Wearing their coats to keep warm at their rented desks in 2010, the founders of photo-sharing app Instagram could not imagine that their new company would be snapped up by behemoth Facebook two years later for about $1 billion. Co-founder Kevin Systrom, then aged 27, blogged about the early days: “Instagram’s first office had few redeeming qualities – and insulation was not one of them... the air was so cold we could see our breath.”
Heating bills are no longer a concern for this multi-millionaire. Since he sold the company seven years ago, the app’s estimated worth has risen to more than $100 billion, and it has more than 1 billion users, a number predicted to rise to 2 billion within five years, according to Bloomberg Intelligence. But is Instagram just another social media platform that wine businesses feel obliged to sign up to, diverting them from pruning the vines, racking barrels and selling wine?
If a winery’s customers align with the demographic of Instagram users, then yes. Pew Research Center figures show that Instagram is favoured by the under 30s; in the 30- to 49-year-old age group, 40% use Instagram but 78% use Facebook; in the 50- to 64-year-old category, just 21% use Instagram but 65% use Facebook. It’s clear that if a wine brand targets Millennials, Instagram is a must-have, but wineries with older audiences may feel their time is better spent elsewhere.
More than 25m businesses have realised that Instagram offers a chance to meet their customers, build brand loyalty and potentially sell their goods, particularly businesses with photogenic products. Vineyards and wineries are often situated in a beautiful location most brands can only dream of, but it requires someone to take a good photo without cutting off the top of a château or a winemaker’s head.
While potential customers could be an Instagram post away, it takes time and energy to post consistently. Italy’s Zonin1821, for example, employs three people to look after the company’s many social media accounts, which include Zonin, Zonin Prosecco, Chianti Classico estate Castello di Albola and Maremma-based Rocca di Montemassi. They have invested in professional photography equipment, organised quarterly training sessions on social media trends, and employed an agency to advise on strategy. Vice-president Francesco Zonin says: “If you don’t believe it’s a tool, don’t start. You don’t have to be on social media to be successful. Social media is a daily job and it’s getting more complicated. You need to be active on your account but also constantly interacting; you have things to say but you also have to listen. You mustn’t use social media to shout – leave that to the politicians.”
Melanie Brown, founder of the UK-based online retailer The New Zealand Cellar @nzwineuk, employs a professional photographer four times a year to take a batch of shots to roll out over the coming months, in addition to a bank of photographs from her winery suppliers. There are also in-the-moment pictures that are posted as a ‘story’ – images that are available to view for only 24 hours before disappearing. “Stories are ad hoc whereas posts are part of a strategy,” she says. “But if it’s not an exceptional photograph, we don’t use it and filters should be discreet, as trends change quickly.” If a professional photographer is one expense too far, however, local wineries or businesses can group together to share the cost of a shoot.
Speak to any digital marketing agency and they will recommend a monthly, quarterly or annual plan for Instagram. Polly Hammond, managing director of digital marketing agency 5 Forests, explains: “The first Monday morning of every month, plan your social media month. Get a huge wall calendar and plan out anything fixed – harvest, bottling – then look for any hashtag days or events that could help to inspire you to fill it out. Have 120 posts for the year sitting ready because if you aren’t well planned and you’re searching for things to say every day, you’ll end up throwing in the towel.” She recommends software to preload material, such as Later and Buffer. IFTTT and Sprout Social are also popular.
It’s also worthwhile creating a folder of suitable hashtags, which categorises content and makes posts easier to discover, particularly since Instagram added the ability to follow hashtags. A Later account creates hashtag lists based on those that are used most often and it also offers a tool to help suggest hashtags for posts. It’s important to use hashtags appropriately to engage a specific community. For example #wine has had more than 44m posts while #bordeauxwine has 47,000 posts. The #winecommunity #winelover and #winewednesday hashtags are also popular for engaging with like-minded Instagrammers.
What’s it worth?
While 72% of users have bought a product they saw on Instagram, according to Business Insider, there appears to be a consensus among wineries, wine retailers and digital marketing agencies that Instagram is not a direct sales tool and that, as yet, advertising on Instagram doesn’t pay.
“Instagram is about building profile and brand personality rather than a sales tool,” says Brown. “We tried selling but the research has shown that the click-through rate doesn’t justify the spend.” Nevertheless, it is tempting to try out advertising or boosting posts using a tool which limits the spend to $5.00 or $10.00 a day; however, that is still a loss if there are no conversions.
It is possible to monitor the success of Instagram and social media activity using online tools like Bitly as well as Google analytics, in addition to via engagement through posts. However, Instagram success is not based simply on the number of ‘likes’ received.
As Anna Moss, director of FireCask, a Manchester-based digital marketing agency, explains: “Building a community is far more important than gaining followers. Using any social media platform should not be done as an attempt to get as many followers as you can. It is all about quality over quantity.” She says that having 500 followers who engage, like, comment on posts and share, “is far better than having 1,000 followers who aren’t interested in what you are posting and will never really engage or interact with you”.
There are some users that have an unexpectedly high level of engagement. Instagram changed its algorithm in 2018 which changed the way users see posts. Instead of displaying posts chronologically, Instagram now prioritises posts that are shown at the top of users’ feed, depending on their past behaviour or high engagement accounts. This has spawned the Instagram ‘pod’, or users who group together to raise engagement on each other’s posts. Touted as a way to beat the new algorithm, others see it as disingenuous.
Calculating return on investment in both time and money with Instagram and other social media platforms, however, depends on the objective of the user’s Instagram profile or specific campaign, says Yannick Oudin, co-owner of Favoreat Design, a creative agency based in both Paris and New York, whose clients include the Bordeaux Wine Council (CIVB). “You can calculate your ROI based on your reach and compare it to traditional media; your sales generated via Instagram; the number of website visits thanks to Instagram and how relevant that audience is,” he says. “You can also conduct post tests to see if your communication on Instagram increases the brand awareness, brand attachment or brand loyalty.”
It might be easy to join Instagram, but cutting through the growing collection of images is becoming ever harder. For some businesses, it might be better to concentrate on other social media platforms, or the winery newsletter. However, if Instagram is a must-do, actively browse the network to learn from wine businesses that are likely to have a healthy budget for marketing and enjoy high levels of engagement, including @krugchampagne @hallwines and @winefolly.
Mark Twain died a century before Instagram’s founders shivered in their draughty San Francisco office, but one of his most famous quotes still resonates: “There is no such thing as a new idea...We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations.” Camera – or smartphone – in hand, there are many new and curious combinations to make.
Rebecca Gibb MW