Why Social Media Advice From Traditional Wine Media Is Almost Always Wrong

Vinted on November 19, 2013 binned in best of, commentary

[ Editor’s note: the following screed is nearly 1500 words long. The Cliff Notes version, for those who are in a hurry: be very careful about where you take your advice regarding wine and social media, lest you miss out on worthwhile authoritative voices/resources (as a consumer) or miss opportunities to build brand awareness and acquire customers (as a producer). ]

There’s no delicate way to breach this topic, and so I’m going to risk pissing off a lot of people by jumping right in and starting it this way:

From whom should you take your social media advice? Choose one of the options below:

1) Someone who ran Internet web hosting for some of the most successful brands in the history of social media (including Skittles, Snickers and M&Ms), who makes $0.00 from social media consulting, and who bootstrapped his way from total unknown to authoritative in the wine space completely via online channels,


2) A traditional media outlet source that has little or no experience operating in social media channels, has a vested fiscal interest (advertising) in pushing wine brands away from inexpensive social media channels and into (more expensive) print advertising spending, and who publicly decries social media / blogs while at the same time advertises on those online channels and repeatedly asks those same blogs it decries to cover its events and press releases?

Hello… Paging Ralph Nader…!

The answer seems ludicrously straightforward, and yet I regularly watch wine brands go with #2, potentially to the detriment of their long term bottom lines. And yes, for the record, I’m the guy in the first example above, but that’s not central to the point – you could substitute anyone in the #1 slot with both social media and wine experience, like Paul Mabray of Vintank, for example. The point is that wine brands accord far, far, far too much weight to the social media prognostications and pontifications of OpEd pieces, newsletter introductions, and blog posts from staff members of traditional wine media. These media folks are often fantastic tasters, great writers, and immensely intelligent people who routinely, somehow, manage to make themselves sound like complete idiots by holding a bully pulpit sermon on topics about which they know almost nothing. It’s like eighty year old men talking about teenage girls’ high school fashions, or ten year old boys talking about prostate health or political voting strategies.

Seriously, people, this is getting embarrassing

Here’s the thing: figures within traditional wine media seem to think that commenting on social media, because it touches on the topic of wine – their turf – is within their wheelhouse. But just as the act of breathing doesn’t make us oxygen experts, social media’s ubiquity ensures that it touches on *every* topic now; so that’s just not a good enough justification for someone to pontificate on it (for a long but cogent – and eloquently penned – deep dive into this, see Elaine Chukan Brown’s article The Question of Authority in the Context of Social Media, with a quick nod at democracy).

There are two things that traditional wine media, in my experience, typically gets totally wrong when it comes to social media, and it’s high time we wine geeks all agreed on more accurate renderings of both:

The first thing on which we need to agree is that there is effectively NO debate about whether or not a wine brand ought to be operating in social media channels. I know this because I was part of that debate for brands like Skittles; and we had that debate seven years ago. The evidence that authority, loyalty and exposure can be garnered through proper use of social media is incontrovertible. And if people can have a social media relationship with a f*cking bag of candy, don’t you think they can have one with a premium wine brand that might have been part of a special occasion in their lives? Do we even need to ask this question?!?? Apparently we do, and the answer is Yes; in fact, that relationship is strong enough to put wine in the top eight categories of anything discussed by people online.

The second thing we need to agree is that social media outreach for wine is not a question of “if” there’s a return on investment, but of “where?” and “how much?”

Where (twitter, facebook, pinterest…) are the fine wine customers hanging out?

How much time should be spent courting them in those channels vs. using traditional wine media outlets (because both are important)?

Those are the questions with which wine brands need to be wrestling, not, “gee, I’m not so sure about this twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn thing…?” If you’re a wine brand in that latter boat, you need to get out, because it’s already taking on water and you’re too late to plug the holes (see this Mashable article on just how deep in the minority opinion you are on that).

A wine brand’s mix of social media / traditional media time/spend should be a bit like re-balancing a stock / bond allocation mix when you’re investing. I.e., initially you dial in small amounts of social media time, but over the years, as those channels become the norm and print declines further, the need to spend a higher percentage of time and spend in those channels (and less in print) will increase. That is, unless wine print media somehow bucks the trend of declining print media that has impacted every other topic of interest. Anyway, the return on that time investment can, in fact, be measured in quantitative ways (exposure, customer acquisition/retention, sales, etc.), a fact that conveniently eludes the majority of traditional media despite the fact that it could be confirmed via a brief Google search or a call to a reputable PR agency. Not seeing ROI on your social media play? Riddle me this, wine-man: is it more likely that social media surely work, or could it be more likely that the story you’re telling on social media sucks and therefore it’s not selling? Here are some recently reported wine social media ROI examples, for those who find the Google route to be too much work.

The problem is that traditional wine media folks, for the most part, don’t understand this. They’re terrible at navigating social media – and at offering advice about its use – for the same reasons that they’re great at writing and tasting wines: it’s a function of where they spend their time. They don’t spend it on navigating the nuances of what does/doesn’t work on various social media platforms, they spend it on creating great wine content for their own traditional media platforms. They don’t need to understand the nuances required to engage an audience via social media because their audience is built-in, it’s part and parcel of their writing outlets and would be there reading (to some extent) whether or not their content appears in the magazine/paper/newsletter. Those trying to make a mark and build an audience via social media need to earn the readership one wine lover at a time.

Neither way is inherently good or bad, but the approaches are fundamentally different; different enough that a traditional wine media personality talking about utilizing social media for wine makes about as much sense as a social media wine personality taking about how wine brands should best use exposure in wine magazines. Which is to say, not much. I don’t blame them for acting like there are too many blogger kids playing wine reviewer on their lawns, because there are. But that doesn’t mean they don’t sound ridiculous when they’re offering misinformation about how social media and wine (don’t) work together.

I’m not arguing against cautious approaches, or against a slow adoption of social media outreach. And under no circumstances should anyone think that social media outreach is a panacea or a road to instant sales, riches, popularity, or executive-style hair (though despite many citing that wine brand have been fooled into thinking that’s the case, I’ve yet to see one single example offered up of someone making such claims; seriously, they must be coming from unicorns or something…).

