Wineries & Social Media Part 1: David moves faster than Goliath … again.

29 09 2010

With harvest season under way in much of wine country, it seemed an appropriate time to check out the presence of the broader U.S. wine industry on various social networks and examine how social media is being used by various levels of the industry. Blogging, the backbone of any social media program, became a favored tool among wineries, wine critics and wine enthusiasts far before social networks became a powerful tool for reaching a brand’s community (we recently looked at the most influential wine bloggers attending the Wala Wala Conference). For this blog however, I set out to compare how large wineries & vineyards with substantial marketing budgets and brand recognition and small wineries & vineyards looking to establish a brand are utilizing social media beyond just the blogosphere. I stumbled across the Chandon Escape contest last spring, a highly marketed and polished contest driven by social media where entrants earned more chances to win by becoming a Fan of the Chandon Facebook page and each time they tweeted the contest hashtag. Having observed this event and being familiar with the vast marketing budgets that the country’s largest wineries are working with, I expected to see the top wine companies and their brands with highly developed social media strategies and a broad presence across the networks. I was wrong.

There are thousands of vineyards and wineries throughout the US ranging in size, distribution and personality, and their media usage is just as diverse. As I mentioned, I expected the brands from the largest wine companies to have highly polished social media pages with sophisticated campaigns. Instead, I found them largely absent from the social networks with the lower ¾ (in terms of production) of the wineries & vineyards dominating the social media sphere. Wine makers are also utilizing social media for more than just customer outreach and expanding their brand recognition. We’ll be doing a three-part series on wineries and social media, taking a look at how both large and small wineries are working with social media, as well as how social networks are for more than just reaching customers. Part 1:

With the exception of a few brands for example, namely producers of bubbly like Korbel and Chandon, the largest of the large wineries & vineyards have a very small social media presence. Using this list and these profiles, I identified the top wineries in the US. The largest companies like E&J Gallo, Constellation Wines, The Wine Group, Bronco Wine Company & Robert Mondavi produce many of the country’s most well known wine brands but have largely ignored social media as a tool to engage their communities. Most of the companies’ brands have either no social media presence at all or host Facebook pages on which they are minimally active. This is not so unusual. Indeed, in our experience, the larger the company, the less comfortable they are entering the social media sphere. Nevertheless, for products where there is widespread passion like the wine industry, we expected to see more social media use.

In contrast, other large wineries that rank at the lower end of the top US wineries lists are embracing social media and getting recognized for it. Rick Bakas and St. Supery are receiving widespread attention (from the New York Times to Reuters) for running a strong social media program that includes a blog, active Facebook page, one of the strongest Twitter programs for a winery and an virtual & interactive wine tasting program. Although lacking a key component of a social media program – a blog – Wente Vineyards also stands out for their Facebook and Twitter activities. Many other wineries of this size can be found with an active social media program including (but not at all limited to) Dry Creek Vineyard, Murphy-Goode Winery, and J. Lohr. Aside from St. Supery and Wente, these larger wineries using social media are finding general success with the platforms by posting and engaging their Facebook & Twitter communities on a regular basis and hosting a blog (albeit the blogs are often under-utilized) but there is much room for improvement in expanding brand recognition, reaching new customers and utilizing the true networking powers of the social networking platforms.

So far, a very mixed bag for the largest US wineries in terms of their social media use. Some are knocking it out of the ballpark; some haven’t even heard the train coming. What are your thoughts on why the largest wineries are largely ignoring social media? Which large wineries have you seen doing great stuff with social media?

Stay tuned for Part 2!

With thanks to Big D2112, dr_XeNo and quinn.anya for the photos.

Katie

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8 responses

1 10 2010
Trish Barry

Great post – very similar situation in Australia where it’s the smaller/ medium sized wineries who are leading the charge and doing the best campaigns.

5 10 2010
Katie Van Sant

Hi Trish – Thanks for your input – interesting to see you and Robyn are seeing the same things in Australia. This seems to be a trend across industries as many of the largest companies are hesitant for a variety of reasons to enter the social media space. What wineries have you seen using social media well in Australia?

14 10 2010
Trish Barry

Hi Katie,

Best’s Great Western do a great job for a smaller player and Howard Park Wines also a leader in the field in terms of integrating messages. Teusner clearly leader on twitter and others like Yalumba, De Bortoli Wines, Bird in Hand also having some great things produced.

2 10 2010
Robyn Lewis

Hi – this is good work; thanks! It’s certainly time this was looked at. I’m in Australia too, where the very big wine companies, despite having presumably heard and seen the train, have their heads in the sand, I believe largely because they are basically bureacracies and their reaction times are very slow, and authority is not delegated to the right people to allow them to interact direct with customers. [This is very apparent in other industries too, not just wine].

Some of the mid-size wine companies are a lot better, have heard the train and – recognising their own lack of expertise and available time to spend in this area – have outsourced this function to an agent. This seems to be working for some; the key is retaining authenticity, and appointing a dynamic, proactive agency [again, not all agencies get it, either].

Bests Wines in Western VIctoria (a long established, mid-sized wine company with a well-recognised and respected brand) are a case in point. They are getting the need for an integrated campaign using a variety of platforms, and that seems to be working well for them. Of course this is backed by a great product and customer service, or there would nto be much point.

But the majority of smaller operators can’t afford this, either financially or time wise, so for them it’s either (a) not know or acknowledge that the train exists – maybe 50%, (b) ignore the train and continue to reply on traditional comms – maybe 40%; (c) a combination of DIY and sporadic SM engagement – maybe 5% and (d) do something about it – well I’d like to say they are the balancing 5% but really most aren’t there yet.

At VisitVineyards.com we estimate the total number of vineyards/wineries in Australia to be at least 4000 – that’s the number on our database (not including vineyards which are satellites of or just supply grapes to others); there are probably more we haven’t found yet. 5% is 200, but realistically I haven’t seen that number active in this space to date. There are perhaps that number with twitter accounts however – how they are using them is another post!

5 10 2010
Katie Van Sant

This is some great insight into what you’re seeing in Australia with wineries and social media across the different size wineries – thanks for your insight Robyn! Authenticity is definitely key in an effective social media strategy for all companies. What social media platform have you seen wineries have the most success with?

3 10 2010
Adrienne Turner

I love tracking this trend.
Recently, I did an article for Palate Press highlighting Iron Horse Vineyards and their use of SMM to brand themselves. Very informative and inspiring >>http://palatepress.com/2010/08/small-winery-far-reach-wine-social-media/ <<

Cheers! Adrienne

5 10 2010
Katie Van Sant

Thanks for sharing Adrienne. We’ll be looking at how smaller wineries like Iron Horse are using social media to elevate their brand quickly & creatively with the various tools social media offers. We’re definitely seeing the power of Twitter for wineries to grow their brand, communicate with each other and coordinate public events. What other small wineries have you been keeping an eye on who are using social media?

2 08 2011
Alessandra Cristina

Interesting article, and great points regarding how larger companies are not embracing social media the way smaller companies are. Although, this can be very beneficial for smaller vineyards, and can give them that edge to excel in the industry. I recently wrote a blog post on how some wineries use social media to engage, and reach their audience. The two wineries I have chosen are really great at what they do. Check it out here: http://www.mysmn.com/yoga-theater-and-wine-a-gold-mine-for-social-media-marketing/

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