First insights on Social Media Usage by the Ontario Wine Industry (3)

Here comes the third post regarding the research conducted by Gerry Davies on behalf of Vineland Research and Innovation Centre. As a reminder, the main objective was to portray the usage and perspectives of Social Media marketing by Ontario wineries. The first post gave an overview of the Ontario landscape versus the rest of the world, the second disclosed the main findings of the quantitative online survey performed and for which a 50% response rate was obtained.  Today we are investigating what the follow-up interviews brought as additional insights.

The first thing we discovered when talking to winery owners and marketing directors was how much disparity exists between them — in terms of knowledge, goals, strategies, and adoption levels. We found new wineries who were heavy adopters and huge advocates of both Facebook and Twitter, and we found established wineries that had just recently adopted Facebook, and were struggling to figure out how to use it to their advantage. What follows is a synopsis of the results of our interviews, broken down into the following 10 topics:

a.  Benefits
b.  Challenges and learning curve
c.  Tracking effectiveness
d.  Resource use
e.  Platforms
f.  Content and goals
g.  Brand tracking
h.  Influencers
i.   Demographic targets
j.   Words of Wisdom

a. Benefits

The number one response to the question of benefits of SM was: “building brand loyalty and awareness”. Based on these responses, it appears that most wineries believe that SM is a communications tool, to be used to reach out to customers and potential customers, and tell them about their winery and wines — not a direct sales or product marketing vehicle. The second most common benefit mentioned was the ability to distribute information rapidly, while “cost effectiveness“, “building loyalty” and “giving customers ownership of the brand” were also mentioned. A couple admitted, however, that they were unable to define its benefits at this point.

b. Challenges and learning curve

When we asked our interviewees why they adopted SM, the replies fell into two groups. Some saw the potential of the medium as a low-cost and very effective communications tool and embraced it, while others saw it as more of a necessity — use it or be left behind. When asked about the challenges they faced in launching their SM strategies, most respondents said the same thing: Their biggest challenge was making the commitment and sticking to it. They acknowledged that, while the cost to establish a social media presence in virtually nothing, there is a price to be paid in terms of time commitments and prioritization. Some mentioned the challenge of convincing other staff of the benefits of adopting SM, and all admitted to facing a learning curve of some sort — with Twitter often being singled out as the more difficult to understand platform (as opposed to Facebook).

c. Tracking Effectiveness

More than half of our interviewees admitted that they track their social media traffic. However, their techniques varied significantly, with some simply tracking things like Facebook hits and “likes”, others using Google analytics and alerts, and others utilizing more sophisticated methods — like using webpage visitor tracking functions to see where they came from (Facebook or Twitter page). By tracking the origins of visitors who came to their site against their activities on the site (specifically online purchases and email list sign ups), some correlation could be made between SM and sales.
Wineries who didn’t track were either unsure how to do it, needed to update their website to accommodate more sophisticated tracking functions, or simply weren’t concerned — either because they felt it was too early in the game, or they believed in the long-term benefits of being engaged in SM and saw no need to try to quantify it.

Effective tracking methods will be discussed in the last post, the recommendations section.

d. Resource Use

We asked our interviewees both about their current level of SM resources, and their future plans. About their current situation, most said the same thing — it’s not a huge resource commitment, but it requires constant involvement. A general observation was that the more active a winery is on their Facebook and Twitter pages, the more responses they got. None of the wineries we spoke to had a full-time person dedicated to SM, but rather that it was part of the daily duties of one or more people at the winery.
This was another common theme — having more than one person responsible for producing SM content. The obvious benefit is that the responsibilities and workload are shared, and they all seemed to have a system worked out to effectively distribute the load. In some cases, all parties contributed to the same Facebook site, following common guidelines about tone, message and content, and discussing posts among themselves, while other wineries divided up the content based on that person’s role in the winery. For instance, the winemaker might post about vineyard conditions or a recent barrel tasting, while the marketing director posts about things like new releases, events, awards, and restaurants carrying the wine. This last technique, however, was viewed as more appropriate to Twitter, which is seen as a more personal platform than Facebook.

As for future resource increases, some wineries weren’t sure yet, others were happy with what they were doing, and focussed more on improving and raising the effectiveness of their current strategy, while yet others had definite plans for the future. Among those, a number cited improvements to their website to better integrate it with their SM presence (FB and Twitter links, tracking, automatic forwarding of tweets and Facebook posts to the website), while others were looking at new forms of content such as video. One winery’s focus was on increased collaboration among area wineries, other local tourism operators, and the Wine Council of Ontario.

e. Platforms

We asked our interviewees about their use of each of the platforms they were on. Most of the discussion was on Facebook versus Twitter, as these were the only platforms most of them used, and, while they all used Facebook, some did not use Twitter.

