Vinous, Virtual and Viral
Virtual and viral are two of the newest words in the wine industry. Like a rogue wave, the power of social media is washing over the wine and food world with incredible force.
Social media is a collection of websites, Twitter, Facebook, blogs and texts. Used individually, each has an impact and influence equal to that of a wine club, but used in concert, they create enormous virtual communities that can equal the size of a small country. And they are changing the way business is done in wine and food.
Suresh Doss is the founder of one of the most popular food and wine websites in Canada, Spotlight Toronto. He started the site eight years ago, focusing on sharing his food experiences in Toronto. The website works like a blog with comments, opinions and thoughts of a retrospective foodie.
Eight years ago, few people used social media to share personal thoughts and opinions on their life experiences. Traditionally it was companies using the web to get their marketing messages out there. Then there was a shift in consumer consciousness, and the search for a more trusted voice was on.
Food and wine lovers gravitated to Spotlight Toronto by the hundreds to hear Doss’s restaurant experiences, food trends and opinions on wines.
Today, Spotlight Toronto has grown to include much more than Toronto: it covers everywhere Doss and his team of eight bloggers and tweeters might be, from across Canada to throughout North America. To date, Spotlight registers just over 4,800 followers, so Doss and his virtual messages wield a bit of power with restaurants —and particularly with Ontario wineries. Now, if you’re thinking 4,800 is a small number, you’re right. But it’s the viral effect of 4,800 followers that makes Doss a powerful man.
It works like this. Doss will tweet information to his followers. They in turn share the tweet with their group of friends, who share among their group of friends, and it goes on until it becomes viral. No one really knows the exact number of people who are influenced, but Doss is a man who can easily fill a room with a few tweets.
At the Niagara Icewine Festival this year, Doss invited his followers to meet him for a drink at 5 pm at the Angel Inn in Niagara-on-the-Lake. He got about 20 positive replies, but when 5 o’clock came around, the people poured into the small bar – over 100 of them. They were people from all walks of life, from those just interested in learning about wine all the way up to John Peller himself (President and CEO, Peller Estate Winery).
The precise extent of Doss’s influence is unknown, but we do know his messages hit only those interested in wine and food. If that weren’t enough, the information is immediate. The cumulative effect made marketing companies stand up and take notice. Invitations to food and wine events around the country began to pour into the Spotlight website, and Doss became a powerful man.
The power of social media hasn’t bypassed Michele Bosc. Marketing Director of Chateau des Charmes Winery in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Michele is a steady tweeter who has gathered over 2,000 followers in one short year (@mbosc). Michele explains, “Twitter is like a microblog, like conversations at a cocktail party where others join in.” Michele mostly tweets, although the website (châteaudescharmes.com) features a wine blog.
Even with only 2,000 followers, Michele was able to successfully launch a brand new line of wines, Generation 7, through her virtual and viral activities. When Generation 7 landed in the LCBO stores, Michele held a virtual party for the new wine on Twitter. She tweeted about a specific time and virtual place for the party. Wine lovers all bought a bottle of Generation 7 and at the agreed upon time, then sat and sipped while tweeting their conversations and opinions about the wine. There were over 100 wine lovers at the party.
If you’re wondering how to make sense of this many people all tweeting at once, Michele says it works by using a hashtag.
A hashtag is a link that strings all of the Twitter conversations together into a thread. Everyone is able to read and reply to all of the comments, making it a virtual conversation — or party. The hashtag for Michele’s Generation 7 Twitter party was #gen7. Everything anyone said during and after the party is still there, making the party and conversations a permanent record.
Social media vastly benefits the wine and food world. It connects like-minded people of varying levels of expertise together on an equal platform. It keeps restaurants and wine shops on their toes, as all experiences — bad, good and everything in between — are shared among thousands of tweeters. Like the once-powerful restaurant critic at a big city newspaper with the ability to make or break a restaurant, tweeters now have similar power and much, much more.
Andrea Kisser-Quig is a Toronto-based wine tweeter who explains that “bloggers and tweeters are the new social promoters, friends to many and perceived ambassadors of good taste.” Of course, not everyone will agree with whom they follow, but that just feeds more dialogue and interaction. And that’s always a good thing for the wine and food business.
Chateau des Charmes Winery
Twitter handle: @MBosc
Some great wine blogs to get you started.
Basic Juice, basicjuice.blogs.com
The Wine Case, winecase.ca
John Schreiner on Wine, johnschreiner.blogspot.com
Sommelier Scribbler, sommelierscribbler.wordpress.com
Billy’s Best Bottles, billysbestbottles.com
Lynn Ogryzlo is a food and wine writer and author of Niagara Cooks, From Farm to Table Cookbook. Niagara Cooks is the recipient of the Best Local Food Cookbook in the World – Second Place by the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards. Lynn can be reached for questions or comments at niagaracooks.ca.