But ignoring social media channels altogether? Yeah, I’m arguing against that, and I’m telling you that anyone who offers “advice” that even remotely looks like a treatise on why social media doesn’t “work” for wine, or provides no measurable ROI, or is somehow inappropriate for find wine because wine is “different” is selling Grade D snake oil, and probably has a vested interest in where wine marketing dollars get parked.

Going back to the financial comparison, staying on the sidelines of social media for a wine brand is like sticking all your money into a savings account because it’s “safe,” and then finding out that in ten years you lost half your buying power to inflation; it’s a losing bet. Why? Because more and more of the people who buy wine will be interacting with brands on social media over time; if you sell wine, then you need to be there now, ready to greet them.






  • passionatefoodie

    Though I agree with many of your points, I think your initial dichotomy over simplifies the matter and ignores an important aspect. There are people involved in social media who "have skin" in the game, and would benefit from increased winery participation in social media. Thus, their pronouncements on the benefits of social media need to be carefully scrutinized, just as much as those who know little about social media. We have all seen the proliferation of self-proclaimed social media gurus, ninjas and experts. And some of them actually know very little about social media. And others who do know about social media will sometimes financially benefit when they can get others to use social media. In the end, wineries really need to do their homework to wade through all of the competing opinions.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Richard. I agree with you, but I think the case about the charlatanism is grossly overstated. We have to do our homework with any professional help and service, sm is no different.

      • passionatefoodie

        Joe, do a few Twitter searches on terms like "social media ninja" and maybe you will see how many people consider themselves as such. How many are them are truly "experts?"

        • 1WineDude

          Richard, no doubt very few. But do the same search for financial advisors….

          • Eric Hwang

            That's a great analogy: SM experts and financial advisors. Nowadays, just about anyone can put their name on a business card and claim to be a financial advisor. I've found out first-hand that a fancy car, expensive suit and slick marketing collateral doesn't necessarily make a good financial advisor. The only person my investments seemed to benefit was him.

            In much the same way, SM gurus can appear to be experts because it looks like they are out on all the right SM channels, have thousands of followers and can speak the lingo, but in the end, who is all that benefitting? Unless they also understand your business and the whys and wherefores of being in the SM arena, they're as much a social media expert as all those so-called financial advisors.

            • 1WineDude

              Thanks, Eric. When I went full time into wine, I had to find another hobby, and to my astonishment I ended up picking finance! So I’ve done a crap ton of research into that stuff over the last year or so, and it’s incredible how cynical, bizarre, and full of charlatans it is. And I’m being kind! ;-)

    • Damon

      I have to agree with this. You have to look at the incentives for everyone. Supporters and naysayers — that is the problem with this debate — the debate seems to be between people who benefit from one side or the other, not the wineries who are actually testing and learning. I'd love to listen to a panel discussion of wineries who are experimenting on their own.

      If your premise is that wineries need to be doing their research on social media and not listening to the people with skin in the game, I hope your readers take that to heart. Every winery should figure out an authentic way to engage with their target customers on social media… whether that is via proprietary blogs, advertising on blogs, FB, Twitter, Pinterest, Flickr, Instagram, Youtube, Delectable, Cellartracker, Wine Berserkers, Snooth, etc. Find your audience (or the audience you want) and engage with them. It is probably cheaper to engage them via social media than traditional media channels (at least after you iterate and test).

      • 1WineDude

        Damon, exactly, and it’s not all that different at the core than their approach to traditional media should be. But for some reason, sm gets labeled as somehow more susceptible to charlatans, which is a specious argument at best, I think.

        • Damon

          That is true. Probably always true for new ideas. There are charlatans around every corner. As you said, be cautious but keep moving forward.

          • Damon

            And by "charlatans around every corner," I meant that for all types of new business. There are people who overstate and oversell print advertising just as much as social media.

            • 1WineDude

              Damon – exactly. It will be true in all business, I think.

  • Ron McFarland

    Two areas where wine advice from established wine critics probably makes sense are purchases made for either ego or investment purposes. For finding pleasurable wines there are many sources and you are correct social media has much to offer.

    Have you ever thought about the differences in loyalty between candy and wine consumers?

    • 1WineDude

      Ron, exactly. And those have got nothing to do with the intersection of wine and social media. As for the wine and candy difference, side from distribution and accessibility and prestige, the difference is probably on average about ten bucks! :-)

      • Ron McFarland

        The candy comment was directed at the likelihood of a repeat purchase – which consumer is more likely to repeat a purchase and truly show loyalty to a specific brand?

        Off topic but your mention candy and it sparked the question.

        • 1WineDude

          Ron – great question. I think it’s much trickier for wine. Especially as we trend younger and consumers try more brands with less repeat purchases, which is easy in wine due to the intense competition.

  • Todd - VT Wine Media

    Important industry shifts always have their drivers, early-adopters, bandwagoneers, late-adopters, and those that win Darwin awards for failure to adapt. We are still in the early phases of this particular evolutionary gradient, but there is little doubt that a fundamental change is underway. No matter who is touting that change or railing against it, business owners have to take a good hard look at the arc of their own endeavor, and think about what they are willing to do, to be successful communicating with their customers.
    It's same way folks had to decide whether or not to advertise in those newfangled newspapers coming off that printing press thingy, send catalogs by pony express, call prospective customers on Mr. Bell's telephone, sponsor a radio cabaret show, or make a thing called a commercial on an eight inch television screen set in a console the size of refrigerator.
    The mediums change but the requirement for innovation to creatively and efficiently exploit those mediums is constant. Some are prepared to move forward willingly, and even lead, while others are not.

    • 1WineDude

      Well said, Todd. I’d only question whether or not we’re at the beginning of the shift our right in the middle of it. I mean, Facebook and Twitter and Google are billion dollar companies now…

      • Todd - VT Wine Media

        Given the relative short length of time that the new mediums have been available, I'd still argue that we are in early days. I happen to work in an industry that, as a whole is just starting to learn how to spell social media. Wine is a gregarious retail industry, and as such, innately social…I think it has a head start.

