Home > Seattle Wine Marketing, Social Media, Social Media Tactics, Wine and Social Media > Free Wine for Tweets: Bribery, or Clever Use of Social Media Marketing?

Free Wine for Tweets: Bribery, or Clever Use of Social Media Marketing?

Will Trade Wine for Twitter Mentions.

I received this email this morning. As an Interactive Internet Marketer, I thought it to be a great use of  Twitter for Social Media Marketing (and quite common methodology actually). Upon further thought, however, I realized that it is just as easily can be seen as a bribe. Here is what the email read. *All names and wineries have been changed to non-existent names [with quotes], but the content remains exactly the same.

I wanted to pop you a quick note to invite you to an exclusive Live Tasting Tweet-Up with [Red Wine Winery].  The event is hosted by [Super Cool Online Buying Wine Company] and will take place January X at 6:00 p.m. EST.

As a participant, you will have the opportunity to sample 3 bottles of [Red Wine Winery’s wine], which we will mail to you before the tasting.

To keep things flowing and lively during the Tweet-up we recommend the following:

  • Tweet about the event four times during course of event
  • Tweet twice prior and twice following
  • Use a designated hashtag in your Tweets:  #Super Cool Online Buying Wine Company

If you’d like to participate, please confirm and provide an appropriate shipping address by January x.

Don’t hesitate to let us know if you need any additional information or have any suggestions on how we can keep things going during the Tweet-up.

Thank you. All the best, [Mike]

Last year, as Director of Social Media for an online retail company, I sent ‘free’ samples all of the time in trade for reviews and never thought of its potentially unethical merits. Now I wonder: Is there a way of doing Social Media Marketing to it’s fullest extent without giving free products in exchange for online recognition? Is this ethical? Am I being bribed, or simply offered a great chance to taste wine and let other know what I think?


Note to Wineries: if you would like for me to tweet/blog/Facebook about your wine, please send bottles to Seattle Wine Gal P.O. Box….. Just kidding!

All Content Written by Seattle Wine Gal.

  1. January 8, 2010 at 12:44 pm

    I have thought about this very question, regarding something called “Taste & Tweet”. I have attended two of these. Basically, the restaurant invites a small group in to taste a number of their dishes/drinks for free, in exchange for the group participants tweeting about each dish/drink as they are consumed.

    In all the tweets I’ve seen from Taste & Tweet events, I’ve never seen a very negative tweet. Closest would be “I didn’t care for x as much as I did for y”. Perhaps it’s true that nobody has ever hated something they tasted at a Taste & Tweet. Or, do people feel compelled, perhaps even subconciously, to tweet positively because they were specially invited to this exclusive, free tasting event?

    I know there are food critics who will not accept a free meal for evaluation for this very reason. However, is it possible for a restaurant, winery, etc. to give a free product, but then be ready for negative feedback? I think that’s the only way for this to work.

    My suggestion to restaurants, wineries, etc. that want to give free product for feedback: make it very clear, both in writing and verbally, that all feedback should be honest, positive or negative, and should not be influenced by the free product. The critic, tweeter, etc. should include reference to the fact that the product was free, but that they stand by their honest opinon of that product.

    I would love to hear feedback on this, and new ideas you might have.

  2. January 8, 2010 at 12:46 pm

    As long as the reviewers who receive free samples are honest and give honest reviews, this practice doesn’t seem to be unethical. When the reviews are always favorable–perhaps in order for the reviewer to continue to receive samples–then it’s time to stop.

  3. January 8, 2010 at 1:07 pm

    Gets exposure for the winery as well as the marketer, but I would be interested to see how it pencils. 3 bottles for 4 mentions? Is a mention worth $4.50?

  4. January 8, 2010 at 1:27 pm

    From my opinion, the email doesn’t indicate how you should tweet. The reviewers / tasters could and should be honest about their experience. With tastings being so subjective, it is often difficult to slam a wine in public – but there are political ways to indicate that something is not preferred.

