Monday, October 5, 2015

Cork'd: Building a Social Network for Wine Lovers

Background:
A website dedicated to wine lovers, Cork’d was launched in 2006. It provided wine lovers a place to rate and review wines and wineries to promote their wines through advertisements. Subsequently, Cork’d was owned by Gary Vaynerchuck, a loyal Cork’d advertiser. Vayenerchuck had a passion for wines. He was one of the first retailers to sell wine on the internet. His video blogs were quite a hit and he had a dedicated fan following. He was dubbed as “wine social media guru”. Vaynerchuck met Lindsay Ronga, at that time an MBA student at Harvard, and invited her to join Cork’d. Ronga moved on to be the CEO of Cork’d and was tasked to create the new Cork’d site, re-launch it, and build a social media strategy that would connect the organization's mission and new goals with the new features in the site and other social media.

Social Media Strategy:

Ronga created a social media strategy to match the new image of Cork’d. Several of the components of the social media strategy are identified below as per the table shown below:

Goals
  • Profit
  • Complement wine retail business
  • Wine education

Roles and responsibilities

Roles and responsibilities were limited to few people considering that the staff consisted of only two people (Ronda and a full-time developer). They were in charge of monitoring the site, making changes, and being responsive to the users. Vaynerchuck played the role of the advisor and promoter. Five interns were also hired for a short duration.

Products
  • Relaunch Cork’d -with improved features and pricing structures.
  • Self sustaining model, by earning revenue from wineries.
  • Free individual user accounts and paid account for wineries,
  • Platform for wineries and wine lovers
  • No advertisements
Audience
  • Wine lovers
  • Wineries
Tactics  

For the success of the new version it was necessary that more and more wineries sign up for the paid accounts. Cork’d strategy was to attract large number of individual users to the website, who could interact with the paid wineries. This would be a good marketing place for wineries and they would readily sign up for paid accounts. This two-sided network would provide benefits for both sides; that is, an increase in one type of users would lead to an increase in the other type. Accordingly, the content creation strategy was designed.

The main features of the strategy were:
  • Maximum outreach to wine lovers/consumers. This will also help in retail business of Vayenchurk.
  • To attract wineries to the paid account - to generate revenue for Cork’d.
  • Bridging gap between wineries and consumers.
To achieve these goals, Cork’d strategy was twofold:
(i)      To connect more and more wine lovers/consumers and provide them a platform for sharing.
They offered a system that allowed for two-sided networking where both individual users and wineries provided benefits to one another.
  • Users had access to wineries pages and could shop, reviews that and have direct contact with their favorite wineries
  • Wineries could communicate with their loyal buyers as well as possible consumers. Further, through reviews, they were able to better understand consumer preferences.
  • Users communicated with users, considering that most of the content is user-generated, on topics such as wine education
Strategy to Attract New Individual Users:
  • New users can sign with their Facebook ID through Facebook Connect.
  • By searching for wine related tweets, interns find and correspond with users indicated an interest in wine.
  • Reach to the old users extensive use of  twitter account of Vayenchuk (posts three times a week)
  • Use of Wine Library TV - link provided  to Cork’d after each tasting episode for individuals to post review of the wine just discussed.
  • Individuals could upload profiles, interact with other users, and choose friends (drinking buddies)
  • Link their Cork’d profiles to their facebook and twitter accounts
  • Can become fans of a wine, winery or grape
  • Incentives to keep the new users engaged:
·        Use of ‘newbie badge’
·        Launching a contest to win a trip
·        Ensure freshness of the content  (new articles)
·        Licensing the content to other websites 

Strategy to Attract Wineries to the Paid Account:
  • Wineries could maintain profile pages where they could post information, provide link to their own websites, and interact directly with devotees of the wines.
  • Featured winery on home page
  • Featured wine from verified wineries
  • Weekly newsletter - published interviews of verified wine owners
  • Bare bone page for those wineries not having paid account
(ii)  To create interesting content so that the users are kept engaged and they keep coming back to the site .

  • User generated content with minimal of editorial control - added credibility to the site
    • Review and rate wineries , discuss wines.
    • maintain a ‘wine cellar’ to store their favourite wines.
    • create wine shopping lists
    • Actively engage with the wineries.
    • Navigate to learn about grapes, producers, and wines.
    • Shop for wines (third-party sites) and link their Facebook and Twitter profiles to their accounts.
    • appear on Featured User
    • discover and keep track of the new wines.
The main idea behind their social media content strategy was the user-generated content. This meant that content was constantly updated, interesting, and benefited both sides. Content generated by Cork’d and other guest writers was supporting to the user-generated content, which was the building block of the network.

  • Freshness of the content:
    • Cork’d content : New articles on regular basis by guest writers.
    • Weekly email newsletter by Cork’d staff.
  • Free of advertisements - best possible experience to users, loyal customers.
  • Correctness of data - Reliance heavily on user generated data, hence accuracy was most necessary. Wine input system developed to to check adding a duplicate wine etc., correction by CEO .
Tools
  • Use of social media and other tools for interaction (both for pushing and pulling content)
    • Twitter to attract new user(Vaynerchuk’s status as celebrity)
    • Broad PR and social media campaign to coincide with the public launch
    • Cork’d hosted a wine testing pre-launch party - allowing wine tasters and wineries to communicate
    • Use of Social Media: Encourage use of Twitter, Facebook, and Blog to spread the word over the experience of the pre-launch party
    • Use of Media: Features about the Vaynerchuk and Cork’d in Wall Street Journal and TechCrunch
Measure performance
Despite Cork’d increasing the number of new users through its new social media strategy, it was having issues increasing the number of wineries subscribing to the site. Without paid accounts of wineries, Cork’d could not sustain itself. Some of the challenges are identified as :
  • Lack of feedback mechanism from wineries - an important audience.
  • Over Reliance on Vayerchuk celebrity status, which could have been good for recruiting but not to sustain the momentum
  • Over-reliance on user-generated content to attract individuals
    • Loss of control
    • Negative reviews for wineries that are not members
    • Copyright infringement
    • Quality control is difficult
    • Moderation is important
  • More focus on recruiting individual users than wineries
  • The two-sided network did not work properly-users were more interested to network/communicate with other users rather than wineries.As such, there was no added value for wineries to join.
Lessons Learned

Some of the components of the social media strategy such as those aimed at the individual users proved to be successful. Cork’d was able, through a combination of tactics, to increase the number of individual users. Despite using a two-sided network that could have proven successful, Cork'd failed to make the content and networking function in a way to create incentives for wineries. Social media content strategy proved to be interesting and engaging for individual users but missed the mark with the wineries. For the success of any social media strategy, its important that there is value addition for all its audience.

Cork’d’s social media strategy shows the importance of thinking about all the social media strategy components alike; specifically, it shows the importance of analyzing and understanding your audience. Once you have such information, think of the best tactics and tools to disperse information and to reach your audience. The tools that worked for Cork’d might not necessarily work for your organization. The idea is that different audiences, same as in the case of Cork’d (individual users and wineries), require for multiple tactics and different content and incentives.

When planning your social media content strategy think of it as being  a burger where the bun is where you post your content, the meat is the audience (which you have to analyze and understand),  cheese is the content theme that has to match your audience and be useful to them (keywords that draw attention), the sauce is the voice and tone you plan to use and depends on the industry/field (government vs non-government), and finally condiments are the content format (such as photos and videos) that make your content strategy visually appealing.1




















Future of Cork'd 
Note: A joint blog from Fitore Hyseni and Sandeep Jain

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