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Interview: Rick Bakas on Social Media and Wineries
by Terry Sullivan

Earlier this year, Wine Trail Traveler (WTT) conducted an email interview with Rick Bakas, Director of Social Media at St. Supery Winery in Rutherford California, about the use of social media by wineries.

WTT: What are the benefits for wineries to use social media?
Rick Bakas: Let’s take the buzz word, “social media” out and call it what it really is—people talking to each other.  The ways in which consumers interact with a brand are changing in all industries, especially the wine industry.  Any company with customers or customer service will benefit from having a presence on social platforms online.  It allows wineries to have a more intimate relationship with wine drinkers and their customers.
     That one-on-one interaction is so much more powerful than the traditional way of selling wine, which was usually a one-way conversation.  By empowering your customers to be heard, it allows you to show your customers that you care about them as an individual person rather than part of a demographic.  That in turn creates a higher level of trust in your customer’s minds.

WTT: Do wineries need to hire someone for meeting their social media needs?
Rick Bakas: There really needs to be a person who is dedicated to leading the social media strategy, but it’s a team sport. Having someone in-house is a good idea because they’ll be entrusted to represent the winery brand online.  You can outsource the social media strategy, but keep in mind if you ever part ways with that company, you don’t want to have your brand tarnished.
     Managing the social media presence is very time consuming to be done right.  Some of the more progressive companies now have dedicated teams of social media people who interact with customers one on one.  Comcast, Cisco, American Express, United Airlines, Starbucks and Dell among others realized early on this was a necessity, not an option.

WTT: What are the best forms (Twitter, Facebook, blog etc.) for wineries?
Rick Bakas: Wherever your customers are is a good place to start.  Chances are they’re on Twitter and Facebook.

WTT: Talk about the monthly Tweetups. Do wineries benefit? Do wine enthusiasts benefit?
Rick Bakas: The tweetups have been a great way to connect with people in person.  We use the social channels as a way to extend the conversation.  We call it putting the ‘social’ in social media.  Right now it’s fun for us and fun for wine drinkers because it’s such a new thing. Almost every tweetup I’m at, someone will say it’s their first time doing a tweetup.

WTT: Is there a point at which social media will become so saturated with wineries using it that it will become meaningless?
Rick Bakas: No.  This is the new way business is done for most businesses and wineries going forward.  It’s not going to be a choice, it’s going to be a necessity.  Any winery with customers will find it’s not meaningless.

WTT: At the recent Drink Local Wine conference held in Virginia, Lenn Thompson, of the New York Cork Report stated that wineries should not be blogging since their blogs turn out to be just press releases. What is your opinion about winery blogs?
Rick Bakas: Blogs are an important thing to have, but they shouldn’t be used for press releases.  There’s pitchengine.com for that.  I used Oprah as an example for social media brand synergy.  Oprah had her TV show, then added her book club and her magazine.  Once she had all three of those channels, her brand experienced synergy where they feed off each other.
      Think of your blog as the TV show, and Twitter or Facebook are like the book club and magazine.
I see blogs as the launch pad for content.  Today’s blogs are designed to be highly viral where any post can be shared across the social web via various tools.  Blog about things that wine drinkers would be interested in like recipes, vineyard photos, winemaker videos, etc...  Over time the synergy will expand your brand’s reach.


Conclusions:

A winery's use of social media isn't a question of should we or shouldn't we. Social media is now a necessity. Wineries should assemble a team and devote time to identify and meet social media goals and efforts. Social media is here to stay and is quickly becoming a new way to do business.

If you do not have a presence on Twitter, this article will have you up and running in minutes.


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