Since we made friends with Tom on Myspace in 2003, the social media beast has grown in ways many could never have imagined or predicted.
Pick up your phone. Scroll through your home screen. I’ll bet good money there’s a Facebook icon there somewhere. And probably one for Twitter too. And maybe Instagram. If you’re a bit more advanced, you’ll also have Snapchat, Tumblr, Periscope and Swarm. How many times a day do you check your Facebook feed? Your Twitter mentions and WhatsApp account? Or post something on Instagram?
We’re more interconnected than ever – and of course the big business marketing machine cottoned on to this long ago. It spawned an entire new field – digital marketing – incorporating platforms supposedly meant for social interaction between friends and online acquaintances to sell, sell, sell. YouTube channels, Twitter campaigns, Facebook metrics and hashtags – they’re all designed to get you to buy into the brand and product on a personal level. It’s called brand loyalty and when done right, it can pay the bills.
It’s also an approach to marketing that has firmly taken root in the local wine industry. Unsurprisingly, as a product, wine is almost permanently entrenched in social settings of all types. Whether someone is having a day out in the winelands or sipping a glass of red by the fireplace, odds are the moment will be shared.
On Instagram a search for #wine shows 26 328 621 posts (and counting), #winetasting has racked up 2 130 271 posts and #winetime 1 407 414. Of course winemakers, marketers and merchants try to tap into this sea of potential customers.
At the heart of it, social media is about sharing information, which is basically what marketing in any form does. Anyone who’s active on social media channels shares their thoughts, feelings, whereabouts and goings-on with the world.
Digital wine marketing does the same, but for a wine brand: This is where we’re from, this is where we grow our vines, this is what makes us special. The major difference between this and more traditional channels is that we – the wine drinkers – can now interact with the brand. There’s also a key difference between being talked at and having a conversation with that immediately changes the dynamics of a relationship. The latter creates a connection, the former is merely a notification.
But we’re still looking at wide concepts and vague applications. Part of the problem locally is the lack of focus and set goals for social media adoption and strategy. The term “social media” stretches across a wide range of tools and channels and is accompanied by a bewildering cloud of buzzwords such as SEO, viral, infographics, engagement, exposure, native advertising (basically paid-for content, such as lifestyle bloggers getting paid to rave about wines or experiences they get for free), page views and impressions and influencer marketing.
Many wine estates and brands are ready to take the plunge into digital marketing but don’t quite know where to start or what their aim is. Is it brand building? Communication with customers? Do we focus on getting more people interested in our wine? Are we chasing sales? More importantly, measuring the success of these goals is murky and undefined. The metrics are there to measure and analyse, but they can be confusing, for instance what is the difference between website visitors, visits and page views; SEO and SEM; cost-per-click and pay-per-click. The fact that this form of marketing is based on platforms individuals use every day for fun often creates the erroneous perception that anyone can do it.
So what is the current state of social media in the South African wine industry? Truthfully, it’s a mixed bag with a lot of contributions of varying quality. Wineries that invest in well thought out strategies that are tailored to their offerings and have clear, specific goals in mind are the ones that are doing best. They choose a small number of platforms to focus on and ensure content for each is created to purposefully enhance the quality of the communications, and not just copied across each platform. Often they partner with reputable agencies to achieve maximum focus, but it can also be done in-house with the right people.
On the flip side, there are a number of so-called social media “experts” who promise astronomical results despite not having adequate skills to achieve these lofty goals, leaving the client with nothing more than a mediocre Facebook page.
Between these two extremes you find the majority of social media efforts producing varying degrees of success.
In theory social media should work well as a supplementary marketing tool for local wine. Wine tourism is a booming business which taps into a constant stream of international travellers, many sharing their experiences online. Our local wine drinkers and buyers are plugged into all the right platforms. Looking at the offerings in the winelands, the content basically creates itself, from endlessly Instagrammable views to wines worthy of the highest Vivino ratings.
We just need to be savvier about the approach. To be an effective tool, social media should be used like a laser, not a shotgun.