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Make social media a priority for your business urges Warwick Estate's Mike Ratcliffe

Published:  05 December, 2013

Without the budgets to talk directly to a highly fragmented consumer base in diverse markets around the world, social media offers wine producers an unrivalled way of tapping into potential customers, according to South African producer, Mike Ratcliffe.

He said his winery, Warwick Estate, had made full use of social media to elevate its profile and make it work for business. He stressed he was not an expert, just a user - or a "farmer" as he put it - but was very aware of how social media platforms were revolutionising the ways in which brands or wineries and the people behind them are reaching out to and engage with people in markets including those with fast developing wine cultures such as Africa, India and China.

"Social media is perfect for the wine industry because it is so fragmented and our customers are so diverse," said Ratcliffe. "It is a good way to get close to them." 

Ratcliffe, who is active in managing accounts on Twitter, Facebook and other platforms such as South African-based Mixit (the largest mobile social network in Africa), threw out a challenge, at last month's Wine Vision conference in London, to the traditionally conservative wine trade, asking: "With so much going on, what are you doing about it?"

"Have you got a dedicated social media person on your payroll, or have you designated someone to be dedicated to social media in addition to their other tasks?" continued Ratcliffe. "And do your senior management have social media in their job description?"

Not to do so, suggested Ratcliffe, meant not just missing out on communication with (especially) millennials in traditional markets like the US and UK, but also on the "explosion" of social media usage witnessed among millennials on platforms such as WeChat in China.

However, Ratcliffe also advised that a clear plan is essential with any social media engagement, rather than a "click it and send" approach, requiring planning, imagination and insight into how to best engage with people who may then become ambassadors for your brand.

Ratcliffe also challenged the assumption of many that the day to day business of winemaking is not interesting to a majority of wine drinkers.

"Consumers, we have heard, are just buying a night at home, but they do want to know about what winemakers are doing - they just don't know it yet and it's down to how we frame this."

In a final word of advice, Ratcliffe again stressed the need for social media to become an integral part of any wine business's remit and at the highest level, concluding: "Everything will change again, so start planning for it now."