  • Michael Brill

    Wine writers argue against *ONE* central issue: are wine recommendations from a small number of traditional critics better/worse/different than aggregate recommendations from the crowd. Their argument is that wine is sufficiently more complicated than Skittles and TVs such that most people cannot provide useful content about it. Therefore, the aggregate perspective of these "unqualified" reviewers is nowhere near as valuable as traditional wine writers. Your argument is that this collective intelligence model has already been proven out in every other industry, so there's really no point in discussing it.

    I use Yelp for finding restaurants. I use Amazon for getting the best electric toothbrush. I have my news curated and filtered by crowds. But I could care less what 1,000 people think about KJ Chardonnay or what 2 million wine-oriented tweets and likes have to say… all that tells me is that there is a winery that is investing heavily in marketing or is simply a well-known brand. That may or may not be great for the winery, but it doesn't help me as a wine consumer. Can *anyone* tell me that they routinely buy wines based on an aggregate view found in SM channels? I have yet to find that person on this planet.

    But then you bounce to the argument that it’s not just everyone, but individual’s content that has triggered a purchase. Now I’m on board. There are clearly more “qualified” wine advisors than the top 20 critics. Kramer, Heimoff, et al would all agree that somm X or wine retailer Y or CellarTracker user Z knows their stuff. However, there are scale limitations for any individual and, AFAIK, there is nothing that coordinates the output of these entities into anything approaching what a critic does (CT is the closest but still has a long way to go). The major problem persists that really nobody provides the guidance people need – proactively and at the point of purchase. This will change in the future, but for the meantime I’m going to spend my hard-earned money on advice from critics, not the crowd.

    • Damon

      Hey Michael, I use Cellartracker or Wine Berserkers the same way I use Yelp. I find the numbers/reviews in each place to be leading indicators but you have to take context into consideration. If I have time I look at the specific users and what else they have rated. If I don't have time, I use the aggregate as one data point (along with professional scores). When I spent a lot of time on eBob's old bulletin board (and had the time to do so), I regularly bought wine based on other contributor's reviews/recommendations. But I got to know and trust specific people.

      I find things like Klout score or overall social noise (Tweets/blog posts) to be more about the savviness of that winery's marketing team. But that is Joe's point — if you are a savvy marketer, social media is another way to increase the impressions that an audience sees.

      At the end of the day, your brand and your audience determine how to use social media. But Joe's point that social media is an important marketing vehicle is still correct imo.

      The challenge I have is that it seems like a lot of the social conversations right now are occurring between people in the industry — writers and people selling wine. We spend a lot of time on Twitter but I am not expecting consumers to engage with us — our target is the trade in that case. We'd like to spend time on Facebook engaging consumers but we need to carve out the budget to focus on growing that audience.

      • Michael Brill

        Hi Damon. You raise a good point wrt CT and Wine Beserkers… arguably these are in the SM bucket and I certainly understand the value in these highly-focused environments. But they're probably a bit outside mainstream discussions of SM (do you really want your SM manager responding to a negative review on those forums!?).

        I guess I also look at aggregate ratings on CT occasionally (typically when on the fence for a Rimmerman offering), so maybe there's hope for me yet. But I think that CT users are not representative of mainstream SM users and most wines will only have a handful of reviews from people who thought enough of a wine to write a thorough review… not take a pic of a label, type in "awesome juice" and give it a thumbs-up.

        Again, that's the issue that traditional wine media has… collective wine intelligence in mainstream SM is not a meaningful force in advising consumers on purchases. That's their only argument… but the response to this is "you old farts just don't get SM." Even if that's true (and it *is* true), it's not productive. I know I'm alone on this, but I find the constant derision of traditional wine media really annoying.

        You want to shut them up? Then come up with compelling arguments and facts based on demonstrable first principles that show how collective intelligence is superior to the critic model FOR WINE – not an inference crutch based on another industry. Unfortunately, wine is so fundamentally different from every other industry that you've got to do all the hard work even if you think it's already been done elsewhere.

        • 1WineDude

          What we need is a wine PR and sm person who is in the thick of it and really kicking ass to blog and write about this stuff in detail. It would become a fantastic asset for the industry. We have great pr people doing it now, but not a standout leader who is also killing it at sm on their own as well.

          • Damon

            I'd also love to hear from the people not kicking ass but trying to engage. Sometimes I would learn more from them.

      • Paul Mabray

        I'm assuming this is Damon Levy replying here. In reading you response I am in agreement EXCEPT the broad strokes about the applicability of the platforms against the target audiences. Like email, both can and have been successfully applied against both trade and consumer.

        • Damon

          Paul, that makes sense… especially for Facebook.

          Have you seen any smaller brands excel at engaging consumers on Twitter? I think some spirits brands might be doing it… but haven't seen the wine example.

    • @chip_roberson

      Michael, good response but I also think you're not taking into consideration a key distinction. A key value in social media is the social network and thus the (social) proximity to me of person who's sharing the content. I agree that the recommendations of some number of anonymous people on the web is generally useless unless they have some bona fides I recognize and trust. However, I don't consider that to be social media – just a rating system.

      For me, social media plays into this – at least for the new product discovery aspect – when a someone I recognize as part of MY social network shares an experience about a particular product. There are certain people who, when they share something it can become an E.F. Hutton moment (Google it if you're too young to remember the ads).

      Social media offers several opportunities but if a company just looks at it from the point of view that social is just another DTC advertising and sales channel, they are being myopic in my view. They've upgraded from a screwdriver to a Swiss Army knife but they're still just using the screwdriver blade.

      If a marketing exec thinks about Social media and he or she sees a mental image of a dandelion (https://www.evernote.com/shard/s16/sh/d9fb5f6c-d04b-432e-bb4d-a9aaec3a8318/987fbaacaf70311edb532968d18e0825/deep/0/Dandelion.png) with their company at the center rather than a mesh (https://www.evernote.com/shard/s16/sh/220bb7bf-6429-49c6-bb72-a61bd850ba01/fdae9c21b5ba9d3c4bb0ab125635d91f/deep/0/Social-Mesh.png), then I believe he or she is very unlikely to be successful in the long term.

