Wineries and Social Media, an Interview with Charley May
Interviewer: Tim Martin, December 2013. Episode #6 from the NET:101 podcast.
TIM: Hello, and with me today I have Charley May, who is the Communicators Manager for Fowles Wine. Charley, welcome.
CHARLEY: Thank you very much. It’s good to be here.
TIM: So tell us a little bit about Fowles Wine.
CHARLEY: Okay, Fowles Wine is a family boutique winery located in the Strathbogie Ranges. And for those who don’t know, the Strathbogies is about an hour and a half northeast of Melbourne. The region’s been established for about 40 years as a wine region, and we’re probably one of the most prominent growers in that area.
So me, my role, I manage all the communications across print, finished goods, and also digital platforms as well.
TIM: A dogsbody.
CHARLEY: Yeah, you can call it that. Very busy is another word for it. (laughs)
TIM: Within the responsibility of a modern communications manager is online and social media, and that’s really what I want to be talking to you today mostly about. So you’ve got a number of brands. It’s not just Fowles Wine, is it?
CHARLEY: Yeah, Fowles Wine is the winery, and within I guess Fowles Wine, there are six core wine brands, and they sit under three umbrella groups. They are flagship, regional, and food wines.
Within our food wines, which are the slightly unusual and quirky brands, are Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch and Are You Game?, which are the world’s first wines to be blended for wild game meat and also to encourage a bit more thought around food provenance.
TIM: Ah, Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch. Gosh. I’ve tried the wine; fantastic. The Chardonnay and the Shiraz, I tried the other day. But I also went to an event a couple weeks ago in the Botanical Gardens. Fantastic. I couldn’t help but think what a fantastic, fresh branding angle for a wine. Also a little bit daring, too, Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch. What was the story behind that?
CHARLEY: I guess it was really about bringing together two pretty quirky and fun brands, ourselves and Reid Cycles as well. It was really I guess engaging a different audience for us, anyway, reaching into lifestyle blogging space. So we wanted to do that.
We created an event which basically encouraged people to dress up in tweed, the traditional hunting clothing of choice, and then take a bike from Reid Cycles, ride along the area, and join up for a bit of a party in the park afterwards, where everyone could taste our wines and get a feel and have a bit of a close look at the bikes as well.
So yeah, it was just I guess about bringing people together to enjoy wine and bicycling, which goes kind of nicely together.
TIM: Yeah, absolutely. There’s a really solid story behind Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, and I remember thinking what a fantastic opportunity in a social media context to be able to tell strands of that story through the different social media platforms, the visual element and so forth.
Do you find you’ve got a huge advantage because you’ve got such an interesting, quirky set of stories to tell around the brand?
CHARLEY: Yeah, I think we do have an advantage. As I said, there’s no one out there who’s blended a wine to go with wild game meat, so it does set us apart and it lends itself to embracing some of the old school glamour and elegance and refinement in that wine, which kind of translates across to what we do in terms of the branding and the events we run.
We very much focus on exploring wild food and capturing wild food and enjoying it with the wines through events. And we can come up with great visual content, whether it be a video showcasing people going up to the Strathbogie Ranges and learning how to fly fish or clay target shoot, or getting people to share their images dressed up in tweed on Instagram as well.
People just want to get involved, and if they want to explore those elements of real food and hunting, we’re giving them lots of avenues to do that and also to share them on social media.
TIM: It’s really made content, content that’s I guess more than the standard bottle shot or somebody crushing grapes in a winery. There’s actually a story around the brand. I’m actually [inaudible 00:04:41] myself, as you well know. I still see a lot of wineries doing the traditional social media stuff, which are the bottle shots. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with a bottle shot or somebody in the vineyard, but it’s not really – I don’t know, it’s not really contagious. It’s not something people would get excited about and want to share.
