It’s hard to keep up with all the new forms of social media coming down the pipeline. As soon as one gets popular, another one comes along: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr… you name it. Yet there’s one form of social media that keeps expanding – blogging. Despite annual claims that the era of blogging is over, there are an estimated three million active blogs in the world today, and the number keeps growing.
The wine industry is acutely aware of the power of wine bloggers, partly because blogs offer new platforms for talking about wine, but also because they’re stepping into the vacuum created by the demise of print columns. Given how influential some wine bloggers have become, why aren’t more people in the wine trade writing their own blogs? After all, wine offers an authentic experience, a connection with the land, family heritage, deep traditions and an emphasis on hospitality and living life to the full. What could be more attractive subject to riff on than that?
Yet a quick look through a number of winery blogs – most of which are from the New World – reveal that many wineries (with some honourable exceptions) are missing the point. Too many wineries are using blogs as nothing more than blunt marketing tools, with blog posts dedicated to offering discounts, announcing new releases, or boasting about medal wins. Posting occasional marketing material occasionally is fine, but it won’t build a loyal audience, because it violates a principle of social media – digital is a two-way conversation, with the participants listening to one another. Nobody wants to spend much time listening to a salesman, much less talking to one – and yet that’s the situation that many of these blogs are creating.
A better approach
What makes a good wine blog? I asked some of the most successful English language wine bloggers for their thoughts. One clear theme that emerged was that successful bloggers post things that they personally find interesting, rather than chasing hits. Dr Jamie Goode, of wineanorak.com says he doesn’t even look at his blog statistics, because he doesn’t want it to drive him to write populist posts.
Ron Washam, whose satiric hosemasterofwine blog has a cult following, agrees. He says he only posts when inspiration strikes and doesn’t give much thought to what will attract hits. “I don’t bring any expectations to any piece I write,” he said. “The first thing I learned about writing comedy is there is simply no way to predict what people will find funny.” He says there isn’t anything new to say about wine, so the only way to stand out is to talk about it in an interesting way.
Of course, there is a sure-fire way to drive hits: controversy. Alder Yarrow from vinography.com, who’s watched the rise of wine blogging from its beginning, says he’s observed that “People want to read rants and raves,” though he adds that it’s strong opinions on the wine industry itself that brings attention, not bashing individual wines. Readers still want to know what to drink, rather than what not to drink.
Ken Peyton of the [Ed: now defunct] reignofterroir blog says the flipside is there is very little serious, rigorous writing in the blogosphere, and that he established his online presence by doing stories on things like pollutants in paint that could lead to cork taint, or by looking at old wine books and revisiting their speculations about the future. “Historical perspectives are always well received,” he said.
Our very own Panos Kakaviatos says he gets attention when he offers information that people genuinely need, such as market reports. Mixing wine with other topic areas also works well. Sarah Ahmed MW of thewinedetective.co.uk said she got an unexpected spike in hits when she compared a Pinot Noir to Usain Bolt – an American site devoted to running picked it up.
If there’s a common theme, it’s that wine blogs are successful when the author is passionate about something, and wants to share. Wineries are perfectly placed to tap into this, whether it’s blogging ruefully on the frustrations of equipment breakdowns, charting the day-to-day life of the winery dog, or digging through winery history.
What will kill a blog? Communications guru John Hancock, of thejohnhancockblog.com says that trying to control or manipulate information will backfire. What makes social media powerful, he says, “is the shift of control from seller to buyer”.
Strong opinions, funny observations, excellent photographs. Build it and the audience will come. And once they’re there, that’s the time to offer them a discount – to thank them for being part of the winery community.
This article first appeared in Meininger’s Wine Business International magazine in 2013.