    I think it is an incredibly clever way to user social media marketing. How a winery chooses to use their marketing dollars to generate brand awareness is up to them. If the cost of 2 or 3 cases of wine generates more buzz than a billboard or magazine add, then go for it.

    The difficulty is when the converse is true the feel pressure to spend ad dollars in return for a favorable review.

    Nothing unethical here!

    Josh @nectarwine on twitter

  5. vinotology
    January 8, 2010 at 1:39 pm

    I agree with the previous comments. As long as there are no requirements regarding what kind of tweets are posted, I don’t think there is anything wrong with this.

    I do think that the person who is receiving the samples is the one with the ethical burden here. It can be hard to give a bad review to someone who sent you something for free. The challenge for bloggers and tweeters is to be honest and unbiased.

  6. January 8, 2010 at 1:50 pm

    Even if businesses that provide such free samples were okay with getting less than positive feedback via social media outlets, people likely won’t give it. These free samples play off one of the most powerful social norms out there: reciprocity. Check out Bob (Robert to be formal) Cialdini’s easy to read book “Influence” to understand the issues here. This is part of why we blog anonymously and prefer it when wineries have tasting fees – we’re less likely to leave with a bottle we don’t really like this way.

    • January 8, 2010 at 2:34 pm

      Thanks for this powerful comment VA Wine Diva, it is appreciated. I’m on Amazon ordering “Influence”, thanks.

  7. January 8, 2010 at 1:53 pm

    Hello Barbara,

    My thoughts mirror what Joanne expressed; however, just because a reviewer continues to give favorable reviews does not mean he / she is being used as a shill – perhaps the wines are just that good and / or the reviewer hasn’t a discriminating palate. For the producer, I think samples are a genius and clever method to market your product(s) to a broad audience at minimal expense. Twitter has proven to be a marketing highway w/ no speed limits to target a “super-large” wine consuming audience. Therefore, so long as honesty is the policy on the side of the reviewer, it is all good in my opinion 🙂

    Dezel aka @myvinespot [Twitter]

  8. winedudeonline
    January 8, 2010 at 2:02 pm

    I agree with John and Joanne. I don’t see anything wrong with the free samples as long as you (the taster) are giving honest feedback. I, as a blog reader, would want to know that the review of [fake winery] is truthful so I can make my own decision. I also think that this is an acceptable practice as long as they are just trying to get their name out there to drive traffic to the site or tasting room.


  9. January 8, 2010 at 2:25 pm

    I am pondering a point that John, Vintology and Wine Diva made (above). You rarely see a poor review of a wine received for free for the purpose of review. It seems like such a commonly supported practice. Two things to think about here. It is evident that these reviewed wines are rarely done so with the admittance of how the reviewer came across the wine in question (i.e. free). Would a person’s credibility be called into question if they admitted that they received the wine that they reviewed for free? Also, is it dangerous for a winery to have this fact ‘out of the closet’? Just playing devils advocate here. It is a big part of online marketing that I do not think the consumers are aware of!

  10. January 8, 2010 at 2:43 pm

    Isn’t there some new national legislation that says bloggers have to indicate when they get stuff for free? I seem to recall some posts about that a few months ago and an uptick in some bloggers indicating wines they get as samples or tastings they get as perks of being a blogger.

    • January 8, 2010 at 3:28 pm

      I recall that too, but I think it’s such a slow moving process that no one is worried yet. When I used to send people samples to blog/tweet about I suggested that they place a statement on the bottom of the post stating that the products were reviewed for free but their opinion is in no way biased or based on that fact. I actually liked this because it ‘allowed’ many people to feel off the hook and free to review as they saw fit. Let me know if you hear anything about that new legislation, I will look for the info as well.