CHARLEY: Yeah. It’s kind of wacky, isn’t it, seeing someone dress up in tweed blowing a hunting horn on a bicycle? It’s kind of a bit unusual, and people either love it and want to share it or they go away from it. But in our experience, people just seem to – yeah, they get really fired up by it and enjoy doing that kind of thing.
And there is obviously a story behind it, Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, the brainchild of Matt Fowles, who is a responsible hunter and has been doing it all his life, and he really wanted a wine to go with game meat. So Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch were born. And the way we actually make the wine is a little bit different to match the textural qualities of the meat.
That’s I guess the principles behind Ladies, and then it lent itself to all these different ways of engaging people in the brand, whether it be through the food and wine matching or some of the events that we run. But yeah, there is definitely a real genuine story behind it, and we love it, because it’s a really fun brand to work with.
TIM: Yeah, I can imagine. Yes, a genuine story. You could almost imagine a winery thinking about launching a new brand that, trying to play to their advantage on social media, might want to create a brand that has that natural quirkiness that just resonates so beautifully through social. I mean, you didn’t; it was the other way around.
TIM: But gosh, what an opportunity to think “We really want to tap into social and make that a major part of our communications mix. If we’re going to do that successfully, we’ve got to come up with something that’s a little bit different.”
CHARLEY: And we have done that, and it has worked very, very well. And we continue to explore it; we launched a new winery called Are You Game? as well, which is kind of like a complementary range to Ladies. Again, really daring; we’re asking the consumer to pick up a bottle of wine that has a game animal on the front label and some text about where it’s from and really think about “Okay, where does my food come from and how am I going to enjoy that with a bottle of wine?”
Again, it seems to have gone down exceptionally well because we’re genuinely passionate about sustainable food and enjoying it with great wine as well, and so far we’ve received hardly any negative feedback and people I think are getting what we’re trying to do and the message we’re trying to advocate.
TIM: As the communications manager, it’s not just Fowles Wine and Ladies Who Shoot; you said there’s a stable of six. Does that mean you’ve got to do six times the work to get prominence for each brand online?
CHARLEY: No, not really. We manage I guess the brand in two channels. The five other brands, they are managed through the Fowles Wine channels on Facebook and Twitter.
And then with Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, because it does have a different personality to the other brands, we decided to set up its own Facebook and Twitter channels so that we can be a little bit more creative and a bit more quirky, but still keep on site those people who want to explore wine in a more traditional way through our other channels as well.
TIM: Okay. You said Facebook, Twitter, what other channels?
CHARLEY: We’re active in Instagram and YouTube as well. We actually decided to I guess be active in all those channels. Facebook, Twitter, massive social media platforms.
Facebook especially, I think they get something like a billion visits to the site a month, so just the sheer scale and the potential of the audience was really attractive to us. There are all these customers and consumers and people who want to get engaged on the brand on those platforms.
Twitter, great channel for engaging people in the here and now, so we use it especially for time-sensitive information, say news items, last-minute events, awards that we might’ve just won.
Instagram, people love sharing photos of themselves doing cool things, like enjoying bottles of wine and exploring places. So we wanted to get active in that space as well.
And YouTube, we’re just starting to ramp up our video content, so it made sense for us to get a channel going on there as well.
TIM: Might come back to YouTube in a second. The event that I went to recently with Ladies Who Shoot Their Lunch, I was impressed you had prominently positioned the hashtag on the table that we all were greeted at and given our wine from, the idea being that we’re on the ground, we’re creating content, we’re uploading images, we’re tweeting, but you told us what the hashtag to use was, which I thought was pretty smart.
CHARLEY: Yeah, when we were scoping out the event with Reid Cycles, I had a little research onto hashtags and the ones that were available, and #wildpicnic was available. It summed up what we wanted to do, so we decided to lock down that hashtag and to basically promote it through all our online and print promotional material with a really strong message to everyone we got in touch with to use it, because there was a clear benefit.
