The Influence of Wine Blogs

Circulatiion "You are an important 'Influencer' in the wine industry".

This was part of a message sent to me in an email late last week. Whether they were trying to butter me up or not isn't that important. But it's interesting that they wrote this because of late I've been thinking a lot about the idea of "influencers" and where blogs fit into any calculation of influencers inside the wine industry.

I've thought about this idea for two decades actually. As a publicist, I need to know which publications and writers have the most influence. That's where I want to see my clients be written about positively. This shouldn't be a shock. But what is interesting is that I'm unaware of any absolutely objective way to measure influence. Yet, I know who is influential. I know what publications are influential. How can I KNOW this? That's what I've been wondering.

I figured it out. I know what influence is.

That which has the greatest influence will most positively or negatively affects your bottom line when they speak or write of you or your service/product.

Pretty simple, eh? But let's go deeper.

If I make 500,000 cases of $7 bottles of wine, then People Magazine is far more influential than The Wine Spectator.

If I provide public relations services to the wine industry then Wines & Vines Magazine is more influential than the Sonoma Index Tribune (a weekly newspaper).

If I sell 4000 cases of $60 bottles of wine, then the Wine Spectator is  more influential than Wine Business Monthly.

If I sell 100 cases of $100 bottles of wine then fans of my Facebook Page are more influential than Tom Wark's FERMENTATION: The Daily Wine Blog.

Here's the thing: When calculating "influence" the first thing to know is who is your primary customer. The second thing to know is where are the bulk of those customers likely to point their eyeballs? Know these two things and you will know exactly who the "influencers" are.

With this formula in hand, let's turn out attention to wine blogs.

It is practically impossible to know which wine blogs are most influential because we have so very little information about the size and character of their readership. There is no Audit Bureau of Circulations or Mediamark Research that wine blogs subscribe to or that has become standard in this growing sector of the wine media. Until this information is readily available the same way it is for most major wine magazines, daily newspapers, or general and specific interest magazines, we cannot accurately assess the influence any particular blog may have.

This is precisely why periodically I have polled my readership to understand them better and why I've periodically made note of the number of my monthly unique visitors then made this information available to potential advertisers. I want to sell advertising at FERMENTATION. But to do that, potential advertisers need to assess just how influential this Blog is. 

If you read the information I've provided you'll probably come to the conclusion that FERMENTATION: The Daily Wine Blog has a certain amount of influence inside the wine trade, but very little influence among consumers of wine. This is important to know.

It seems to me that some organization that wants to broker advertising on wine blogs will want to be an organization that does accurate and authoritative audits of a wine blog's readership. I'm not an expert on exactly how this can be done objectively and reliably. But, being a publicist and placing ads here and there for clients, and knowing that wine blogs are being read more and more by both consumers and the trade, this is information that is starting to become vitally important to me…and to the wine industry.

13 Responses

  1. ryan - February 1, 2010

    Well done.

  2. Joe - February 1, 2010

    …perhaps where the (controversial) data-collection abilities of the Facebooks, etc. can come to bat for potential advertisers. Maybe a sort of modified Nielson-rating where data is given on who subscribes to certain RSS feeds or who are fans of certain blogs Facebook fan pages. Like most intrusive advertising, I’m sure there’ll always be some level of subjectivity in measuring success.

  3. fredfric koeppel - February 2, 2010

    It’s even difficult to assess the readership of one’s own blog because different counter programs apparently use different criteria. My numbers of visits recorded on (which is a great system that tracks activity in real-time detail) is far different from the visits and hits recorded on which is right? which is more accurate? which can I depend on?

  4. Susannah Gold - February 2, 2010

    Great post. It is difficult to measure influence and readership because of the lack of accurate statistics. I agree with Joe though, there will always be some level of subjectivity. Influencers may also change according to age and market. It might actually be counterproductive to think of one’s target audience in a way that can be easily measured too. Food for thought in any event. Thanks.

  5. Phil - February 2, 2010

    Excellent post Tom, although I think your rough formula makes clear that the traditional auditing available to print publications also isn’t much use unless you can go beyond the simple numbers of how many people subscribe and what their classification is. That’s why we do the same thing you do: survey your readership and have concrete answers as to exactly who these people are.
    In our case, sure we’re obviously an industry magazine and an audit would show you how many of our readers work in the restaurant industry vs. other industries, but even that doesn’t give the whole story. Are all of our subscribers people just coming into the industry or from only high-end restaurants? Do they have the ability to make purchasing decisions? These are the kind of things you really don’t know unless you specifically ask.
    I’d agree with Susannah as well that the idea of influence is incredibly hard to measure quantitatively. There are so many different kinds of influence even within the same narrow field, and the only one that you can really measure is purchasing.

