Originally published in MediaPost’s Social Media Insider
It’s tempting to say the best thing about the wine-tasting event Spit & Twit was the name, and maybe it was, but what made an even bigger impression was how social media is changing the nature of real-world events. It also showed the limitations of being digitally and physically social at once.
At City Winery in Manhattan, WineTwits and others hosted Spit & Twit with a few dozen wineries and importers sharing over 100 wines. Attendees were encouraged to tweet, and a good number did, with the sptw hashtag racking up about 275 tweets during the event, plus other tweets without the tag and many more before and ever. The printed program, which I neglected to read until Nelly Yusupova (@DigitalWoman) showed it to me, listed hashtags for each wine, and WineTwits created an iPhone-optimized site making it easy to tweet about and rate each wine.
The tweets during Spit & Twit included the usual shout-outs and snarkiness, with a healthy mix of wine snobbery. Here’s a sampling:
- WasitRodge: Ok. WineBerry is the sexiest boxed wines ever. #sptw
- leighleighsf: fave red, ESRIOPST01/@blameitonrioja. awesome! fave white, WIEWC07VO (harvested during full moon) #sptw
- castlebuilder: #sptw Served French wine by Kentucky gal. Je t’aime frbxscbb05y’all!
- sarahmcsimmons: Dear girl in the plaid shirt, you are in our way. Could you please spit, twit, and move? #sptw
It was also a great event for taking photos. When I captured the Jam Jar and Dead Arm shiraz, the wine importer thought I was being so smart to keep a record of the wines I had, when all I was trying to do was get a good picture to tweet. As for the image’s flipped orientation, I’m still figuring out how to tweet photos from the new Motorola Droid phone.
Spit & Twit felt like one of those events that’s a sign of the times today but will soon feel archaic. It’s as if a restaurant opened called Order and Be Served, or a musician went on the Watch Me Play Live Music and You’ll Pay Another $40 for a T-Shirt Tour. Wine drinkers of a certain generation at larger tasting events will soon expect that sharing these experiences through social media is part of the event.
Right now, the process is still a bit clunky. Most people weren’t tweeting, and for good reason. Imagine tasting a dozen wines (for starters), then taking a picture, crafting a message, and using the appropriate hashtags, all while finding a place to put down your wine and getting out of the way of the people on line behind you. The tweets did add some value though: attendees could look at the screen for recommendations, wine lovers not there could get some dirt (or terroir) on good wines, and the wineries could benefit from the broader buzz. Another potential add-on for future events, which WineTwits could probably build in a matter of hours if they don’t do it already, is a list of the ratings, showing  live rankings of the top-rated wines there.
I asked WineTwits founder Stephen Gilberg for his thoughts on the event. He said, "The level of interactivity I saw [there] was amazing and unprecedented.&160; People were following other people’s notes in real time (both via their handheld devices and onscreen) and you could see traffic flow to certain tables as the wines at those tables were being talked about."
He then elaborated more on where social media fits in with the buildup and aftermath of the event. He said, "It’s definitely a learning process, and it’s going to change as the market develops, but utilizing Twitter and Facebook&160; [was] central to the event’s success.&160; You still need to reach out to traditional media to attract consumers. Email blasts are important as well. The next day the event lives on as people are still tweeting about it, and it’s now a resource on WineTwits.com that will continue to grow."
You can find more of the interview on my blog, and you’ll find Gilberg at many other social media-infused happy hours to come. Should you attend one, though, I’d recommend against spitting and twitting at the same time. Better still, go with a group and name a designated tweeter who can keep churning out 140 characters even after you’ve sampled 140 wines.