Wine Blogging & Content Creation: It’s all about engagement

Connections.  Networking.  Friendship.  Community.  These are some of the top reasons that people attend the Wine Bloggers Conference, year after year.  As we approach the 10th anniversary event in Sonoma next year, I have to reflect on how this event has grown and changed over the last 9 years.

Beginning in 2008, when there were a scant 100 of us gathered at the Flamingo in Santa Rosa, we all knew each other (or at least knew of each other).   It was a tight knight community of online writers, and we were all learning about the new platform for sharing our stories.  There were, indeed, a few standout stars already emerging, however the playing field was level.  Twitter was in it’s infancy, and there was very little video out there specific to wine.

Moving through the years to this year’s conference in Lodi, a lot has changed.  And yet, very little has changed.  Building a strong network of influence is still about seeking connections.  The primary difference today, is that where you find these connections has changed.

In 2008, we found these connections at the conference, on Wine 2.0 (a now defunct social network for wine lovers and writers), at wine events, and on twitter.  Today, those networks have expanded to include video channels such as YouTube, Pinterest, Instagram and more.  And yet, the process of searching, connecting, and engaging is still the same.

As a professional consultant, I network every day.  That is the key to building my brand and my business.  Translating those skills to my blog, I shift my connections from technology and potential clients to wineries, regional associations, and individuals that I would like to connect with.

When you are finding people to build connections with, ask yourself:  What can I offer them with my wine blogging (content creation)?  What problem can I help solve?  How am I benefiting them with my wine blogging?  How am I working on improving my wine blogging?   In terms of the Wine Bloggers Conference, I can offer 9 years of experience watching the conference and the blogging world grow and develop.  In the wine industry, what can you offer?  Do you have a unique angle?  Is your audience something they should target?

As a wine blogger, content creator, digital wine writer, however you want to describe it, I look for these connections.  As Andrea Robinson said during her keynote this year, how do you add personal value?  What are you doing to create value in yourself?  By seeking, building connections, and acting on these connections, you are building your personal value.

But how do you get to engagement?  You’ve done the hard part, you’ve built your connections by going to WBC.  You’ve met dozens of people in person that you only knew online, or didn’t know at all.  Now, you need to act on those connections.  Today, engagement means more than it did in 2008.  At the first WBC, we had interactive blogs and monthly wine blogging writing challenges.  In 2016, we have live video streaming, twitter tastings, and other collaborative platforms to share our wine blogs and create collaborative content.

Furthermore, engagement means sharing and spreading content that you like.  It’s not enough to like a post on Facebook or on Instagram.  Today’s challenging social media culture requires you to engage with these platforms and share other people’s content.  By building engagement with others’, you are attracting other people to your content.

The most successful people in business, and the most successful bloggers, have strong networks and connections.  As a community, wine bloggers and content creators are very open and engaged.  Expanding that engagement and practicing those skills will net you rewards that are unexpected, and enriching.connect

So what are the key takeaways from this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference?

  • Network, network, network.  This is how you build your connections.  This doesn’t mean acting entitled and expecting everything to be handed to you, this is the hard work part.  Attend a local wine festival, go wine tasting, buy wine.
  • Keep in mind, it takes time to build a network.  Don’t expect this to happen overnight.  Just like business, building a network of wineries, associations and PR professionals is driven by your content, longevity, and professionalism.
  • With dozens of social networks, choose the 2-3 that you can focus on and pay focus on.  It’s better to do more with less than to do less with more.  This goes hand in hand with knowing your audience.  Where do they hang out?
  • Know your audience.  Spend a little time finding out where they are, what they are reading, and how you can tailor your content for them.  That doesn’t mean sacrificing what you want to write about, but rather finding new and interesting things for your audience to read.
  • Keywords are your friends.  By doing a little research, you can get big rewards.  What are people looking for?  What value can you add?  What wines do you have in your rack that people want to know about?
  • Search, connect, engage.  Engage in your community.
  • Don’t focus on monetizing your blog.  Monetize yourself (more on this later).  What value can you add?
  • Educate yourself.  Are there classes or certifications you can pursue that will help you?
  • Content is king, both at the conference and on your blog.  Every year, there is some of the same content and a lot of new content at the conference.  But even old dogs can learn new tricks.
  • Don’t be stagnant.  What can you learn?  What can you change?

The more things change, the more they stay the same.  The platforms might have changed, but the core values have not.  Have fun, have wine, learn new things, and meet new people!

 

Eight Tips on being a great wine writer – from Karen MacNeil

IMG_9563One of the highlights of this year’s Wine Bloggers Conference was the welcoming keynote speech by Wine Bible author, Karen MacNeil.  In her address to some 250 bloggers, writers, and wine industry professionals, she gave clear and concise advise on how to be your best self.

I’ll give you a hint:  Drink a lot of champagne!  Or, as Karen put it, drink a glass of the good stuff, every night.