While there was some commonality in posting themes between the two platforms, most wineries saw the two platforms as entirely different tools — each with a distinct function, audience and demands. Generally, Twitter was viewed as a way to get news and information out quickly, and a way to stay connected to wine and food conversations taking place among those highly involved in wine and culinary — both professionals and fans. The potential for a positive comment about a wine to be retweeted to potentially thousands of followers is a huge benefit for a winery looking to raise its profile. This rapid flow of information was also seen as Twitter’s main drawback, since staying active and visible, as well as keeping up with a constant flow of posts can quickly become a huge time issue.

Facebook, on the other hand, was viewed as a more static presence, requiring less frequent updating and monitoring than Twitter. Where wineries saw speed in Twitter, they saw depth in Facebook — a place where more time could be taken in crafting messages and responses, and where they would remain for people to see. In addition, the wide range of content which Facebook users are able to post made it attractive, as did its easier learning curve.
A common theme seemed to be that most wineries adopted Facebook first, as it was easier to understand. However, once they had mastered Twitter, they came to see it as the more beneficial of the two platforms.
Some wineries definitely preferred one over the other, based on their own philosophy of not only who they were seeking to connect with, but also the time commitment they were willing to make. Some had a clear-cut idea of who they wanted to interact with, and what platform they were on, while others weren’t so sure. In the end, all agreed that Twitter requires a more continuous commitment than Facebook.

As for other platforms, a couple of wineries were on LinkedIn, but both acknowledged that the benefit of it was in strictly business-to-business communication and networking. One winery was on Foursquare, however they stated that in the six months or so that they were on it, only eight people had “checked in”. A few used YouTube infrequently to post videos, and a couple had blogs, which they saw mainly as a vehicle for passing on product information and knowledge.

f. Content and Goals

When asked about what specifically they posted, our respondents all typically said the same things: Winery news and upcoming events, awards, new releases, re-posts of reviews and articles, and information on local events. Other typical posts included locations where their wines were available, or directing enquiries to their website — their sales channel.
Wineries’ SM goals were very closely related to their perceived benefits of it. Some saw it as a vehicle to promote events — drawing visitors to the winery, others saw it as a way to spread the word about their brand, direct people to their website, or give their customers and fans a personal connection to the winery and its people.

g. Brand Tracking

About half of our respondents admitted that they actively track their brand on line. Like tracking effectiveness however, methods and levels vary.

Some used active internet tracking software such as Hootsuite, which can search multiple SM platforms and blogs for keywords (eg. the winery name or wine brand), while others simply did manual Google searches of their brand from time to time. For those who regularly sought out conversations about their brand, their goal in engaging people was to keep the conversation about their brand flowing and show a reciprocal interest in posters, or to solicit feedback on their wines.

Those who didn’t track indicated that they either didn’t know how, didn’t have time, or simply weren’t aware of the concept.

h. Influencers

Again, knowledge of the concept of social media influencers wasn’t universal. Most wineries had an ongoing relationship with some of the popular wine writers and critics, and understood the benefit of people spreading the word about their wines through SM, however some had no knowledge of any of the popular and widely followed Ontario bloggers and influencers, such as Suresh Doss of and Angela Aiello, founder of the very popular iyellow wine club. Other wineries, however, were active followers of their blogs and tweets, and engaged with them on a regular basis (and had hosted them at their winery).

i. Demographic Targets

When asked about target demographic groups who their SM campaigns were directed at, responses fell broadly into three categories:

  1. Those who didn’t have a specific target (for SM campaign or for their wines in general)
  2. Those who saw SM as another vehicle to target their winery’s existing customer demographic (usually 35 y.o. +), and
  3. Those who perceived SM users to be primarily under 35 y.o., and were targeting them, either with their existing products, or new ones specifically designed to appeal to that group.

As was mentioned in the survey analysis, the consensus was that SM use is highest among those in their 20’s and drops off as age increases, indicating a bit of a strategic disconnect between some wineries’ target customer demographic and their perceived SM audience.

j. Words of Wisdom

We asked our respondents for their personal philosophies and approaches to SM, as well as any advice they could impart to a winery just getting started in social media. Lastly, they were asked if they had any other comments. The results of their responses have been included in the recommendations section, but in general, the overall opinion of our interviewees towards social media is very positive, with each winery adapting this new technology to their own individual mission, values, and level of comfort. Among their final comments and words of advice were the following:

  •  Commit to it and stick with it
  •  It’s about conversation — be a real person out there and keep it casual
  •  It’s free — use it to your advantage
  •  Research and don’t be afraid to ask for advice
  •  People love to talk about wine (and food) — it’s a natural thing
  •  Be accommodating, thank people, and make them feel important
  • Be professional and focused
  •  Promote your industry, your local wine-making community, and your tourism region

Tomorrow will end the series on this fascinating study by proposing recommendations to enhance wineries SM strategies. Your feedback and comments are always welcome.


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