Social Media and wine, a logical intersection. Yesterday, I had someone call me for a quote about an online tasting that Catavino will be hosting, inquiring “how can wine and the internet work together, they are so different?” I responded by saying that the internet is a communication tool, and wine inspires communication. Thus they are a perfect combination. Today, social wine sites are popping up right and left. This combined with the social dynamics of wine blogs, ends up making for a rich landscape of wine conversations. Some are professional in style, while others are dialogs among amateur wine lovers. For a winery trying to figure out how to interact with all these new outlets of communication, it can be a daunting endevour.
Enter Vintank, “…VinTank is a specialized development firm that forms a unique bridge between high technology and the wine industry…” Part of this bridge includes the goal of releasing white papers on new online technology that relates to wine.
To ensure that we are keeping in alignment with understanding the best opportunities for wine related and technology companies, Vintank will be releasing a series of analytical whitepapers as well as “The Pulse” – a series of tactical reports that analyzes the immediate impact of technology and Internet trends and developments that impact the wine industry.
A few weeks ago, they released their largest effort to date: the Vintank Social Media Report (direct download link). Over 80 pages of analysis on select wine social networks, and a quick peek at the effects of wine bloggers on the wine world. Before we give our views, we will say that if you are in the wine world, this document is a must read. While we have found some issues with the report as a whole, I do think it is worth reading. And it’s a great first step to mapping the social wine landscape.
I rather not get into rehashing the report here. Therefore, I suggest you go download it, read it and then leave your feedback at the bottom of this post. My intention is to make a few points that I hope will give this report context, while adding some additional suggestions. Before I do though, I must make one thing clear, Catavino Marketing works with European Wineries, and retailers almost exclusively. So our analysis will focus on the value that European wine professionals can take from this report. Also to full disclosure, we work closely with Adegga.com and consider the developers close friends.
- First off, this is a report for the American wine industry, or those that sell wine within America. It is completely US market focused, and while there are many points and bits of information for wine professionals around the world, it is not meant for someone in the UK to consider what they should be doing when crafting an online social media strategy. This is most obvious with the inclusion of Gary Vaynerchuck as a primary “social network” and the statement, “In the wine social network arena, there is no person more powerful or influential across ALL networks than Gary Vaynerchuck”. In the US market, this is a very true statement.
Also with the exception of the social tasting note site Adegga.com, all other analyzed networks user bases are heavily US based (average user base of 60%+ US visits). I say this because in our view, the phenomenon of Social Tasting Note sites have not fully penetrated the European consumer markets as of yet. There is a movement towards this, though at present, it is not a major force.
Also no non US focused social wine networks were included in the report apart from Adegga.com. Others that should be mentioned are: Vinoo, Vinix, Wine-Pages, and Verema. Both Verema in Spain, and Wine-Pages forums in the UK, have a marked impact on wine sales in their respective regions, though they both lack any 2.0 charm. I understand that this report is for the American market, and that evaluating the effectiveness of an Italian social network is not of great value to the US wine professional, but the report does state on the front page “The state of Wine Industry Social Media”, a statement that should be changed to “The state of American Wine Industry in Social Media”. While this may be obvious, the report has more value when labeled correctly so that wine professionals can better understand how to interpret it.
I make these points because we as global wine community need a global picture and at this point, we only have a US picture. I hope that future versions include a broader perspectives, or that other companies globally step up to tackle some of the areas lacking in this first attempt at a comprehensive Social Wine Picture.
- What this report does do well is break down the various leading Social tasting note sites which include Snooth, Adegga, Cellartracker, and in their opinion VinCellar. Cork’d was included, a network purchased by Gary Vaynerchuck, though with little in the way of influence from what I can tell, and their report reflects this. With so much Spam in the wine database, this appears to be included only because Gary owns it.
Also Winelog.net was included, though from the summary given in the report this seems to have been more of a bid to help Winelog find a buyer. Their numbers and activity levels are pretty low, and while not that interestint currently, they do have a nice platform that someone could take advantage of.
