Santa Claus, Loch Ness Monster and Social Media Experts

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Santa Claus with a little girl
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A few weeks ago I was pitched (again) by a "social media guru" from San Francisco.  After meeting him through a friend of a friend, and about 17 emails I finally gave in and invited him to stop by the winery.  Seems like I'm getting pitched every week by another social media expert who has all the answers to our wine business needs.  I was hoping this guy would have something different to say, or at least I was hoping he would take the time to look at the wine industry for real, and not just the romanticized vision of it.

I see him roll up in his recently buffed pearl white Mercedes SUV and slicked back hair, and I knew right away what this guy was about.  In my mind, he represents what's wrong with the social media landscape right now.  So many businesses are realizing they want to "socialize" themselves, but they don't know how to do it.  Suddenly, out of the woodwork comes armies of "gurus" and "experts" with all the answers.  The wine industry is especially susceptible because wineries aren't especially tech-savvy.  It's easy to be confused by snake oil salesmen promising big numbers.

So I listen to the pitch about all the powerful social media ROI his team can produce, and I wait until the end.  I asked the guy what he knew about our winery.  "Nothing," he replied.  I asked him who he thought were the wineries who were succeeding with social media.  "There's a winery in Illinois called Lynfred Winery, but no one around here," he said.  I thanked him for his time and sent him on his way.  He failed to do any research about me as a potential client, and he failed to look at the wine/social landscape.  I think they call that due diligence.  I had looked into his online efforts before he arrived, and discovered he didn't even have a Twitter handle, nor a Facebook page.  Basically, he and his team go into blog comments on behalf of clients and essentially spam the hell out of wine blogs.

It seems many wineries may have similar experiences, which is probably causing confusion.  In my job as the Director of Social Media for St. Supéry, I live and breathe this stuff every day, and I feel like we're just now starting to understand it.  Through a lot of trial and error we've had some successes and some things that didn't work.  After a year and two months in my role, I am just now starting to feel like I'm getting enough experience to no longer be called a beginner.  Maybe intermediate...maybe. . .

Some people say you have to do something at least 10,000 times before you can be considered an expert in anything.

. . For wineries trying to make sense out of who to trust and who not to, I put together a few tips that should help determine if someone is capable of executing any sort of social media campaign: 1. What is their Klout score? Klout.com is a tool that helps measure influence.  Influence is established by having an idea of what you're doing.  Amazingly, many social media experts have very low Klout scores.  Hmmmm  Bullshit meter is already starting to hum.

2. Do they have a LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter and blog presence? Those are kind of the main social sites these days.  If they're going to build your business online, they need to show mastery of those sites.  Understanding how all the social sites fit together is critical because web 2.0 is all about open source, or the ability to share between sites.

3. Are they promising ROI? Hardly anyone has figured out how to manufacture and measure ROI.  Even the Old Spice campaign, which is considered to be one of the best social media efforts in history isn't fully understood yet in terms of ROI.  You can't promise a certain increase in followers, fans or ROI because all those things are out of your control.  Free will can't be manipulated, and that's what social media is.  You can't make someone become a Facebook fan or follow organically.  The only way is through gimmicks like contests or something that bumps numbers up, but doesn't create an authentic connection.

4. What do their online conversations look like? There's a social media "expert" in Northern California who's Twitter stream is only Foursquare checkins.  No actual conversation are taking place.  Having engaging conversations is a pretty important part of the equation.

5. If they can't build their brand online, they can't build yours Sounds obvious, but there's truth to that statement.  Walking the walk and talking the talk is important because it demonstrates how well someone can do what they're saying you should do.

I'm going to make a blanket statement and say anyone who refers to themselves as a Social Media Guru or Expert isn't.  Ironically, this is the easiest way to find the people are aren't.  Like Santa Claus and Nessie of Loch Ness, Social Media Experts don't exist.

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5 Social Media Tips for Wineries & Wine Shops

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Few things bring people together like food and drink.  From the Roman empire on up through the ages to now, wine has served as the common thread that weaves together society though social gatherings.  Birthday parties, annual holidays, business functions, family dinners or just hanging with friends are settings where wine and conversation are likely to be found.

