Was 2009 the Tipping Point for #Wine & #Social Media?

It was the best of times – and the worst of times – for consumers and winemakers and wine retailers in 2009 – but whether your glass was half empty or half full the year 2009 will certainly be looked back upon as the year that Social Media & Wine converged in a big way.

So what were the milestones that made 2009 so significant for the wine world? Here’s a look back – and a look forward.

Twitter. If I look back on New Year’s Eve 2008, I didn’t end that year with sharing what was in my glass, what I would be drinking, doing on twitter which I am sure that I will do tomorrow (domestic caviar, prosecco early on, Brunello later on and a toast with 98 Deutz Cuvee William which we sell in our store).

Yes, as someone who is ‘active’ on social media, twitter was on my radar but I think the majority of active people talking about wine would probably say that they really got going around the 1st Q of 09. Whether it was to promote something that they were already doing – a blog or other website – or share wines that they were drinking – twitter provided a place where you could be drinking/sharing or tasting together (the first Twitter Taste Live events were in late 2008) or ‘listening’ to what was being said about a wine in real time.

Want to know what’s in someone’s glass at a certain time of day – just ask and you’ll get responses from all over the world. The biggest ah ha moment for me this year on twitter was when the 2009 Beaujolais Nouveau was released and people from countries ranging from Brazil to Japan were drinking their first sips together and giving a big thumbs up to the best vintage in 47 years.

Prediction for 2010 – wineries will put their twitter names on labels and ask consumers to tweet about their experiences, you will be receiving more contact from wineries asking you to purchase when you talk about their wines and you will find that twitter will have to impose a 21+ filter on twitterers that write/talk about wine. More contests, more wine companies reaching out to people who tweet to promote their brand.

Facebook. If you look at facebook’s forecast that by 2010, 70% of those 21 years and older will have a fb account, you know that it’s not the dog chasing the tail for wineries popping up with their own facebook pages. While there’s not any e-commerce going on through these pages, it is a way for fans to find out what’s going on at the winery, enjoy the pictures, videos and special shipping and release promotions and have a more intimate relationship with the wineries they love. Large wineries face the same challenges on facebook that small ones do – provide fresh and engaging content on a consistent basis to grow their circle of influence beyond those in the trade who have become fans so the playing field is really level here for those who have a new brand to break out of the pack.

Prediction for 2010. In spite of fb’s new rules about need approval of holding contests on their site, wineries will use this format to grow their audience and probably get around the archaic offline rules regarding who can participate. Wineries will engage professionals to add content and become administrators of their pages as they realize that the business of providing content is a business. See more e-commerce popping up on facebook for buying wine and other winery related stuff, more ads from wineries on your fb page.

Bloggers. Yes you too can start a blog if you’re a wine lover and share with the world your opinions about the latest vintages. And while the FTC guidelines for bloggers firmly outlines disclosures that are required for bloggers who received free wine and write about it, it’s the wineries who need the protection here from people coming out of the woodwork to ask them for free wine to review.

Prediction for 2010. Someone will put up a site to consolidate all wine bloggers in one place with readers being able to vote/rate each and their rankings shown. Wineries will start scrutinizing whether bloggers really have enough influence to be driving sales and will less enthusiastic about sending out free wine. The FTC might find someone ‘big’ to use as an example for the non-disclosure stuff – but probably will find another niche that gets free stuff to harass (they’ve rustled a few feathers in the mommy sector already).

Blow Out Sales Sites. There are a couple of leaders in this space – WTSO (winestillsoldout.com) had a great 2009 but I have my doubts about whether the consumer will buy something that says “Yesterday’s lowest web price $15.99 – our price $9.99” without doing a few minutes of research (the wine in question on today’s page Bodegas Abanico Las Colinas del Ebro Garnacha Blanca 2008 rated 90 points by Jay Miller (not Robert Parker as the site suggests) was found at $12.99 at a wine shop in Virginia when I searched today). Still a great deal, no doubt – but with all the info available I’m wondering if there needs to be more truth in advertising on these sites.

Wineries with an abundance of liquid assets – or wanting some great promotion to the robust mailing lists of these companies are the true winners as long as the bargain doesn’t alienate loyal wine club members who find out that they just paid $40 a bottle for something being sold for $20 on one of these sites. (P.S. on this section – yesterday I actually received an email from a winery saying that you could buy their 2005 Cabernet at 40% off through one of these one-day only/limited volume sites….why they weren’t doing it themselves I don’t know.)