So looking at the big 4, I would have to say that the only one I am confused about is Vincellar. While a lovely application, with beautiful design and tons of potential, I can’t seem to figure out why it along with Cellartracker were given the “highly recommended” stamp of approval. From Vintanks own words Vincellar seems to be lacking in many “social aspects”: “Tasting notes are anemic…”, “…many users were not active…”, “Not enough grouping or friending abilities…”, “Not enough focus on common the[sic] wine drinker”. This last point being most relevant in my mind. If you are a wine collector, or auction wine buyer, I do think Vincellar is second to none, and I would highly recommend it myself. It I didn’t already use three other wine sites, and had a cellar over 200bottles deep, I would also use this application for cellar management, as it is second to none. But as a producer, or retailer selling wines to the average consumer, I see no/very little value in expending energy on this site. Haut Brion should be there for sure! Torres on the other hand might want to focus on sites with more robust user bases, and that target the non-collecter.
I don’t mean to beat up on Vincellar, I like the site a lot, and think they are doing a great job, I just question their high rating in a “Wine Industry Social Media” report. If they are grading on potential than the mark is merited. But if potential is what they are being rated on, Adegga.com might also gain the highly recommended stamp.
That said the report has been and should be read carefully by all sites that were analyzed. Vintank offers for the most part great suggestions for all platforms, and with only a couple exceptions their insight on what is lacking in each platform is spot on.
- Finally blogging, the white elephant in the room, has recently been getting cheap pot shots by various main stream journalists as of late. I had thought this report was going to have more information on wineblogging and its influence on wine sales. But in the end, this section ended up being rather anemic, focusing on broad generalizations. I understand that the Vintank crew realizes this, and admits that the whole report became a bigger project than first anticipated. But I can still hope that we see more information in the near future. According to a note in the report, they were unable to get good information from many bloggers due to various reasons.
There is one important quote I want to highlight from the blogging section:
Wine bloggers in aggregate may be more powerful than traditional online outlets but are so fragmented in ideologies, practices, and goals that creating a unified marketing and PR plan almost[sic] impossible.
This is very true, and I hope that wine bloggers can work to find a way to aggregate our power better. One step might be better defining who we are and what we do, by setting up types of wine blogs and setting some basic definitions for each type, an excercise I fear would be less effective than cat herding on the open plains. In this way wineries might find better ways to communicate with the community. Hopefully the EWBC and WBC are events that can help make this happen in some way.
Finally, the blog report is a briefly followed with the question “Should a winery blog”, and the answer is that a winery blog “…is last on the list of marketing tactics…”. Something I have to say we whole heartedly disagree with. Primarily for the simple reason that not all blogs are created equally. Winery blogs do not need to be updated in the same way as a “wine blogger” might, and they can add depth and richness to any winery site, while at the same time, helping out for free with SEO on your main domain. One of my favorite winery blogs, Perrin et Fils, primarily is only updated during the harvest (though as of late, they are posting more regularly) showing the consumer an important part of the wine making year. For us, a winery blog should have a strategy, and this strategy should reflect the amount of time you have to dedicate to writing. Even a few posts a year can really help a consumer to connect with your winery, much more than a static page of winery details. Not every winery should blog, but a winery blog as part of your initial marketing campaign is not a irrational move.
So having been somewhat critical so far, we do want to stress that this report is very useful. Some of the key points to look at include:
- Data Cleanliness – No matter who you are, if you have the time almost all these networks should be looked at by wineries to see how their wines are being represented. The “Data Cleanliness” stat is very telling and a good gauge for where to start your searches!
- User Numbers – Notoriously hard to evaluate and judge, but I do think the information given is a nice snapshot at what the online social wine landscape looks like.
- The “Big Boys” - Vintank does provide a nice recap of the benefits of Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, all of which are becoming more and more relevant to the online wine world. Read these chapters closely bearing in mind that statements like “Any professional in the wine industry…” actually means, “Any professional in the American Wine Industry…” Turns out the group in LinkedIn called “Direct to Consumer Symposium Group” has nothing to do with the European market.
In the end, this is a must read for all wine professionals, if for no other reason than to show that the convergence of the internet and wine is the future. You can fight it, but the momentum is there, wine consumption is being shaped by online communities and publishers. Thank you Vintank for sticking your neck out and attempting something that is needed first step on a long road.