But more importantly, how do you become even more successful as a writer and / or blogger?  That has always been an issue for many of us who have been blogging for a long time.  As someone who has been around the wine blogging scene since it’s early days in  2008, I am always asking myself how to be better, smarter, larger.  Better is an interesting word however, as the interpretation of the word can be fraught with misinterpretation and differing opinions.

Karen made several great points in her keynote, of which we can all interpret our own messages from.  Each one of us has to decide how to implement them, and what they mean to us.

Here are my takeaways:

  • Know your subject!  Whether it is wine, whiskey, or Winnetka, you need to know your subject.

This goes without saying.   There are plenty of blogs, websites, books, and so forth that are written well but lack subject matter expertise.  Clearly, most of us blog about wine for pleasure and passion, but take it to the next level and learn your subject.

After completing my Certified Wine Specialist credential this year, I’m constantly thinking about my next step in my wine education.  Whether that be another credential or a new book, when you stop learning, you die and become a dinosaur.

  • Agonize over your writing

This, I have mastered.  As many writers, I am my own worst critic, and often it takes me much longer to write a piece as other bloggers I know as I sit and write, rewrite, analyze, and consider each word.

  • What makes YOU is something important.  Be unique.

Remember, that you need to be real, and be authentic.  Your uniqueness makes you special.  Who wants to be like 100 other wine blogs out there?  While my voice may have evolved over the last 8 years, at its core, it is still the same Luscious Lush.

  • Practice, practice, practice

This is something I need to work on.  There are more ways to practice than by being a prolific blogger.  One way to practice is to find other forums, such as a writers group, or blogging circles that issue challenges.

I often shy away from the cliques or groups that do things together, but the more I write, the more I realize, it’s important that other people see my word and give me inspiration.  Are there writers groups that you belong to?  What inspires you?

  • Be a great writer, don’t be a serviceable one.

Because who wants to be mediocre?  Why not practice (see above) and stand out from the crowd?  There are literally thousands of blogs (and writers) out there that are mediocre at best.  Do you want to be acceptable, or do you want to be amazing?  The key to being amazing is to practice, and learn from other great writers.

  • Great writing tells a story.

If you want to be good, tell your story.  If you want people to engage, and stay engaged, tell your story well.  The worst posts that I read (of my own, and others) are those that don’t tell a story, or get to a point.  While blogging is a unique platform, it doesn’t have to be an excuse to not tell the story.  What was interesting about that wine?  How can you tell a story about that experience?

  • If you really know your subject, you can explain it in 17 words.  Writing tight and writing short are massive skills to have as writer.

This is challenge for me – as I strive to write the story (see above), brevity takes a leap off the cliff.  One thing that has been a great exercise for me is to start the skeleton of an article with 17 words, and then use those as a foundation to expand your story.

  • Feed your reputation

With today’s focus on social media, this should be easy right?  Wrong.  Feeding your reputation can be as tricky as feeding yourself a healthy diet – reputation is more than your social profile.

It’s a daunting task to be on top of social media all the time, and I certainly cannot maintain a constant presence with a full time job and other obligations to maintain.  However, keeping on top of your top social networks is key to feeding your reputation.

But, you need to build your reputation before you can feed it.  Networking with your local wine culture is one key to building a solid reputation.  Additionally, ensuring that your voice is constant, and true will help you build a solid reputation.  You don’t need to be a constant voice, but a clear and strong one in order to have a powerful reputation.

People often ask me how I became so “popular” as a wine blogger.  When I beat myself up and struggle to maintain a blogging schedule or traffic, I think – wait.  Someone thinks I am successful, because I am great networker.  Like any other job, networking isi a skill that has to be practices to be done well.  But networking is a key component in feeding your reputation.  Make it your business to make sure people who you want to know, know you – and for the right reasons, not the wrong reasons.

Once you build a reputation, feed it by participating in the community.  This includes commenting on other blogs (something I have all but given up on due to the fact that…well…the comment is dead), engaging on social platforms, and participating in events like the Wine Bloggers Conference, online events, and online communities.

For me, the Wine Bloggers Conference is an important networking event.  Yes, it’s partially summer camp, partially a high school reunion, and partially an educational forum, with a lot of wine thrown in, but at it’s core it is a chance for bloggers and writers to meet each other, connect, and engage with the wine industry.  For you, that might be the Wine Writers Symposium or a tasting group that you meet with every month. Whatever drives your success, participate, connect, and engage.

As I strive to get back in my game, I appreciate Karen MacNeil’s years of writing experience and her willingness to share them with a room full of (primarily) wine bloggers.  Those of us who write for other reasons can appreciate the solid advise that she offered up.  Primarily, Karen encourages us to persevere, improve, and keep learning; all life skills that I hold dear.  Seeking inspiriation, I am taking her words to heart and hope to spend the next eight years developing as much as she has.

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?