Such tweet wine

A few weeks back an American bloke, Rick Bakas, wandered around Australian wine regions looking like he couldn’t believe his own good luck. Feted by the media and trade, Bakas sipped his way through the Hunter, Barossa and Yarra valleys, leading a series of global Tweet-ups.

He’s a guru, apparently, billed by Wine Communicators of Australia Inc as “one of the world’s foremost social media experts” and “a leader in wine communications in the digital age”.

The hype set off our sceptometer. But it also kindled our curiosity. Could social media, especially Twitter, really help take Australian wine to the world ­– or even to other Australians?

The answer, say several wineries and marketers, is yes, definitely. But like any facet of marketing, to succeed it needs to be part of a structure that ultimately delivers people what they want.

An instigator of the “Tweet-ups”, Trish Barry, of Mastermind Consulting, views the Bakas visit as a catalyst, fusing together a train of international activity. Importantly, says Barry, the activities led directly to sales of Hunter, Barossa and Yarra wines across the USA and sparked a possibly long tail of enquiries about these unique regional specialties.

Since creating awareness of Australian regional wine styles is the industry’s holy grail (major export markets know little or nothing of Australian wine regions) the value of this sort of activity could be significant.

Barry says the raw figures of the Tweet-ups tell only part of the story. It’s impressive that 2.92 million people followed the tour on Twitter. And it’s impressive, too, that 1,022 individuals tweeted 6,381 times.

But the true marketing success story lies in how Bakas and the Australian organisers lined up their ducks – who they recruited to the cause and, of crucial importance, their involvement of American retailer, Wholefood Markets.

They recruited Bakas, says Barry, because of his reach and influence among wine drinkers in the USA. Importantly, Bakas’s 50,000 Twitter followers and 5,000 Facebook friends included a number of other influential Twitterers and bloggers.

With help from Bakas and other sources, the Australian team identified then recruited several influential digital commentators – bypassing mainstream wine critics, including the influential Robert M. Parker. They then sent samples of regional wines and tasting notes in preparation for the Australian tastings.

Bakas also helped bring Wholefood Markets to the party. Unlike Australia’s large liquor retailers, says Barry, Wholefoods embraces social media. And with 1.8 million Twitter followers and 500 thousand Facebook friends, they began promoting Yarra, Barossa and Hunter wines ahead of the tweet-ups down under.

Barry says the retail connection completed the cycle: producers brought wines to the regional tastings and the tweets flowed freely. The tweets created interest in the regions and wines. And wine drinkers interested in the regions were able to buy at Wholefood outlets.

The tour lasted about two weeks. But the tweet-ups and associated master classes on YouTube continue to generate enquiries direct to producers from American retailers, restaurants and consumers, says Barry – setting the scent for long-term commercial connections.

Barry laments the absence of a major retailer in the Australian social-media scene. She says last year’s rose revolution – a Twitter campaign led by De Bortoli and joined by eighty wineries, including five from Canberra – created significant consumer interest in high-quality, dry roses.

The increased consumer interest drove significant sales in participating wineries and restaurants. De Bortolis reportedly sold a year’s supply in three months. But retailers missed the opportunity, probably disappointing some of their customers as well.

Jennie Mooney, the marketing voice of Canberra’s Capital Wines, says Twitter delivers huge benefits for her business. In a recent Wine Business Monthly article, she tore into Professor Larry Lockshin, head of UniSA’s marketing school, for his article, “Anti-social media”, published in the October 2010 edition.

Mooney says Lockshin had argued that Twitter was mainly about the trade talking to each other. It was therefore a substitute for traditional communications channels and not good for generating new buyers.

Mooney countered this with, “I’m trade and I buy wine – don’t other wineries buy wine too? I have also made a lot of friends on Twitter. Wineries, restaurants and others right across Australia; right across the world actually! By getting to know restaurateurs via Twitter, we are not just another winery making cold calls to their restaurant.

Most of our stockists came from Twitter – certainly all of our interstate restaurants, our east coast distributor and our Western Australian distributor are all new buyers due to Twitter. As well as trade, we have lots of consumers buying our wine and new members in our cellar club. I have sent our wine to people around the world and am in the process of talking to several potential distributors regarding export. October sales from Twitter were just over 3 pallets, which is significant for a small winery like ours”.

Mooney also talks at length of the power Twitter gives her to build direct relationships and trust with customers – and in the turn the direct voice this gives to her customers. These sentiments were echoed, too, by David Brookes, marketing manager of Teusner Wines, Barossa Valley, and Leanne De Bortoli, a principal of De Bortoli, Yarra Valley.

These wineries all agree, too, that Twitter isn’t a magic bullet. It’s just part of the marketing mix. For a tiny winery like Capital Wines, it’s a big part of the mix; and for a large operator like De Bortoli, a small but growing part.

Several marketers and wineries also agreed that Twitter leans more to business than private use, though many individuals participate by following others or tweeting their own views.

Trish Barry says the average age of Twitter users is 39 and users tend to be people who were early adopters of Facebook. One recent estimate, based on Google analysis, puts the number of active, unique Twitter users in Australia at 1.1 million – far short of our 9.4 million Facebook users.

This suggests the majority of readers of this column use Facebook but few use Twitter. In all likelihood, then, most of us missed all the recent chirping from the Barossa, Yarra and Hunter valleys. But whether we tweet or not, it’s there, it’s growing and it gives us direct access to people who grow and make wine for us.

@ChateauShanahan

Copyright © Chris Shanahan 2011

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