We were actually going to award someone, and we did run a competition for the best social photo with a case of wine, and that actually really encouraged people to share their content.
But I don’t think it was just the competition; the actual setup of the event, so all the cool vintage gear that we had, the beautiful day that we were lucky enough to get in Melbourne, the actual physical location just lended itself to taking great photos, and people just organically wanted to take photos of themselves and share them with their friends and use our hashtag, which was great.
But I think for anyone wanting to do that kind of thing in the future, in the pre-publicity and afterwards in the post-publicity, just keep the hashtag prominent and consistently remind people to use it so that you don’t forget about it and it just becomes second nature.
TIM: Yes. You ran a competition with it; that was also a chance to I guess flesh out your visual media that you hadn’t seen before. Were you able to repurpose or recycle those images that you pulled around the hashtag?
CHARLEY: Yeah, we did actually. I think it was you, Tim, that very kindly sent me this app called Tagboard which was really quite cool. I used it to basically summarize the event in photos and promoted it again through Twitter and Facebook and Instagram as well. So yeah, we could use those images again, but I thought it might be better just to get them all together, and Tagboard was a great piece of software that allowed us to do that.
TIM: Is Pinterest on your radar at all?
CHARLEY: It is, but again, because there’s one of me, and again, it’s thinking about content and how to use it across a different platform where people are looking for very different things and the presentation of it is really different, I think I’m just going to have to have a think about if we do want to do it and if we’ve got the time and resource to invest in it.
Because at the moment, our other platforms are enough for me to handle, and we are continuing to grow our audience on those platforms. So yeah, for me, sometimes less is more.
TIM: Come on, one more monkey on your shoulders isn’t going to be too much of a burden, is it?
CHARLEY: (laughs) Yeah, we’ll see. In the new year we might have to reassess that, but at the moment I’m pretty happy with the channels that we’re operating across.
TIM: Fair enough. Let’s go back to YouTube. You said that was something that you were going to do more of in the future. What’s your thinking around that?
CHARLEY: Yeah, video content, I think it’s very interesting, and if you do it well, people do want to share it. We’ve done three videos already; I’d like to do another one for our Flagship event, so that again we can document what’s going on. Because as I said, fly fishing and butchering game is quite random and quirky, and it’s also a great way of educating people about how to enjoy wild food.
We’re looking at doing another video for the Ladies story. We might do some more about the Fowles Wine story and the Fowles family and some vintage videos as well, just to show people the excitement about what goes on at the winery when all the action happens during vintage.
But I do think it’s great to be able to have video content, because it’s a really rich way of showing people what’s happening and what you’re doing. Pictures can tell a story, but actually having video as well just adds a richness that text and pictures can’t do.
TIM: You and I were talking, before we got this podcast started, of the importance of getting the core right: the website.
TIM: Music to my ears when somebody talks along those lines. You put obviously quite a bit of time and effort into making sure the Fowles website is looking good – not just looking good, but performing the way it should. But what’s a well-performing website for you?
CHARLEY: Just to give you a bit of history on it, we launched our new mobile-optimized website in the beginning of the year. Prior to that, we had a quite outdated one, and the content management system wasn’t very intuitive. Most importantly, the e-commerce platform was quite sketchy.
On our new website, it really has just changed my world, because I have confidence in it. The content management system is easy, you can embed things, it’s really easy to navigate and upload content really quickly, and the e-commerce platform is rock solid. So I don’t have that fear when I’m trying to drive people to maybe consider sales or to go to our website to look at YouTube videos that I’ve embedded; the website works brilliantly.
I guess my advice to anyone that is wanting to enter this sphere is that if you get your website right, then start focusing on the channels that you can get people to the website through social media. But yeah, it’s been a labor of love for me, and I’m very happy with the website at the moment. But it’s a continual evolution, so there are new projects on the horizon as well.
TIM: You run Google Analytics; do you spend a bit of time analyzing the numbers?
