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Social Media–Waste of Time or Worth It?

Columnist: Christina Julian
June, 2018 Issue

Christina Julian
All articles by columnist

Almost immediately upon signing with the publisher who would release my debut novel to the world, one thing was made clear, more like mandated—social media would be used to promote the book. My publisher was willing to invest, but they expected me to do the same—on social media.

I had always been active on Facebook personally, but never professionally, and I had never used Twitter, unless you count mocking it. One year, thousands of tweets and 17,000 followers later, I can confidently say that social media helped me connect with readers, form a community and ultimately sell more books. Even on the heels of the Facebook privacy scandal, social media carries more clout than ever. As for the role it plays in the wine industry—I set out to find out—with an experiment.

I posted to Twitter and Facebook and asked my network for their thoughts as to whether social media drives sales and builds brands in the wine biz. Only four peopled responded. Telling, for those that did, and even more so for those that didn’t.

The first to comment, seconds after I posted (three to be exact), was Josh Phelps, winemaker/owner at Grounded Wine Company, a Napa-based producer of terroir driven wines from California, Washington, and (soon) Oregon. Phelps, who has been dubbed a Millennial Maven and hit the Forbes 30 Under 30 list when he (together with former partner Carlo Trinchero) took the Millennial targeting wine brand, “Taken,” from a 100-case business to more than 50,000 by the time Phelps sold his stake in the company in 2017.  Phelps went on to launch his own brand (Grounded Wine Co.) later that year. His current success could be attributed to the quality of the juice in the bottle and also Phelps’ social media prowess. “We started to create a social media presence before we launched to organically get the story out. It was a great way to engage with people who had supported me during my past endeavor,” says Phelps.

According to my experts, engagement is the name of the game. Right next to communicating when there is valuable information to share, according to Tracy Smith, general manager for famed racecar driver Danica Patrick’s wine brand, Somnium. “We believe Twitter and Instagram are great ways to share short and eye-catching content to the Millennial world.  It engages people. Do I believe it leads to on the spot sales, no, but at Somnium we believe it’s all about building a relationship with clients, not just the sale.” This points to another golden rule, according to Carl Giavantio, a publicist who commented on the topic in Wine Industry Advisor: establish credibility before making “the ask,” which is how Phelps and others operate. “We use it as a tool to engage with current and new customers,” he says. “We periodically remind our audience via social media that the wines are available for purchase.”

Periodic being the operative word. I was instructed by my publicist to never push my book-selling agenda more than once a week. All other communications (of which there were many) were to be focused on engaging my audience by offering valuable content that had nothing to do with my novel.

Colby Smith, executive director/founder of the Concierge Alliance of Napa Valley and Sonoma (CANVAS) had this to share about the organization’s members and social media: “The biggest challenge at the moment is to shift the mindset of busy staff (and companies) to truly ‘get’ the importance of collecting the data and embracing and making use of it. Reaching out in a way that establishes a relationship beyond all the ‘noise’ out there. We encourage our CANVAS hospitality members to coach their staff to collect and record useful information and interests in a systematic way that can be mined (sports interests, preferred wine types, etc.). The goal is to create and reinforce a common bond to make the relationship stick.”

Lisa Mattson, director of marketing and communications at Jordan Winery, commented, “You have to be balanced about it. Using social to sell has never been a priority for us, yet it can be a disservice to the brand to not use it as a sales tool now and again. Social has to be an integral part of your sales and marketing. So many consumers look at a digital presence and see it as a reflection of your brand. Are you responsive, are you on top of customer service. They use your digital presence to determine that.”

As I visit to the social presences for those brands that never bothered to respond to my call for comment, their virtual “silence” (low to no social activity) speaks volumes.



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