  11. January 8, 2010 at 4:03 pm

    There’s nothing wrong with taking the bribe so long as disclose that you did so in your review; it’s all about transparency. You should flat out say “Company X sent me a sample and asked me to review them”. From there it’s the readers’ responsibility to be smart enough to figure out whether your review was sincere.

  12. Matt
    January 8, 2010 at 4:23 pm

    Sounds just like standard advertising to me. In advertising you pay someone to generate awareness and interest in your product. The only difference in this case is instead of paying you in dollars they are paying you in wine. As for blogging on it, I would think of it as no different that having google adwords advertisements on your site, and it would likely be more relevant than those.

  13. January 8, 2010 at 4:28 pm

    1. Yes, by federal law, bloggers must now publish the receipt of free samples.

    2. Yes, ‘reciprocity is a studied phenomena and free samples garner more positive responses.

    However, in several wine blogs, they have sample disclaimers – stating that they are under no obligation to review the wine received or to provide positive feedback. We at Hipster Enology haven’t published a disclaimer because we considered the above to be status quo. Maybe we’ll change that. 🙂

  14. January 9, 2010 at 8:42 am

    I’m sure folks feel funny about slamming something when they have received it for free. I receive wine for free and when I review it, I tell whether I like something or not.

    I have one of those negative reviews coming up soon, for a $35 bottle of wine. I’m not sure if that will mean I’ll be cut off from that supply or not, but if I am, then so be it.

    When I wrote up notes from The Wines of Chile Taste Live event, I wrote less than positive remarks about one wine, which I heard about via email from two different people. Neither were mean or indicated there was a problem, they just said they were sorry to hear I didn’t enjoy the wine.

    I just try to stick to explaining why I didn’t like the wine, as it like everything else in the world, personal and individual. I mean, if movie critics ruled the box office, Michael Bay would be out of a job. Fortunately for him, the real critics (the paying public) keep him employed.

    Like vinotology said, so long as there is no expectation of giving a positive review / comments, I see no problem in sampling.

    • January 9, 2010 at 10:07 am

      Awesome Kevin, this is good advice for me. I’m just beginning to get these types of offers. I actually said yes to one yesterday. I suppose my aim will be to ‘keep it real’ and do reviews only once in a while. When I do I will be very frank about it. I am far more interested in the topic of Social Media in the wine industry than reviews, so it’s probably best that I stick with what calls to me.

  15. January 9, 2010 at 8:46 am

    I think it’s a great idea from the wineries. The only issue I see is the expectation level on behalf of the winery toward the tweeter/blogger. If they send you something you don’t like what do? Be honest and never get a sample again? Lie and hope no-one notices? It would be a hard one…

  16. vinotology
    January 9, 2010 at 9:44 am

    Kevin, I think your approach to negative reviews is perfect. I try to do the same thing. If I don’t like something, I tell why I don’t like it. There might be someone else who loves the very thing that I didn’t enjoy in a wine. Everyone has different tastes. This is one of the problems that I have with the 100 point system. It implies a scientific measure of quality that just doesn’t exist. Anyway, that’s off topic.

  17. January 9, 2010 at 10:25 am

    Honesty is the key… IMHO samples are okay as long as the person reviewing isn’t misleading people about how they taste!

    Great post!

  18. Jen
    January 9, 2010 at 12:06 pm

    As a winery owner, I often give bottles of wine to people who appreciate wine and write about it and I also give the professional courtesy of a discount to some writers. I do this because I want them to experience what we have to offer. Wine lovers who review and write are also patrons and potential patrons. Naturally, those are the people I want drinking my wine. As an established winery in an emerging wine region, it’s important for us to be “out there” generating excitement, gaining recognition and simply generating chatter…better known as advertising! Samples are, by far, the most cost-effective means of advertising available to me and to any winery. Would I give my Nebbiolo to a writer who reviews dry red wine negatively and sweet wines with favor? No way – not unless they were standing in front of me and I was able to connect with them and explain my wine to them. With that said, if I am asked for free samples and oblige, I never expect a positive review but rather an honest and educated review. As Kevin stated – If you don’t or do like something, say why! This allows for others to make their own opinion. Are free samples unethical? They can be and the it’s up to the writers and wineries to keep it honest and it’s up to the consumer to read into the reviews and educate themselves. I say “YES” to free samples – but not to every “Joe” who calls himself a wine writer.
    What a great topic! Thank you for posting!

