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The Blob: Will the wine industry co-opt social media for its own purposes?

51 comments

Now that some time has passed since the Murphy-Goode contest, we may have a little more perspective on what it meant — and it had to mean something. I read 1WineDude’s take on this, and he’s pretty much right-on in his analysis. But there’s another implication that hasn’t been mentioned. I tried to describe it in this comment I made on 1WineDude’s blog:

Here’s what I wonder: Now that Hardy is the official voice of MG, will his writing (tweeting, blogging etc.) be seen as independent and credible? Or has he now taken off the hat of independence in exchange for that of paid marketer? What we may be witnessing — as Joe implied — is not so much the rise of social media as an independent voice, but the wine industry co-opting it for its own P.R. and marketing purposes.

Joe himself wrote “Murphy-Goode Fallout = Wine Media Jobs” and he astutely noted that getting hired as a lifestyle manager for a winery is not the same as independent wine writing. It couldn’t be; it’s a job promoting the winery. As such, a social media expert who gets one of these jobs isn’t really a social media writer anymore: he or she is a public relations manager using social media, the way P.R. managers used to use press kits and free dinners. The tools are different, but the job is the same.

You can’t fault wineries for doing what Murphy-Goode did, which is something other wineries already are doing. It’s the old “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em” routine. Or, to put it another way, if you’re a big industry and a little industry comes along that poses, however distantly, a threat, what do you do? You take it over. When television came alone, NBC Radio bought into it. Whenever somebody in Silicon Valley invents some cool, useful new gizmo, Microsoft scoops it up. That’s how business works; it follows the same laws as Darwinian evolution: eat or be eaten. The wine industry watched social media for a couple of years, mostly just wondering what the heck it was, and all the while social media was screaming, “Pay attention to us!” The wine industry didn’t really want to pay attention, but finally was forced to. And it has now culminated in A Really Goode Job.

In the 1958 movie “The Blob,” that pulsating mass of protoplasm from outer space absorbed everything in its path. There was nothing that could stand up to it (until the end, of course, when the hero, Steve McQueen, killed it). There was probably a semiotic meaning behind “The Blob” the way there was behind so many Hollywood sci-fi movies of the Fifties (Communism as alien menace). But on another level “The Blob” was a metaphor for anything big taking over anything small by the simple mechanism of absorption. Will the wine industry now absorb — co-opt — wine social media? Are people engaging in wine social media hoping to land high-paying jobs as lifestyle managers? Is there any fundamental difference between older, print-based wine writers and younger, social media writers? And who will the “hero” of this movie be? I think the answers are yes, yes, no and who the heck knows. The truest lesson of Murphy-Goode may be less about the future of wine writing or anything like that, and more about how wine social media is getting cozy with the traditional  P.R. and marketing machine. One or the other is The Blob; we’ll have to see who absorbs whom.

the-blob

  1. What M-G has done is advertising, plain and simple. They make no bones about it. And everyone who thinks that Hardy Wallace is not part of an advertising scheme is fooling themselves.

    I have little doubt that Mr. Wallace will occasionally tell tales out of school. And, I also have no doubt that the folks at M-G and K-J, and Mr. Wallace himself, understand and expect that he needs to do that in order to protect from being totally dismissed as an unmitigated shill.

    Far better to be seen as a mitigated shill. He has earned himself an interesting gig, and unless it somehow gets out of hand, it is a useful experiment in the uses of new media to flog a product. That is what business is supposed to do. I don’t get the angst here. Business uses traditional media to sell product. Why would it not use the new media? The fact is that business already does–and in ways that are a lot less savory and open than the M-G gambit.

  2. I’m sure that the wine industry, like any other, will try to use social media for its own gain. The question is, will social media let it happen or let it go too far? Probably not, but it should be fun to see how it all pans out!

  3. Joe, here’s some food for thought: Maybe we need to do away with the term “social media.” It’s not all one big thing. It’s fracturing into different parts, with different objectives. Transmuting, evolving.

  4. Isn’t much of this conversation about how Hardy has now left the world of bloggers and is employed, albeit temporarily, by big business? There are endless forums, including one at the Wine Bloggers Comic Con this weekend, about monetizing your blog. That’s what Hardy did. Has he sacrificed his credibility? I didn’t know he had any credibility, but, if he did, he simply sold it to K-J. As Charlie points out, and you, Steve, it was inevitable. K-J got a world of publicity, Hardy gets cash, and Murphy-Goode keeps making manufactured, generic, glorified jug wine.

    But, damn, as a comedy writer, it’s the greatest gift since W. left the White House.

