Facebook, Twitter and, now, Foursquare used to provide information, offer specials

The future of social networking is in the palm of your hand -- your smart phone. And wineries are capitalizing on that mobile tool to draw you to their tasting rooms, according to Shana Ray, a social networking consultant who works with Sonoma County businesses.

"The latest online promotion tools are all about mobility right now," Ray said. "IPhones, BlackBerrys and the new Google Android all provide easy access to information, both providing it and getting it. Many wineries rely on direct consumer sales, and getting people into the tasting room is essential to selling wine."

Ray said wineries continue to target the millennials, the offspring of the baby boomers who range in age between 21 and 31, because they're a powerful buying segment.

To appeal to millennials, several wineries use Foursquare, new-ish software that helps users explore a city or meet up with friends. Here's how it works: People check in on their phone to let others know their whereabouts so they can either meet up or get insider tips that pop up for their adventure. Foursquare is also an interactive game, with the opportunity to win points, badges and even the title of virtual mayor.

"Here in Sonoma County, some businesses are giving away special deals to those who check in," Ray said. "Amista Vineyard, Ridge Winery and Michel-Schlumberger (all in Healdsburg) and the Brasserie at the Hyatt Hotel in Santa Rosa are four that come to mind. When a Foursquare user checks into a place nearby, a pop-up reveals there's a special deal not far away. Usually it's for a free tasting or 20 percent off the menu."

Ray said while Foursquare isn't for everyone, it's growing in popularity.

"Every day I get new friend requests on Foursquare both locally and nationally from people I'm friends with on Twitter and Facebook," Ray said. "I use it as a way to find out about new places to visit in Wine Country."

While Foursquare is becoming more commonplace, Twitter and Facebook are still the top sites for wine networking online, Ray said.

"Facebook is an amazing tool for events and connecting with others in Sonoma County," she said. "Twitter has a more broad appeal because here businesses can connect with people from all over just by relating to something they tweet or by following them. This is great for hospitality businesses, because when visitors are coming to Sonoma County, they often ask their Twitter networks for suggestions."

And then there's iVisit, an iPhone web-conferencing application that the Sonoma County Tourism Bureau uses to help visitors get the latest information on events, wineries and lodging within Sonoma County.

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