The Stephen Fry effect

A New Zealand winery welcomes the power of Twitter

A winery’s website and social media channels work as virtual cellar doors in the digital environment, and you never know who might choose to make a flying visit and then tell the world about it.

That’s precisely what happened last month at Two Paddocks, based in Central Otago, after a happy coincidence unleashed the magic of Twitter – the social media forum that allows only 140 characters per message.

Stephen Fry took to Twitter like a hobbit to taters - and his followers are legion.

In this instance, the wizardry stems from a natural phenomenon known as the “Fry Effect.” Actor and author Stephen Fry’s enormous popularity and influence on Twitter (he recently broke the 3-million mark for followers) means that when @stephenfry tweets, the world listens. Fry’s reach has been amply demonstrated on many occasions. Take, for example, the single tweet recommending David Eagleman’s short-story collection, Sum: 40 Tales from the Afterlives.

@stephenfry: You will not read a more dazzling book this year than David Eagleman’s Sum. If you read it and aren’t enchanted I will eat 40 hats.

The message was retweeted by Fry’s myriad followers, and resulting sales raised the book’s ranking on Amazon by a whopping 250,000%. A major reprint soon followed.

On to New Zealand. The illustrious Mr Fry arrived in the Land of the Long White Cloud on 2 August to begin filming the role of “The Master of Laketown” in the Peter Jackson production of The Hobbit.

@stephenfry: Landfall! It’s Tuesday here in NZ … Lordy.

One of Fry’s many delightful qualities is his unassuming attitude to his own celebrity, and he strolled about Wellington to take in the city, tweeting as he went along. On that first day in town, he sent this dispatch:

@stephenfry: Bumped into the divine Sam Neill, twitterly known as @TwoPaddocks after his famous wine. Truly loveable man.

Jacqui Murphy, the general manager of Two Paddocks, takes up the story:

“We were driving through the middle of Wellington and passed by a tall handsome distinguished type in a sports jacket. I was sitting in the front passenger seat and had just started saying, ‘Hey, isn’t that Ste…’ when from the backseat, Sam was heard: ‘There’s Stephen – pull over.’”

And so the car drew up to the curb, and the two friends had a quick catch-up on the street.

Sam Neill: Proprietor of Two Paddocks - and yes, it's that Sam Neill.

Of course, Sam Neill is not only the proprietor of Two Paddocks; he is more famously the New Zealand actor who has appeared in numerous feature films, ranging from Kiwi classics to Hollywood blockbusters like Jurassic Park.

Neill is also one of the finest bloggers you’re ever likely to come across, and if you haven’t already bookmarked the TP Blog, you’re advised to take immediate corrective action.

Following this “brief encounter” in Wellington, Neill tweeted:

@TwoPaddocks: Yes, @stephenfry is here today and he is the height of the Eiffel Tower. Can he possibly be a hobbit?

The rest is more or less social media history. In real time, it took less than 24 hours for the Fry Effect to take hold. On 3 August, Neill tweeted the results:

@TwoPaddocks: Wow. 6,000 new followers since last night!? Amazing.

Some quibblers might view the tweetfest as celebrity backscratching, but I think that misses the point. In order for social media to work its spell, each party must contribute to the abracadabra. There is a reason @stephenfry outshines other celebrities on Twitter: he is wittier, more open, and he – not a handler – does the tweeting.

The same goes for Two Paddocks, which has riches aplenty to offer the virtual visitor:

  • A well-established presence on Twitter and Facebook, with Neill also tweeting for himself (supplemented by Murphy on @TwoPaddocks_Cru).
  • A gorgeous and informative website with detailed instructions on “Where to buy our wine” and a list of international distributors.
  • A hugely entertaining blog (dating back to April 2000) written by Neill and offering frequent posts and embellishments, including short films called “microdoodles.”

Imagine for a moment if Stephen Fry had tweeted about a friend’s winery that had little or no digital presence – the extraordinary opportunity to interact with thousands of new followers would never have materialised.

What if a gracious celebrity were to tweet about his or her enjoyment of your wines? Would your online channels be attractive enough to make the “link love” worthwhile for followers?

Two Paddocks was more than ready. According to Murphy, @stephenfry’s tweet resulted not only in 6,000 new followers on Twitter, but also a surge of web enquiries from consumers and trade wanting to know where they could buy Two Paddocks’ wine – especially from the UK and USA.

Ironically, Two Paddocks’ website and blog are already so popular that it’s proven difficult to track the Fry Effect via web analytics: the site often experiences sharp spikes in traffic soon after a new film has been posted.  Nonetheless, Murphy notes that web traffic in August was higher than usual – about 9,000 unique visits.

All of this took place before a screwcap was cracked. Anxious to rectify that situation, Two Paddocks subsequently sent Fry some wine.

Just to give you a little taste of Two Paddocks’ brilliant marketing at work, here is Microdoodle #5, in which the Proprietor takes you on a tour of the historic and beautiful Chateau set in its own splendid grounds.

 

 

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