That bodes well for wineries and wine shops wanting to build their brand in social media.  The wine industry has a bit of an unfair advantage over other industries.  If we were using social media to talk about tires it wouldn't be nearly as sexy as talking about Chardonnay.

I've seen dozens of wineries who are trying to make sense out of social media and utilize what limited time they have to do something, anything just to avoid being left behind.  Well open up your mouths baby birds, because I've got a big fat night crawler for you.  Well, five actually.  Here's some answers to the test:

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1. Be Patient - It can work.  But it's not going to happen overnight.  The best analogy I can give is the example of planting vines.  You don't plant vines, then turn around and say, "where's my grapes?".  You have to wait 3-5 years before your vines produce fruit you can use.

Luckily, you don't have to wait 3-5 years for your social media vines to produce fruit, but you do have to nurture it and let your social presence grow organically.  If you do that, your social media presence will produce fruit consistently.  It's hard for winery owners to commit 100% to this concept, which is why some of them are failing at it, and ultimately writing off social media as a fad.

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2. Build Trust First, Then Sell Wine (maybe) - This is the secret.  It's the answer to the million dollar question.  It might blow your mind when I tell you in the past 12 months St. Supéry winery has offered to sell wine through social media a total of three times.  Yet, people are buying our wine and sales are up.  They're buying for a number of reasons, including the hard work of our CEO, VP of Sales, National Accounts guy, price adjustments, new winemaker and our stellar visitor center.  Social Media and Marketing is one cog in the engine.

The worst thing you can do is get online, then start pushing your product.  Nothing will dissuade trust faster.  In fact, that's literally the opposite of what this is all about.  As soon as someone opts in either by following on Twtiter or becoming a fan on Facebook, that is the beginning of a personal relationship.  That's the beginning of trust building.  You have to put faith in knowing your trust will create a tighter bond with consumers, which in turn will lead to sales.

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3. Establish a Personality - Wine drinkers would prefer to see a face or hear a voice.  If it's the winemaker, even better.  If it's the chef or owner, that's a great start.  Just putting the winery label out there is okay, but it's not very personal.  The consumer wants to get to know the people behind the brand.

Videos and photos are going to happen.  Attending wine and social media events is going to happen.  Before a consumer opens up their wallet, they want to know who they're buying from.  Adding the human element to interactions with customers through the face(s) of the winery allows the winery to show they care and are transparent.

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4. The Right Person isn't a Millennial - One of the biggest misconceptions is you need someone in their 20's.  It might seem like a good idea because twenty-somethings are cheaper to hire and are the main users of social media, right?  Wrong.  The largest demographic of wine drinkers online are women 35-55.  I'm a 40-year old male, and having some successes in this arena.  Gary Vaynerchuk is a 30-year old male and definitely having successes.  The right person is someone with emotional intelligence to responsibly represent a brand publicly.

I'm not saying someone right out of college won't work, just get someone for the right reasons.  This person is going to be holding your brand in their hands, which is why I tend to lean towards hiring someone internally rather than a so-called social media marketing firm or social media "guru".  Anyone who refers to themselves as such should give you reason to run in the other direction.

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5. Promote Everyone but Yourself - I'm really fortunate to work for the Skalli family at St. Supéry.  They understand we can't just talk about ourselves all day because that would be boring and one dimensional.  We often talk about everyone and everything but ourselves.  It blows people's minds when we promote our competitors online.  We do it because we're stewards of a legacy of collaborators.  Before any of us were born, grape growers used to work together and help each other out.  Luckily, in the realm of social media, you're rewarded for doing that.

If I had to guestimate, I'd say a winery's brand has little better than a 1:1 return on effort when self promoting.  But you get better than 2:1 when promoting members of the community.  Imagine that, you get rewarded for being positive and supportive.  Pretty cool concept.

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Créme Fraîche

A bowl of stewed nectarines with cream, mm-mmm.
Image via Wikipedia

INGREDIENTS

2 cups heavy whipping cream 1/2 cup buttermilk

Warm cream in heavy small saucepan to lukewarm temp. (about 85 degrees). Remove from heat and mix in buttermilk. Put the mixture into a clean glass jar. Leave jar open and cover with a piece of waxed paper fastened with a rubber band. Let stand in warm area until slightly thickened, 24-48 hours. When the cream has clotted, remove the paper and replace it with the lid. Refrigerate until ready to use.

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