Yesterday, on a London bus, a complete stranger who’d evidently overheard me struggling with a question – helpfully provided the answer. The details of what we were talking about, and the contribution from the girl sitting behind us, are actually irrelevant (Angelina my newly arrived intern from Ningxia and I were trying to work out the best way for her to get to a flatshare she was going to check out); what interests me was her readiness to chip in, and our gratitude for her having done so.

Now try to put yourself into a few imaginary situations. 

You are a writer, dining in a restaurant. The man at the next table is telling his companion how much he was enjoying reading a book you had written. Do you keep quiet? Or do you politely admit to being the author?

You are at a party where you overhear fellow guests – to whom you haven’t been introduced – talking about the rude behaviour of the builders working on a house on their street. You immediately realise that the workmen in question are the ones rebuilding your kitchen. What do you do? Ignore it? Keep quiet and resolve to say something to the builder tomorrow morning? Acknowledge your connection and ask precisely what had happened?

The way you responded to these three anecdotes probably depends largely on how you were brought up (how rude is it to join on other people’s conversations?) and your personality (extrovert or introvert). And you may, in any case, have reacted to them differently. After all, it’s a lot more socially acceptable to join in a conversation between guests at a party to which you’ve also been invited than to interrupt one between people you don’t know. On the other hand, it’s not much fun admitting – even indirect – responsibility for causing offence.

In an online world, the rules are different. The clue to social media is clearly in its name. Twitter and Tripadvisor are parties that anyone can attend and where chipping in is 100% legitimate. Big companies understand this. Just try saying that you’ve had a bad experience on an airline or a bad stay in a hotel belonging to the bigger chains and you’ll see a response in moments. But it’s not just the giants who understand this. There are plenty of stories of individual hotels and restaurants responding to online comments. One I noticed was to a diner who was complaining about the food and slow service he was getting in a steakhouse in the US. The tweet he got was not from the place where he was dining but from a competitor. As I recall, it said something like, “sorry you’re having a bad time. Hopefully it’ll get better”.

So what’s this got to do with wine? As Cathy Huyghe points out in a good Forbes piece, fewer than two online conversations in ten get any attention from wine brands. To put this in perspective, according to an estimate by Silicon Valley Bank in its 2014 report, we’re talking about 1.2m (yes, 1,200,000) exchanges across all social media channels every day that are going unnoticed. That’s people who had a corked bottle of your wine (or a competitor’s), or are wondering about visiting the winery, or don’t know where to buy it, or thought it went well with ceviche, or … heaven knows what else. And as a producer or distributor, you have the right to chip in – provided, obviously, that you do so politely and helpfully – just like the lady on the bus.

So, how do you know about all these conversations? Well, you can find out about quite a lot of them absolutely free of charge. Just set up a google alert:

You could get Topsy to keep track of how well you are doing – and which of your own tweets have been most effective. 

You could sign up with twilert which will do lots of searches for you in real time for less than 50c a day (and I’m guessing your time is worth more than that). is another affordable service that keeps an eye on what people are saying about you.

And then there’s Social Report which is a little pricier ($39/month) but theoretically tells you not only how many people are talking about you and where, but also, who’s doing most of the talking.  

Once you’ve played with these tools – they all offer free or cheap introductory packages – you may well want to go the  extra mile and pay an agency to do your social media monitoring for you. There are lots of these and their costs vary, but in some cases they are a lot higher than the ones for the tools I’ve listed, and for not much more in the way of results.

For really serious social media monitoring, I know nobody who does it better or more seriously than Paul Mabray’s Vintank

To get the most out of any of these services, of course, you have to be prepared to put in the effort to engage with the people who are talking about you and your wine, but I’ll almost guarantee that the return on your investment (the time you put in) will compare pretty damn well with the hours you’ve spent talking to journalists nobody reads, and standing behind tables pouring wine to often uninterested attendees at £1,000/table wine fairs.

  1. Very good, Robert. So long as nobody finds a way to track Twitter DMs, and find out what we're really thinking. 🙂

    Tyrone: @winesonlyadrink

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