    • January 10, 2010 at 7:29 pm

      Jen, I thank you so very much for your visit to my blog, and your comments on this. I was waiting/hoping that a vintner or winery proprietor came and gave us their views. What you said is so very understandable. As an internet marketer, I agree wholeheartedly and commend you for sharing your wines with influential bloggers/wine writers!

  19. Joe
    January 9, 2010 at 9:24 pm

    no problem with wineries inviting writers/bloggers for free tastings. What’s off-putting about it is the winery sending our “guidelines” on how and when to tweet. If the product is good (or bad) enough, it will warrant comments. Requesting tweets suggests- to me- a lack of confidence in the product.

    • January 10, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      YES Joe, I agree. Thanks for adding this point. I have been getting a lot of ‘invites’ for reviews lately, and many of them come with a list of ‘recommended’ number of tweets/blog posts etc. I must admit, however, that I actually understand their reasons for suggested/recommended review protocols. What a bummer for (say) a small production winery with limited resources to send wine to someone for review and then never see any follow up.

  20. January 10, 2010 at 4:57 pm

    I don’t see anything unethical. As previous commenters have already explained well, this is just another form of advertising. With more and more businesses utilizing social media, we have to realize that more of the social media we consume is carefully crafted marketing. Not necessarily a bad thing, it just is what it is.

    Businesses engaging in social media marketing should remember that free/unsolicited publicity is in most cases much more powerful than paid publicity. Giving free samples in exchange for tweets is good, but getting tweets because you’re on twitter engaging with people who like wine is GREAT!

    It’s fine (and necessary, in today’s world I think) to use social media in a marketing and advertising strategy, but businesses should be focusing even MORE on giving, being helpful, generating and participating in true community on the social media platforms they choose to use.

    -Naomi (@whatcomwines)

  21. January 10, 2010 at 8:58 pm

    I agree with a lot of what has been said here. I also would point out that most respected wine critic don’t pay for the wine they drink, so there is nothing unusual about this practice.

    While I agree that bloggers/tweeters should note when they are reviewing a wine they received for free; I find it interesting that the bloggers/tweeters are held to a higher standard than critics who work for traditional media outlets.

    I also think it says a lot about your ethics and standards that this does concern you — its clear you don’t want to give off any impression of impropriety and I think that will increase the trust of your followers.

    • January 10, 2010 at 10:38 pm

      Thank you so very much Allan. Having worked in Social Media for big business, and now just doing it for ‘fun’, my approach is quite different. I have enough of an expendable income to not be very motivated by free wine for tweets. At the same time, I feel these offers are providing me with news wines that I would not have otherwise tried. I have decided to keep it super real and divulge all of the facts to my followers when reviewing a wine sent to me. I hope that it is evident that i am honest and true in all that I do in the name of Seattle Wine Gal. 🙂

  22. Crystal
    January 11, 2010 at 9:25 am

    The key is to give without expectations. It is not possible to guarantee someone will give an honest opinion of our product. Be prepared for whatever they come back at you with. If they don’t like your product don’t bash them. You gave them something to try and they didn’t like it. Deal with it. At the end of the day make sure you thank them for their time and opinions regardless of what they said.

  23. January 23, 2010 at 2:01 pm

    As long as the reviewers who rec eive free samples are honest and give honest reviews , this practice doesn ’t seem to be unethical. When the reviews are always favorable – perhaps in order for the reviewer to continue to receive samples – then it ’s time to stop.

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