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Word of Mouth Goes Digital

Applying Standby Principles to the Digital Age

Today we’re going a little old school.

It’s the oldest method on record, that is, for information to spread: we talk to each other. As in, live and in person, face to face, about things we love (and don’t love), when we rave about a new something we’ve just used or a new service that’s wowed us.

It’s called word of mouth, or WOM for short, and this post looks at its digital personality as a tool for fine wine retailers. That sounds like a leap – from old school to digital – and it is, but keep in mind that many of the same characteristics that make something “buzz-worthy” in real life encounters also make it “go viral” digitally: factors like surprise, humor, making life easier, and getting a good deal.


Here’s the first thing to know: word of mouth in today’s digital ecosystem means words, yes, and it means images too. Photos – particularly on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter – bring engagement, which means conversations and buzz, which leads to traffic and sales.

The good news is that WOM in today’s digital ecosystem rewards involvement and proactive engagement by delivering search results that best align with the people and themes that you (or your retail shop) consistently engage. Like attracts like, so to speak: “like” a post, and the platform’s search functionality keeps presenting you with results that will likely also be of interest to you.

But how does it actually work? Let’s kick the tires a little bit to explore.

Go ahead and open Instagram, either on your phone or browser, and type “fine wine retail” in the search bar. What results do you see? Most likely the top results are retail outlets that have “fine wine” in their name, and they’re geo-tagged according to location. Both of those things make sense for anyone who has an Instagram account that includes their address.


Notice, however, two other features on the results page: there are probably some hashtag results thrown in, and the posts that see the most traction (that get the most likes, that is) involve content around the buzz-worthy, classic WOM things like relationships, surprise, and getting a good deal. That’s a not-so-subtle hint about how fine wine retailers can best engage consumers using images: forget the flat bottle shots, and enliven the posts with eye-catching and memorable images that feature people and the emotions that matter to us all, such as relationships and saving money. Good-natured humor goes a long way too.

As for the haghtags: they are one way to boost your position in the results ranking when a consumer searches for “fine wine” even if those words don’t happen to be in the name of your own store. It’s important to know that Instagram’s algorithms tailor results based on your past history within the platform, that is, hashtags you’ve used, other posts you’ve liked, and people you know. This means that, to get the most out of this tool (and other social media tools like it), you need to be interactive. You need to engage proactively in order for others to engage responsively with you. Use #finewineretail in every post if that’s what you want to be known for; also develop unique hashtags (for your in-store specials, for example) and start using hashtags that are common within your neighborhood or competitive set.

What happens when you do that is that you start to build a digital WOM history, which is a lot like organically building an in-person WOM history. You talk, the other person talks, and you search for commonalities. As time passes, you learn what each of you likes and doesn’t like.

You start to see what gets results.

That’s the old school part that today’s digital technology updates and automates. The most impactful action you can take is consistent, intentional engagement. Building that track record, so to speak, gives the technology a lot to work with. Searches will be more tailored to your mission, which opens the door to targeted opportunities for results.

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