Monday, October 22, 2012

The Boston Wine Expo Wants to be Friends

The Boston Wine Expo is going to get more social. With social media that is. This was clear from the presentation at a recent blogger event where some of the changes for the 2013 Boston Wine Expo (BWE2013) were shared.

So what are some aspects of the event that are new or will be changing?
  • A new Blogger's Lounge will be available as a dedicated space for interviews and blogging activities.
  • An improved mobile app will provide attendees with the capability to rate the wines they taste, manage lists of favorites as well as interact with the expo via survey questions.
  • In a new Social Media lounge located in the center of the Grand Tasting all participants will be able to see what wines are trending from feedback via the mobile app as well as see what people are "saying" about BWE2013 on Twitter.
  • Wine sales will now be permitted at the event. Attendees will be able to place orders for wines they like before leaving the expo!
As always attendees will be able to taste wines from many wineries (over 200), showcasing products from more than 15 countries, experience dozens of food and lifestyle exhibits and enjoy food from more than two dozen restaurants. Special seminars and celebrity chef demonstrations will also be part of the schedule again next year.

The blogger event was a mini food and wine showcase hosted at Action Kitchen located in the Seaport Hotel. The best food item I sampled was a crab cake (several actually) and I neither got a picture or any information on it. Bad food blogger!

The wine was flowing with bottlings available from France, Italy, California and New York State. The most interesting wine I tasted was the Bressan Verduzzo Friulano. This wine is a contradiction in my wine world. The nose zigs and zags back and forth between typical red and white attributes and then when you get a taste letting the tannins settle in it really feels like you are drinking a red wine. But it is a white! White fleshed fruits do dominate the nose and mouth, and the finish is dry with a subtle nutty quality to it. The tannic structure is unusual for a white, but it really works. It is always nice to come across something new, but when it is also so different it makes a tasting that much more interesting!

Also announced was the Boston Wine Expo Blogger Ambassador program that will partner bloggers with the Boston Wine Expo. Participating bloggers will be media personalities for the expo, will be provided with several tickets to give away on their blog and a discount code for readers to use for ticket purchases. More on this program will be announced as we get closer to the event.

As I was standing in a room of food & beverage bloggers listening to the details on the social media commitment being made for BWE2013 I got to thinking, "what have the folks behind the expo learned about their audience that prompted these changes?" Moving to integrate social media into such an event isn't even remotely radical as an idea in 2012, and some people might suggest the expo planners are arriving late to that party. I tend to be pragmatic by nature and when also giving benefit of the doubt I suspected the efforts to do this now were sincere and reasoned. So I asked.

The following is a transcript of the follow-up questions I used to interview Ed Hurley of Resource Plus, the company that provides the event management for the Boston Wine Expo.

Me: What were the motivations to incorporate the social aspects and the new app into the event?

Hurley: We were motivated to incorporate social media more heavily into the Boston Wine Expo for the following reasons:
  • We recognize that social media has become the main method in which to communicate to a wide audience with similar interests.
  • We also realize the influence that blogger’s like yourself have on fans in the wine and food community and we are excited about the changes that we have been making to the Expo that we wanted to share them with you in the hopes that you will find them to be positive and share them with your followers.
  • Our wineries and sponsors have regularly been asking us what our social media campaign looks like and how they be a part of it. We quickly learned that social media is important to these groups as well.
  • We want to be recognized as key portal of information regarding the food, wine and hospitality industry in New England.
Me: What expectations do you have for how more social media awareness and the mobile app will impact the event?

Hurley:  Our motivations for the mobile app came from the realization that in the age of smart phones, our audience prefers to have their information presented in this manner.  Through a mobile app, we are able to present consumers with all the information they need to know about the Expo as well as guide them from wine tasting table to wine tasting table while in the show. We hope to be able to help attendees create a list of favorite wines that they taste at the Expo and offer solutions as to where they can purchase the wines locally.

Me: Were there specific findings about the demographics of the BWE attendees that made this appropriate to do now?

With regard to demographics, our research shows that 51% of our audience is between the ages of 30 – 49, 65% have household incomes above $100,000 and 64% of our audience is female. This helped lead us to the conclusion that our audience is one that utilizes social media on a daily basis and mobile apps are a big part of their daily lives.

Me: Involving the press in BWE is nothing new, but crafting a program specifically for bloggers is new as far as I know. What are the goals of having a closer relationships with local bloggers? What can we do for you now, then and later?

Hurley: Our expectations for social media are this…if we continue to present top wineries, compelling seminars and popular chefs then the food and wine community will get excited about what we have to offer and will spread the word to their friends that the Boston Wine Expo is the place to be on February 16 and 17 of next year.

The goals that we have regarding the development of a closer relationship with you and other bloggers are:
  • To keep up to date through your help – You know a lot about what the public likes in regard to food and wine and can help recommend to us certain restaurants, chefs, etc. that we should invite to participate in the show. You have the pulse on the wine and food community.
  • To get your opinions – You are a good sounding board for the continuous changes that we are looking to make in the show as it evolved over the years.
  • To entice you to help spread the word about the Wine Expo – As a prime influencer over many followers, you can help us spread the word of the exciting things happening with the event. In return, we have a strong platform as well and can offer you free tickets, discount admission codes, etc. to provide to your followers to spread goodwill. We can also support your blogs through our social media efforts. 
Me: Are the vendors and presenters aware of the new social and blogger changes? If not, does it make sense to involve them early on? Would their own outreach efforts compound the work you are already doing? If so, how do you expect they will be involved in additional promotion of the event before and during? Are there any vendors or brands that would like to connect with bloggers ahead of the event?

Hurley: The vendors and presenters are becoming aware of our new emphasis on social media and the blogger community.  We have begun to reach out to them for newsworthy stories regarding their organizations that we can pass along to your community. Also, as I mentioned above, several of our exhibitors and sponsors are already heavily invested in social media and have been asking what we are doing in this arena.  This illustrates that their own outreach efforts compound the work that we are doing as we are both trying to pass along relevant information to the community.  We have already begun engaging our exhibitors in our social media campaign. When an exhibitor signs on, we look for important news about them that we can share with our followers. We also ask them to provide us with news that we can share with our audience.

Another example is the recent Bloggers Event. When we put the word out that we were holding the event, we immediately got the participation of the nine wineries that were present along with our food sponsors. They recognized the importance of the blogger community and wanted to be a part of it. I believe that as we move closer to the event, we will see more vendors want to get involved as well.

The motivations and expectations shared above seem well reasoned and legitimate to me. Having participated in several Second Glass wine events that are heavily social I fully expect a return on these commitments. I am personally excited for the 2013 Boston Wine Expo and can't wait to share more about the event as February creeps closer.

So will you be friends with and like the Boston Wine Expo in 2013? I certainly hope so. I attended last year and enjoyed sampling new-to-me wines from many producers representing quite a few different places. Add more social interaction to that mix and I fully expect that attendees will be able to get more and better hints on wines to try before the show is over. And even better, attendees will be able to order wines that they really enjoy before they go home. Closing that loop ensures that producers who have wines that really shine will know that consumers won't have to spend lots of time searching around for a shop that carries their favorites!



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