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Our communication is changing rapidly. If wineries and retailers want to reach many customers today, they can no longer do without social networks. But Alexander Lupersböck found out from Isabel Kottmann whether this is the right way for every winery. She is working on a study as assistant professor for international wine marketing at the University of Geisenheim.

An entire generation bears the name of a social network: Generation Insta, also known as Generation Z - born around the year 2000 and raised with the smartphone. This generation uses social media not only for communication, but increasingly for self-expression, self-marketing and as a basis for business. Instagram is considered the young people's platform to hunt for "likes" and "followers" - people who react positively to a post, subscribe to accounts and follow them. Some already earn a lot of money with their posts as "influencers" who are influential in their target group.

In order to analyse the potential of these no longer entirely new sales channels - called social commerce - the Weincampus Neustadt (Palatinate) University of Applied Sciences is working on a three-year study. It will run until mid-2023, so final results will be a long time coming. But one thing is already clear: "Particularly for the marketing of goods with emotional experiences such as wine, the constant exchange with wine experts, other consumers and friends represents an important component of the customer experience. Consequently, social commerce as a channel that promotes this interaction could develop into an important marketing and sales approach of the future", those responsible for the study write in the introduction.

The study leaders, Professor Dr. Laura Ehm and Monika Dumler, recently published survey data from the summer of 2021. According to this, nine out of ten of the 383 wineries surveyed rate a professional social media account as extremely or very important to somewhat important. Instagram, Facebook and YouTube are rated as important and sustainable - in contrast to Clubhouse, Telegram, Snapchat and Xing. The posting frequency among the respondents currently ranges between once a week and fortnightly. The majority of businesses are rarely active on their social media platforms several times a week. More than half work intuitively, i.e. without any content planning or strategy. Only one third evaluates the data to systematically measure the success of the posts. If a winery has no external professional support, those responsible spend a maximum of five hours a week working with social media.

(Source: weincampus Neustadt/Digitalisation of wine marketing/Downloads)

With wine, there is a strong focus on trust

Isabel Kottmann emphasises that the advantage of social commerce is the well-known recommendation marketing. "Especially the topic of wine has a high inhibition threshold for many people because it is considered elitist. That's why people rely heavily on trust, on recommendations from other people. These can be friends and acquaintances - but also influencers who are given credibility." It is therefore very important, he says, to regularly post content that is really interesting or humorous for followers - and not just bottles and jars. "Customers want to find added value," Kottmann emphasises, "and that distinguishes the lovelessly made accounts from those that convey that they are concerned with their topics and involve their potential customers. They ask themselves what their followers are looking for, what interests them, how they perceive wine. They ask questions like: 'Which of our wines would you drink for Christmas? Which of our new label designs do you like best?' A little quiz or questions like that allow interaction and are more than just sprinkling photos." After all, the time users spend on a first impression is only a fraction of a second. After that, they immediately move on to the next posting. What is not interesting disappears from the screen just as quickly.

Lack of analysis

It is also important to understand the algorithms behind it, so that the networks prefer one's own posts and suggest them to other users. At some point, this could become a matter of course. With a business account, you can track and analyse the profiles of your users: Which people follow me, where do they live, how old are they, are they male or female. "If you use this, you can get to know your potential customers well and target them even before they come to my farm. And I can also evaluate the visit in context," Kottmann explains. Interaction on social media thus allows for cost-effective, international market research. Because: "Whoever follows my account is also interested - whether they know me personally or not. This means that I've got my target group very well mapped out. So you have the chance to tap into new customer groups that you wouldn't have got otherwise - and you can introduce these new interested parties to your product."

The caravan moves on

You often hear that Facebook has long been a medium for older people and that youthful dynamics only take place on Instagram. Isabel Kottmann takes a differentiated view: "There is already a generational leap. Many young people find Instagram more attractive. But in three or four years they will probably be on the next platform. Facebook is not dead, as has often been claimed, nor does Instagram have to remain the platform of choice in the long term."

According to Isabel Kottmann, two-thirds of Instagram users worldwide are younger than 34. This is usually the age at which interest in wine first awakens and one also earns enough money to buy more expensive wines. But she warns against concluding that this age group is not an important target group. "These are also partly young professionals who have a good income and are slowly growing into the wine scene. They are the customers of tomorrow. Especially on Instagram, there are many early adopters, people who discover innovations very early and use them themselves. Before, they were on Facebook, and now they are probably already waiting for the next new platform. The user profiles suggest higher education and purchasing power on average. And they are not only interested in wine. They know about gin, whisky and rum and all kinds of non-alcoholic drinks. We know from research on Facebook that millions of people find out about wine there. Why should it be any different on Instagram?"

Wine is not born in the bottle

Is access to wine more straightforward for these users than for older ones? Should we address them in a more low-threshold way and not bore them at all with terms used by 50-year-olds such as terroir, origin, minerality and the like? Isabel Kottmann warns against generalising. A group would also emerge from the younger followers who are interested in these details. You also have to offer them something in terms of content and satisfy them with good background information. "Some people might have to be told at the beginning: the wine is not born in the bottle, someone gets their hands dirty beforehand. If this is not done ponderously, but loosely, you will also find your followers on social media. The balance is important. But it also depends on the winery. A winery with a great tradition that stands for wines of origin will bring more of them to its followers than one that produces branded wines with stylish labels." But such differentiations could easily be gleaned from user feedback.

Professional wine criticism remains important

Do experts who dictate "from on high" what tastes good still need to make recommendations? Or does the democratisation of wine, when anyone can comment on any wine and influencers are paid by producers for their tips, mean the end of classic wine criticism? Isabel Kottmann does not see this development coming. Especially now that the food trade is gaining in importance as a sales channel, serious recommendations through awards and ratings are important, she says. Especially in the case of expensive wines that cannot be simply tasted - for example in the case of subscription - consumers must rely on experts with a good reputation who have mastered the craft of tasting. And finally, many well-known wine journalists and platforms would have a lot of followers.

In summary, Isabel Kottmann says: "If you think globally, social networks are great media. Cost-effective if you have someone in the house who likes to do it and also finds the time to be creative, interact and get to know the followers. But it just has to be authentic." There are more than enough bad productions in the wine scene. But even if "authentic" has become a very overused word, it still gets to the heart of the matter: a great image alone is of no use to wineries. It has to radiate the identity of the people with their wines. This credibility can be conveyed with good staging. But without identity, pictures are just pretty. And disappear from the screen.

Photos: wikimedia commons, Isabel Kottmann

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