  5. Morton Leslie says:

    An important part of social media is the ability to control the “noise.” You have the choice to “friend” or “un-friend”, subscribe or unsubscribe, listen or ignore. Few individuals will see blogs or tweets from M-G as anything other than advertising, though some will listen out of curiosity. I predict most of the target audience will have the earplugs standing by and it won’t be long before they use them.

  6. What Hardy Wallace does with his fame over time will depend largely on what he accomplishes while at M-G. He was a not a giant name in the wine blogosphere (is that an oxymoron?) in any event, but that are all kinds of paths to glory and he might turn out to be on one.

    For six months, he is at best a “miitgated shill” (gee, nice turn of phrase). After that, who knows? I, for one, don’t care. But, as I said, I just don’t have much angst over this. I am much more concerned that Ron Washam may someday try to monetize his blog by going to work for Marvin Shanken.

  7. When marketers move in, the people (consumers) move out. E.I.- myspace, landline phones.

  8. It may be, that the push for the position, the anticipation of the winner, the final selection, was the climax of this entire discussion. The rest of us may peak every now and again at what a Goode job produces, and it may be some time and probrably even a book deal, before we know or even care to consider the benefit to anyone concerning this ad campaign. Ultimately did MG sell more wine? Who knows, but there is way too much excitement elsewhere in the world and we news hacks will ultimately run elsewhere for our own scoops.

  9. Charlie,

    Even for $10,000 a month I wouldn’t work for Marvin. The one thing I like about my blog is that I can say what I want when I want and as badly as I need one, I don’t have an editor.

    Blogging ethics, by the way, is the oxymoron.

  10. Social media is a PR vehicle – it can be used to manage image, garner good feeling, control spin, etc (or at least attempt to). Nothing too amazingly original here…

    The one difference from other media forms is, at least in how M-G has so far approached it, is that the PR rep themself (Hardy) has a face in it. Rather than all of the “good will” generated by the PR being attached solely to the business, there is at least some risk it will be attached to Hardy. As a business, you don’t want that – you don’t want the good will (that you’ve PAID for) to be attached to anything but the business.

    A somewhat similar issue arises with the celebrity winemaker – they bring great image and business when they are yours, but when they leave, it goes with them. Wineries – that aren’t owned by the winemaker themselves – learn to avoid building celebrity in the winemaker and instead work towards building it in the winery.

    To me, what is interesting will be how M-G/Hardy and other wineries and their social media reps work towards building good will in the winery and not the media rep. My gut is that to be successful in this way (long term, not as a singular event), the media rep will need to become faceless and blog/post/tweet/whatever under the company name (or asset – e.g. Erin Esurance) and give their personality to it.

  11. Charlie,
    Oh God, can you imagine?!

  12. Bulletin: Laube out, Hosemaster in at Spectator. More changes “soon” — inside tipster

  13. Bill Williamson says:

    All who have posted comment here know that MG is owned by KJ and that Hardy is now a paid employee of the KJ marketing machine. The danger is not to us but to the millions of people who rely on social media for independent content. The very fact that KJ keep the MG name out there shows they think they can fool many wine consumers into believing it is a separate entity with different wines. That mindset will continue and KJ marketing will use Hardy just as they like and his message will be pure advertising. To the extent that the greater public believe he is an independent blogger he will simply be a paid shill. If he announced his KJ/MG affiliation in each message this would make it a more honest advertising message but still an add nevertheless.

  14. no one will care by next week.

  15. Sorry, Steve, truth is–HoseMaster in at Wine Enthusiast, Heimoff off to Mutineer Magazine.

    You heard it here first.

    OK, back to live wine blogging…

  16. ” Charlie,
    Oh God, can you imagine?! ”

    I can just see it now.

    Ron sends in his first piece. “Why I Can Taste Better Than Jim Laube”. Shanken says, “So, what’s new”? My mother can taste better than Laube.

    Ron retitles the piece. “Why I Thought I Was Working for Andy Blue”.

    It goes down hill from there until Washam sends in a piece featuring naked ladies. Shanken accuses him of being Philip Seldon in disguise. Ron gives Shanken back his $10,000 proving that he is above taking money to write B-J journalism.

  17. lol

  18. Having worked closely with Murphy Goode (I mean Kendall Jackson) , along with many other wine companies in the past, I can tell you with little doubt that in 1 year or 18 months tops, MG/KJ will lose interest in this social media pet project, his position will be “dissolved/absorbed” and he will have left to “pursue other interests” probably in a similiar position at another brand. It’s the way of the large wine corporation. It sounds like a good idea over lunch at the Rutherford Grill or dinner at John Ash, but the shine will soon come off the apple once they don’t get the high level of results they are most certainly expecting.

