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Do Virginia wineries ‘get’ social media?

I guess that depends on the definition of social media.  If we use the Social Media 1.0 definition – setting up a Facebook fan page that is updated once a month with awesome discounts, or, sending out a couple of tweets each month – then, yes, many Virginia wineries do ‘get it.’

However, if we use a broader, modern definition of social media – that includes using widely accessible and scalable internet tools (in particular Twitter) to proactively engage customers and potential customers – then the answer is NO, very few Virginia wineries ‘get’ social media.

This of course is just my opinion.  I am certainly open to being convinced otherwise (although unlikely given my high propensity of always being right).

I should qualify this statement and note that there are a handful of Virginia wineries that do ‘get it’Jen Breaux at Breaux Vineyards definitely gets it, Lori at Corcoran Winery seems to get it, as do Keswick and Hillsborough wineries.  I realize that I may have left out a few others in the same group – apologies.

A few points of clarification for my other Virginia winery friends…

  1. Setting up a Facebook fan page to post monthly specials does not meet the definition of actively engaging in social media.
  2. Sending a tweet once a week about a weekend festival at your winery does NOT qualify as actively engaging in social media.
  3. And, most importantly, simply responding to a tweet where someone mentions your winery is NOT actively engaging in social media.

Each of these actions is considered the minimum level of expected performance in today’s marketplace!!!

I’ve been active in the social media space for about two years now, and am still impressed by wineries that actively leverage social media tools to gain consumers and positively affect sales.  I am also equally disappointed at how few wineries here in Virginia are actively using social media, in particular Twitter, to engage consumers.

Despite the fact that Twitter is one of the most cost effective (it’s free) marketing tools available to a business today, less than a third of Virginia wineries even have a Twitter account.  John Witherspoon at AnythingWine, recently compiled a list of Virginia wineries on Twitter.  According to the list, just 58 Virginia wineries have a Twitter account, and only a few of them actively use their accounts.

Of those select group of Virginia wineries that actually use their Twitter account, even fewer actually ‘engage’ in the dialogue.  Just look at #VaWine Twitter hash tag – the volume of #VaWine Twitter traffic is amazing.  It’s even more amazing how few wineries are engaging in the conversation, even when a tweet is specific to their winery.  Good grief!  Take a look at the last 100 – 200 tweets with the #VaWine hash tag – how many Virginia wineries are actively engaged in the dialogue?  So many missed opportunities.

In addition to the absence of Virginia wineries actively utilizing Twitter, I wonder how many of them regularly post comments to wine blogs and participate in the resulting dialogue?  I haven’t noticed too many Virginia wineries posting comments to the blogs that I read.  I wonder how many Virginia wineries organize tweet ups at their winery (or other locations) for bloggers?  How many of them send out a few bottles of their wine to local wine bloggers for a Twitter Taste Live type of event?  Believe it or not, us bloggers and active Twitterers actually do make a difference. I only ask these questions because many California wineries are doing these things daily, and they are running circles around Virginia wineries in the social media world.

In defense of our wineries, I do realize that winery folk are busy doing important wine stuff – tending the vines, working the tasting room, dealing with the asinine bureaucracy associated with selling an alcoholic beverage in Virginia, and busy making wine.  But ‘being busy’ is no excuse.  Everyone is busy.  It’s now 2010, leveraging social media, and getting engaged in the dialogue is no longer an ‘option.’

Unfortunately, too many Virginia wineries don’t realize this (yet!).

A Simple Case Study in Contrast – A Personal Example:  Over the last couple of weeks I’ve sent out a few tweets about a tasting event that I will be participating in next week.  Since I will be in Denver next week, Jacob (from ColoradoWino.com) and I setup a Virginia vs. Colorado taste-off to showcase wines from our respective states.  For me, this is a chance to shine a light on one the best of ‘the other 46’ – Virginia wines!

Of all the chatter on Twitter about this tasting, only one Virginia winery took the time to contact me about this event.  Rather than ask how they can get their wine placed in the taste-off, they instead offered me a 15% discount on a 3-pack of their wine, normally reserved for full case purchases, if I wanted to include it in the taste-off.  Hmmm.  Well, I guess I can’t fault them for noticing the dialogue on Twitter and at least reaching out.

Conversely, on the Colorado side, several other bloggers and wineries realized the potential of the event and have jumped in on the tweeting, and a local winery with a tasting room in Denver, offered to open their tasting room that evening to host the taste-off (which we quickly took them up on).  Actively engaging in social media – they ‘get it!’

Even wineries in California noticed the tweets on this Virginia – Colorado tasting.  I received tweets or emails from three (yes 3) California wineries about possibly including California wines in the taste-off.  Although the tasting next week is intended to showcase the wines from ‘the other 46’ – Virginia and Colorado – it was refreshing to experience that level of engagement from wineries.

Just one more, quick example of the power of proactively engaging consumers via social media to directly increase sales…  On a recent trip to Napa, I had a tasting appointment at a winery on the Silverado Trail (a winery that I happened to connect with via social media).  As I stopped at a local coffee shop to get my caffeine fix, I tweeted that I was headed to XYZ winery for a tasting.  By the time I drove from Sonoma to the Silverado Trail, two wineries sent me Tweets with an invitation to stop by their wineries also located on the Silverado Trail.  They both complemented the Cabs of the winery I was visiting and noted that they too had excellent Cabs that I might enjoy.  I stopped by both wineries, and purchased wine from both places, and have since made repeat purchases from one of them.  A simple and effective example of active engagement in social media that directly impacted the bottom line – They get it!

Why aren’t more Virginia wineries engaged in social media at this level?

Next post… a few small actions Virginia wineries can take to get engaged and leverage the power of social media.


*****  ADDENDUM: Post Update – 9:41pm ET, Saturday *****

So, this post has ‘gotten legs’ and a lot of attention.  Although I’ve only received a few comments on this post (below), I have already received 13 direct emails regarding this post, not including a handful of Twitter Direct Messages.

Of course, most of the emails were from out-of-state wineries, wine PR folks, or curiosity seekers.  Big ups to Derek at Gadino for being the first Virginia winery to post a comment (short excerpts below).

To that end, I thought it would be a good idea to append this plea to the post… if you read this post and have an opinion either way, please post a comment below.  I value ‘your’ opinion!  We can all use this as an opportunity to learn from each other and have a valuable dialogue about a medium that is affecting each of us.

As if this isn’t already obvious, I know absolutely nothing about growing grapes or running a winery. I do however, know a whole lot about reading, thinking about, talking about and consuming wine!  So, my post is through the lens of a super-passionate wine consumer AND advocate of Virginia wines.

Given the fact that mainstream print wine publications have seldom shined a light on the Virginia wine industry, or given Virginia wine the respect it deserves on the national wine stage – I feel social media CAN BE the ‘great equalizer’ for the Virginia wine industry.

Conversely, social media could also hurt the Virginia wine industry – especially if wineries do not leverage the medium, they will surely fall behind – way behind their peers from other states who are marketing, conversating, communicating with ‘your’ customers (Virginians) via social media!

Please read this post in the spirit in which it’s intended… to serve as a reminder to this great industry that the landscape is changing.  This can be a great opportunity –  don’t sit on the ‘I am too busy’ sideline watching this happen in front of you – seize it!

(Editorial Disclaimer:  Your not-so-humble correspondent is not a social media expert, and is not claiming to be one.  Aside from being a know-it-all, I am an active user of social media, and support those businesses that engage me personally via the various social media tools.)