      I still see a lot of traditional thinking in the wine industry so I think there room to grow.

      • Michael Brill

        Dude, those were the hardest links to get to. ;-)

        I get the concept; I really do. Getting a recommendation from a trusted source is a key driver of consumer purchases. It doesn't matter what channel that reco came through. Having said that, when you look at the actual workflow of viewing the tweet/instagram/fb post of "2011 XYZ Pinot Noir – awesome wine!!" and running that through the point of an actual purchase, it's really pretty dismal.

        As part of my current project, we have ~ 30 wine buyer interviews. Most of them have a few go-to sources of recommendations, but there wasn't a single person who regularly purchased wine based on social media recommendations. In almost every case, it was them reaching out to get guidance.

        I've sort of lost steam on this topic… believe it or not, I think we all agree on 98% of the issues.

        • @chip_roberson

          Yes, wine is a tough market because the experience is so personal. I have people asking me for recommendations quite often and to give a reasonable quality answer is such a tedious process. "Well, what do you like? Do you prefer X or Y varietals? Have you tried JKL? Did you like it? Will you be drinking it with a meal? What do you normally like to eat? Is it a special occasion? Is it to drink now or to lay down for a while? Are you willing to decant? How much do you like to spend?" Could you imagine trying to recommend toothpaste or Coca-cola with that kind of variability?

          It's just not like saying "This XYZ screwdriver is really great" is it? Part of the beauty of wine is the experience is so personal, varied and variable (over time).

          Still, I do have a few friends who I know well enough to know that our profiles are quite similar. If they happen to make a recommendation, it will go on my mental list to try the next time the opportunity arises. Conversely, there are several wine reviewers who I ignore because I know we don't like the same things. Still whether the customer came via a personal recommendation, a published newsletter, a paid endorsement or social media, they are all hard to track from start to finish.

          Personally, I know the attraction is to compute ROI by being able to tie effect to cause but I think the reality of it is that its multiple touches/impressions/recommendations that lead to a person becoming a first time customer. From there, it's the customer's experience with the product that will bring them back.

          Still, wine will never be a commodity with easily-described utility or qualities. That's its attraction and its achilles heal. I really feel for you folks who are marketing wine. It's almost like you have to resell your wine with every vintage and one bad vintage (or bottle) can kill a relationship. That's why so many of you jump ship to sell Vodka – <just kidding>!

          I agree that we probably agree 98% and it is time for us to let this topic sleep.

          • 1WineDude

            Chip – well said. Do you really jump ship en masse to move vodka???!? ;-)

    • 1WineDude

      Michael, there's an important aspect to this that you're hinting at but not extrapolating directly:You're critic isn't my critic isn't some twenty three year old's critic.Simple as that. I'd argue (& have argued here, actually) that not only has aggregated reviewing proven itself via CT, but also that democratization of recommendations has as well, with individual critics being anointed by consumers, and being used as reference points at the time of purchase. I'm not sure how you can explain my existence/place in the wine biz without that last bit.

      • Michael Brill

        I apologize for being a bit obtuse, but I have a very specific POV manifested in a product I'm building… and I don't want to turn comments into a commercial for that. But all this stuff is at the heart of what I'm doing so it's *extremely* interesting to me. Having said that, people can get purchase advice from many sources: professional wine critics, a trusted influencer (friend, blogger, etc.), aggregate social, a sales rep/somm, and obviously their own experience. On top of that they apply their own purchase criteria such as price, style, value, scarcity, brand and other attribute than can be evaluated sometimes in just a few seconds (scarcity massively accelerates this process). As you said, this is a highly-personalized process both on the advisor side and on the buyer side. I don't feel there is an easy answer like "just rely on critics" or "twitter will figure it all out."

        My primary objection isn't to the emergence of new influencers, but the assertion that the role of professional critics is going away and will be replaced by collective intelligence. Augmented yes, replaced no. I fully agree that every individual needs their own advisors… but I don't feel that today's happenstance approach is having a significant impact on the way that people buy wine. So we either need a way to scale up that personalized advisory layer or, well, no, that's what we need to do.

        Could you give me some examples of "individual critics being anointed by consumers, and being used as reference points at the time of purchase?"

        • 1WineDude

          Michael – I’m not sure people are saying that crowd reviews will totally replace pros. I’m not saying that, anyway. But crowds are anointing New critics, across several different media: me, Alder, Gary V, Richard Jennings, etc.

        • Paul Mabray

          Michael, you keep pushing the influencer (SM vs critics) position which I keep interpreting as your synthesis of SH's continued harping on social media inability to generate results for wineries. I do think it is a topic but not the one that Joe, Alder, etc keep pushing back on. That being said, Elaine's blog post addressed that component so elegantly and correctly that I think we'll just put a pin in it.

          • Michael Brill

            Yeah, I guess I'm trying to at least tease out one focused area… otherwise, it's just a smug bash fest. Whatever critics have said (which is pretty much only that crowdsourced wine reviews are inferior to professional wine reviews), I see such an exaggerated response, implying that they're running around telling wineries to not have Twitter accounts. That's simply not true. Nobody is saying wineries should ignore SM and double-down on fax machines, so it'd be great to stop using that as a bogeyman and instead address specific challenges (like Joe did here in what I think is a great post: http://www.1winedude.com/fine-wine-reviews-crowd-… – even I disagree with the conclusion).

            • 1WineDude

              Michael – thanx for that! What you might be missing is that there’s competition for marketing dollars that does, for sure, want wineries to spend on traditional media in favor of social channels. 100 percent magazine ads or social won’t be the right mix for many, so people should proceed with caution. And look, I know with certainty that online wine sources have been targeted by some traditional wine media people to discredit them nearly wholesale. I’ve been on the receiving end of those attempts myself, more than once. So it’s not as simple as an argument for or against fb pages, for example.

    • Christian Miller

      "Can *anyone* tell me that they routinely buy wines based on an aggregate view found in SM channels?"
      Aggregate? Maybe not, although cellar tracker and snooth function similarly. But it may be just historical accident that no major SM aggregator vehicle has emerged for wine. I can't think of a philosophical or sensory reason why one would take restaurant recommendations from a crowd source like Yelp but not wine recommendations. (There are reasons based on sensory research why certain types of aggregations might not work, but they apply to both.)