    By the way, Hi Charlie and Hi Steve! long time no talk….

  19. I never cease to find it remarkable that the only folks who find “wine-related social networking” fascinating, are wine bloggers themselves…

  20. Well, Wallace is a hired gun, pure & simple. As someone else wrote, I had not idea Wallace has credibility. Didn’t know he was ‘famous’ (if he is famous how come I never heard of him?). I didn’t even know that he had an identity. To reiterate, I never heard of the guy or his blog or Murphy-Goode for that matter.

    It has ALL the earmarks of an expensive flash-in-the-pan. This is for 6 months? That’s about right. After that something new may have overtaken Twitter, people will realize that social websites HAVE been taken over by commercial interests, and with any luck people will start to become creative in their own right rather than reading someone else’s material.

  21. yes yes no and who the heck knows…brilliant. Simply put, the wine biz has no choice but to co-opt. Steve and frankly everyone who loves wine – loves this ever changing business loves to express themself (regardless of media category) needs to make a living. A lot is going on right now in wine and the growth of the forums to discuss the fascinating world of wine is very cool indeed. PR/Marketing/Selling is all the same. KJ and St Sup get it…how long will it be till the other big guns get it? The next chapter in this new book should be fun to read. great posting ladies and gentlemen of the press.

    P.S. Ron how much a month would it take???

  22. Anyone been seeing Randall Grahm’s tweets this morning? Interesting reading re: social media and M-G.

  23. A lot of navel-gazing going on in the blog world these days. It’s communications media – nothing more or less. Falls in with books, print, telegraph, telephone, radio, television, cable, e-mail, internet, cellphones, iPhones, Facebook, Twitter, etc. etc. It’s how we all talk to each other. Let’s not pretend it’s some revolutionary event; nor should we fall into the Old Guard vs. New Guard wars (as Andy Blue and Tyler Coleman appear to be doing). We all communicate about wine. Everyone starts out as an unknown and has to make his or her way forward based upon (hopefully) talent, effort, persistence and ultimately credibility.

  24. Paul, I don’t know that there’s more navel gazing than usual. The wine industry has always been pretty insular. You can argue it’s actually less so now that the Internet has democratized it.

  25. My 2 Cents says:

    I bet Hardy is the first wine blogger to make $60K or event $10k doing something.

  26. My 2 Cents, I think other bloggers are capitalizing on their fame. Look at Gary Vaynerchuk and Tyler Coleman.

  27. Everything I do for MG will be either done through MG’s website, “Goode To Be First”, or something separate from “Dirty South Wine”– The same for twitter and all the other social media outlets.

    How will that effect my credibility on Dirty South Wine? Like someone said above– Did I have credibility before? I sure hope not– people can find much better “credible” info than on DSW… Not that I don’t write what I believe, but I’m no Yalder, Joe, Steve, Lenn, or Alice– I hope readers / viewers come for some entertainment, a freak factor, lots of poor grammar, bad writing, and then like it enough to hopefully come back, and hopefully enough that they get more interested in wine. Credible, not credible, ethical, not ethicial… I’ll let other’s sit in the trees chewing their fingernails over this. I’d rather spend the time writing fun posts and shooting dorky videos about wine…

    This is an amazing opportunity. I intend to rock it out.

  28. Rock on Hardy!

  29. My 2 Cents says:

    Where does Gary V blog? Tyler has a paid Gig elsewhere, not many bloggers, Gary V does video, make a nickle blogging.

  30. Hardy–

    Listen to Steve. And stop responding to speculation about what you will or won’t do. People who chew fingernails for a living will continue to chew fingernails and will call everything they see as they see it. That is not your job.

    They are going to call you an unmitigated shill and a mitigated shill. They are going to call the KJ/MG enterprise a crass piece of advertising that is subverting the wine drinkers of America and a bold piece of imagination that will help make wine accessible to the masses.

    So, go do your thing. If you want an even break, go earn it. You now fall into the category of “celebrity”. It won’t be easy with the spotlight on you all the time but you fall into a different category now. Deal with it. Enjoy it. Rise above it. The world will all know soon enough if your fifteen minutes of fame will have been over before it began or will last you a lifetime. Rock on.

  31. I don’t speak for ‘the wine industry’ but I’ll tell you the one important factor that our wine business enjoys about social media, and in particular Twitter. The immediate engagement with our customers, potential customers, associated businesses, media/bloggers and others. We are what we are. Open and honest and communicative, and we get a real buzz from contact with the wider wine/food/lifestyle community or anyone who cares.

    No hard-sell, no PR machine, no faux follower-building – just good old-fashioned communication with anyone who cares to take an interest in our wines.

