It is nearly impossible to be taken seriously as a brand without establishing a social media presence. This holds true in the food and beverage arena — brands are expected to communicate and connect with their consumers online through social media in order to stay relevant. According to Razorfish, 64% of consumers have made a first purchase from a brand because of a digital experience, and more than half of consumers use the internet before making a purchase in shops.
One St. Helena, Calif.-based winery, Whitehall Lane, understands the value and necessity of doing social media effectively. Katie Leonardini, vice president of retail sales for Whitehall Lane, created social media pages in 2008 and saw immediate benefits in the way these accounts allowed the brand to connect directly with its audience. She decided social media was worth the effort, and began a working relationship with The Abbi Agency to manage Whitehall Lane’s social media content.
We have worked with Whitehall Lane to hone its techniques to a tight-knit strategy and have grown social channels to a collective more than 12,000 fans. With Leonardini’s goals of quality customer engagement and retention in mind, we have developed countless campaigns and worked to strengthen the winery‘s social accounts. We’d like to share some best practices we’ve strived for in our social media success:
1. Learn and follow legal guidelines
First, and arguably most important, a company promoting alcohol-related products must learn the specific rules of what they are allowed to do online. Facebook has strict guidelines about promotion of alcohol, and requires posts about alcoholic products to be specifically targeted to an audience of a legal drinking age. The Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau does not allow us to give away any alcohol, or encourage engagement from those who are not of legal drinking age. These guidelines affect our daily social posting and overall strategy, but ignoring them would be detrimental to Whitehall Lane.
2. Encourage and use user-generated content
We’ve found that one of the most effective ways to connect with fans through Whitehall Lane’s social media is by highlighting authentic brand experiences with user-generated content. We use and repurpose content posted by Whitehall Lane customers almost daily to each of our outlets.
Before you can leverage user-generated content, you must find it. We started by establishing a clear brand hashtag that users could post to. To encourage use of our hashtag, we regularly host photo contests and work with Leonardini to offer non-alcoholic prizes, such as fun merchandise with Whitehall Lane’s logo. Sometimes these prizes will include tastings at the winery, other times we’ll work with another local business to give away a package or cookbook. We’ll also use Instagram locations to search through geo-tagged photos on Instagram and interact with people who have physically visited and tagged the winery. In reaching out to them, we’ll encourage them to participate in our hashtag and request explicit permission so we are able to share their content.
Once your audience begins to participate in providing photos and other content featuring your brand, share it everywhere! We re-share content from Whitehall Lane fans on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and even as blog content. It has allowed us to feature passionate fans of our brand while also highlighting real experiences of the wine and winery.
3. STOP. Collaborate and listen
While it seems counter-intuitive to use your online channels to promote other brands, we have found great success in partnerships on social media. By working with complementary brands that are either near Whitehall Lane geographically or have products that fit with the overall message, we have been able to grow our following and engagement through sharing targeted audiences.
One of our most successful social media campaigns has been #MerlotMe, which was created by a dozen Napa Valley wineries in 2013 to promote appreciation for Merlot. With many other brands and users interacting with the hashtag #MerlotMe, we were able to capitalize on our use of the tag to create unique, branded content that fit with the overall conversation.
4. Reward loyal fans
Whitehall Lane frequently hosts contests and giveaways through social media to increase user-generated content and newsletter databases. But, we also use these contests as a way to drive brand loyalty by rewarding faithful customers.
We have never aimed to drive high numbers of fans, but instead to grow a quality fan base of followers who genuinely like our brand. This mentality stems from Whitehall Lane’s overall brand identity, but also is extremely effective on social media. An intimate fan base gives us the ability to interact more with our followers and reward them for following us. And, a fan who we call out or award prizes to feels appreciated and is more likely to share our content. Win-win.
5. Know and find your audience
Whitehall Lane has a presence on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest and has engaged audiences on each of these platforms. To develop these fanbases, we’ve learned what type of audience we have on each platform and have tailored our content directly to each one. Before expanding to a new social media platform, brands must spend time researching demographics and popular content on new platforms. This will inform posting strategies and assist in fan base growth.
We are also always on the lookout for new places to reach our audience. Wine reviewing apps, such as Vivino and Delectable, have recently spiked in popularity, and we’ve worked them into our overall strategy. While we cannot directly respond to users on the apps, we search for Whitehall Lane reviews that have been shared through Twitter and thank users directly.
In our work with Whitehall Lane’s social media accounts over the last couple of years, The Abbi Agency has developed a cohesive strategy across social media channels. Through contesting, development of original content, fan interactions and our work with user-generated content, we’ve been able to grow the overall social following by more than 9,000 fans and create more than 60,000 genuine interactions with individuals.
Allegra Demerjian is the digital communications manager for The Abbi Agency, where she leads a digital team to create and implement cross-channel social media engagement strategies for brands. To keep up with her online happenings, follow her @allegradem.
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