Prediction for 2010. Active purchasers on the net will scour the net for the best deals on the wines they want to buy vs buying what is a deal. As these deals end up on sites like Wine Searcher (a price comparison engine based in NZ), retailers will find their margins squeezed even more. Wineries will do their own Count Down or Daily Blowout on facebook – CORE winery in Santa Barbara has a daily 50% on this wine deal going every day now – which will help wineries move inventory at better margins than the traditional three tier distribution system. Wineries will use this strategy to increase their Direct to Consumer Business which is their greatest opportunity for profitability.

Social Media Sites for Wine. Got an opinion about a wine? Sitting at home on your computer (or in a wine bar on your i-phone?) just cruising around the web? Sites like Snooth and cork’d want you to have an opinion AND share it on their site. Would you take a recommendation from someone you didn’t know on buying a bottle of wine?  For me, probably not but on cork’d (owned by the respected Social Media Sommelier Gary Vaynerchuk and re-launched earlier this year) there are also bloggers listed whose opinions I do respect (I still might not take their recommendations – but hey at least I know who they are!) Want to find a friend who likes the same wines that you do? Then these sites provide that platform as well as daily content that educates those with a passion or curiosity about wine.

Prediction for 2010. Snooth did a deal earlier this year with Epicurious.com (and others) to provide a suggested wine paired with the vast catalog of recipes on that site. Ultimate goal? To drive wine sales to the retail network on their site. Look for other partnerships in the content space as lifestyle brands seek to add more wine info for their subscribers/members.

Video/TV. GaryV’s Wine Library TV is the hands down winner in this (and other) categories. At almost 800 videos, the breadth of content is enormous and provides vino-tainment for zillions of wine lovers around the world. Look for more video, video personalities and tv on wine – Season 2 of The Winemakers took us to France and other shows scheduled to release on small (and large) screen in 2010.

Prediction for 2010. Every winery will own a Flip video and we will see a ton of tasting videos up on youtube (again the 21+ thing might start happening). More ‘personalities’ will emerge via video – bloggers will add video to their blogs for live tasting experiences with the blogger.

i-phone. Ultimately, with the true benefit of the immediacy of tools to search reviews, shopping and other info about wine when you’re out shopping for it or ordering it in a restaurant – all wine lovers will end up here. My frustration? I can’t seem to get cell reception for the internet when I’m in aisle 4 of the supermarket or large box store looking at a wine that is vaguely familiar and wondering if I should buy it. Users will create their own photo libraries of their favorite labels, post them on the web, wineries will ask that fans and twitter followers take pics of themselves drinking and enjoying their wine and post them on the web. Everyone will use Cellartracker to record their purchases and when you swipe your credit card at the point of purchase it will put your wine into your notes on their site (ok, maybe not until 2011).  Will the new Google Nexus have the same rate of adoption at $530 unlocked when it’s released this next year? Hard to say but in the wine category they have some catching up to do.

Other Things We Saw (or Didn’t See) and Predictions for Social Media and Wine in 2010

Things that didn’t happen in 2009.

Amazon got out of the wine biz before they got into it and Costco pulled wine as a category from their website. The NYTimes and USA Today and the Wall Street Journal all added wine clubs but the LA Times didn’t. Bon Appetite started a site just for their wine sales but would Gourmet have survived if they started selling wine to their more upscale urban subscribers? Large, small and medium size wine retailers didn’t close at the rate one would have expected given the competition from online but advertised sales and price cutting prevails.

The ‘Skinny Wine’ introduced at the 2009 Oscars by Chateau Thomas Winery in Indiana did not cause a spate of look-alike wines that are sugar/no calorie (thank god).

Two Buck Chuck sold a ton of wine in Europe but didn’t start selling wine online (yet).

What’s Ahead

Will the web reflect trends that are already happening offline with an increase in sales of lower priced wines? Will internet sales this year cross the 5%-10% benchmark that we have been waiting for (at last reported out sales of wine in 2007 were less than 3% of total sales). Will FREE shipping (or close to it) become a lasting incentive for bargain hungry consumers who shop on the web?

