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Social media: the latest, the bloggers thing, and expertise

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There were some interesting articles in yesterday’s Wine Industry Insight News Fetch (Lewis Perdue’s online pub) having to do with social media. For starters was this literate and entertaining piece from Jeff Lefevere, at Good Grape, purporting to frame new developments in the digital sphere in their basics. I can’t say I completely agree with all his conclusions, because he studies this stuff a lot more than I do, so when he talks about (for example) Tumblr, I really don’t know, since I haven’t explored it in any depth. His comment that QR codes are “faddish” is the first I’ve read to criticize them that way: but I like it when somebody says that something that everybody’s doing isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. That curmudgeonly quality appeals to me. Ditto his knock of hashtags (“Snooze.  Wake me when it’s over.”) My readers know that I’ve long felt that Twitter is overrated as a marketing or sales tool for wineries. If that’s what Jeff is saying, then he’s right on, IMHO.

Also in News Fetch was this opinion piece on “the whole journalists vs. bloggers debate,” zeroing in on the line between objective and subjective writing. The author, Aaron Holesgrove, is concerned that the advent of blogging has blurred the distinction, and he worries furthermore that this is a serious degradation in information dissemination. His solution? To treat true, objective journalism “as a utility,” i.e., the same way we regulate water, gas and electricity. They’re so important to the normal functioning of society that, in return for our allowing them to be monopolies, they agree to let society to oversee them. Aaron’s suggestion: “So, why not make journalists certified by a not-for-profit journalism body?”

This notion has been tossed around before. I think Tom Wark has weighed in. While I sympathize with Aaron’s concerns, I do think it’s unrealistic to expect such a “journalism body” to ever exist. It might make a little more sense in the world of high tech that Aaron inhabits than in our world of wine, where so much is subjective. But when it comes to ethics, and questions of crossing the line, catering to advertisers, etc., we’re never going to have complete agreement in wine writing, nor should we. These are lively topics for debate, and besides, wine writing and blogging are largely self-regulating. Whenever somebody crosses the line, it’s soon known, and that person usually comes under scathing attack. (Remember the Parker travel expense brouhaha?) So, no, we don’t need regulation in wine writing.

Finally, News Fetch included this article whose headline alone warmed the cockles of my heart. (What exactly is a “cockle,” and does the heart actually have any? Inquiring minds want to know.) That headline was “Two Studies Affirm Power of Reviews.”

Now, it’s true that the analysis mainly concerns online peer reviews (customer reviews a la Yelp, Facebook, etc.). But the study does not explicitly exclude expert reviews, so I think it’s fair to conclude that “reviews are now a critical and highly influential part of the online shopping process” whether they’re from “regular” folks or experts. The most telling part of the article, written by Greg Sterling, is “traditional advertising and brand messaging is going to be almost completely ineffective if the products or services in question are not intrinsically worthy.” This is because Greg assumes (and I agree) that the critical consensus around any consumer product, whether it’s wine, baby diapers or cell phones, is going to be determined by the product’s intrinsic quality. And when it comes to intrinsic quality, who better to pronounce on it than someone with expertise in that area?

  1. “the critical consensus around any consumer product, whether it’s wine, baby diapers or cell phones, is going to be determined by the product’s intrinsic quality.”

    I wonder why price point isn’t some factor in wine reviews. To me, if a wine is $15 and 89 points, and a second wine is $100 and 90 points, the former certainly has more intrinsic quality than the later. Does this ever factor in to a professional critic’s opinion and score?

    I don’t know how much of the rest of this article I agree with. Trends are just that, trends, but they often lead to the next thing and the next. So while it is only a matter of time for Twitter, it is also only a matter of time for all things, traditional and non-traditional.

    I think the biggest responsibility lies here with the consumer. It is our job to find trusted sources, be them professional or otherwise, that will provide reliable information. It is certainly a stretch to consider most wine blogs journalism, they are not.

  2. Steve, thanks for the acknowledgement. Not mandatory, but certainly appreciated.

    It takes me about 2.5 to 3 hrs a day to find, read, categorize, prioritize and publish all the articles.

    And the subsequent pattern of posts in many blogs makes it clear who relies on News Fetch … and that’s good … that’s one of the reasons I do this.