      Anyway, I do market research regularly in the wine category, and I can tell you that:
      (a) recommendations or information from peers who are regarded as wine-knowledgeable are more broadly used and influential than wine critics;

      (b) social media is often used as a peer-to-peer means of recommendation, although the format is not that of "formal" reviews.

      Christian Miller
      Research Director, Wine Opinions
      Proprietor, Full Glass Research

      • Michael Brill

        I'd love to see some published research on the topic… am especially keen on the formation of questions and the audience. We've interviewed ~30 wine enthusiasts (all in our target… roughly the 3 million people who spend > $2500/year on wine in the US) with apparently anomalous results based on these discussions. BTW, nowhere have I said that non-critic recos aren't important. I am making the complementary argument that critic reviews are important. What we found – and it's intuitive to me – is that even if your pal tells you to buy X, then there's a decent chance that she was made aware of X at least indirectly from a professional critic and the fact that a local retailer carries the wine at all can also be highly influenced by positive critic reviews. No, this isn't an absolute, but it's far, far more ingrained than we give it credit for. Someone pointed out fashion as a good comparison… somebody may decide to buy a dress that a friend sent them a picture of, but it was a handful of influential buyers and taste makers that enabled and promoted these product so that you pal was even aware of them.

        As far as wine vs. Yelp, there are a few reasons why this won't work. The first one is that really almost nobody knows how to buy wine and because there aren't objective evaluation criteria of the product that most people can apply, aggregate reviews aren't of much use. So they probably regress to an approximation of market share or marketing budgets. Music is probably the best analogy. Do you really want to buy your music from the crowd? Luckily you don't have to because sampling music takes 20 seconds and $0. Doing the same for wine takes 10 minutes to 2 hours and costs at least $20 and perhaps much more. Most people can evaluate food or socks or TVs with a reasonable band… most people cannot do the same with wine. Many people have tried to solve this problem and 100% of them have failed.

    • Bob Henry



      ~~ BOB

      “Yelp should review its disclosure efforts” – Los Angeles Times

      Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2009/feb/11/bus

      “Yelp makes two major changes in the way reviews are posted” – Los Angeles Times

      Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2010/apr/06/bus

      “Yelp reviews: Can you trust them?” – Los Angeles Times

      Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2012/jul/04/bus

      “Yelp cracks down on businesses that pay for good reviews” – Los Angeles Times

      Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2012/oct/19/bus

      “Turning a critical eye on Yelp” – Los Angeles Times

      Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2013/apr/20/loc

      “Putting Yelp in their rear-review mirror” – Los Angeles Times

      [Link: http://articles.latimes.com/print/2013/apr/22/loc


      “Helping Yelp Create More Accurate Reviews” – Harvard Business Review

      Link: http://hbswk.hbs.edu/item/6793.html

  • gabe

    Well written. For me, the important question is: where is social media going next? I think Twitter and Facebook are already starting to fade, and the next evolution will be coming sooner than we think. My guess is that web pages will start to take on a greater sense of importance, but that is just a guess.

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, gabe. The stock market says you're wrong about twitter and fb, by the way ;-)

      • gabe

        Lol. Well the stock market is smarter than me. But my 12-year old niece says that facebook isn't cool any more, and that's who I get most of my business advice from ;-)

        • 1WineDude

          Gabe – ha! Awesome

  • @girlwithaglass

    Joe, this article covers the topic quite well; it hits all the points that I would discuss with a new client. Here's how it wraps up for me, successful wineries will take the time to have lots of conversations with their consultant and approach it with the eagerness of a student and the experience of a business person. The underlying principles of marketing are not different when we use social media (i.e., drive buyers to your products, increase name recognition, create raving fans who tell their friends) but, as you point out, the approach is unique, nuanced and oftentimes requires testing. Cheers and thanks for the post.

  • @FourBrixWine

    Joe, let's just keep this social media secret between us. No need to wake the sleeping giants until it is too late. Cheers, g

    • 1WineDude

      @fourbrix – whoops!

  • Tom Wark

    Joe, are you suggesting that wineries not commit so much of their marketing budget to advertising in print media and more in social media?

    • Michael Brill

      or invest in sales resources and wine quality. I guess one nutty question is whether most wineries should be spending a penny on *any* marketing (as distinct from sales activity). The more I look at it, the less convinced I am that many wineries < 50K cases have a strong case for marketing investments (also note that I distinguish SM use for customer/market interaction [very valuable] from social media marketing [more questions than answers for me]). How about making better wine to get higher scores and the associated market pull, create great experiences for your customers and hire sales animals – it's is a pretty proven formula.

      • gabe


        I agree with you're opinion that investing in wine quality is the smartest investment a winery can make, but it's not an either/or proposition. The joke in the Willamette Valley is that making wine is the easy part

      • Bob Henry


        Most wineries are family ventures. Farming — not marketing — is their forte.

        And few have a budget for marketing in the form of consumer advertising.

        So your question about "whether most wineries should be spending a penny on any marketing" is largely moot.

        ~~ Bob

      • Paul Mabray

        Making good wine is the ticket to ride IMHO. Then you start spending the money to gain and retain customers.

    • 1WineDude

      Tom – no more than I’ve been doing for the last few years here on 1wd…

  • Amy Corron Power

    Slam Dunk Dude!

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Amy!

  • @Central_CoastCA

    Great points that needed to be made. Totally agree that people "doing it" are a different breed from those "selling it".

  • Rick Kushman

    I've said this before, so please excuse the repetition. You're at your best when you write longer, on the blog and elsewhere. It shows you really can write (an undervalued skill in this medium). Being much more a traditional media guy – print and, for crissakes, radio – you probably shouldn't take advice from me, but I'd say don't apologize when you go longer. Just changes up the rhythm — consider it a slow curve from a fastball pitcher. Nice, thoughtful piece.

    • 1WineDude

      Rick – thanks, man, I really appreciate that!

