Harnessing the Power of Social Media for Your Vineyard & Winery

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Social media is changing the face of the wine industry and it’s becoming an essential tool that wineries and vineyards must embrace to stay relevant and competitive. Nearly everyone in America today is using at least one form of social media to stay in touch, meet new people, and connect with the brands and products they love. We are living in an exciting digital age, and now is the time to invest in resources to cater to a digital culture and environment. However, wine has always been and continues to be about building relationships with people, so this should be reflected in any social media marketing approach.
The Importance of Social Media
in the Wine Industry

The wine industry is notorious for being slow to adopt digital technologies, and until recently, many wineries and vineyards have struggled to engage their consumers in meaningful ways. But the world is moving quickly, and businesses are feeling the pressure to jump on the bandwagon or risk being left behind and miss valuable opportunities.

Sofia Horvath, social media manager for Harvest Ridge Winery in Marydel, Delaware, told The Grapevine Magazine, “We find that social media is the most cost-effective way to reach a large number of people. Social media also allows us to more accurately target our efforts to different audiences, especially based on interests and location, so we are really able to connect with those that would be interested in our products.”

Studies have shown that the return on investment and customer reach from social media and other digital forms of communication are higher than any other marketing channel, and those benefits are growing each year. Studies have shown that about 90% of wine drinkers use Facebook at least six hours per week, over 7,000 wine-related tweets are made each day, and “wine” continues to be one of the most popular search topics on Pinterest and Google.

Historically, the wine industry has been dominated by experts and connoisseurs who express authoritative opinions on which wines are better than others. But in the age of social media, wine has become more about personal preferences and consumer reviews. Word-of-mouth has always been an important form of promotion in the wine industry, and social media is essentially a digital version of word-of-mouth communication.

Choosing wines can be an overwhelming experience for consumers, and social media is helping to educate the world about the complexities and distinguishing characteristics of wines. Businesses can also gain unique insights into what people are saying about their brand and products from social media. Positive and negative social media comments can open your eyes to what customers really think of you, so that you can consider adjusting your messages or branding accordingly.

Picking a Platform

Some wine businesses pick a single social media platform to focus on, while others dabble in a little bit of everything. As a general rule, pick no more than three platforms and do them well. Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are industry favorites, but some companies are starting to experiment with platforms like Snapchat and YouTube to reach diverse audiences.

Horvath said the Harvest Ridge Winery has the most success posting to Facebook because that’s the platform their customers use most frequently, and people who interact with the winery on Facebook have typically either visited in-person or plan to in the future. “Twitter would be second, as it has been a strong tool to connect with other wineries and other industry people, while allowing us to engage with customers that might not be in our local area,” she added. Crystal Magon, director of sales and marketing for South Coast Winery Resort & Spa in Temecula, California shared with The Grapevine Magazine that Facebook was also their preferred platform of choice for 2015.

If you use multiple platforms, it’s a good idea to alter your message on each one to fit that specific platform. For example, save hashtags for Twitter, image shares for Facebook and Instagram, and engaging questions for LinkedIn. However, most wineries keep traditional forms of marketing going simultaneously as well, including press releases local newspapers, radio, television, and billboard campaigns.

Social Media Strategies for
Wineries and Vineyard

Instead of approaching social media as a way to make sales, wine businesses should think of it as a way to connect with their customers. Through experiential social media content, you can reinvigorate your customers’ memorable wine experiences. Social media can also provide virtual experiences for potential customers who have not yet had the opportunity to visit your facility. Examples of virtual experiences include broadcasted events with a studio audience and virtual tours to give followers a “sneak peek” at what you have to offer.

One strategy that has worked well for wineries is partnering with complementary brands to offer contests and giveaways. Wineries often choose to offer glasses, books, and event tickets in giveaways to stay within the confines of legal regulations. It’s a smart idea to use social media to reward loyal customers, rather than getting caught up in the numbers and accumulating followers who don’t truly know and love your wine. Spend some time engaging with your loyal fans by following their posts and encouraging them to do so in return.

Another strategy that works in the wine business is to transform loyal customers into informal brand ambassadors. When followers share or comment on one of your posts, their friends see this and receive a personalized endorsement. This is an incredibly effective form of inadvertent, word-of-mouth marketing.

The millennial generation is a huge target for the wine industry today, especially young adults between the ages of 26 and 34. And the modern tech-savvy consumer is obsessed with mobile apps and rating the products they use. Wine businesses can create mobile-friendly websites and apps to encourage consumers to connect with them on their smartphones wherever they are.

It’s advisable to educate your followers about wine and tell personal stories, rather than letting sales drive your social media approach. No one likes to be screamed at with a sales pitch, so make your post content useful, interesting, and unique. Wine drinkers today are increasingly experimental and willing to try new brands if simply encouraged to do so.
Tips for Launching a Social Media Strategy
Here are some tips to remember when launching a social media strategy for your vineyard or winery:

• Start small and informal by encouraging employees to suggest ideas and interact with customers.

