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Pairing wine with social media

Rick Bakas already had a strong social-media presence through his blog and Twitter account when he entered Murphy-Goode Winery’s “A Really Goode Job” contest, which promised the winner a six-month gig tweeting and blogging about wine for $10,000 a month and free rent in a Sonoma County home. Bakas made it to the final round of the contest before accepting the newly created position of director of social-media marketing at St. Supéry Winery of Napa Valley, Calif. SmartBrief editor Liz DeHoff caught up with Bakas to learn more about how he’s using social networks to promote St. Supéry.

How did you get started in social media?

My first experience with socializing with people online was in 1989 with a Usenet group called The Well. Then, when America Online came out while I was in college, I was one of the first 1,000 people to sign up for the service. Ever since then, I’ve been fascinated with the nodes of human connection online.

You already had a sizable Twitter and blog audience before taking the job at St. Supéry. What were some of the pros and cons of that?

We weren’t sure how it was going to work. My personal brand and the St. Supéry brand each needed to have their own audience. Luckily, my lifestyle and personal brand overlap with the St. Supéry brand message, so they’re almost one in the same. If I was doing social media in a different industry, it wouldn’t be as easy to create content. So far, there hasn’t been any downside to having an established presence online. It’s worked out very well because I have built a level of trust with the same audience most wineries would want to reach.

What is the goal behind tastings such as the upcoming #Chardonnay worldwide event on May 6, which emphasize region or grape rather than a brand? How does St. Supéry benefit from these events?

Craig Drollett of TasteLive.com really brought the online wine-tasting idea to Twitter successfully. I liked the concept of getting people together at once to connect over a single subject or grape. The participants for #TTL (Twitter Taste Live) tastings seem to be people who are in the wine business either as bloggers or retailers, and it’s the same people each time. Because of that, #TTL’s growth leveled off.

With the community tastings such as #CaliCabs and #SauvBlanc, I wanted to engage people outside the wine industry who are the consumers actually buying wine. By organizing tastings on Twitter (rather than a third-party site), it allows for broader participation. #CaliCabs saw 350 tweeters participating, followed by #SauvBlanc which had almost 600 tweeters around the world participating.

For St. Supéry, we put a high level of emphasis on being educators and good citizens of the wine world. We have an indirect way of getting results. We don’t go into it thinking, “If I do A, then B will happen.” We look at the bigger picture and realize that if we do A, F, M and T, then our efforts come back twofold. In the social space, you are rewarded for being unselfish. This mindset is the No. 1 reason my personal brand and the St. Supéry brand have built influence.

Wine clubs are key to many wineries’ bottom line. How are your social-media efforts helping the St. Supéry wine club?

Average wine-club attrition for most wineries is around 3% to 6% per month. Since I started in August, our attrition rate dropped to less than 1%. Part of that is most likely because we put customer service at the top of our social-media strategy “to-do” list. Whether you visit the winery in person, or connect with the St. Supéry brand online, you will get the same high level of service.

St. Supéry was founded and is owned by the Skalli family of southern France. From day one, they’ve cared about people and place. That company culture extends through to wine drinkers and wine-club members. We really are about them like they are members of our winery family.

You use both Facebook and Twitter. Is there a difference in the quality and depth of interaction with your followers on the different platforms? Do you find they give you access to different audiences?

I have a book coming out in a little over a month called “Quick Bites: 75 Savory Tips For Social Media Success.” In it, I talk about social-media brand synergy, using Oprah as the example. First, Oprah had her TV show, then she added her book club. When she added the magazine, her brand experienced brand synergy. Each channel serves a different purpose.

With online social-media strategy, I view the blog as the centerpiece (Oprah’s TV show). Facebook and Twitter (and YouTube) are like the book club and magazine — they’re vehicles to extend the brand. Facebook and Twitter each provide different levels of intimacy and interaction. We use these social portals as ways to care about our wine drinkers, but the relationships look different.

Has St. Supéry seen sales/visits increase since you took over its social-media efforts, or is it too early to tell?

I always say social-media strategy is like planting vines. You don’t get fruit right away, but if you nurture the vines organically, they will eventually produce results year-over-year. We are moving out of the first phase of our SM strategy into a phase where we are going to start answering this question. We’re just now starting to get the fruits of our labor.

How can social media help wineries weather the recession, especially the downturn in premium wine sales?

Take the buzzword “social media” out of it and call it what it really is — people talking to each other over the Internet. For wineries, there are consumers out there who want to talk to you. Fish where the fish are.

People make buying decisions based on two of three things — price, service or quality. Social media won’t replace other marketing channels; it compliments them. Many of the tools are free to use, but it takes time, lots of someone’s time, to use the social channels to build a digital footprint.

Consumers are still buying wine, even at higher price points. They are more likely to spend their hard-earned dollars on a brand they trust. I’d suggest wineries have a personality — a face and a voice online. Who are the people behind the brand? Connecting with that personality is how trust is built.

Image credit, Yasonya, via Shutterstock