  • Fred

    A couple of days ago, WBM posted these examples about SM ROI in the wine industry (I'm sure you've all seen it)

    Is this the state of the art? If not, who can point me to better data? If so, I'm sticking with direct & email marketing.

    • 1WineDude

      Paging Paul Mabray…

    • 1WineDude

      Fred, I guess I need more info on why those examples aren’t pertinent or legitimate. They might not fit what you’re looking for exactly, but that shouldn’t reduce the legitimacy of the examples?

      • Paul W.

        I think these examples aren't pertinent because they do not even define "ROI" properly. ROI means "return on investment" in financial terms…ie., cost vs. profit. All this "data" talks about is Social Media efforts vs. sales, and in some cases "revenue." I would hope that someone trying to tout business success could at least talk in terms of "cost" vs "profit." And Joe, your constant harping of "I think" as a proof is worthless as well. Let's see hard numbers…costs (which includes times and labor) vs profit to the bottom line. I run hotels and that's how we look at it. Perhaps one of these Social Media types can define the breakeven analysis on thier efforts. (If you don't know how to compute it, look it up and quit touting yourself as a "consultant."

        • 1WineDude

          Paul W. – so… these examples don’t solve your exact challenge, their they’re not pertinent, period? I call bs on that. Barefoot just did a campaign that was primarily social media. Quevedo in Portugal uses sm for the majority of their marketing, and they are profitable (at least that was the case the last time I checked in with them). You want figures, go talk to the people behind the examples and see what they’ll share with you. That’d take time away from your tangent on this, but it’ll no doubt prove more helpful than rattling that cage here. Regarding consultancy, what part of me saying that I don’t make any money doing sm consulting of any kind was unclear? I’m not an sm consultant. I’ve never been a marketing consultant. I’ve worked closely with people who were incredible at it, though, such as teams involved with Skittles, giving me front row seats in a way, and if you don’t think they had roi out the ass on their sm activities then you’re smoking hard core crack. If you think they’ll share the exact numbers with you publicly, where any of their competitors would also see it, you’re doubling up on the pipe hits.

          • Paul W.

            Back off, dude!! Wasn't talking about you when I said "SM Consultant."

            And….profitability is not "my exact challenge." It's the way business operates, and I'm still waiting to see the proof!

            • 1WineDude

              Paul W, then I’m totally confused. I mean, look, I’m not an employee of any company, so by definition all of my work of any kind is as a consultant. As for data, you need to talk to those who’ve done this successfully and ask them if they’ll let you see it. In my personal example, I now make my living from wine media, based entirely on the rep I built online. Dunno how you feel about that example but it’s an important one to me :-)

              • Paul W.

                Dude: repeat: I was NOT referring to you. I am referring to those that call themselves "Social Media Consultants," or, perhaps, like those referenced above, "Social Media Ninjas," or other self-appointed social media experts. But I suspect you started this little screaming match to draw attention away from the poor examples of statistics presented by your commentor.

                By the way, my original intent was to agree with Fred's questioning of the comments. Do you understand now?

              • Paul Mabray

                Paul W. – I don't think anyone the Dude referred to above considers themselves social media ninjas. Black is too slimming for my frame.

              • 1WineDude

                Paul W. – I’m not starting a screaming match. I think the misunderstanding is that I’m somehow out to prove sm is a holy grail of marketing (which I’m not) with a standard set of rules pertinent to all marketing cases (which don’t exist) and so I’ve and others have failed to prove its value (which it most certainly has). The article wasn’t written to debate sm merits, because that debate is pointless. It’s to call attention to the fact that misinformation about its merits exits from otherwise trustworthy sources on other topics. We might be talking past one another because my brain is stuck on the original topic and hasn’t properly followed the evolution in the comments as I attempt to catch up via crappy cell phone while on the road – sorry about that!

              • Damon

                Maybe Paul W is saying that the challenge with social media is that beyond the anecdotal evidence (which is enough to test the waters – at least for me), there have not been many specific examples of:
                winery invested $x in social media marketing -> via that marketing, they acquired y customers -> that generated $z in revenue (or profit)

                Paul W, I would argue that right now, most social media marketing (whether paid advertising or investing in an "engagement" person) is generating impressions the way that a television advertisement generates impressions. The TV advertising world is mature so it is easier to assign a range in value to each impression.

                I don't think a lot of wineries are investing in social media marketing in a direct-response / direct customer acquisition strategy.

                I'd love to see the Jordan Winery case example. I think they are someone who is investing in social media successfully. It would be interesting to figure out how to calculate their ROI. Some of it is obvious (# of visitors attracted by hearing about Jordan from a video they create) and some of it is less obvious (they have changed their relevance to younger consumers – when I was 25 they appeared to be a brand for geezers).

        • @RickBakas

          Fred/Paul W. — I was responsible for 1 of those 5 case studies. There was a method to how the campaigns were built and measured. Findings from the case studies have been shared at various wine related conferences and blog posts on my site.

          I could probably go dig up reporting from the case studies and share them (again) but the techniques are pretty basic. For example, when I sold 300 cases of wine in 72 hours from an online video we used unique bit.ly links for each social site and there was also a coupon code used to get the discount. In a point/counterpoint view of social I feel we were successful because the weeks leading up to the offering I spent hours engaging people online and getting their attention before dropping the video. But we tried it again a few more times over 12 months with mixed results that weren't as good as the first try. The cost was my salary and a video camera, plus a discount on the wine sold (this was when flash sites were getting popular).

          For the tweet up tour we spent about $4000 on my travel around the country plus some sample budget. The tweet up tour solidified relationships with on-premise key accounts including a relationship with Morton's Steakhouse that resulted in 4,000 cases being purchased. It also engaged a significant social following, wine club sign ups and online mentions. St. Supéry is still enjoying the perception as a social media leader 4 years later. How do you put a value on that?

          Does that help at all with looking at cost/result?

          • 1WineDude

            Thanks, Rick.

