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The View from the Top

Sasha Kadey

Christopher Watkins

Ed Thralls

I’ve often said that relationships will get you farther than anything in this world.  Whether that is a romantic relationship, a business relationship or a platonic relationship, it is that connection and interaction that forms the road to future endeavors.

Recently, at the Wine Bloggers Conference, three winery representatives formed a panel to discuss the winery view of bloggers.  Hot on the heels of How Bloggers Influence the Wine World, this session was a lively conversation between the established media, digital media, and three winery employees.

Ed Thralls is a wine blogger who is now working at the Windsor family of wineries in social media marketing.  Christopher Watkins is the manager of retails sales & hospitality at the Monte Bello tasting room for Ridge Vineyards, and also the author of 4488:  A Ridge Blog.  Finally, Sasha Kadey is the Director of Marketing for King Estate Winery in Eugene, Oregon and is active in social media.

Here, with three very different examples of winery views, as well as bloggers, we discussed how winery work with bloggers, how bloggers can make themselves more visible to wineries, and what they look for in a partnership.  These three are some of the biggest fans of social media and bloggers, and work hard to ensure that they are engaged with the blogging community and that bloggers are engaged with them.

Bloggers, and digital media in general, has the unique ability to be agile and fast.  There are very few mediums as flexible as the online writer has access to.  Gone are the days of paper galleys that go for approval, and are they print in large batches.  Today, we have the ability to not only write on the fly, but also edit that on the fly.  Change your thoughts on a topic, and it is a simple process to edit and add a note to a post after the fact, and call attention to that.  Digital media, according to Watkins, affords the writer flexibility and leverage that cannot be accomplished in other environments.  Digital writers can maximize, and should maximize the tools they have access to, since they cannot be replicated elsewhere.

Thralls, who began his wine career and social media campaign as a blogger himself, now runs the social media marketing efforts or a large winery family of brands.  He goes on to state that the relationship with bloggers and writers is different today than it has been with traditional PR and writers.  Because of this, it’s necessary to pitch them differently.  Gone are the the days of email blasts to the bloggers on his list; bloggers and online media require a different approach and different engagement.

Conversely, bloggers who are pitching wineries also need a different tactic.  Bloggers should not be intimidated about approaching wineries.  As we discussed in the Are Bloggers Influential session, as an online writer, we need to go out and make it happen.  But that doesn’t mean that the thousands of wine bloggers should all pitch the same winery or brand in the same way.  How are you unique?  How do you stand out?  The opportunities are endless as wineries are flattered any time a blogger reaches out and expresses interest in covering your brand in any way.

As a blogger, it’s important to build relationships with wineries and wine tourism, but you need to have a pitch in mind.  It’s far easier to write about a wine that you are having for dinner, but what can you do to stand out?  It’s harvest season right now; that means wineries are a hive of activity, and a wealth of information.  Have you approached your local winery or region about staying in a guest house so you can be the first one up at the early light of dawn, to watch the grapes come in?  We have the unique ability to dig around behind the scenes and learn details about an operation.

As a blogger, we are one of the many.  There are literally thousands of “wine blogs” in the US today, and many thousands moire around the world.  How can we stand out at a winery and make them take notice of us?  This actually isn’t very complicated – it’s all about expressing interest.  We can do that by being active, writing regularly, being passionate, and engaging with the blogging and wine business community.  This is more important, according to the panel, than maintaining a narrow focus of content on our blogs.

One method that wineries use to measure this interaction and passion is the relative activity level in social media.  with Klout being a hallmark (more on that later) of social engagement these days, it is one method to gauge how active a writer is in the greater online community.  Unfortunately, Klout has changed some measurements of social influence and is no longer the best method for measuring these things.  Smart winery markets know this and also look at engagement on tools such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and blog commentary.  It’s all about engagement.  All three of the panelists agree that the full cycle of engaging with the community is much more important than someone who blogs frequently.

