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The Social Media Interviews – Virginia Wineries – Part II:  Doukenie Winery

This post is the second in a four part series featuring Virginia wineries that are leveraging social media tools to connect, communicate and build their brand.  Part I featuring Breaux Vineyards can be found here and the original post, ‘Social Media: Do Virginia Wineries Get It?’

On Outsourcing Social Media… Although I’ve asked each participating winery the same general social media questions as part of this series, today’s interview differs because each of the responses below were provided by Chris Wolf of Wolf Pack Communications on behalf of Doukenie Winery.

Like the topic of social media use in general, outsourcing the management of a winery’s social media program seems to elicit strong opinions. Personally, I am neutral on this topic.  I can appreciate a winery that has carved out the time to learn and work in the social media space, and, I also recognize the value of having a PR/Communications firm run the winery social media program.

If I were a winery, I would be neck deep in social media, no doubt. Of course, this is easy for me to say because I’ve never operated a winery and am clueless regarding the time challenges associated with farming, making wine, paying the bills, keeping the bloggers happy J, running the tasting room, ABC paper work, etc.  If I could not find a way to allocate dedicated resources to develop and execute a social media strategy, I would definitely retain a PR/Communications pro with social media domain expertise.  I’m surprised more Virginia wineries don’t take advantage of outsourcing (especially those who seemed to have ignored social media all together).  Good on Doukenie Winery for taking action to address social media!

I’m curious about other’s opinions – wineries, bloggers, PR professionals – on outsourcing social media.  Pros/cons either way?

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Before we talk about the specifics of Doukenie’s use of social media, let’s address the topic of outsourcing social media – why would/should a winery outsource their social media program?

As I’m sure you heard so many times this past weekend at the Drink Local Wine conference, time is the real concern for wineries in relation to social media (SM).  Whether or not that concern is justified is a matter of debate, and certainly some aspects of it may be related to the basic fear of anything new and potentially overwhelming that we all feel occasionally.  Nonetheless, I believe there is broad agreement that SM cannot be ignored.

Small to medium sized wineries that consider outsourcing their SM management should choose a professional who has experience not just in SM but also in the needs and challenges of the winery business.  A close relationship must be maintained with the winery management and staff.  That includes everyone from the owner to the winemaker, the business manager, the tech people, and the tasting room associates.

It is incumbent upon any media professional worth their salt to be aware of the goings-on with their client everyday.  In the case of wineries, peaks in activity, along with the related levels of craziness and stress, are usually seasonal.  Getting updates during harvest might require slapping on a pair of boots and following the winemaker around the vineyard or shouting questions down to him/her while they are knee deep in a tank doing pump-over; however it’s usually in those months that customers are most interested in the process, so that information must be gleaned.  During the less busy times of the year, meetings on overall strategy and tactical S.W.O.T. analyses can be performed in preparation for when it all breaks loose again. Understanding the ebb and flow of activity with the client is crucial in maximizing the relationship, and subsequently providing a superior level of representation.

I have had the pleasure of representing Doukenie Winery for two years.  It is a family operation that consistently extends the bounds of “family” to staff and customers.  As such, on any given day, I’m not only aware of what is happening with pruning, bottling, tasting room sales, and upcoming events, but I also know when the dog is due for surgery and which grandchild is getting the best grades.  This level of engagement affords me the opportunity to share the entirety of the Doukenie story with all interested parties.

The degree of passion for the process that is exhibited by our winemaker, Sebastien Marquet, is palpable.  Our customers see it, our staff feeds off of it, and quite frankly, it makes my job easier.  His vineyard experience and love of wine, along with his willingness to embrace the challenges presented by climate and the management of properties located hours apart, contribute to the success of the winery.

Sebastien, and winery owners Dr. George and Mrs. Nicki Bazaco, understand the power of SM and are excited to ride this new wave of outreach to our customers.  They have limited full-time staff and it makes sense for their business plan to outsource matters such as Public Relations and several other tasks for which they are not yet at the point to hire additional staff.  Many Virginia wineries are in similar situations and are enticed by the new opportunities that SM provides.  Outsourcing is a viable option for them to explore this exciting realm of communication.

