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The Social Media Interviews – Virginia Wineries – Part IV:  Bluemont Vineyard

This is the final post in the Virginia Wineries and Social Media series.  To recap,

The intent of the interviews is to showcase Virginia wineries that are actively engaged in Social Media, and to provide a forum for dialogue  and information for other wineries considering the move to the 21st century.

For today’s interview, we hear from Kevin Rupy of Bluemont Vineyard.

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About Bluemont Vineyard: In early 2007, Mark Zurschmeide and Bob Rupy started Bluemont Vineyard, partnering with their brothers Bruce and Kevin, respectively.  The 25-acre vineyard officially opened its doors in the Fall of 2007, where it specializes in popular Virginia varietals such as the Norton and Viognier, as well as other popular varietals such as Merlot, Vidal Blanc and an assortment of fruit wines.

The winery’s tasting room is in a renovated home on the mountain sitting at 951 feet above sea level with spectacular views of the valley from the patio and deck.  The goal at Bluemont Vineyard is to offer a unique experience on the Virginia wine trail. Northern Virginia, and Loudoun County in particular, are home to so many fine wineries and Bluemont Vineyard aspires to continue in that heritage. The Vineyard is excited to be a part of the Virginia winemaking tradition, and it looks forward to becoming a destination spot for wine trail enthusiasts throughout the region.

When did Bluemont begin using Social Media?

We first started with Facebook about two years ago, and we quickly followed that platform with accounts on both Twitter and Flickr.  Most of our efforts are focused on Facebook and Flickr, although we are beginning to expand our efforts on Twitter as well.

What social media tools do you currently use (Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogging, Ning, etc.)?

Facebook, Twitter and Flickr are the primary tools we utilize for our winery.  While it may not technically be considered a ‘social networking platform’ we also put forth a fairly robust effort towards our bi-weekly newsletter.  There are numerous other social networking tools that are available, and we are examining those as well.

For example, we would like to expand our presence into sites like YouTube, since much of that content can be shared with our fans on other portals (e.g., Facebook).  In addition, with digital technology it is so easy to create video content and get it up on the web and our fans love that type of content.  In fact, for patrons who request it, during weddings out at the winery we will soon be providing live video/tweeting offerings that will enable the bride and groom to share their big day with those who cannot be there in person.  All of this will happen in real time and will utilize existing social media platforms

But at the same time, I think it is important that we (and any other winery for that matter) not bite off more than we can chew.  I think a better approach is to harness a limited set of tools to the greatest degree possible, as opposed to taking on too much and accomplishing too little.

Does Bluemont 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.

I check Facebook periodically throughout the day.  It is my first stop in the morning and my last stop at night.  In general, we spend anywhere from 15 minutes to one hour each day on our social networking sites.  Some days can be busier than others, but quite frankly, we view it as time well spent and it is actually a lot of fun.

For example, we do a weekly trivia challenge (every Thursday at 2:00 PM), that has generated a great deal of participation.  Winners receive a wine tasting coupon for two.  The fans really love it, and it is a great way for all of us to interact.  It takes some time to carry all of that out (e.g., finding a good question, doing the trivia challenge and coordinating the coupon), but it is well worth the effort and we love doing it.

We try our best on Facebook to post on a timely and periodic basis with posts of interest to our fans.  But at the same time, we don’t want to overwhelm our fans with annoying and pestering entries.  We feel like we have struck the right balance, and it is something that we are very sensitive to.

On our Flickr page we try to refresh our pictorial content on a periodic basis.  In addition, we spend some time looking at (and reaching out to) folks who are posting photos taken at the Vineyard to their own pages. Many of the pictures are fantastic, and we have gotten to know some of these folks in person as a result of their sharing their pictures on sites like Flickr.

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

Absolutely.  We put tremendous effort into building our Facebook fan base and in recent months it has definitely paid off for us.  This time last year, we had less than 250 fans on our Facebook page.  After an aggressive push to build that fan base (e.g., through promotion on our website and periodic discussion in our bi-weekly newsletter), we are now over 1,200 fans.  In recent months, our Google Analytics data shows that Facebook is consistently one of the top referring sites to our websites.

While it is difficult to attribute direct numbers to an increase in traffic or sales, the fact of the matter is that people are sharing their experiences out at Bluemont Vineyard through their own websites and blogs, our Facebook Fan page and through sites like Flickr.  And unlike traditional media (e.g., newspapers or radio), these portals allow wineries to directly interact with their customers and fans.

We believe these relationships on social networking sites strengthen our real-world relationships at the winery.  It is always great to encounter fans from our Facebook and Flickr pages out at the winery, and we are also looking at ways to reach out to our Facebook and Twitter followers with exclusive events conducted on their behalf.  For example, I have seen some wineries do Facebook meet-ups and even tastings for their Facebook fans.  In addition to being a great idea, it is also a lot of fun and well worth the effort.

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?

Here’s an interesting factoid for wineries to consider: if Facebook were a country, it would be the third most populous on the planet.  With 400 million users, that puts it ahead of the United States but behind China and India.  And because Facebook is organized by geographic regions, that means your information can be tailored to reach out to just those users in your immediate area.

Considering the substantial benefits that can result from utilizing social media such as Facebook, I think it is so important for Virginia wineries to make the time to establish a presence in this realm.  As much as tending the vines, making the wine and running a winery are an integral part of the day, so too is expanding (and getting to know) your customer base.  Perhaps the greatest thing about embarking on social media efforts for wineries is the fact that with today’s technology tools it is easier then ever.

In terms of finding the time, I think it is safe to say that wineries can accomplish a great deal by committing anywhere from 10 to 30 minutes a day to their efforts.  It is incredibly easy to get up and running on all of these sites, and I would encourage wineries to find one they are comfortable with and just jump right in.

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

In no particular order, here are some nuggets of wisdom I would share with our fellow Virginia wineries:

  • Use social media to be, well, social! Many of our posts on Twitter and Facebook often talk about the Virginia wine industry, general topical posts and even the weather.  In other words, we are not in constant marketing mode.  Of course we discuss happenings out at the winery, but we really do look at these as social forums where we can get to know our patrons better while also promoting our winery.
  • Dedicate the Time. When you do establish your social presence, be sure to make the time commitment to post content and interact.  If there is nothing for people to see on your social network, they won’t stop by.
  • Publish content. Whether it is photos from your most recent bottling or a video of the wine press in operation, people love digital content.  We have found that when we post such content to our Facebook page, our fans really enjoy it.  It’s easy to do and we highly recommend it.
  • Keep learning. Technology changes so incredibly fast that it can often times be overwhelming just to keep up with it.  Try to stay abreast of what is happening out there in the social media environment.  Often times new tools or platforms arise that can make social networking that much more productive and fun (e.g., Tweetdeck).
  • Don’t underestimate the power of these tools. Social networking sites are incredibly powerful platforms.  And for an engaging and entertaining overview of these tools, I would highly recommend watching this YouTube video.  It was a presentation by an Indiana University anthropology professor at the Library of Congress in June 2008.  I know!  It sounds dry, but even if you watch the first 10 minutes, you will see how powerful these tools are (and you’ll probably end up watching the whole thing!).

Thank you Kevin for taking the time to share your social media insights and experiences (which I hope will help your Virginia wine colleagues)!

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.

Thank you to each of the wineries that participated!

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