          • 1WineDude

            I’m seriously wondering if we’re going to see any responses to this, Rick. I’ve sent a link out on social media directly to your comment here… My fear is that the issue has become too emotionally charged for some to accept facts and examples as pertinent, and do valid real world examples like this get dismissed as somehow no longer relevant, “yeah, but… yeah but…”

      • Fred

        Joe, I went back and re-read the 5 case histories on WBM and my question is the same for almost all of them: HOW were the results tracked? I only see one instance — Constellation's Woodbridge promotion — where there was a mechanism in place (coupons) to verify where the sales came from.

        The reason I ask about tracking is not to question the legitimacy of these cases (although that is surely tempting) but to help marketers like me and your winery-readers, HOW to establish and implement SM programs with demonstrable results.

        If all that SM-evangelists do is is cheer-lead, then that's not really helpful.

        • 1WineDude

          Fred – agreed. But there is no standard answer. How and what gets tracked depends on the goals of the program. Seriously, I’m not skirting this stuff, I simply don’t know the answers not having been involved in them. I agree that those cases are stronger examples if that info is provided, but they might not be willing to share it publicly due to its internal value.

  • Dan

    Fred, the WBM article is touting dated case studies and they're all home runs. There are plenty of examples of wineries having success with SM but there isn't a suitable forum and the industry is loathe to share. You can stick to direct and email marketing but why do you want to limit yourself to preaching to the choir? SM is long tail don't look for the home run they are few and far between. Put on your hip waders and get busy it's messy but it pays off.

    • Paul Mabray

      Amen Dan. We are now in the most competitive market for wine in human history. Everything is hard work now and we need to do more to survive.

      If mail and email are working for you keep them up. Hell, if you are having success with banner ads, then you should do that too. But every marketing medium matures or transforms or is replaced it ages and receives diminishing returns (think commercials). The reality is we are entering into a new era of engagement marketing where the customers are more in control than ever in history. How will we react and morph to not only survive but thrive in this new digital era . . . I recommend spending some time here to get better perspective – http://www.briansolis.com/tag/digital-darwinism/

  • Bob Henry



    "Those are the questions with which wine brands need to be wrestling, not, “gee, I’m not so sure about this twitter/Facebook/LinkedIn thing…?”


    ~~ BOB

    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Marketplace” Section
    (December 29, 2009, Page Unknown):

    “LinkedIn Wants Users to Connect More;
    Amid Threat From Rivals, Business-Networking Web Site
    Takes a Page from Facebook's Playbook”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704

    By Scott Morrison
    Staff Reporter

    . . .

    It is up to LinkedIn's chief executive, Jeff Weiner, to give people … reasons to spend more time on LinkedIn, which is mostly used by professionals to post their resumes and by corporate recruiters looking for talent.

    . . .

    … the amount of time people devote to LinkedIn is a fraction of the time people spend on some other social sites. Visitors spent about 13 minutes* on average at LinkedIn during October, while Facebook users logged about 213 minutes and MySpace users spent 87 minutes, according to research firm comScore, which measured the behavior of global users 15 years and older.

    [* Bob’s aside: Let’s do the “back of the envelope” math. 13 minutes averages 30 seconds per day or 3 minutes a week. How much “networking” can possibly be going on?]

    LinkedIn is "not really a community as much as a collection" of names, said Brigantine Advisors analyst Colin Gillis. "They are definitely in danger of losing the business-networking market."


    Excerpt from The Wall Street Journal “Money & Investing” Section
    (November 30, 2011, Pagwe C16):

    “The $100 Billion Question That Looms for Facebook Fans”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/news/articles/SB10001424052

    By Rolfe Winkler
    “Heard on the Street” Column

    . . .

    According to comScore, 92 million unique visitors hit LinkedIn’s site world-wide in October and spent an average of 15 minutes [per month] on the site. Facebook had 790 million unique visitors who spent more than six hours [per month] on the social network. Google had more visitors, about 1.1 billion, but they spent less than four hours [per month] on its site.

    . . .

    [Bob’s aside: One year later, still averages 30 seconds a day or 3 minutes a week.]

    • 1WineDude

      Bob – if brand are hanging out looking for consumers on linked in, then I’d say they don’t know how to use li properly. It’s for professional networking, tons of opportunities in li for brands to engage the professional groups/forums there…

  • Bob Henry


    “Five Examples of Social Media ROI in the Wine Industry”

    Summary: In the last few years there have been an increasing number of wineries with documented success of how social media has helped them increase brand awareness and revenues.

    Link: http://www.winebusiness.com/news/?go=getArticle&a

    — AND —

    “Pressing Data Into Great Wine Brands”

    Summary: This is where VinTank jumps in with its particular listening platform focused squarely on people …

    Link: http://www.forbes.com/sites/rawnshah/2013/11/05/p

  • Chris

    There is an aspect in social media that can be very attractive to wine marketers and that is the ease in targeting specific markets. In addition, social media can still articulate a far less contrived message as opposed to the traditional advertisement. It is like reading product reviews in Amazon. There are crappy ideas but you sort of get a feel of a particular product from the the collective opinion of a number of people.

  • @CindyMolchany

    Great post, Joe!!
    I just want to add one point to the overall conversation about Social Media… and that is the fundamental infrastructure behind (Google) search is changing/has changed. Where search and SM may have been mutually exclusive of one another in the past, they are very much tied to one another now.
    My winery clients were always more open-minded to spending $$ optimizing their shiny websites and hiring SEO consultants than dedicating staff or hiring for a social media position. The new reality is that traditional SEO is pretty much a thing of the past, keywords have much less importance, and the emphasis is now on ENGAGEMENT. 4 words come to mind for any wine brand that struggles with the concept of Social Media: "adapt or become irrelevant".

    • 1WineDude

      Thanks, Cindy. I think our discussion here has fully demonstrated the challenge of taking this horse to water, but it being unwilling to drink because there aren’t signs nearby with dollar bills taped all over them. :-)

  • Solomon Mengeu

    Wow, I haven't seen this many comments on 1.Wine Dude in a long time & yes it was a long article. Everyone has covered a lot of areas so I don't want to parrot what everyone else has said.

    But briefly if I meet or get to know someone who is generally interested in wine for pleasure & enjoyment's sake rather than for big nose wine critic scores, 200 % new oak & over ripe fruit bombs than yes the blog sphere & Internet is the place to go.