CHARLEY: Yeah, I do. It’s good to know that visitation has grown since we’ve launched the website. I did a comparison about what we were doing prior to the launch and what we’ve been doing now, and there has been growth, so that’s great.
Bounce rate has gone down as well, which I’m taking as a bit of an indication that the content is more relevant and that people can actually access what they want. A lot to do with the design and user experience.
The other thing which is really interesting about Google Analytics is looking at referral traffic. When it comes to social media, Facebook, desktop and mobile are #1 and #2 referrers, and Twitter is sitting at #3. It really is an indication that social is important for us in driving people back to our website to take more of a look and possibly purchase, hopefully, some wines, or come along to one of our events.
TIM: Yeah. Of course, the website’s the perfect conversion funnel in terms of those calls to action. Oftentimes I refer to the website as being Rome, and that all roads lead to Rome.
It amazes me that I see some organizations putting a lot of time and effort into making sure their peripheral properties, their social media presence, is looking pretty schmick, but when you get back to the middle, the website’s rubbish or it’s not clear as to what we’re supposed to do when we land or it’s looking a little bit outdated, very 2008 or whatever.
How do you work out what you’re going to do? There’s lots of opportunities out there – social is huge, we’ve got the website, we’ve got e-commerce, we’ve got search engine optimization. Are you in that mode of experimenting and fumbling your way through, or is there a little more rigor around which direction you go in?
CHARLEY: I’ll be honest with you; there is sometimes a bit of experimentation, but for us, I’ve been investing a lot of energy in making sure that the website is good and rock solid.
The other area is new subscriptions, so really working on building up our own database of wine club members, but also people who just want to be kept in the loop about the news. Because we do experience good conversion rates from people who sign up as e-news people and then go “Oh, actually, these guys are doing some good stuff. Maybe I’ll sign up as a wine club member as well.” Which is great for us.
So for us, I think website, building up a database, constantly looking at our social media and working out ways that we can funnel people back to the website through core content or great news or events or product launches, and using those channels to just, as you say, funnel everyone back to the core.
TIM: Now, I’ve got some very strong views on this, but I don’t want to put words into your mouth. One email address, in terms of somebody that’s genuinely interested in what you guys do, against a Facebook like; how do they compare?
CHARLEY: I think an email address is probably more valuable, because you can reach them through e-news, and I do think there’s higher conversion from e-news and contacting them through EDMs than there is getting a Facebook like. It’s really easy to like a page and then do nothing with it, whereas if you’ve got someone’s email address, you’ve got multiple chances to try and convince them to engage with your brand and hopefully sign on as a customer as well.
TIM: That makes a lot of sense. Facebook changed the rules a little while back in terms of competition, so you don’t need to use a third party app now, but obviously there are advantages to using a third party app which would capture the email address.
TIM: So that makes a lot of sense. You get two birds with one stone, to engage in some way on Facebook, but there’s that email address, right?
CHARLEY: Yeah, you get to – and those applications are great. You can “like gate” a competition so people have to like your page and then enter an email address, and as you said, you’ve hit two birds with one stone.
To date, we actually have run competitions in that way. It’s something in the new year that I will definitely look at implementing, so getting third party apps that we can do that kind of data capture with as well. Because it does make sense. Also, a lot of the apps knocking around actually look pretty as well, and it can look a little bit messy sometimes if you’re just running a competition direct off your post.
Saying that, though, to date, we have run numerous competitions in that way, so just straight off the Facebook page, not using third party apps, and we get amazing response rates. The last experience we had of that was getting an audience of our best Facebook followers along to the launch of our first ever Ladies pinot noir.
So we sourced about 50 people off Facebook, and it was great actually being there to take those fans from the virtual world and meet them in the real world. And after that, many of them signed up to be wine club members because we’d given them a great experience.
Look, there are different ways of skinning the cat, but yeah, new year, looking at some third party apps.
