The social media paradigm is transforming our media landscape to an unrecognizable form many are not willing to accept. Are you one of them? Then listen up because this paradigm shift is happening whether you like it or not and I have a few tips to help you transition to the new media world.

It’s a direction that will affect everyone in the wine industry, from wine writers to wineries, magazines, newspapers and marketing folks. If you don’t jump on the social media bandwagon you might just be left in the dark. If you don’t believe me, then listen to Clay Shirky, a prescient voice on the effects of the Internet. One of his latest TED (Technology, Entertainment, Design) talks, appropriately titled, “How Twitter Can Make History”, Shirky argues that emerging technologies enable loose collaboration, which is essentially changing the way our society works.

I strongly urge any individual in the wine industry to watch this video to understand the technical transfer that is happening in today’s world and how it affects today’s businesses (please watch it from start to finish, you won’t regret it).

There are a number of  interesting points in this video you should not miss. For one, Shirky states, “…our generation is living the largest increase in expressive capability in human history”. There have only been four periods over the last five hundred years where media has changed enough to qualify for the label “Revolution” – printing & press; telegraph & telephone; recorded media; radio & television. We are living in the fifth revolution with social media.

Second, the 20th century model revolved around professionals bundling a message and distributing it to the masses. According to Shirky, those days are over, never to return. Today, former consumers are now the producers, and the ability for amateurs to communicate between the masses is the new media landscape.

I’m sure many of you agree that we are long overdue for a new revolution. We could sit here all day and ignore it, and for those that don’t buy into the concept lay blame and point fingers, asking when this silly social media stuff started and question “why bother?”, but what is the point in doing so? I’ve been on the social media bandwagon for a while now, even though I’ve been known to poke fun at it from time to time, blaming ADHD for the evolution, but it is what it is, and as the old adage goes, if you can’t beat them, join them.

Now I am not here to take sides. I grew up on magazines and I have no shame admitting I still subscribe to publications like the Winespectator and Food & Wine. However, as much as I feel some regret for abandoning the old model, we need to evolve and move on because many consumers no longer identify with print. Why? The social media landscape delivers content faster and more effectively and the communication between the masses is recreating the user experience. It’s going beyond the one-to-one or one-to-many communication patterns via telephone, radio and TV and evolving to a many-to-many pattern, which instills sharing and innovation.

Those in the wine industry who utilize the social media model effectively and think outside of the box will remain competitive and thrive. Lately, we have all read a lot about the fate of professional wine writers and wine magazines in general. Some are doing reasonably well at embracing this new media and others are not. Print media doesn’t have to die, it only needs to rethink how they distribute content and engage with their readers — the bottom line is that newspapers and magazines desperately need a new image.

One way to accomplish this is by combining the old print model with the new electronic model. It’s not acceptable anymore to simply print a magazine. The first step towards the right direction is to incorporate newsletters, blogs and digital editions into the mix.

The second step is engaging with your readership. This is applicable for anyone in the wine industry so whether you are a writer, magazine, newspaper, blogger, winery, wine shop, marketer, etc. etc., listen up! The secret? Engaging with your customers. One example is twittering, which goes beyond posting stories, wine reviews, awards and daily specials. It’s ok to twitter these kinds of things, but you are doing yourself a disservice if you don’t follow up by making that personal connection with your customer. Believe it or not, your customer wants to make that special connection with the winemakers, journalists, publishers, storeowners, and bloggers, so the more this happens the more likely your business will succeed in the social media model.

2945559128_53078d246bAs for electronic media, publishing the interaction you have between you and your customers is a win-win situation. A wine writer that does this particularly well is Natalie MacLean.  She uses twitter (friend her up at @NatalieMacLean) to market her products and services but takes it a step further by engaging with her followers and incorporating reader suggestions into her digital media model. For example, if a follower twitters a new wine and food pairing suggestion, she’ll review it and add it to her Wine & Food pairings Drinks Matcher mobile application; this is the level of detail every business should follow to succeed in the social media model. It’s about the sharing aspect and making those connections that will make it worth while for both the business and the consumer, building long-term relationships and loyalty.

So the next time you question the value of twitter, or for that matter, social media in general, remember what Shirky said about the direction of our new media landscape and remember to utilize lessons learned from those who are struggling to make it in a digital world. If you think it’s a waste of time, you are sadly mistaken.

What are your thoughts? Are you using social media to connect with your community? Do you have any good or bad experiences or thoughts on what businesses should consider when adding social media to a marketing plan? Do you think social media can save the day or is it a waste of time?

~Pamela Heiligenthal