• Learn the basics of creating online videos
• Track sales through website traffic, number of followers, and post activity.

• Consider delegating social media management to one expert, team, or outsourcing.

• Partner with complementary brands.

• Reward loyal customers.

• Educate and tell stories with your posts.

• Follow other wine businesses, magazines, and influencers to keep up with trends

You can choose to manage your social media platforms in-house or outsource to a public relations or digital marketing agency if you’re short on time or expertise. Hired agencies can build one-time campaigns for special events and an online buzz through ongoing content creation. However, their prices vary greatly based on level of engagement, technical features, and location.

Social Media Success Stories

One classic success story that is often pointed to in the industry is Barefoot Wines. Due in large part to effective social media marketing, Barefoot gained a tremendous following and constantly connects with consumers across several social media platforms. Another success story is the Pacific Rim Winery, which hired Grow Creative and Anvil Media to launch a $10,000 social media campaign to educate consumers and grow their following with a new website, book, and social media.

Biltmore Public Relations Manager Marissa Jamison told The Grapevine Magazine how her team used social media to promote Biltmore Winery’s 30th anniversary and accompanying events in Asheville, North Carolina. “Through a combination of video, historical information, and behind-the-scenes photos, we successfully celebrated this achievement with our social fans and followers,” Jamison shared. “Biltmore Wines is also a sponsor of the PBS cooking series “A Chef’s Life,” a show that takes viewers inside the life of Chef Vivian Howard. Partnering with ‘A Chef’s Life’ on social media content and using promoted posts has deepened our relationship with some existing Biltmore enthusiasts and made connections for us with a new like-minded audience.”

Like many other wineries, Biltmore has had the most success with Facebook and has an active audience of over 340,000 Facebook followers. “Biltmore Wines has been using promoted posts on a regular basis, which resulted in an additional 259,000 people reached in 2015,” Jamison said. “Instagram is a growing channel for us, and we’ve increased our fan base by over 200 percent over the course of the past year.”

Common Social Media Mistakes

Vineyards and wineries tend to fail at social media marketing when they don’t listen to their consumers. It’s important to know your target audience and deliver a message that engages it. I connected with Paul Mabray, founder and CEO of the California-based VinTank, to learn more about how wineries and vineyards can strategically approach social media to promote their businesses. VinTank specializes in social media management for the wine and hospitality industry and serves over 1,000 wine brands.
Here’s what Mabray at VinTank had to say about the biggest mistake he sees vineyards making when they approach social media: “Focusing on content creation and traditional push marketing tactics vs. customer engagement. Wineries should spend 70-90 percent of their time talking to customers and 10-30 percent of their time publishing content.”

Dr. Liz Thach, MW, a professor of wine and management at Sonoma State University in California said that the biggest mistake she sees wine businesses make is launching a social media strategy and not keeping up with it. “I see wineries hiring a summer intern to set everything up, and then when the intern leaves, no one maintains the system,” Thach told The Grapevine Magazine. “It needs to be part of an employee job description so that the platform is updated. Social media should be part of the marketing and PR function, but other employees can contribute.”

Another common mistake is not responding to mentions you receive on Twitter and Instagram. These mentions are essentially free publicity, so show your gratitude and respond as if you would any other type of communication. Also, make sure to include social media icons on your website to make it easy for visitors to follow you. For printed brochures and wine labels, consider using QR codes to encourage digital engagement.

Staying Connected

We have entered into a critical phase in the wine industry where many businesses are slowly, yet surely, learning to embrace social media strategies. VinTank’s Mabray hypothesized that there will be an ever-widening gap of success and profitability between wineries that invest in social media and those that don’t in the next five or 10 years.

The fast-paced world of social media is constantly changing, which means that wine businesses need to constantly monitor their efforts and adjust marketing campaigns to keep up with shifts in the industry. Perhaps the methods of communication have changed, but the basic principles of customer service have not. In the wine business, no number of “clicks” or likes” can replace having a conversation and connecting with your customer.

“If I were a winery I’d ask myself, ‘If a customer called on the phone, would I answer it? If a customer emailed me, would I answer it? If a customer sent me a letter, would I read it?’” posed Mabray. “Why is social media any different in value? The first and most important consideration is putting their customers first. In a world of infinite wine choices, service is the only differentiator.”

Wine is a social beverage, and social engagement is becoming more digital every day. Social media can be a powerful tool for vineyards and wineries, and it can help you reach your business’ full potential at a fraction of the cost of other forms of advertising. The new year is already in full swing, but it’s not too late to start developing a digital strategy and setting measurable goals for how to accomplish it.