TIM: Why do more people not extend that online experience into the offline? It seems like the logical thing to do, but I get the impression that many people consider Facebook a community to be an end in itself. I’m thinking, what a perfect opportunity to invite them to an event, something special, get to meet them, close that loop, and of course deepen that relationship.
CHARLEY: Yeah. We’re all human, after all. We’re not little bots that knock about the internet. We still, I think, want real experiences where we can taste and meet the people behind the wine. Social is a great way of connecting with people in the virtual world, but yeah, it’s really about taking those people and giving them a real-world experience as well. I think that’s what people want. You can’t just expect people to continue to like you in the virtual world; it’s just not tenable. People need real things.
TIM: I agree, I agree. Have you paid for any social elements? Like for example on Facebook, have you boosted a post?
CHARLEY: Yeah, we do actually boost posts. I guess because we are a boutique wine brand, I’m trying to create that same sort of feeling and philosophy with social media. So when we do page boosts, we only ever target people who like the page already and their friends, because we already have an engaged audience; it’s pretty likely that those people who like our page, their friends are going to share similar interests, and we want them to find out through friends rather than just blanket target.
There’s notable differences when you do boost a post. Likes go up, page likes go up, and engagement goes up as well. So we have trialed that. I’ll be doing more of it next year for sure.
TIM: So a budget allocation for paid social?
TIM: So every time you want to boost a post, you don’t have to go and ask the boss for $20 bucks or something?
CHARLEY: No, he’s very proactive on that front, which is great, and will only become more so, I think, in the future. The last financial year, we put aside some money for Facebook promotions, and we’ll be looking at doing more, I hope, in the future as well.
We have kind of dropped back on our print advertising and promotional spend and have been focusing more on digital. So using people like Time Out and their EDMs, advertising on them, and RACV, and also using our own Facebook page boosts as well. I really have noticed a different in terms of engagement.
And also you can monitor that through using link shorteners, so you can see who is clicking on your link and how much resonance that is having, which is also really useful just in terms of metrics, to see how you’re going.
TIM: And also it boosts your case and it makes it easier to say “Look, this is what we’ve done with X spend. We could potentially double or triple it if we put some extra money towards it.” How do you keep up to speed with things? Do you read books, go to conferences? I mean, you’ve obviously been to one of my courses; great, thank you.
TIM: But generally speaking, how do you keep up to speed?
CHARLEY: Yeah, I do keep up to date with – I think We Are Social is one of the websites I check into, and Mashable, which always has great articles about what’s happening in the social space. The honest truth is, it’s moving so quickly that sometimes it is a bit difficult to keep up-to-date with it.
And that’s going back to “Do I want to get involved in Pinterest?” as well, because it’s just another thing you actually have to keep up-to-date with in terms of the way the application works itself, but also some of the regulations and how you’re actually allowed to use that platform.
So it’s constant work keeping on top of it, but I think at the moment we do a pretty good job of it.
TIM: Do you have any industry peers? Do you have friends in the space that you’re able to reach out to and compare notes and swap war stories?
CHARLEY: There are a couple of people, definitely. But I think – it’s funny, I’ve found that people who are operating in social media sometimes want to keep their cards close to their chest as well because it is so difficult to keep up-to-date with everything that’s going on. And sometimes, I’ll be honest, I think there is a little bit of “Well, I think I know what I’m doing, but I don’t really, and I don’t really want to reveal that to anyone else.”
Especially for small businesses like us, when you’re operating at the big end of town, it’s literally some people’s job, or it’s a team’s job, to manage social media, and they’ll have people across the actual content, design, compliance. In small businesses, you actually have to do most of that yourself.
TIM: Yeah. And content, I would imagine, would be one of your biggest struggles. I mean, you’ve got these hungry animals waiting to be fed; what are you going to drive through them? Who’s going to work out that video or those images or whatever?
