Direct to the Free Wine at the Direct to Consumer Symposium

Conferences and conventions are a superb way to pretend one is working when one is actually not. I’m not sure what actually occurs at conferences apart from the formation of ad hoc drinking clubs and complaints about crappy wi-fi. Certainly some business is getting done, that is if business is charting an up-tick in one’s otherwise dismal roster of Twitter followers. Such is the brave new world of social media marketing.

Held this past Tuesday at the Hyatt Vineyard Creek Hotel and Spa, the Direct to Consumer Symposium 2010 was all the above and less. Ostensibly a series of social media marketing confabs aligned along the premise of selling wine and tourism to the digital masses, the symposium proved an occasionally exciting bazaar of speakers, seekers, soothsayers and saboteurs, underscored by the nagging suspicion that no one really knows what’s next in the nexus of marketing, media and merlot. Members of the legit press (whatever that means these days) were scarce. I spotted only one other as he was straightening his collar in a men’s room mirror. If others were present, they avoided me. I’d avoid me too if it weren’t for the fact I’ve got to be me, at least in public. But online, I’m free as the iconic Twitter bird. At least that’s what “Boosting Brand Advocacy: How to Integrate Social Media into Your Marketing Program” led me to believe. Before I sneaked out the door.

I regret that I missed the keynote address, “Understanding Generation Y: What Social Media Means for Today’s Twenty-somethings” presented by Fortune Magazine’s Nadira A. Hira (whose name one conventioneer described as, “you know, like poetry.”) As a thirty-something card-carrying member of Gen X, sandwiched between the mammoth population of the Baby Boom and their latter, equally outsized offspring, I’m always curious as to how irrelevant my generation has become as a market force. If Tuesday was any indication, we remain as irresolute and useless as ever. The fastest growing demo in social media are the boomers; the demo that’s growing the richest in social media is Gen Y; and apparently, members of Gen X only join social media sites to be ironic. Among the symposia I attended was an intermediate level workshop wanly entitled “Targeting New Customers.” Therein, one could learn about “leveraging tourism to build customer counts,” specifically through “mobile marketing” technologies that will text special offers to your iPhone when you drive within x-miles of participating wineries. Texting while driving? Sure, and why not throw some wine into the mix? What’s next, a blindfold? Writing “Welcome to Sonoma” on our streets in the blood of innocents might be just as effective.

Sonomans, however, were woefully under-represented at the conference. It wasn’t until I spotted Landmark Vineyards’ luminous Bruce MacKay that I realized I wasn’t the only one. Napa, ever the social media butterfly, of course, was everywhere.

A destination marketing sidebar used Napa Valley in its PowerPoint presentation. Another panelist essentially played a commercial for Napa before admitting for no discernable reason that he was installed into his social media gig only half a year prior (gotta love experts!) and a corner of the convention hall was dominated by a Napa-themed installation that crowed about the valley’s virtues and Mediterranean climes. I was pleased they spelled Mediterranean correctly (I checked). The Direct to Consumer Symposium program folder, however, printed “Tuesday” without the “s,” which must be some hip social media shorthand.

As an experiment during one of the workshops, I tweeted, “Thank god @sharayray is here.” “Sharayray” is the online sobriquet of social media guru Shana Ray, who was sitting next to me. She promptly retweeted my shoutout, as did a phalanx of her followers. Among them was Sonoma musicologist J.M. Berry, who, sometime during this volley began tweeting laments that he was not there. We would later read on Facebook that he was busy making his music column deadline. In contrast, I did not file my column – specifically, this column – on deadline. Further, none expressed their gratitude to a deity, online or otherwise, that I was present at the conference.

Unlike J.M., et al, I did not share this on Twitter or Facebook. Instead, the ironist in me thought it quaint to showcase such irrelevance in the high-relief of newsprint. Why use digital ones and zeroes when mineral oil derivative and pulped up trees are at one’s disposal? And that’s another reason I’m going to hell. I should say that at no point during this exercise did I buy wine online. I did illegally download UB40’s “Red Red Wine” and shared it with all my online “friends.” Close enough, right?

Enjoy my work? Buy me a coffee!