  6. JohnL - February 2, 2010

    One of the strengths of this blog is its textbookish cerebral coverage of a full spectrum of the trade. The interview feature is an asset providing insight into “competing” blogs’ philosophies. And, as a commenter a while ago seemed to suggest here, some wineries have elaborated their websites in ways that make them more accessible, with more depth than in olden days. The graphics at some of the winery sites have improved continually, and I pass thru with the sensation that I had just had a conversation with the winemaker or vineyard planner, like a timely talk farmer to farmer. For example I recently visited a Mt. Veeder vineyard and family winery site that explained cluster thinning and berry thinning of syrah, their philosophy about whether to own a stemmer crusher for their small cuvee operation. The Fermentation site also has strong points in current events in wine law and some of its politics. And Fermentation’s blogs-you-need-to-read list includes one writer who always seems to weave quality sensory analysis of wines with some worldwide search for love; very few bloggers offer the sorts of enticements her writing embodies. I suppose Fermentation, for me, is some kind of integrative locus, a place to understand products, people and current events in the trade. Getting those vineyard farmers to talk, though, is a classic instance of speaking to the taciturn. Too little of the difficult work of raising the crop is available online, except for sites affiliated with professional organizations which charge membership to access their literature. The same might be said of the secrets of the vinification process and the dearth of writing about those trade secrets. And, for some reason, much of the related academia has little current technology available in a well organized fashion online to off-campus non-tuition-paying visitors.

  7. Jack - February 3, 2010

    Check this article out from brane-cantenac..interesting…

  8. Tom Johnson - February 3, 2010

    In any area of blogging — wine, politics, entertainment — the vast majority of blogs attract insignificant traffic, except in the aggregate. The communications goal in that environment has to be viral, the creation of a meme that will travel from blog to blog.
    In my relatively limited experience, wine blogs don’t do viral as well as other genres of blogs. Wine blogs tend to be individual expressions of taste, and the interaction between them is small. This seriously diminishes the value of wine blogs in the aggregate.
    The wine industry itself is fragmented. There are…what? 50,000 different wines, most of which don’t enjoy truly national distribution. The fragmentation of the medium multiplied by the fragmentation of the industry equals…well, kind of a mess.
    I think the impact of wine blogging lies in niche rather than mass blogs. Influence lies in a small audience dedicated to a certain identifiable set of wines (e.g., Central California Rhone blends). Advertisers/promoters would pay a premium — both in ad dollars and attentiveness — for that smaller, more target-rich environment.
    Some crafty, risk-tolerant entrepreneur is going to roll-up the wine specialists the way Gawker rolled-up distinct voices in politics and entertainment. They’ll pay for the audience analytics that it takes to attract advertisers, and the industry will never be the same.

  9. Eagles Nest Winery - February 6, 2010

    Social Media metrics are non-standard (as mentioned above). SM has been in the “wild west” stage for a while – as was the Internet back in the early 90’s – remember coding exclusively in HTML? Vasious sites attempt to grade/evaluate “influence” of SM activities yet the rankings and scores are all over the scale.
    Today’s SM participants are experimenting with, and attempting to determine what approaches work (or not), for their businesses/individual purposes. Concurrently, SM technologies are also morphing, witness changes in Facebook – the addition of Fan Pages, etc. how to employ that?
    The interactions between blogs, Twitter, FB, and traditional websites are in flux. Some blogs resemble traditional websites yet their content is more dynamic/easily updated. Twitter is… well it’s Twitter.
    So how does one establish metrics for the value of all these SM efforts? That’s the mystery and mystique of marketing… and some folks even do this for fun – no monetary motive – thus a real wild card.
    Enjoy more good wine!

  10. Kathy - February 7, 2010

    WIthout subscription statistics, it is, as was said, a wild West. However, your point about the specifics of a blog – your vs Steve Heimoff’s vs Mike Duffy’s vs mine (I don’t have one), is as important and yet foggy to the consumer as it is to the marketing world and the trade.
    This may be why 2010 is going to be another “sort out” year. We may find when we raise a glass of Champagne on Dec 31 that mobile aps have overtaken everything and blogs don’t sell a thing (whether Twitter or Facebook do is soon to be discovered).
    We may find that print is making a comeback because people are so confused and can’t spend a lot of time surfing social media because they are looking for jobs or better jobs. We may find that someone has put together a way to create “readers” for interesting blogs, not by subject matter but by the editor’s interest. (This exists but, again, too many, no ads).
    As to ads, the trade needs to remember: 1. free publicity doesn’t always make people buy their wine 2. price isn’t the only reason to buy a wine. 3. may be different media but the same consumer bands. 4. sometimes they don’t even spell your name right.
    Finally, until it is all sorted and the numbers make sense, bide your time and buy an ad on this website!

  11. fabio - March 1, 2010

    It should be great to find a method to understand the influence of a wine blog, but it’s very difficult, of course. It’s our work to understand it and suggest our clients. The only method to have an idea if and where a wine blog is influent is reading it for months, monitoring it, analysing it in deep, … it’s a great work!

  12. Alter-Eno Pierpaolo Paradisi - March 1, 2010

    People who rewarded not so much from ‘content, but rather those from’ solutions to the needs and desires.
    On the other hand, the great protagonists of the Internet does not produce content – see Google, YouTube, FB, eBay … but use them, make them do the users, combines them … success lies in intermediation in the process of matching users and content. Greatly depends on how people enter and content in relation to one another.

  13. avvinare - March 1, 2010

    I would be very interested in that kind of auditing as well. Great post.

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