  32. It sounds like most people here believe that social media was (until now) only used by independent writers and bloggers. Social media has been used by business (including wineries) all along, MG just made a bigger splash in the pool. I don’t think anyone expects Hardy to be an “independent wine writer” for MG, that’s not the role that was offered. (I think half of you are just jealous anyway!) Give the public some credit for knowing the difference between an independent opinion and company communication or marketing. And lets face it – a lot of “independent opinions” aren’t nearly as independent as they like to pretend they are. I think bloggers think too highly of their “opinion” – there are somewhere upwards of 6 billion people on the planet – and each has their own opinion!

  33. “A lot of independent opinions aren’t nearly as independent as they think they are”.

    Margie–this thought is too pregnant to drop in polite conversation without further explanation. Are you talking about practices that bend opinion or people who are easily bent? Care to name practices and names?

    I fear that winewriters have all been tagged as a group with this comment, including bloggers who are winewriters in a new medium, absent any further definition of what you mean.

    I would love to hear more, because if there are practices that that I should be avoiding and I am not, I would like to hear about them. If there are practices that should be examined by writers or of which we should be aware, you can advance all of our causes with more information.

    Given the fact that the blogosphere has been alive with questions about individual writers and publications, it is hard to know whether you are referencing those comments or have something else on your plate. Why not share with us?

  34. Hardy will be credible. He’ll be a credible source of information on Murphy-Goode wines. He better be at least. He’s getting paid to be.

    Tom…

  35. It will be interesting to see how this unravels. Sure, it is a paid position to get the Murphy-Goode name out there in front of millions of surfers. Hiring the right person for the job that knows how to do that correctly is key. It may be like walking a tight rope in that if the name is pushed too overtly it has negative connotations. However, done the right way it will be pure genius.

    I guess I see it as the wine industry thinking this is (going to be) a gold mine. They know how to make wine, some are internet savvy but to make the most of the internet they need someone with a proven track record and the knowledge of how to attract interaction. Without the right person at the helm of their social networking they are going no where.

  36. Well I damned if one of the first people @# WBC09 I met @ registration wasn’t Hardy…I’d just heard of his win. Sat. we travelled on the bus together and he struck me as an honest young guy, talented, well-travelled and bright and completely competent…who will benefit immensely from this trial by fire…I suspect Hardy would be the first to say he doesn’t have a lot to learn & KJ a lot to gain…Being in the wine trade, I wish I had mastered the tech as well!

    How can anyone blame either party?

  37. H also handled himself very adroitly on stage – no small feat when the PCs seize and was very informative, shared a lot. Enough!

  38. Lastly, on Tuesday, I spoke with a webguy who had not heard of Hardy and had his first child on the weekend…he googled & Hardy was all over the place. Not yet a blogger but in IT pretty much from the gitgo(77) and may fully appreciate what it means. TBD & Bonne Chance a tous!

  39. In all of this speculation about social media does anyone actually focused on what the consumer is using the media to say to the vendors they are talking to? The whole point of SM is that it is a 2-way street and all I keep hearing about is the one-way spew from the vendor to the consumer. If hiring a lifestyle manager should do any one thing for the MG/KJ organization it should serve as a window upon the real and ongoing feedback from their consumers afforded by social media.

  40. Yes! Hosemaster is throwing down!

  41. What’s Hosemaster throwing down?

  42. Oh! Thanks for the explanation.

  43. No problemo Steve-O, but seriously, I didn’t realize it was up to the wine industry to decide the fate of social media? I see it as being the decision of each individual wine blogger. Ethics and vision are not scalable.

  44. Agree. So I am no longer your arch-nemesis? ; >

  45. Whoooaaaa turbo, slow down…one step at a time…I sense a trap…Must climb a tree and consume absinthe to seek spiritual guidance…stay tuned…

  46. No trap. But enjoy that tree.

  47. wine lover says:

    I think it would be nice when wine writers stop referring to all marketers and PR people as “the machine” or now The Blob. A great deal of us are just passionate about wine and are trying to help the winemakers tell their stories.

  48. It will be interesting light of the new FDC clarifications (and I use that term loosely) about truth in advertising also including bloggers where this will all shake out.

    PR firms are paid to send bloggers free samples of wine so that they will write about them.

    Social media hires are paid to write about anything and everything that will bring attention to the winery (or other business) and engage us, draw the consumer into a conversation that makes them want to buy the wine (or other type of product).

    I guess the question before us now is Who Will Help the Wineries Sell More Wine? and will we see bloggers buying wine to write about to keep their voice more genuine.

    I love good mysteries….

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