Will there be more sites launched just for Premium wine drinker (bottles over $20) as the larger sites talk about deals and buys under $20 or will wine drinkers who pulled in their belt in 2009 decide that they want to trade up and start talking about/researching the new second labels by Premium wineries that are in the $20-45 range? Will wineries hire social media gurus like Rick Bakas at St. Supery and Hardy Wallace at Murphy Goode to work full time at providing excellent content and insight into a lifestyle filled with wine and good food? Yes! And Social Media Wine Guru will be one of the most coveted jobs for recent college grads in the class of 2010 as the wine industry seeks to crack the millennial code for selling more wine to those 21-30.

For sure we will see investment and innovation in the social media contest category – see Firestone Vineyards call for videos for a Chef’s Challenge and a month long trip to the Inca’s – as wineries launch new labels and seek new customers via the web. We’ll see more countdown sales tools and wine auction style sites and offline more point of sale info about websites and facebook pages, promotions and other ideas to generate online interest in a specific winery. And yes, we’ll probably see celebrity endorsements of wine too.

Finally, Maynard Keenan of Tool will release his new film about making wine in Arizona http://www.bloodintowine.com/ in February and it will be a cult hit with heavy metal fans but my guess is that it will be the largest grossing film about wine since Sideways (which grossed $109 million).

And what about you? Will you dip your toe into the social media waters to share your love of wine? It’s about time.

Wishing your glass full of wine and a year of good health and happiness.

Julie

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Share your stories about your passion for wine, food and travel at Women & Wine http://womenwine.com.

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20 responses to “Was 2009 the Tipping Point for #Wine & #Social Media?

  1. Julie,

    GREAT post! I think you did a GREAT job of recapping social media in 2009 – a truly watershed year for the area – and the beginning of something bigger for 2010 and beyond!

    I agree that more wineries will be using twitter and Facebook in the coming year – the real question is whether or not they will truly ‘understand’ how to use it . . . My guess – less than 1/2 will . . .

    Looking forward to hopefully seeing you at Pinot Days in Santa Monica next weekend (I’ll be pouring for Fess Parker) and hopefully getting into your store sooner rather than later to taste you on MY wines!!!!

    Cheers!

    • Hi Larry – looking forward to seeing you – and thanks for the kudos – I’ve been doing consulting on social media strategy for wineries this past year – and am hoping that these pieces will people an idea of how I think and how important it is to be thinking about this space in a more strategic way. Let’s catch up at Pinot Days and yes, would love to taste your wine!

  2. Can you send me a direct email?!?!? I have a question for you (-: Send it to larry@tercerowines.com . . .

    Cheers!

  3. Pingback: Tweets that mention Was 2009 the Tipping Point for #Wine & #Social Media? « Women & Wine -- Topsy.com

  4. Great article Julie. You have captured the essence of US social media. As for France…and the photo at the top of your blog of a well known St Emilion chateau proves it, they have a lot to learn if they want to keep up with web 2.0. The chateau in question doesn’t even have a Facebook page let alone Twitter.

    There are a few young bloggers in France but it has yet to really catch on. It is mostly a domain for the under 30’s for the moment. I guess the don’t understand either.

    I was told by a top winery that when trying to convince them of the merits of social media,
    “Participation in these activities does not convey a premium image … I am not convinced of the interest of these gadgets”.

    Premium image or not it is communication and it’s changing rapidly. There are plenty of examples of how it can be done with taste. Take Women & Wine for example.

    • Mary – hi and thanks so much for your comment. I think that I can help wineries in France transcend this hurdle as having a vision of what the brand looks like is half the battle.

      I worked with a group of women winemakers in Bordeaux in 2008 to help them tell their stories through our Women & Wine website http://womenwine.com as well as get them to go back to the drawing board and create more personal websites to tell their stories.

      I am a passionate about French wine and would love to be a part of helping them grow their image in America especially amongst women wine drinkers. If you know of any wineries there who are seeking social media strategy/content or advisory services please forward them this story and my contact info – julie@womenwine.com.

      Warmest regards and best wishes for the new year!
      Julie

  5. Nice recap. I think the bloggers on one website is already starting to gain momentum with Palate Press and others.

    • I do like Palate Press but remember they are an edited online magazine – the vehicles that are used for social media are not and are much more spontaneous and require a daily commitment to new content.

      New sources for the consumer and the trade will continue to emerge as the market up until this point was immature – the key is how to convert the communication out to the consumer to sales and consistent branding messages that will be of interest to them.