Another factor that wineries are looking for is a clear and individual voice.  When developing your blog style, it’s critical to use your own voice and maintain that clearly and consistently.  your voice is your key.  That said, each brand is looking for different people.  While you might be appropriate for Big Label with an Animal, you might not be appropriate for Small Winery on a Mountain Top.

In the end, i’ts about being authentic and staying true to who you are.  There is an attraction to your uniqueness that wineries will flock to.  Doin’t blog, just for the sake of blogging; make sure you have something to say, and even better, something to say that is unique.  quality is better than quantity.  Engagement is better than one directional conversation.

When you are fully engaged in social media, you are active on multiple platforms, and engaging on multiple levels.  Evidence of this engagement, whether it’s using Alexa, Kred, or Klout as a baseline, is more important than large amounts of followers or frequent posts.  To engage your audience is to build your audience and build your credibility.

While there have been a few examples of bad blogger politics, whereas the offenders are clearly digging for free tastings, samples, or experiences, the vast majority of bloggers are honest and integrous people who are looking to learn and share their experiences.  Relationships with bloggers build the long tail consumer business that a winery thrives on.  If you build a relationship you build a customer for life; conversely, if you sell a bottle of wine, you sell a bottle of wine.

So, where will you go from here?

 

13 Comments

  1. mmwine says:

    Great post Thea! While I've not made any of the wine blogger conferences, I agree that relationships are huge. And leveraging those relationships is important. The key is making sure that there is mutual benefit when it's done. When I started doing TV pieces on wineries, I definitely leveraged my relationships with the wineries and team members i met online. And because of that, I got great content, and they got great exposure.

    However, in this time when anyone with a laptop can blog, or vlog, it's important to distinguish yourself. Make sure that you add value when you post your content. Too many times we've been accused of writing for samples, rather than writing for readers. While I never post a bad writeup, or at least haven't year, I never say a wine is good if it isn't. No one likes a wine whore.

    1. winebratsf says:

      Hi Matt,
      Great response! And yes – you are touching on exactly what my key points are (and Christopher, Sasha, and Ed's as well). You are quite right – no one likes a wine whore. You have done a great job distinguishing yourself as a video blogger with a unique spin, and I think if more people do that – we will be a better community for it. My personal spin is the story of the winery, as well as industry insight, which also gives great exposure.

      Relationships between bloggers, between bloggers & wineries, between wineries & PR people, it's all part of the web of consumers and if we support each other and work together amazing things can be accomplished.

      Cheers!

  2. @skadey says:

    Great post Thea. Keep up the good work.

    1. winebratsf says:

      Thank you Sasha! I appreciate your comments, and interaction. Great panel, and thank YOU!

  3. Kim Johnson says:

    Great Post Thea! I so agree with all of it and can say, even as a newer wine blogger, that my efforts in my relationship building with wineries directly has been extremely successful thus far and they tell me how much they appreciate letting them know who I am and what I an offer them! Cheers!
    Kim ~ D' Vine Wine Time http://www.dvinewinetime.wordpress.com

    1. winebratsf says:

      Hi Kim – thanks! And you are doing a great job, even as a newer blogger. You jumped right in on social media and are absolutely building relationships. As you said, it is very successful, and for me – as a gregarious person by nature, a heck of a lot of fun!

  4. @passaggio says:

    Great post Thea…Cheers_

    1. winebratsf says:

      Thank you friend!

  5. Well stated Thea! What are your thoughts on Klout? I am guilty for not participating much on that platform.

  6. Love this! Relationships are key!!

  7. […] at this year’s Wine Blogger’s Conference (which you can read about on the fantastic Luscious Lushes Wine Blog; sadly, Thea won’t be in attendance at our tasting tomorrow, but you can dig her spirit as […]

  8. Excellent post Thea! I can honestly say after almost 3 years of blogging it is about the relationships and close interaction with the wineries. Plus they can "sniff" out someone who is just in it for the samples. Be genuine/honest with your reviews. Winemakers/staff are nuts about their wines and some of the nicest people you will meet. Listen to their story and then tell your readers. Cheers!

    1. winebratsf says:

      Exactly!

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