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About Doukenie Winery:    Doukenie Winery, located in Hillsboro VA, sits on 500 acres owned by the Bazaco family.  Doukenie Bacos, grandmother of winery owner Dr. George Bazaco, was the inspiration for the name.  It is a family operation with a small number of full-time staff including our winemaker, Sebastien Marquet.  Sebastien has over two decades of international winemaking experience, beginning in his native Burgundy, France, and most recently in Sonoma, California.  He has been making wine for Doukenie for nearly three years and his creations have won numerous awards, including five medals from the San Francisco Chronicle Wine Competition in 2010.  Doukenie sells all of its wine out of our on-site tasting room and hosts several events each year, ranging from art instruction and cooking classes, to festivals such our very popular Taste of Greece in the Spring and Taste of Italy in the Fall.

When did Doukenie begin using Social Media? What social media tools do you currently use (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogging, Ning, etc.)?

We began using Facebook in July 2009 and Twitter (@DoukenieWinery) in August 2009.  We have recently increased our use of Twitter as that medium expands and provides more opportunities for outreach to a highly specific group of followers.

Does Doukenie have a defined approach in terms of how you spend your social media time (formal Twitter strategy, specific customer acquisition plan, limited to Facebook, etc.)? If so, please describe how you developed this strategy.

Social media is about having a conversation, and we believe that exchange has to have value in order to be meaningful to our customers and “followers”.  We use social media to communicate news about events, updates on activities in the vineyard and cellar, vintage releases, and other interesting tidbits about life at Doukenie Winery.

Has Doukenie realized quantifiable results from utilizing social media (increased tasting room traffic, sales, buzz, media attention, etc.)?  Describe.

The amorphous nature of social media means that quantifiable metrics are often a challenge, but we do employ Search Engine Optimization tools to aid in the continued tracking of the impact we have.  Many of our customers tell us that they appreciate the convenience of Twitter updates and Facebook page posts because it allows them to interact with us on their own time, and still receive the information they want.  Our Tasting Room is quite busy, and that can be attributed to several factors, including the quality of the wine, increasing customer loyalty, the enjoyable nature of the Doukenie experience, and our public relations efforts.

Since many Virginia wineries are small, family-run operations with limited staff, finding time to devote to social media can be a real challenge.  What advice can you share with your fellow wineries on how to work thru the time constraints of the social media learning curve and how to best use their social media time?

Doukenie is boutique winery with limited full-time staff.  As such, it makes sense to employ part-time or contractual staff to handle matters that may not require full-time commitment for a winery of its size.  Doukenie has done that for certain tasks, one of which is public relations and social media.  Similar wineries that want to increase their use of social media can consider outsourcing the task as an initial foray into that realm.  It allows the winery to sample the experience without the encumbrance of additional employees, and to also enjoy the high degree of flexibility associated with outsourcing. (Editorial Note: This is the key – I hope other wineries not currently engaged in SM read this paragraph again.)

Given your experience thus far with social media, what are your lessons learned, and how will your approach change (if at all)?

The general rule of never overwhelming your audience is one that should be observed constantly when using social media.  The highly targeted nature of the group of people who choose to follow us on Twitter or become Facebook fans requires a great level of respect for their time that I believe Doukenie Winery has achieved.  We are constantly asking for feedback from our fans and followers regarding the too much/too little balance and are grateful for their willingness to share their insights.  If there is a formula to be followed by Virginia Wineries regarding the use of social media, it is certainly still under construction.  So far, our experience has been immensely positive and we are enjoying the expanded interaction with our customers that social media affords us.

Editorial Disclaimer: Your humble correspondent is by no means a social media or wine expert – not even close!  Rather, I write thru the lens of a passionate wine enthusiast, advocate of the Virginia wine industry, observer of trends from a common sense perspective, and user of social media.

Next up in the series – Corcoran Winery

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