side of product pages in the great debate. Unlike groups, he says, product pages allow users to access metrics about who is visiting the page and how often. "Groups are not indexed outside of Facebook," Elliott says of search engine results on sites such as Yahoo! and Google. "Product pages are indexed, so people can view them without being members of Facebook."

Now what?
So, you've signed up for Facebook and figured out how to set up a product page. But what should you put on it? To start, try keeping your winery's fans abreast of what's happening in the vineyards or the cellar. Pruning, sorting and bottling may be old hat to you, but chances are good that your fans (especially the young and tech-savvy ones) aren't too knowledgeable about how many degree-days you've had in the Niagara Peninsula this season or what that means to your wines.

"Some little inside secrets might be interesting to a consumer who's interested in your product," Farrelly says. "Stories of the winery, or what happened today or this week--if it's harvest time and you want to share what's going on."

If your aim is drawing patrons for a winery visit, make sure to include photos of the bar and information about limited-release varieties that customers can find only in your tasting room. Videos are a popular multimedia tool, but make sure they are short and reflect the personality of your winery. Viewers are likely to forward a link to their friends if they've happened upon a unique and funny clip; a stuffy, 20-minute reel will fall flat.

Another word of caution: Don't go overboard in how you choose to broadcast information to your base. Facebook users often are fans of dozens or even hundreds of products and charitable causes. If you send your fans an e-mail every time your vineyard gets a write-up in your regional wine association's newsletter, your newsflashes will become tiresome, and you run the risk of the customer dropping your product in cyberspace--and maybe even real life. Limit this kind of communications to one per month maximum.

If you're going to blast your base with an e-mail message, make sure you are offering them something that will make reading worthwhile. Including a free shipping offer, a regional tasting invitation or the chance to enter a sweepstakes will help your message stand out.

Going public
One pitfall common to newcomers using Facebook for business is using your personal Facebook account to become administrator of a product's group. The administrator's own homepage is visible to everyone who joins that group, so if you don't want strangers reading comments that your college roommate or your Uncle Joe wrote on your public messaging board, sign up for a second account that is visible only your to family and friends.

Another problem for businesses setting up Facebook sites is neglecting to make time for site maintenance. If a user leaves a question or a comment on your product page, and you never respond, the effect can be worse than if you didn't have a Facebook page at all. Conversely, allowing consumers to have a casual and personal dialogue with representatives from the winery creates the kind of brand loyalty that can prove fruitful for years to come.

"All social media sites are only as effective as the time you are willing to put into it," says Michael Donovan of RoxyAnn Winery, an Oregon-based vintner that has collected nearly 400 Facebook fans since joining this site a couple of months ago. Donovan estimates the winery staff spends about four hours per week maintaining their Facebook site--whether uploading new photos or responding to consumers. Donovan hopes that by the end of the year he'll have a better idea of how much traffic has increased in the tasting room due to Facebook, and whether that nets a significant number of sales.

Measuring Facebook's Effectiveness

Offering incentives to fans who mention Facebook or enter an advertised code during checkout can be a great way to gauge how well your online media initiative is working.

"If the only way people learned about (a promotion) was through Twitter or Facebook, measure how many people come back and how much wine you sold," said Timothy Elliott, principal of winery marketing firm Acan Media. "It's pretty straightforward." Having a system to gauge effectiveness is key, he added, because one of the most frustrating things about marketing is the inability to measure progress--how many people are seeing your message, committing it to memory and changing their habits as a result.

One of the chief complaints of nearly every winery we spoke to for this story was the trouble with gauging Facebook effectiveness. In fact, none of them could definitively prove that Facebook helped increase sales.

"I think it's a little bit too new," said Trisha Stock, hospitality director for St. Francis Winery and Vineyards. "What we're hoping for is to build a presence with Facebook, using all the social media to increase the number of people who visit our site, who get excited about us out in the marketplace, and eventually translate into sales."

However, St. Francis is working on ways to draw more users and quantify progress. One such campaign is a photo contest for customers who send pictures of places they've enjoyed St. Francis wines. Other wineries are promoting the same type of programs.

"We had someone who went to Antarctica with a bottle of Schramsberg, and the guy sent pictures," said Lisa Mattson of Wilson Daniels. "You could post this into your group and say, 'Check out this picture.' It builds brand loyalty in a way."


Listening to your audience
Here's an example of how to make Facebook work for you: A fan of your site is living in Cincinnati and leaves a comment stating that she doesn't know where to buy your blanc de blancs locally. If you let a staff member or vendor in Ohio know to get in touch with this person, it's a near-guaranteed sale, and possibly a new member of your wine club. Alternately, if you've noticed a growing number of fans in one particular geographic area, it might be time to host a winemaker dinner there. Of course, properly monitoring this sort of happenings means your office is going to need a dedicated staff member responsible for checking the site at least a couple of times per week, preferably more.

"Be committed to doing it, and don't put it up until you're ready for someone to do the follow-through," Trisha Stock, hospitality director for Sonoma's St. Francis Winery and Vineyards, says of starting a product page or fan group. "The news page is more user friendly, and I keep it current and keep it exciting."

But don't wait too long. As more and more wineries are finding when they decide to take the Facebook plunge, the brand's fans may have beat them to it. Schramsberg Vineyards in the Napa Valley, for example, has a Facebook page with 575 fans, but the administrator who set the page up five years ago is unrelated to the winery, meaning business managers like Mattson can't control the content, messages or access information about how often members are visiting.  

When consumers search a winery's name, Facebook's search engine will list the results in order of which page is the most popular, not which is the most tied to the business in question. "When you've got a higher number of fans, Facebook will automatically assume that's the official page," Mattson says.

At Duplin Winery in North Carolina, Christy Farrelly says several fan groups already had been formed by the time she set up the winery's own Facebook site. "We've had it less than a year, and it just picked up really, really fast," she says. "We try to at least go on (to Facebook) once to twice a week, minimum. If we have time, we certainly go on more than that."

Is that my audience?   
One popular misconception about Facebook users is that they're a bunch of teenagers who are about as likely to drink a $45 Napa Valley Cabernet as they are to set up a retirement savings account. In fact, 45% of U.S. Facebook users are age 26 or older.

"I think what higher-end wineries have to remember is that Millennials are a huge group," Mattson says of the generation of individuals born between 1977 and 1994. "Some of those Millennials are around 30, and they're at a place in their careers that they can probably afford a little more expensive wine--a lot of consumers trade up at some point."

Beyond that, the generation that St. Francis Winery and Vineyards' Trisha Stock dubs "silver surfers" is one of the fastest-growing groups on the Internet. And an insidefacebook.com study conducted earlier this spring indicated women between 55 and 65 are the fastest-growing segment of the Facebook population.

These groups already have proven themselves to be avid wine consumers, so why wait for them to show up at the liquor store or in your tasting room? Catch them on Facebook, and you just might make a sale.
Posted on 08.11.2009 - 15:37:26 PST
In regards to your comment suggesting people do not use their personal accounts because "The administrator's own homepage is visible to everyone who joins that group, so if you don't want strangers reading comments that your college roommate or your Uncle Joe wrote on your public messaging board, sign up for a second account that is visible only your to family and friends.
", it is not correct. I manage a Facebook page for my company using my personal Facebook account and no one is able to see my information. In your personal account's privacy settings, you have to change it so that only your friends can see your profile. I have it blocked to the point that only my friends can see my profile photo so although I created the page and am the admin, nothing can be seen by any fans of our winery!
Sausalito, CA USA