Recently I moderated a session on web site design in which we talked about the wonders of social networking and how it might benefit wineries. Facebook, blogging, twitter: we invoked these words in praise and wonder. I myself have never before encouraged wineries to blog, advising that blogging is a distraction from more important marketing efforts. So why was I bullish on blogging recently?

First of all, I blame Gary Vaynerchuk of Wine Library TV. I remember one of his inspiring talks where he shamed the audience for ignoring blogs and social networking and said that every winery had an obligation to blog or see their business go the way of the dinosaur. He exhorted wineries to stop whining about being defined by reviewers and the press and start defining themselves by expressing their own brand online through blogs and social networks. Gary’s persuasive talk had a lot to do with my attitude toward blogging all day, and has stayed with me since then.

Also, times have changed. Facebook is a multi-billion dollar business and has become a primary communication platform for many people. Barack Obama was the first serious presidential candidate to be able to turn down public financing largely because of his success raising funds online with the help of political bloggers. Bloggers have caught up to print and broadcast journalists as sources of news, analysis and opinion. Vaynerchuk has become a powerful force in the wine world thanks almost entirely to his online presence in video blogging and social networking. This blog also has had some success (okay just a very little). The ways in which we connect to information and each other are more and more tied to networking services on the web.

So should wineries hop on the bandwagon? I definitely say: yes. But before you all go signing up for blogger accounts I have some words of advice on how to get started.

Start reading blogs

You wouldn’t sit down to write a novel without ever cracking a book. Read as many blogs as you can and get a feel for the craft of blogging. There may even be blogs unrelated to wine that you can learn from.

Be Promiscuous

Now that you’re regularly reading a bunch of blogs, join the conversation. Leave comments stating your point of view. Don’t explicitly promote yourself or your business – you won’t make friends by getting a reputation as a spammer. Instead use this opportunity to get engaged with the community and start finding your online “voice”.

Get Social

There’s a bunch of wine related groups on Facebook, as well as the Open Wine Consortium, which let’s you post blog articles, list your events and engage in community forums. One of the main benefits of blogging is community building and social networks give you the opportunity to do this with much less overhead than a blog you have to maintain yourself.

Do some research

One of the best things about the web is that there is so much information out there about the web. Problogger, Blog Herald and Copy Blogger are good places to find information on blogging and to get a sense of the issues that bloggers deal with.

Follow these steps and you’ll be engaging potential customers, creating a brand around your online presence and joining a growing community of wine consumers and producers and you haven’t even got a blog yet. When you’re ready to take it to the next level you’ll have to choose a platform, come up with a site design, get a domain and then put in the hours actually writing content day after day, all while keeping the rest of your business going. Yes, it’s going to require a bigger investment of time than emailing your current customer base or updating your website content every quarter and you’re not going to be able to let go of those old responsibilities either. Perhaps my point of view isn’t that different from that stated by Carole and Paul in their posts on blogging. They have a valid point: given the colossal effort involved, why bother blogging? All I’m saying is: when blogging gives you unprecedented power to connect with a growing audience on your own terms, why not?

Reader’s Opinions

  • Gary is inspirational and he does motivate people. He also called the audience lazy. You’ve said it here – blogging and the world of social networks is a time suck (pardon the phrase) and wineries need to commit time and resources to do it.

  • Interesting post. I hope you see the irony in your statements. You’re proverbially coming down from up on high with the tablets on this blog to tell wineries you can now recommend blogging.

  • I still firmly believe that blogging should be last on a winery’s to do list (and I mean very last) but that if it fits your communications plan and you have great execution on customer service and your web strategy, then you can consider it.
  • I’m just presenting my POV here. I’m in no position to *tell* wineries whether to engage in blogging. The beauty of social networking is that wineries can engage with it at their own pace and on their own terms – or not.
  • There is a point I failed to make that supports your argument. It takes a long time to establish a rewarding web presence through blogging. Even if wineries want to go that route it makes sense for them to implement strategies that establish a basis for rock solid communications and customer service first. Blogging can support those efforts but is not a substitute for them. In this (as in most of life) there are no shortcuts.
  • It’s easy for someone who has many wines he can taste and (video) blog about everyday to say blogging is essential and a must for all wineries. But are wineries suppose to blog about the 5 wines they produce, and talk about the 5 wines day after day?

    I believe there are 2 things worth investigating here:

    1. Blogging is not for everyone. It depends on the nature of one’s business model. Some businesses just aren’t meant to blog everyday. In Gary’s case, he has different wines he can talk about everyday. He should/must blog.

    2. Wineries should blog. But not by creating their own blog site which no one will ever find in the sea of blogs. They should join and be a part of a larger audience (social networks), and blog using those accounts. That’s the only way the word will and can get out to others about their blog. If you just create a stand alone blog and expect people to find it. Good luck!

  • It’s difficult to get anyone to suspend their disbelief if you are blogging about a product you make and sell. I don’t care if it is Chevron blogging about energy, General Motors blogging about automobiles, or Opus One blogging about wine. I do realize everyone has a point of view and should be able to express it, but I think consumers have all learned to filter what the manufacturers are telling them, if they listen at all. That said, if a winery actually had the balls to write the truth, something not heard before, and resist the self serving B.S. , someone might take notice. Probably never happen and a better idea to spend the time writing that press release announcing the release of your new Cabernet with that interesting discussion of your unique terroir.
  • Engaging in social networks is a great way for wineries to communicate without the overhead of managing their own blog. That’s why I recommend engaging with those networks before starting a blog.

    Morton: Wineries aren’t just about product. A winery’s brand is also about lifestyle, community, hospitality, geography etc, etc, etc, Wineries like Stormhoek and Twisted Oak have plenty to blog about without hawking their products.

  • I think blogging is only part of the way a winery should connect with customers and the outside world. I’m proud to say that Donati Family Vineyard was the first winery to actually launch our own community, WineSpace, where not only can we blog, but our community members have their own space to blog, add video, interact with each other and so much more.

    Nothing will replace the face to face relationship that a winery builds with it’s customers, but when filling in the gaps between visits, WineSpace is a great two-way street for wineries and consumers to bond.

    Finally, in a shocking move, we even believe that our out of state wholesalers and trade find our WineSpace useful to gather current information on our products that they can share with their customers. This fully integrates our brand building efforts and the cost is minimal. Blog on!

  • All of the pros and cons could stagnate you. Gary was definitely motivating and because of that we’ve delegated the responsibility of blogging and social networking to one of our employees- mind you she can now not accomplish anything else. “Time suck” was an accurate term. However, becoming part of the conversation is necessary and I get that. I personally never had the time to get involved without the complete disintegration of everything else on my desk. I think at the end of the day you need to evaluate what is good for your winery and how it fits into your marketing plan as Paul suggested. You also need to have someone in your company with plenty of time to devote to this and not all small wineries have this luxury. I have fought this social phenomenon as a way to converse about wine and improve a winery’s brand recognition on the principal that wine is something to be “experienced”, and chatting with someone in the tasting room or kicking your feet in the vineyard dirt are the best way to get to know a winery. But it got me thinking about how our world is changing, and thinking about the guy in Kansas who never makes it to Napa. So, I joined OWC today and am very excited about it. I certainly will not be spending 12 hours a day answering emails like Gary Vaynerchuk, but the valuable thing I took away from all of this is I don’t have to.