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On a computer screen at St. Francis Winery & Vineyards is a profile of Rosemary, a woman who has commented about the Sonoma Valley winery on sites like Facebook and Pinterest hundreds of times.

Her mug shot, pulled from her profile on one of those sites, is alongside her full name and a log of everything she's said publicly about the brand online.

Software that St. Francis and other wineries use to monitor their brands on social media channels also has the ability to track where customers go after visiting their winery, based on the digital trail they leave in their wakes as they check into nearby businesses on Foursquare.

"It's so wild," said Christopher Silva, CEO of St. Francis. "It's really mind-boggling how far technology has come, and how technology has allowed us to track customers more effectively."

St. Francis is one of a growing number of wineries working to enhance their relationships with customers by observing their behavior in social media and online.

Marketing executives say the practice helps companies to deliver more targeted pitches and to get to know their customers better using public information.

But privacy advocates are concerned about whether ordinary consumers are aware that their information is being searched and funneled into online profiles, and they worry about where that data may end up down the road.

<b>Compiling data to create profiles</b>

As the wine industry becomes more technologically savvy, companies are finding ways to connect the dots between the data they've collected about customers' purchase history with the digital trails left by their online behavior.

A popular program used by St. Francis and about 1,400 other wineries was developed by VinTank, a Napa company that makes social tracking software, also known as listening software, for the wine industry.

"It really enables me to monitor and engage anybody that's talking about our brand," said Dylan Elliott, e-commerce coordinator for Crimson Wine Group, which owns Healdsburg's Seghesio Family Vineyards and uses VinTank. "You can really dig into the customer database and see who your advocates are, all kinds of information."

A recently released version of the VinTank software links the social media log of customers like Rosemary to a record of what the customer has bought at the winery.

To accomplish that, VinTank recently partnered with Vin65, a division of Napa-based WineDirect, which provides e-commerce software to the wine industry. Wineries use Vin65 software to record and track purchases.

That enables wineries to measure whether their efforts in social media are translating into additional sales, said Paul Mabray, chief strategy officer at VinTank.

"You can get all kinds of interesting statistics," Mabray said. "People who are your Facebook fans spend X amount more than those who are not."

<b>Measuring email effectiveness</b>

The Vin65 software also can track whether customers have read the promotional emails the winery sent and whether they clicked through links embedded in the email to visit the website.

"We watch whether people open their email and click back on the website," said Andrew Kamphuis, president of Vin65. "If I send you three or four emails and you don't open any of them, why would I keep spamming you?"

Tracking emails in this way is a fairly common practice, and the fact that Vin65 does so is stated openly in its privacy policy, Kamphuis said.

"I'm not sure customers specifically know they're being tracked," Kamphuis said. "It depends on how tech-savvy the customer is."

Experts in listening software compare the techniques used in the wine industry to those deployed long ago by e-commerce companies like Amazon and Netflix, which keep track of what you've purchased and recommend other items that you might enjoy.

"We're trying to help you organize all the information you have about your customers," said MJ Dale, chief consumer direct officer at KLH Consulting in Santa Rosa. "All these tools and technologies are trying to bring us back to when you were a small store in a Western town, when we saw customers face-to-face and we knew them and they knew us."

KLH Consulting has recently released Vintegrate, a Web-based software platform that brings together a company's wine club, e-commerce, events and other data to create a full customer profile.

<b>Location-based tracking</b>

While face-to-face interactions may be on the decline in the digital age, software aims to bridge the gap.

Using the "nearby" function of the VinTank software, wineries can see dots on a map of who's checking in on Foursquare or tweeting from nearby locations.

"If anyone checks in at your winery or takes a picture or tweets, we push that right in front of your winery," said Mabray, the VinTank strategy officer. "We say, 'This person who just checked in at Foursquare is on your property, and is a wine club member. Go say 'Hi' to them right away.' . . . It's a little creepy sometimes."

Wineries respond in different ways, replying with invitations to visit or with thanks for the mention. St. Francis occasionally reposts Instagram photos on its Facebook page, if the customer tagged the winery in the photo, said Erica Petersen, senior marketing specialist for St. Francis. Knowing where customers go after they leave the tasting room also can help wineries identify additional sales venue possibilities.

"If they're going to a restaurant after they have your wine, maybe you want to expand your relationship with that restaurant," said Brandon Farley, community manager at VinTank.

<b>Privacy concerns</b>

The way companies access location information about individuals is troubling to organizations such as the American Civil Liberties Union, which is pushing for new laws to strengthen digital privacy.

"Location information can reveal going to church, attending a political rally, going to the bar on a Friday night and what time you went to the bar," said Chris Conley, technology and civil liberties attorney for the ACLU of Northern California. "There's a great deal of really sensitive information that can be revealed about an individual just using location."

Furthermore, people may be sharing information about their whereabouts on social networks without realizing that the information might be stored indefinitely in a company's database, he said.

The tracking functions that have become common in email systems are also a concern to privacy advocates. For example, nonprofit organizations that want to do mass mailings to their members often have a hard time finding software that will enable those mailings and still protect privacy, said Rebecca Jeschke, media relations director for the Electronic Frontier Foundation, an organization that advocates for digital rights.

"The demand for that sort of tracking by for-profit companies is so high, so that people who have privacy issues with their membership and want to protect their members, they have to be particularly careful with what software they use," Jeschke said.

Companies interviewed for the article said that when gathering information about customers' mentions of their brand online, they only used information that was publicly available, such as when people post a review to the winery's Facebook page or when an Instagram user uploads a photo and tags the winery. They also said they don't share the data with other companies.

"Privacy concerns are valid concerns," Silva said. "We do not share private or proprietary information with any outside organizations, period."

But complicating matters, companies like Facebook have privacy settings that change so often that many users find it hard to keep up. Facebook users' privacy settings may be compromised because of groups they belong to or applications their friends have run, Conley said.

To that end, the ACLU is pushing for a California law that would require companies to disclose what they know about individuals, whom they have shared the information with, and the scope and location of where the data is being kept.

"Many companies don't want customers to know what information they have," Conley said. "When a company or someone else is saying this information is public, that's because in many cases the person who posted it didn't make it public, but someone else did. Public-private is not this bright line."

You can reach Staff Writer Cathy Bussewitz at 521-5276 or cathy.bussewitz@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @cbussewitz.

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