Social media is supposed to save the wine business. The problem? The wine business doesn't understand social media and, more importantly, doesn't want to be saved by it.
Why this is, and what it means for wine drinkers, is after the jump:
The difference is that social media's reach, thanks to applications like Facebook, Twitter and Foursquare, extends word of mouth past its traditional boundaries. Instead of word of mouth working for neighborhoods and parts of cities, social media pushes word of mouth to cities, states and even countries.
And it works. I've seen it in the Twitter Tastings we've done for DrinkLocalWine.com, when, in one weekend, we may have gotten Texas and Virginia wine more publicity than each usually gets in three or four months. Other people have seen the same thing. Mark Hyman, who runs Texas' 160,000-case Llano Estacado Winery, visits grocery stores to see what people are buying. And, says Hyman, he is seeing something new. Younger consumers are standing in the wine aisle and taking pictures of labels with their phones. Then, they're texting their friends to ask if the picture of the label they've just sent is the wine they should buy.
So much for the Wine Magazines.
In this, it's important to note that social media is not the software or hardware everyone talks about, but a process. It's not an end, but one means to an end. This is something that confuses the wine business, which tends to see social media as something that it needs to do because it needs to do it. It doesn't see social media as a tool to be used to sell wine. Case in point is Murphy-Goode's wine blogger stunt from last year, when it held a national search for a wine blogger and reaped tons of cyber-publicity. But when's the last time you heard anything about the blogger, or what the blogger blogged, or Murphy-Goode wines? It was a terrific one-off promotion, but as part of a continuing process? Not as successful.
The wine business is so lacking in the social media graces, in fact, that people like me are asked to give seminars in social media at wine industry events (and the esteemed DC-area writer Lisa Singh was kind enough to feature some of my social media ranting on her blog last week).
Know, too, that social media does matter. We don't know enough about how it works to know how it will change how companies do marketing, but it will change it. I'm proof of that. Two years ago, I was a newspaper wine writer who was known, if at all, in one small part of the country. Today, thanks to social media, I'm known (for better or worse) throughout the United States. And all I did was extend the reach of my word of mouth.
But the wine business is baffled. It's baffled because it doesn't know how to measure social media on a spreadsheet. If it can't calculate ROI for something, it doesn't want to do it. But it's also baffled because social media is about word of mouth, and wine and word of mouth don't have much in common. Wine drinkers don't share wine finds the way women do shoe bargains. Some of this is because of the three-tier system; the wine business' customers are not consumers, but the wholesalers who sell wine to retailers.
But a lot of it is because (regular visitors can skip this part, since they've read it before) the wine business isn't interested in educating consumers. They're interested in selling them particular brands, targeted by price point and demographic. It's not a coincidence that the greatest wine industry marketing success of the past 50 years was white zinfandel, which was an accident -- and which still sort of embarrasses the wine industry.
This approach is the antithesis of social media, which is about democratizing how consumers make buying decisions. But that's not how wine works. Wine is elitist and snobby, and we're not supposed to make up our own minds. We're supposed to drink what the experts tell us. But what if we had a wine world where producers made quality wines where price was an indication of quality, and not an artificial barrier set by the marketing department? That's the possibility that social media holds out. It's something to aspire to, even if it will be difficult to accomplish.