by By Liz Thach, Ph.D., SSU Wine Business Professor
Should wineries pay attention to what wine bloggers are writing? Do they really have an impact on a wine brand? According to a new study just completed by Sonoma State University Wine Business Institute, it appears that the answer is yes -- especially for wineries with less well-known brands or located in new and upcoming wine regions.
How Many Wine Blogs Are There Anyway?
In order to conduct the study, it was necessary to obtain a random sample, so we consulted the Complete List of Wine Blogs, compiled by Alder Yarrow at www.vinography.com. You may be amazed to know that in the last 5 years, the number of wine blogs has grown from 1 to over 700. Of these, more than 570 wine blogs are in English, with an additional 170+ wine blogs in other languages, including Italian, French, Catalan, Czech, German, Spanish, Dutch, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, Hungarian, Norwegian, and Indonesian.
Focusing on the English language wine blogs, we applied a decision rule of selecting a minimum of 10 blogs per alpha letter, and discarding those blogs that were not active. This resulted in a total sample of 222 blogs which were subjected to content analysis by 42 trained wine business students.
The 9 Major Categories of Wine Blogs
The first analysis included a thematic sorting of the blogs by major topic. This resulted in 9 categories as illustrated in the chart below. The most common type of blog is a Wine Review for which an individual blogger tastes and writes a review of the wine -- usually adding a rating from the standard 100, 20, or 5 point wine rating scales.
Blogs on Wine & Food with matching recipes, as well as information on restaurants was the 2nd largest category. This was followed by Wine Education where the blogger educates the reader on wine issues such as wine styles, varietals, how to taste wine and related topics. Blogs that focused specifically on Winemaking and Viticulture were placed in a separate category.
In addition, there were blogs that focused on Specific Wine Regions, such as a city, state, appellation or country. Some examples we found included Washington D.C., New Orleans, San Francisco, Paris, Seattle, Washington State, Oregon, California, and Britain. These blogs also emphasized wine shops and/or wineries available in these areas, as well as restaurants. A related category was Wine & Culture which focused on the association of wine with art, poetry, music, and literature.
Only 9% of the sample included Winery Blogs -- or those created by wineries to describe their wines and news at the winery. This illustrates an opportunity for more wineries to create their own blog. Other less frequent blog categories included Wine Business and Winemaking & Viticulture. The category of Other was created for those very unique blogs that didn't fit into major themes. Examples included "wine & hiking; wine & politics; wine under $20; and an emphasis on a specific grape, such as shiraz.
Numbers of Wine Brands and Ads on Blogs
Other analyses included counting and recording the number of wine brands and advertisements on the first page of each blog (we did not analyze older posts). Amazingly within the 222 wine blogs, 813 different wine brands were listed. These were sorted to determine which wine brands were cited most often. Interestingly only 3 brands were listed 4 or more times: Kendall-Jackson, Ridge and Penfolds. This analysis showed that many small unknown wine brands are described on blogs, as well as international brands from around the world.
Just under half of the sample (47%) included advertisements on the blog, for a total of 451 ads. These varied from simple ads provided by Google, to sophisticated winery, food, and wine product ads. It is important to note that the major way wine bloggers create revenue is through online ads, with professional bloggers able to make $20,000 - $30,000 per year in this fashion. Most wine bloggers have other jobs to supplement their online income. (Note: There have been some ethical discussions at the past two Wine Blogger's Conferences as to whether or not bloggers should accept ads from wine brands they review.)
Why Should Wineries Pay Attention to Bloggers?
There are several reasons that wineries need to pay attention to wine bloggers. The first is that the number of wine blogs is continuing to grow, and this provides an opportunity for wineries to have their brands featured on blogs. For wineries with a small public relations budget or those that can't get the attention of the larger media publications, this can be a positive alternative -- especially since some of the more popular wine blogs have thousands of followers and receive 30,000 to 40,000 hits per month.
Another reason is that we have entered a period of "democratization of media on the Internet." This means that anyone can easily establish a wine blog on the Internet using free blogging software (wordpress.com; blogspot.com; typepad.com, etc.). Since there are no official guidelines regarding what can be published, the stories and reviews may be positive or negative. Likewise, bloggers have diverse backgrounds in that some have a high level of wine knowledge and experience, whereas others have none and just want to share their viewpoints on wine. Therefore, in terms of writing quality and level of sophistication of wine blogs, there is great variation. Because of this wineries need to monitor what is being said about their brands online.
How Can Wineries Work With Wine Bloggers?
The advent of wine blogs and other Wine 2.0 applications (social networking sites, online videos, podcasts, message boards, etc.) has created both more opportunities and more work for the public relations function within wineries. Because of the fact that your brand may be discussed online by anyone who happens to buy a bottle -- and that the story can easily be circulated around the globe in a matter of hours, it is important to pay attention:
• Monitor your brand online to keep track of what people are saying about you. Most wineries have now utilized the Google Alert system, but there are others such as Twitter Search, http://www.trackur.com, and http://www.monitter.com which can provide more information.
• If you find a positive review or mention of your name, consider sending an email to thank the blogger for featuring you.
• If you find a negative review, contact the blogger and ask them for more information. Consider inviting them to visit your winery or a tasting you are hosting so they can learn more about you. DO NOT get in an "online flame war" with a blogger (which has happened in the past).
• Identify several wine blogs you enjoy reading and keep track of them to see what topics are "hot" on the blogs.
• If you are a new winery with a less well-known brand consider contacting the blogmaster of wine blogs which interest you. Invite them to visit or taste your wine.
• If you are in a wine region that is less well-known, identify bloggers who write about your region and invite them to visit or taste your wine.
• If you are considering starting your own winery blog, make sure to implement it in a professional manner. This means making sure to write new posts at least once a week, but preferably more often. It also means writing interesting stories about what is happening at the winery and other issues, rather than just trying to market your wine. Finally, it means monitoring and responding to the people who post on your blog.
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