      Thanks for checking in.
      Best,
      Julie

  6. EdwardsVineyard

    Great posting, one of the more insightful things I have read on the social media. As a new winery in San Diego County we are still trying to figure out how the social media can be of benefit to us?
    Thanks,
    Victor Edwards
    Edwards Vineyard & Cellars

    • Hi Victor – I do a one or two day ‘boot camp’ for wineries that can give you a clear vision and write your business strategy for how to incorporate social media into your development and growth in order to help your brand identity, connect with your core consumer and generate sales. If you’re interested in pursuing something like that please feel free to contact me at julie@womenwine.com.

      My most recent engagement with a mid-size group of Sonoma wineries resulted in their ability to get everyone to buy in to what needed to happen, identify who and what would happen via fb, twitter and their email newsletters and the results in the last quarter on online sales has been significant.

      No time like the present!
      Best,
      Julie

  7. Great stuff,Julie. Just finished an entry on my blog and linked to your post. And of course I will be following you on Twitter.

  8. Great article Julie! It will be interesting to observe new ways in which wineries leverage social media in 2010. Last week our ecommerce software company released a new Post Order Sharing Feature that works with Facebook and Twitter: http://www.nexternal.com/updates/#651 I will be very curious to see how many of our winery clients turn on this feature and what percentage of wine buyers choose to share their purchases.

    • Thanks Alex – I’m doing a session on Wine & Technology at the Wine Entrepreneur’s Conference next week – is your technology widely used so that this would be relevant to the audience at large? Love to know more.

      • Hi Julie,
        Nexternal’s software is used by more than 200 wineries and wine retailers. This new social media post order sharing feature was just released last Thursday, January 7th. I would be happy to provide you with any additional information you would like.
        Alex

  9. An interesting take on the new tech age of wine marketing. Whilst it goes without saying that the new technologies will definitely play their part in the marketing future, I do feel it prudent to evaluate and rationalize some of what your column stated. Internet marketing via email and website has clearly already taken a strong hold, and while its success is measurable it might be better categorized as the new wave of telemarketing. It employs the same principles of the cold callers and phone salespeople that have been around for a long time, but in a gentler and more consumer friendly manner. Rather than interrupting you in the middle of dinner to see if you would like to stock your cellar with the latest vintage of Laffitte, your email account receives a detailed message of what is available should you choose to peruse it. Used with care, the email marketing strategy is yielding substantial rewards for the sellers, and is becoming a substantial segment of direct sales. Use this medium too aggressively and….well…we all know what spamming causes.

    By contrast, facebook is the gossip column of marketing. It is the preferred forum of today for idle chatter in a world where our society where a generation has never been more connected with so little worth saying. “Woo hoo!……Gunga Din Pinot Rocks!……Chimney Soot Cab is da bomb!……Mandalay Chardonnay makes me weak at the knees!…..blah blah blah. There is a threshold beyond which comments just become white noise, and the opinions of unknowns are less than worthless. Facebook….the National Inquirer of social media sells lots of National Inquirer magazines, but does the National Inquirer sell any Ford Pintos when they say “Ford Pinto gets an amazing 1000 miles per gallon!” I think not.

    So, when it comes to techno media, use away, but expect returns wisely.

  10. Great post!
    The Social Media Wine Gurus all across the country who are able to reach the 21-40 crowd will expand their clients’ sales tremendously.
    Will be RT this.
    http://tr.im/Kjgz
    Salud!

  11. Great read, thanks. Regarding this: “Someone will put up a site to consolidate all wine bloggers in one place with readers being able to vote/rate each and their rankings shown.”

    It’s been done, and it flopped. Well, kind of. Joel Vincent ran a similar service and then moved on to create the Open Wine Consortium.

    Not to say that such a service wouldn’t add value!

    cheers!

  12. Hi Julie

    Good post on Social Media. I was invited to a large corporate’s Strategic Planning Meeting last week to present Wine-Searcher’s experience in enteriing social media. Many companies are still struggling to understand the value of social media. Then on Saturday I read about several large New Zealand Telcos and Air New Zealand’s experience with Social Media, especially Facebook.

    Telecom NZ has 786 Facebook Fans
    Vodafone has 1176 Facebook Fans
    Air New Zealand has 10,000 Fans
    A Social Media Consultancy company has 956 Facebook Fans.

    And what about Wine-Searcher?

    We have over 80,000 Fans at http://www.facebook.com/winesearcher! It has been a great experience for Wine-Searcher. I will be presenting our case study at the Wine Entrepreneurs Conference in Washington DC. Hope to see you there.

    Adon
    President
    Wine-Searcher.com

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