Richard Hemming: Tweeting to the converted

on 14 August, 2015

In July, BBC Radio 4 broadcast an episode of The Food Programme entitled New Wine generation.

It was a rare example of wine commandeering primetime media, albeit for a very particular kind of middle-class listener. Arguably this is the ideal target audience – disposable income, engaged with food and drink, kids called Saffy and Hugo, terribly nice family, we simply must invite them over for supper one evening.

This was exactly the kind of programming to appease critics of mainstream wine broadcasting such as Saturday Kitchen, who bemoan their reliance on inexpensive supermarket choices. Instead, here was something focusing unashamedly on premium but affordable wine, introducing a ‘new generation of wine drinkers shaking things up [...] with the intention of shaking off the fustiness and perceived snobbery.’

The reaction on Twitter was mixed, to say the least, and this raises two things to consider: who we engage with on social media, and how mindful we are of wine’s inherent rarefication.

I counted 21 tweets about this episode of The Food Programme, of which only five were negative. Hardly viral, but it sounds encouragingly positive until you consider who’s saying what. Of the 16 favourable comments, 13 came from those working in wine – either PRs, importers, retailers or on-traders. From these, a few short conversations ensued, all of which were preaching to the converted.

Social media has a bad habit of becoming self-serving. In 2013, I surveyed several hundred wine professionals about their Twitter usage. Only 14% of them said they were talking mostly to consumers on Twitter, despite the fact that 62% claimed to be using it to increase sales. None of them seemed to appreciate that this is completely contradictory.

There’s a great danger that wine – like any specialist pursuit – becomes a closed circle. The more we talk to each other in mutual reassurance, the less likely we are to appeal to anyone outside the niche. The five naysaying tweets were unequivocal in their disdain, though it was perhaps unnecessary to deploy the word ‘bellends’ as a hashtag. Here was an opportunity to engage the very people this programme was trying to convince – those who think wine is fusty and snobbish – yet it passed unanswered.

This brings me to my second point, whether it is possible to make wine appeal to the mass market, or whether we are naive – even arrogant – to assume they are remotely interested to begin with.

To repeat: this radio programme trumpeted the way in which wine is becoming more accessible and mainstream, but that doesn’t mean the majority of wine drinkers in the UK are suddenly inclined to change their attitude. As I’ve said before, most wine is drunk thoughtlessly, for its social and inebriant qualities, not for any intrinsic worthiness.

Yet it’s surely unarguable that we should remain open-minded and proactive in our efforts to grow the UK wine market and try reaching out to everyone. Either way, social media gives us the chance to directly engage with consumers, so we would be #bellends not to try.

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