There is a lot of conversation going around the blogging world about how, if at all, bloggers and online wine writers influence the wine world. Do we? Do we have an impact? Do we influence consumers? Do we just read each other’s blogs? Those are all valuable questions that spawned a lively debate at the Wine Bloggers Conference earlier this month.
One of the key questions that came up was was how do we, and online writers of content, move beyond having an audience made up solely of other online writers. This naval gazing has been a sore point since the beginning of wine blogging, and while to a certain extent it is true, I think that that is a shortsighted view point.
Yes, many wine bloggers read wine blogs. In fact, most wine bloggers read more wine blogs than the average consumer. That said, as wine bloggers are wine consumers, and typically a more educated wine consumer, where is the problem with this? One thing that is missing in the conversation about influence is that we, as bloggers, are wine consumer as well. In fact, we are primarily a picky crowd of wine consumers. So, if you audience is primary wine bloggers, you might actually be targeting the right crowd – typical wine bloggers have more disposable income and spend more of that on wine than most readers.
The counter argument to this is that the wine world is not just consumers and readers of the blogs. The wine world is also producers, distributors, retailers, and the PR people that help them sell their products.
So, how much influence does blogging have on this collective audience? Whether blogging as an individual or as a group (like Palate Press), how does the gestalt of wine blogging (online wine writing) impact the industry? Blogs, and other e-media are, by their very nature, unique. Blogs are a conversation starter, and the seed to a further discussion and further discovery by the reader. When you write a post, or read a post, it’s often just the jumping off point for a longer conversation that may or may not occur on the blog post itself.
Case in point: most of the conversations that happen as a result of my posts are on Facebook and Twitter. Whether that is on my page on Facebook, in a group that I am a member of, or on twitter is somewhat immaterial. The very nature of social media means that the comment as a means of feedback is not necessarily the most accurate measurement of the social impact of that writer – and by extension that bloggers’s audience. Unfortunately, while comments appear to be on life support, they are an easy way of measuring value and interaction. Until social media monitoring tools can read cross platform transactions and measure tools like Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter, comments need to be taken with a grain of salt. Likewise, measuring tools like Alexa are misleading as they only measure direct traffic to your blog and do not include RSS feed readers and other social media interaction.
E-media and social media specifically offers agility and speed, and the ability to be unique, whether you are a winery, wine business, or writer. Bloggers can respond quickly and create follow up posts with an agility that no other media has. You have the power to create direct and powerful collaborative relationships with your readers. However the conversation gets started, as an online writer, you need to join a crowd that has them come to you so you can grow your wings & fly. It’s up to you to go out and make that happen.
The under 30 crowd is becoming hugely influential in the wine world. There is, however, an unfortunate tendency to hyper focus on the Millennial and their obsession with technology. This obsession with tech toys and the internet is not limited to the Millennials, as the vast majority of Generation Xers grew up with technology and are now the young-middle aged crowd with the disposable income to spend on wine. As one of these Gen Xers, I do get somewhat offended to be boxed in with the Baby Boomers who might not have grown up around technology. Yes, I live in a bubble here in the Bay Area, however, the majority of my generation are smart phone carrying, educated consumers that are empowered to make decisions based on information that is more easily accessible.
Another important point to review is that wine is a long tail business. If someone walks in to a winery or wine shop and buys a bottle of wine, you have a sale. If you build a relationship with that person, you have a customer. I think this gets lost in a lot of the conversation about how we influence buying habits; my primary goal is not to have a reader buy a bottle of wine I recommended, however that is often a side effect. My goal in writing about wine is to expose my readers to new producers and wines they might not already know. Hopefully, they influences them to seek out these wines, and quite possibly try other wines from these producers.
Wine bloggers are as much publishers as they are writers. This has been a steady message for several years, and Tom Wark continues to drive the point home. As such, finding topics of interest that last over the long haul, that gather steam and have direction, will increase our influence. Examples of this as the noiw somewhat defunct Wine Blogging Wednesday. The collective posting of a general topic, say Malbec, or Pinot Noir from Oregon, or wines that go with football, not only inspire us to think in new ways, but they create a web ring of posts for readers to follow with a single wrap up post as a jumping off point.
While some find this to be “telling us what to write”, I believe the opposite. Who doesn’t need inspiration sometimes? Creating themes that are broad enough to allow us to maintain creative control is the key to a successful Wine Blogging Wednesday or any other themed group posting effort. However, these efforts have to be regular and consistent or they will fail, as it the case of WBW.
Online wine writers need to define themselves clearly enough so that readers can know what to expect. I am guilty of not doing this well enough, and I tend to morph in and out of themes; however, my specific goal is to write about the little guy, write about the story, and write about what’s going on in my local wine business. If you write wine reviews, great! However, you should have some framework for your writing. With intention and content, influence will follow.