CHARLEY: Yeah, me, and the small marketing team that we have. Yeah, we work on generating lots of different kind of content, so blog posts, photos, videos, that kind of stuff. At the macro level, we obviously have an annual marketing plan, and then from there we can map out the events that are happening, the product launches, and look at it lower down on a more granular level when we’re actually at that point in the calendar, and then work out how we’re going to push that and promote that on social media.
And then week to week, have a look at the week ahead and think, “Right, okay, this is happening in the calendar; let’s have a look. What are we going to do? When are we going to post?”
TIM: So you’ve got a system or a process happening.
CHARLEY: Little bit of a system going on there.
TIM: That certainly helps, doesn’t it?
TIM: What would your general advice be? Somebody who’s working within a winery, cellar door, thinking about launching a new brand – you’ve been through a few of the loops, a few of the ins and outs experimenting with different platforms. In summary, what would be some good advice you could pass on?
CHARLEY: For launching a brand, I guess different skill set, but if we’re talking about promoting a brand, as I said before, it’s all about the website. Because ultimately, if you’ve spent all this time and resource coming up with a great new brand, you want something that you can profile it and it’ll look beautiful online and that it’s seamless for customers to come onboard and to buy it.
So invest energy in a website and spend the money there, and then take your time just thinking about what social media platforms you want to be on. You don’t have to be on everything; have a think about what’s really going to work for you. Even if it’s only one or two, if you’re a small winery, invest your energy in doing two platforms really well rather than spreading yourself all over the shop, because it’s just not going to work.
TIM: What about expectations? If I were to jump into social as a new brand, can I expect an immediate boost in sales? Is it going to really drive a lot of traffic to my cellar door? What timeframe can I expect some sort of return?
CHARLEY: Well, it’s funny because social media was never really set up as a sales platform, so you’re not going to see sales straightaway. Social should, I think anyway, first and foremost be used to build a community and to engage with them on the things that they actually want first and foremost, which is fun stuff. Things that make them laugh, things that make them look more interesting or cool or whatever it is, so that they build trust with you before you drop in the slightly sales-y pitches as well.
I think you’ve got to be really careful on social media, because you see some brands do it and it’s literally sell, sell, sell, and people can smell that a mile off. They don’t want to be involved in that kind of thing. They’re happy to have a few sales pitches thrown at them as long as you’ve mixed it up with some other cool stuff that they really get.
So yeah, just be careful if you’re starting out and you think it’s going to be, “Great, I’m going to make all my money in sales through social,” because it just won’t happen like that.
TIM: I think you’re right, I think you’re right. It’s amazing to see some big brands –
CHARLEY: Yeah, big brands do it.
TIM: Well-known brands, asking for favors or asking people to mobilize or do something that will help the brand. I’m thinking, what have you done for them? You’ve got no credit in the bank account to draw down on initially. You’ve got to put some goodwill in there first.
That’s been great, Charley. Some really good insights. Obviously, this was about the wine space and being a winery and having a wine label, but I can’t really think of anything that you’ve said today that doesn’t carry across virtually any industry, regardless of what that may be. Some fundamental good stuff.
Can you let listeners know where to find you guys?
CHARLEY: Yep, sure. Online, just go to fowleswine.com and you can get everything there. It’s all integrated with social as well, so you can access our social media platforms there too.
TIM: Nice. And if I want to go and buy some of your lovely wine?
CHARLEY: Again, just jump on fowleswine.com. We do obviously do direct consumer sales through the website, but if you don’t want to do that, you can find us at lots of independent stores across Australia and also some of our brands are stocked in Dan Murphy’s as well. So yeah, we have quite a good footprint across Australia if you’re interested in tasting our wines.
TIM: Good. And you should be; they’re great wines.
CHARLEY: Thank you.
TIM: Charley, thanks for coming. And listeners, we’ll see you again next episode. Ciao.
CHARLEY: Cool, thank you.
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