    Obviously, source attribution is not required because I do not write the pieces … altho I do frequently rewrite headlines that are too vague, too long etc. Regardless, of that, I do appreciate the occasional acknowledgement.

  3. Re Wayne–

    When I started writing back a few decades ago, one of my first interviews was with Phil Woodward, the CEO of Chalone. Now, understand that I was, at that time, a Chalone collector, so, for me, a neophyte writer, having lunch with Phil was like having lunch with one of those folks from Mount Olympus.

    One of the points he made,and with which I agreed then and agree now, is that price has no bearing on wine quality and thus should have no bearing on a wine’s rating or the words used to describe the wine. Quality is quality. It does not change because of price.

    And when one tastes blind, as I do, and as all comprehensive reviewers should in my opinion, it is not price that speaks. It is the wine.

    That said, comments about price are also appropriate within the context of the review. Your comparison is a good one. Writers like Steve and me love it when a great value crops up. It is a discovery that both delights our readers (thus making us happy as well) and that same discovery goes a long way towards influencing which wines get purchased for personal consumption.

    The late, great Jerry Mead (a writer I hope you had the pleasure of reading before his untimely passing) got roundly lambasted by his readers and his peers for his inflated ratings of wines that offered good QPR (Quality Price Ratio) so he resorted to offering two ratings. One for quality and one for value.

    It was a good solution, but one that seemed awfully redundant to most folks. You example above is so self-evident that everyone understands the equation. My eight year old granddaughter understood that when we went searching for a new pair of soccer boots. She could have bought the $40 adidas purple boots with the yellow stripes or the $27 black shoes with white stripes. The felt the same to her and she simply said, “Grandpa, those other shoes are too expensive”.

    Equal quality is equal quaiity. Value is a whole ‘nother thing.

  4. Charlie, thanks! That is a very logical way to put it and I agree with that. I guess as long as critical reviews also offer price points, we can do our own mental calculation as to the “intrinsic quality” of the wine.

  5. Wayne, of course, folks like me and other pubs do call out wines with high QPR. In the case of Connoisseurs’ Guide, we insert the phrase GOOD VALUE, in caps, bold, red, at the end of reviews that offer high QPR and we then restate those choices in our Best Buys column.

    Most publications tend to do something like that because value is almost always part of the equation when one is looking at a wall of choices at our local retailer’s shop.

  6. Wayne, you must not be a Wine Enthusiast reader! We have all sorts of ways to point out price-quality ratios.

  7. “Wayne, you must not be a Wine Enthusiast reader! We have all sorts of ways to point out price-quality ratios.”

    (Insert guy pulling on shirt collar with an “I just got caught” face saying: “eghegheghegh”)

    Uh yeah, I will get on that Steve! To be fair, I am also not a TWA reader, and what WS has barly counts as writing, so…

    Points taken Steve and Charlie. I think Steve does this some on his weekly top 10′s as well. That gives him a platform to highlight wines he was just plain excited about and or, are good values.

  8. Great to see Jeff’s article get some ‘airtime’ here, it was one of the best things I’ve read in over a month!

  9. Mr. Olken,
    When one plots wine price(x) vs. quality(y), it takes the form of an s-curve (sigmoid function). At low prices there is a very high positive correlation (i.e., low price=low quality) that decreases rapidly as the price goes up. Then the curve almost flattens out above a certain price-point ($20?). This means that there is a small gain in quality when the price increases beyond that price-point.
    In any case, it is not feasible to make high quality wine with cheap over-cropped grapes through an industrial, reductive process. Good wine needs high quality (expensive) inputs and, most of all, air contact during fermentation and throughout the aging process. These facts turn good winemaking into a risky, expensive craft.

  10. 1WineDude, yup, it was good stuff. Jeff’s a great blogger.

  11. Wayne, seriously. I just didn’t want to go through the details, but now I will. In the Buying Guide we have 2 special designations (Best Buy and Editor’s Choice) that reflect price-quality ratios. Also, in my text I will often say something like “Really good value for the money” or “sommeliers should seek out this affordable wine,” etc. So like I said, “all sorts of ways.”

  12. Not sure about the seriously part, I hope you didn’t take anything I said the wrong way.

    Thank you for the explanations. I guess I always wondered if wine critics were ever influenced by the price point if they knew what it was, but Charlie’s comments covered that well. Makes sense, thanks!

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