Media Influencer

helping people break out of pigeonholes since 2003

Musings on social media, enterprise, wine-making and terroir

TAGS: None

Most of my recorded experience with social software revolves around the ‘hard’ issues like people and shifting their minds and corporate culture, so in my conversations with David Tebbutt and Angela Ashenden of Macehiter Ward-Dutton earlier this week I wanted to offer a useful perspective on social software in the enterprise that takes a broader view than just focusing on individual employees. I came up with an analogy based on the wine industry.

First a brief background on what has happened to the wine industry globally in the last 30 years. Before 1970s French wine used to be considered the pinnacle of all wines. It was the great French tradition, the noble grapes (despite Phylloxera wiping out most of the original vines in 19th century), but mainly it was the unrivalled terroirs of Bordeaux and Burgundy. (Loosely translated as “a sense of place” which is embodied in certain qualities, and the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the manufacture of the product).

In 1976, the (in)famous wine tasting of Californian wines next to top French wines in Paris has shifted that world view*. This is because the Californian wines beat the French ones in a blind tasting on their own territory and in their own game – by tasting the way it was believed impossible to achieve without the magic of the terroir. The fallout over the next few decades was profound – once wine-makers all over the world realised that it is possible to produce wine a la Bordeaux or Burgundy in other countries, the experimentation and eventually production of quality wines from other countries has exploded. Thanks to that we now have some superb Californian, Argentinian, Italian, Spanish, Australian, Chilean, South African and Lebanese wines capable of matching the French ones in quality. There are purists who’d disagree and for a long time I have been amongst them but I am not enough of a wine snob to persist in that view in the face of considerable (and very enjoyable) evidence.

Before 1976 tasting, there seemed no point in producing quality wine aimed at the same market that the French wine-makers so successfully monopolised for centuries. Even if you had the same grapes and same techniques, you couldn’t replace the terroir… or could you? A few mad wine aficionados, with burning love of wine, innovator’s zeal, insane persistence and a big dose of luck spend years experimenting with wine-making techniques that would bring their brews close to their beloved Grand Crus. They have changed the balance between the three elements that makes wine – soil, grape and wine-making – and demonstrated that it is possible to compensate for the lack of the terroir magic with carefully applied wine-making techniques. It was no longer imitation of the ingredients or methods but an entirely new mix of components still designed to produce the same highly desirable outcome.

And this is how it is with social media/social software. There is no point in planting the vines of social web in the enterprise and expecting them to produce the same as they do outside in the open web. The soil is not the same, the terroir wildly different. If you want to achieve an outcome of similar quality and impact – better communication, more transparency, faster information exchange, more skilled and engaged employees, more and rewarding involvement with the outside world – you will have to take the grapes (the social media tools and software) and make sure that your ‘wine-making’ balances out what your environment lacks.

The most important things missing from the enterprise terroir is the individual autonomy. It is a sad and indisputable fact that anyone can do a lot more online outside their work than in the office. If companies want to get close to the social web magic, they will need to include this crucial ingredient into their approach. Treat your employees with respect and trust. Give them space to play and experiment. They will reward you with creativity and innovation. And if you do it right, with more respect and trust in return.

Ultimately, as every company has its own mixture of systems, culture and employees drive and skills, here are some tips for companies:

  • the best wines tend to be made by people who grow the plant the vines, harvest the grapes and then make the wine with love and care – the best use of social media comes from within the company, your own people who can combine understanding of social media/social software with your business, customers and processes. they can also look for new grapes, new ways to improve your techniques.

  • vineyards and winemakers often get experts in but these are invariably very accomplished practitioners with reputation that proceeds them. If you need external expertise make sure those you bring in have a proven record as well as understanding and respect for your terroir and know how to adjust their approach to it.
  • wine-makers share their experience, results of experiments, collaborate, even help each other practically – reach out to your peers, to exchange and compare notes, don’t just copy case studies or methodologies, respect your own terroir.
  • enjoy your experiments, they might actually be palatable, if not right now, then in the future. :)

*Judgement of Paris is a wonderful book written for 30th anniversary of the 1976 wine tasting by the reporter present at the event. Highly recommended.

TAGS: None

One Response to “Musings on social media, enterprise, wine-making and terroir”


  1. links for 2008-03-30
    on Mar 30th, 2008
    @ 23:39 pm

    [...] Musings on social media, enterprise, wine-making and terroir : Media Influencer Some metaphors for you (tags: social media enterprise2.0) [...]

Leave a Reply

© 2009 Media Influencer. All Rights Reserved.

This blog is powered by Wordpress and Magatheme by Bryan Helmig.