By Marcus Leach

After three fantastic days of events the focus of Thursday's Like Minds Social Media Week sessions turned to the drinks industry.

Julie Sheppard, Imbibe’s Associate Editor, moderated the debated that looked at the impact of social media on the drinks industry and how the different players are responding and adjusting to the ‘social’ opportunity.

Julie was joined by a panel of industry experts including 'Champagne Jayne' Powell, Jeremy Waite, Head of Social Strategy for Adobe, Susanna Forbes from Drink Britain, Eamon Fitzgerald, the COO of Naked Wines, and Xavier Padovani of the Experimental Cocktail Club.

Let's look at some examples of brands that are using social media well.

JP: I think it's quite interesting because in champagne Moet and Veuve Clicquot are very active. They have been good at engaging people and not just talking at them. They also encourage people to post their own content with them.

XP: When you look at brands like Hendricks Gin they were early adopters of social in their field and that has shown with the way they have grown their brand over the past five years. They did country specific launches which I think was a clever idea, as they tailored campaigns then to

JW: I don't want to shoehorn companies into here for the sake of it, but rather show that it doesn't matter who you are as a brand you need to spend 90% of your time engaging with your fans, replying to everything. Build your audience and then worry about content. So to answer the question, the brand I think are doing the best in social terms is Red Bull. They are a world leader in my eyes. Then the other one is Starbucks. In my opinion it is 70/80% on engagement and 20/30% on content.

XP: Depending on the market we use different tactics. So at our beach club in Ibiza we use Facebook a lot more. With Experimental Cocktail Club we use social more to review and learn from people's reactions. We don't engage too much as we are very under the cover as a bar, but we do monitor what people are saying.

Which platform works best for communicating with your customers?

EF: I think we are a little different from your traditional wine merchants, in that we have angels who invest money into their account and that is invested into the wine farms. They all pay in £20 a month and we use that to invest in wine farms around the world, so they make better wine for less. That equates to lower priced wines for the angels. So it is a nice virtuous circle. We tie that together in a social site where the customer can engage directly with the wine maker, and this works so well.

We do all of our social in-house, and we know our customer base (males aged 40-50 and females around 45 all earning in the region of £65,000) and they are not to comfortable using Facebook and Twitter, but put them in a community website where they are surrounded by likeminded people and wine makers and they are so much more comfortable talking. We are so much more about social business than social media.

SF: It depends which audience people [of our clients] are talking to. Business to business then Twitter works better, but for consumers Facebook. It depends on the brand, for Spitfire they have a different policy that use Instagram a little but for Asari it is all about Instagram. Decide on your brand and then work around that, use the platforms that show your values best.

JW: Heineken had over 7 million fans and the biggest challenge they had was understanding the value of them. NPS is most important metric in the social world for drinks industry. Anyone that likes Heineken Facebook page is 64% more likely to recommend the brand to their friends.

How have you built a global community?

JC: What I found is that when I got onto Twitter people connect around communities of interest. I started connecting with people all over the world, all based on a love for champagne. From that we started a champagne day on social, and rather than it being sales based people shared experiences, which is so much more powerful than just pictures of bottles and sales stuff. Everything I have done has been through digital as I am a one woman brand.

What about small beer firms?

SF: We champ[ion all British drinks, from soft to alcohol. I found that brands like Harviestoun Brewery were using social media very creatively. Ewen, the owner, took over the social and this meant the brand voice was him, and that started his social growing and the engagement factor. But it is a mix of marketing, stories, jokes, competitions and general chat, but also having time to feedback on all the engagement. He says the key is staying genuine, interesting and authentic.

Coming back to best practice now, and what is and isn't working, it's not just about numbers it's quality of interactions?

JW: It's a little bit of a cliche but it's about connect not collect. It's about having the right fans in the right places. There was a recent report that looked at 'what's the value of a fan?' A lot of methodology was around coca cola. They concluded the value of a Facebook fan was $136, which lead to people buying fans for the sake of it, which saw engagement bottom out totally.

Building a genuine community is really important. Do brands want to build followers or do they have a strategy?

XP: It is more and more difficult executing what some brands want to do. The often have a real story but they are just interested in numbers. So they need to find the right channel and then tell their story. Different countries and audiences are suited to different channels. Smaller brands are becoming more interesting because they have stories and are telling them well. It is more personal, which is what people want, they want to feel like they are the only person being spoken to.

JW: There is nothing wrong with being a one channel brand. If you are doing something perfectly then stick to that, don;t feel you have to chase traffic on all channels. Some small brands get hung up on thinking they need everything to try and get exposure.

How important is it to monitor your competitors?

EF: The basis of our business model is the total opposite of our competitors, so we tend to do the total opposite of them, and this goes for everything. We've stumbled across a relationship with people connecting with people. The most powerful thing is the customer connecting with the wine maker, and then we encourage and build those relationships. They are real and authentic. People are involved in the full story, from the growing of the grapes to the wine itself. It's the most personal connection possible.

How important is it to be open to criticism with luxury drinks?

JP: The best thing about social media is that you get to feedback and engage with the firms. However this hasn't really taken off with champagne yet. It is too much at stake reputation wise so they have stayed off social thus far, as they don't want to risk anything bad coming to their brand.

Southern Comfort are very clever with their social, they get a lot of exposure without talking about their product. Is this what you should be doing?

EF: We have tried all sorts of things but our content varies from discount on a case of wine, or a stupid picture of something in the office it gets good exposure. But the best is when we tweet a cause where a wine maker needs help. The hard sale never works.

SB: With all the clients you have what sometimes surprises me is when the Twitter feed is just generic. It should be the voice of the brewer, of the distiller, of the wine maker. People want that personal experience and connection with the people at the heart of it. What I don't get is why industry sectors don't enable their key players to talk to the audience. The cider community is not great for this, we have a huge audience yet so many firms are not engaging with it when it is right there.

What are the pitfalls of using social media?

EF: Advantages of social media is you are completely transparent and our business model is all about small wine makers who are unheard of. So only way you can be trusted is to be totally transparent. In some ways that's great but on the other side it leaves you open to criticism when things don't go well. Few years back we had a flood of complaints from customers after a batch from Spain came in that wasn't good. So we thought 'what do we do?' We emailed all the customers to tell them exactly what had happened, refunded them and gave them a bottle of good wine for free. We lost money in the short-term, but the over all conversion and good will from this reaped rewards in the long run for us.

XP: Everyone is a critic now. We are very particular with how we run the cocktail club, and this can leave us open to a lot of criticism. But we are true to our brand, and take everything on board. It's being aware that everyone involved takes the time to see the criticism and having everyone on board so we can learn from it. We also take the time to reply, which shocks people.

Social can be very time consuming, how do you manage that? How often should you be using social?

EF: We do it organically. The focus for us is to make the product so good that our customers do the shouting for us. It is so much more powerful to have customers say how good the product is than for us to tell people. Of course we think our product is good, but rather let satisfied customers tell the world.

JP: I think it is about having a balance between what you are doing online and what you are doing offline. Don't forget that real connections with real people are the most powerful thing at the end of the day.

Final thoughts please?

SF: For me it is all about staying authentic.

EF: Being authentic is crucial. We are entering an age if excitement. Why should our customers pay to be sold to.

XP: For me overall don't lose touch with the product because if the product goes down you won't have anything to shout about anyway. Social is great but you need to have a brilliant product to talk about on social.

JP: It's all about teamwork. We need to collaborate and work together. The more you care and share the more powerful your brand will be.

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