Wineries tap social media in marketing

The owners of Kynsi Winery, like many others on the Central Coast, know social media has become an important business tool.

And while it’s free, finding the time to use it and knowing what approaches will work can be difficult.

“We don’t have a lot of staff,” owner Gwen Othman admitted. “We’re a small family winery. We have a blog, but it’s tough to keep up on.”

Kynsi has been experimenting with social media for about a year. Othman put her daughter, Kala Othman Fink, on the task because she’s more familiar with the technology.

“If we have events, we post pictures and post the event,” Othman said. “If we’re pouring a special wine or have a special on pinot — it does drive people to the tasting room to some degree.”

A winery’s presence on social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter should be an extension of its personality, said Christopher Taranto, marketing director for the Paso Robles Wine Country Alliance.

“Because wine is so much a conversation piece, it lends itself very well to these kinds of interactive social media tools,” he said. “It’s just a matter of figuring out how best to use them.”

A handful of larger businesses, including Justin Vineyards & Winery in Paso Robles, have been at the forefront locally of incorporating new technologies into their wine-marketing efforts.

“Most wineries are posting updates, especially as we come into harvest,” said Amber Eyerly, who oversees marketing and communications for Justin. “I think (social media) is an important part of the marketing mix. It gives your consumer a voice.”

Knowing how to promote a business in cyberspace is becoming a sought-after skill, said Marcy Eberle, who co-owns Eberle Winery and oversees its communications.

“It’s a new job category,” she said. “When you know somebody who knows how to do it, it’s very valuable.”

In many cases, several staffers — usually those who are more tech-savvy — share responsibilities for posting, allowing followers to hear different voices. Some hire outside consultants to do it.

At Eberle, office administrator Sheri Kennedy maintains the company’s social media presence. But Kennedy uses her iPhone to “blast” event reminders or glimpses of life in the vineyards and winery. If the winery hosts a free barbecue, for example, she’ll post something to friends and fans earlier the same day.

“The next thing you know, we’ve got a dozen people here who saw it from my phone,” she said. “It surprises me how many people actually see it.”

For those newer to the virtual world of social media — or those still struggling to find the right ways to use these technologies and websites — here are some tips from seasoned professionals:

Start slow. Be realistic about how much time you can devote, what type of content you can produce and commit to keeping it updated. Ask friends familiar with the sites for help. Most start with Facebook, which is more visual, flexible and intuitive to learn. Twitter limits postings to 140 characters, which leads to a shorthand that is alienating to some. With Facebook’s new check-in option, where customers can announce their arrival at events or locations to their own friends, check-in sites such as FourSquare are becoming passé.

Mix it up. Sharing different types of content keeps followers from getting bored and screening you out of their newsfeed. When every post reads like an ad or boasts about an award, people start to tune out. In addition to winery news and promotions, consider posting links to articles and recipes and events in the community or at nearby wineries. “If you’re too commercial,” Eyerly said, “people don’t want to be your fans.”

Offer exclusive discounts. Last Valentine’s Day, Kynsi advertised a “Pinot Pack” with three different pinot noirs at a 20 percent discount on Facebook. Some wineries that charge tasting fees offer discounts if visitors check in online.

Consider limitations. Many wineries in rural areas get little or no cellphone reception, making check-in options or access to online content difficult or impossible via smartphones. Hope Family Wines keeps an iPad in the tasting room, said Joel Peterson, director of communications. Visitors can use it to sign up for its wine club, look at Hope’s online photos and videos, and otherwise engage with its virtual presence right on site.

Encourage dialogue — and listen. Ask questions, respond to fan posts and invite feedback. Search sites to see what others are saying in public forums and on review sites. If someone complains, take it as an opportunity to educate everyone who reads it about the issue and how to resolve it.

“You’re not talking at people,” Eyerly stressed. “You’re talking with people and leaving room for people to converse with you.”

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