    As honestly as a wine student & lover I have learned a lot more by reading this blog, Wine Anorak by Jamie Goode, Stuart Pigott's blog, the Wine Rambler, Wine Folly, etc. Than by the big name wine magazines where its all about prestige, celebrities & everyone trying to out do each other.

    I will admit they have their place in the market & they are necessary & they aren't all bad; just thankfully now there is much more diversity in social media than old boy's clubs wine periodicals. I think Gary Vaynerchuk started this with Wine Library TV and now everyone is following in his footsteps.

    If wineries are smart they will diversify & not put all of their stock, money & efforts on jumping on to the big wine review magazines. Lets hope they are savvy & think long term, not just instant sales and rapid turnover.


    Solomon Mengeu

    • 1WineDude

      Hey Solomon – thanks, and well said. I think we’re starting to see many wineries, particularly smaller producers, take advantage of the situation of social channels a long term branding tool/strategy. It’ll tent some time to shake out, but I suspect that those brands will now have a serious head start on those that have yet to do it, because social channels are here to stay (obviously). Oh, as for the comments count, we had more (as of the time of this comment, anyway!) as recently as two weeks ago – http://www.1winedude.com/sommelier-journal-building-wealth-wine-writer/ Where ya been?!?? ;-)

  • Bob Henry


    Not sure where to "park" this info on social media and ROI, so with your indulgence . . . how 'bout right here? (Possibly "re-purposed" and re-positioned when this evergreen issue comes up again — as no doubt it will.)

    ~~ Bob

    From MIT Sloan Review: "Can You Measure the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing?”

    Link: http://sloanreview.mit.edu/article/can-you-measur

    Abstract of Harvard Business Review case study: “Increasing the ROI of Social Media Marketing”

    Link: http://hbr.org/product/increasing-the-roi-of-soci

    From Harvard Business Review: "Social Media — What Most Companies Don't Know”

    Link: http://hbr.org/web/slideshows/social-media-what-m

    Full version of Harvard Business Review social media study:

    Link: http://www.sas.com/resources/whitepaper/wp_23348….

    An excerpt from a summary titled “Why Social Media ROI Can't Be Measured” of an Atlantic article titled "Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong":

    "There are still things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t even know we’re missing in terms of social media measurement.

    "For proof, look no further than The Atlantic, which shook the social media realm recently with its expose of “dark social” – the idea that the channels we fret over measuring like Facebook and Twitter represent only a small fraction of the social activity that’s really going on.

    "The article shares evidence that reveals that the vast majority of sharing is still done through channels like email and IM that are nearly impossible to measure (and thus, dark)."

    Link: http://marketingland.com/why-social-media-roi-can

    Full version of The Atlantic article:

    Link: http://www.theatlantic.com/technology/print/2012/

    The "take-away": The majority of the interpersonal communication and "sharing" is via e-mail and Instant Messaging . . . outside of the sphere of influence of Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or LinkedIn.

    Excerpts from The Wall Street Journal “Marketplace” Section
    (January 31, 2013, Page B8):

    “Which Social Media Work?”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424127887323

    By Emily Maltby and Shiva Ovide
    Staff Reporters

    Six out of 10 SMALL-BUSINESS OWNERS say they believe social-media tools are valuable to their company's growth — but most AREN'T IMPRESSED BY TWITTER INC. [CAPITALIZATION added for emphasis. ~~ Bob]

    Just 3% of 835 business owners surveyed earlier this month by The Wall Street Journal and Vistage International said Twitter had the most potential to help their companies.

    . . . recent independent small-business surveys that show Facebook is the most often used and most effective social-media channel.

    OWNERS OF SMALL FIRMS GENERALLY HAVE LIMITED MONEY AND TIME TO FIGURE OUT THE MOST USEFUL WAYS TO TAP INTO SOCIAL MEDIA. [CAPITALIZATION added for emphasis. ~~ Bob] In the survey, just four in 10 business owners said they have employees dedicated to social-media campaigns. Nearly half of them spend between one and five hours weekly on social media, and one-third spend no time at all.

    Many owners … tend to think the "value" of social media comes primarily from measurable factors, such as pageviews, click-throughs or direct sales.

    . . .

    • 1WineDude

      Bob, those “dark” told have been around much, much, much longer than SM channels, and have always had difficult roi measurements and notoriously low conversion rates when they are measured properly. As for business complaining about the tools, that's like saying a shovel ducks at digging holes. Either they're using them the wrong way, or their expectations for the tools ate out of whack with reality.

  • Fred

    This just in from the folks at McKinsey . . . http://www.mckinsey.com/insights/marketing_sales/

    ((the nugget))
    "If you’re wondering why marketers seem intent on e-mailing you more and more, there’s a simple explanation: it works. E-mail remains a significantly more effective way to acquire customers than social media—nearly 40 times that of Facebook and Twitter combined (exhibit). That’s because 91 percent of all US consumers still use e-mail daily, and the rate at which e-mails prompt purchases is not only estimated to be at least three times that of social media, but the average order value is also 17 percent higher."

    • 1WineDude

      Fred, couldn’t that also mean that markets are more adept at using email than SM? Which would make sense since it’s been around a lot longer.

  • Bob Henry

    From June 23, 2014 issue of The Wall Street Journal:

    “Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype”

    Link: http://online.wsj.com/articles/companies-alter-so


    “Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be,” concludes Gallup Inc., which on Monday is releasing a report that examines the subject.

    Gallup says 62% of the more than 18,000 U.S. consumers it polled said social media had no influence on their buying decisions. Another 30% said it had some influence. U.S. companies spent $5.1 billion on social-media advertising in 2013, but Gallup says “consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content.” (Gallup’s survey was conducted via the Web and mail from December 2012 to January 2013. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.)

    In a study last year, Nielsen Holdings NV found that global consumers trusted ads on television, print, radio, billboards and movie trailers more than social-media ads.

    Bob’s summary: The majority of the interpersonal communication and “sharing” is via e-mail and Instant Messaging . . . outside of the sphere of influence of Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or LinkedIn.

    • 1WineDude

      Bob – I’ll respond to your similar comment on another post.

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