Build an online audience

When wine blogs began, the mainstream media ridiculed them as the work of amateurs. Today, some wine bloggers have achieved star status and wineries vie for their attention. But, asks Felicity Carter, why aren’t wine businesses creating their own blogs? 

It’s hard to keep up with all the new forms of social media coming down the pipeline: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Google Plus, 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 3m active blogs in the world today, and the number keeps growing.

Winery blogs

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 filling the void created by the demise of print. 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, deep traditions and an emphasis on hospitality and living life to the full.

What could be a more attractive subject than that?

Yet a quick look through a number of winery blogs – most 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 posts dedicated to offering discounts, announcing new releases, or boasting about medal wins. Posting marketing material occasionally is fine, but it won’t build a loyal audience, because it violates a fundamental principle of social media – that 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

I asked some of the most successful English language wine bloggers for their thoughts on what makes a good blog. 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.

Former comedy writer 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 attractd 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 hear about what’s worth discovering, rather than what they should be avoiding. 

Ken Peyton of the 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 that while blogging is “a pain in the ass” because you have to do it regularly, he gets attention when he offers information that people genuinely need, such as market reports.  Mixing wine with other topics 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.

Communicate passion

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, vibrant 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.

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