Selling Out – Does Going Pro Mean the End of Credibility?
Wine blogging is a tangled vine of mystery, intrigue, passion, eroticism, and cow horns. Topics like bio-dynamics, Robert Parker’s 100 point system, the use of sulfites and stolen grapes stir the tank of controversy on a daily basis. Once one enters under the canopy of darkness…there is little hope of making it out alive (or at least with white teeth).
Since when did mixing commerce with blogging become the antithesis to credibility? The medium of blogging affords a great freedom in expression and also lends itself to a speed that cannot exist in traditional media. Bloggers were first to respond and report on the Great Grape Caper of 2010 when Grande Reve Mourvedre was stolen. You wouldn’t find stories like, “Steve Tanzer is a Jackass” in Wine Spectator. As the evolution of online publishing continues, many of these amateur bloggers are going “pro.” This begs the question, “Does the addition of commerce lessen the transparency, credibility, and passion of the posts?”
In the wine world, Gary Vaynerchuk sticks out as the John the Baptist who blazed the trail for social media success. The seeming King of All Social Media has built an empire by cashing in on his passion for wine. Many people, yours truly included, have been inspired by his story. Do you trust Gary’s daily Wine Library TV reviews any less because he is a retailer? He certainly seems genuine, and yes a little excited, but he has earned our trust. Bloggers like Joe Roberts (1WineDude) are going pro in 2011. We all followed the journey of Hardy Wallace on his quest for a really Goode job. Does the fact that he was schlepping corporate wine lessen his zany passion? A slew of other bloggers are turning pro:
- Catie McIntyre Walker has turned her alter ego, Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman into Walla Walla’s first dedicated retail wine store.
- Ed Thralls, of Wine Tonite, juked, jived and maneuvered from Atlanta to Santa Rosa by combining his offline talents with his online prowess to land a job at Vintage Wine Estates as the top social media monkey there.
- Rick Bakas spent a very public and prominent 18 months as the Director of Social Media at St. Supery. During his time he grew the brand’s online presence which translated into offline accounts and sales. After writing the book, Quick Bites – 75 Savory Tips for Social Media Success, Rick is now growing his new company, Bakas Media.
- Tamara Belgard (Sip With Me), from Portland OR, started her blogging journey with the goal to visit every Oregon tasting room in a year. The blog showcased her marketing and creative background which eventually led to her being hired by Canas Feast Winery.
- The infamous Seattle Wine Gal (Barbara Evans) successfully leveraged her social media skills to build a brand, generate revenue through events and consulting, and eventually land a job at Seattle’s Think Space.
- Some yahoo from Spokane, WA has taken his wine blog from zero to 60 in just over a year resulting in a regionally focused wine magazine and a brick and mortar wine tasting room.
Yesterday, WineBusiness.com featured a post from one of my favorite wine writers, Paul Gregutt. I consider Paul a friend and a mentor but I also considered a statement he made in yesterday’s post to be a friendly challenge.
“Two leading Washington bloggers – the Wild Walla Walla Wine Woman, and DrinkNectar – have opened up a wine shop (Walla Walla) and a tasting room (Spokane) in the past month. Now that their blogs are attached to commercial enterprises, I wonder what the impact will be? Will their transparency and credibility suffer? Will their blogs become more of a tool for commerce and less of a passionate calling?”
Paul, to answer your question – I am no less passionate about why I started my blog now than 12 months ago. While I may be different than others, I started my blog in the passionate pursuit of branding a business. While sooner than I expected, and also different than intended, those businesses are here. I blog about what I like and I blog from my level of wine understanding. Sometimes my wife will say, “You better be careful,” and more recently someone told me, “Josh, you can’t write those sexual innuendo posts now that you are a business owner.” To that, I say, bull shit. I need to stay true to who I am. If I want to describe a Cabernet Sauvignon as, “Your strong-willed woman who likes to show she is in charge. She likes it hot and when you get her going she’ll let down her hair and show you her kinky spicy side,” then I will.
It’s obvious that some of my blog posts will become commerce related. I will use the platform to keep people updated on the business. I am also committed to continuing the type of posts that I’ve done over the last year. One reason I changed to the blog template that I did is to bucket the articles that I write. The new site allows me to surface content on the home page in the categories that I want (currently Nectar Tasting Room, Wine Reviews, and Social Media). Other posts are categorized by using the navigation menus on the site.
Gregutt’s post was less about bloggers going pro and more about the Hosemaster of Wine’s retirement non-event. For those who tune out mindless drivel, Ron Washam, AKA the Hosemaster of Wine masqueraded as a wine blogger and satirist for a while. His childish humor was often deserving of a mild chuckle but usually left me thinking of the schoolyard bully who couldn’t think of anything clever to say so he rehashed the tried and true comedic sub-plots to garner attention.
Washam, through Gregutt’s post says:
“My hunch is the wine blog world will slowly begin to fade, even now it seems there are fewer and fewer comments on blogs, and wineries will eventually stop giving away wine to nobodies, and Social Media ‘Expert’ will have the same clout as Porn ‘Star’ and wine bloggers will be reduced to the level of hell reserved for Trekkies.”
In my opinion, Washam has his head so far up his hose he can’t tell the difference between a poodle and a pincher. Blogging (whatever version it surfaces as) will fade as soon as people are emasculated of their opinions.
So, Paul , how is that for controversy, passion and transparency. Thanks for issuing the challenge.