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Whose blogs are relevant?

32 comments

READERS: Here’s another blast from the past, originally published late in 2008. I’ll resume regular posting when I come back from New York, this Friday.

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I had coffee yesterday with M., a highly regarded North Coast winemaker (actually, he had tea) who’s been in the business for a long time. What did we talk about? Blogs, of course. I wanted to know how he (and, by extension, his winemaker colleagues) view wine blogs, and did he think they hold value for him in publicizing his brands.

Yes, M. replied, but… There’s always a “but.” M. put it this way: In determining the value of any particular blog, he wanted to know if it was relevant.

Hmm, I wondered. How do you determine if a blog is relevant? So it was a bit of serendipity this morning to surf through my usual morning mush of blogs and stumble across this one from Caveman Wines, which asks the question, “How do we as wine PR professionals determine which wine bloggers are legitimate or not?” To answer that, the blogger, Michael Wangbickler, a P.R., account manager at Balzac Communications, turned to a guy named Kevin Palmer, who runs an outfit called Social Media Answers. According to Caveman, Palmer came up with a list of 5 metrics by which he measures the value of a blog. Quote:

1. Alexa/Compete – Good for painting a general picture of the strength of traffic to their blog.
2. Quantcast – Most won’t have the tag installed necessary to register with Quantcast. Those that do may be a little more serious about their blogging.
3. Age of blogs – There is high turnover on blogs. An older blog may indicate that the blogger is here to stay.
4. Average Number of posts per month – The more frequently a blogger posts, the greater likelihood that their audience will be larger.
5. Other Social Media channels – Does the blogger have a good following on Facebook, Twitter, etc.? It may indicate that their readership is larger than implied by visits to the blog.

By this method, Caveman writes, he can figure out whom to send review bottles to, because “We can’t just send wine samples to every Tom, Dick, and Harry who happens to say they have a blog.”

I can’t quibble with Palmer’s 5 metrics, although I believe there are additional ways to evaluate a successful blog: the blogger’s breadth of knowledge and experience; number of visits; demographics of the blog’s readership; the blogger’s reputation in the industry (although not all of these are readily quantifiable). I agree with Palmer’s conclusion, taken from his website, that wine blogging currently “seems really fractured and disorganized.” Palmer referred to a Twitter discussion that gave him the feeling “that a lot of bloggers weren’t being respected or included by wineries or PR people. They felt slighted, a little angry” at not being sent samples and not getting invited to events. Well, that gets me back to my conversation with M. With 1,000 wine blogs out there, there’s no reason why a winery should reach out to every one of them. As M. said, he’s happy to play ball with a blog, as long as it’s relevant. Turns out, he couldn’t really define what makes a blog relevant; he just had a feeling which ones are and which ones aren’t.

Blog relevance may be difficult to precisely measure, but, to misquote the late Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart, you know it when you see it.

  1. Thanks for the recognition Steve. This is a topic that I think will be discussed (perhaps overly so) over the next year. Eventually, someone may come up with a standard on how to quantify and categorize wine blogs. The additional criteria you offer are also valid and could be included into whatever calculation eventually emerges. The question remains however: can it be done? Can we really quantify this, or are we just rolling a boulder up the hill? Time, I suppose, will tell.

  2. How funny that bloggers are now in a tizzy about being treated like real journalists. How many journalists who write wine columns in their local papers (i.e. the Podunk Register and News) get sent wine samples and invitations to major trade tastings?

  3. Morton Lesllie says:

    As a semi-professional “commenter” I would add a sixth metric…the average number of comments per post. This would seem more an indication of relevance than the number of hits.

    Most winemakers I know don’t read blogs. Few even read the Wine Spectator or other print publications…unless they happen to be mentioned or are about to meet a writer who they need to pretend they read. In those circumstances, of course, that particular writer becomes very relevant. If I were a winemaker about to meet you for coffee, I would get up a little early and catch up on your postings to assure you that you were relevant. (But if I were you I wouldn’t pay much attention to what I said.)

    Even some PR types ignore blogs. A young wine marketing person said to me the other day. “Wine blogs are so 2005!” (As a person born in ’45 that seemed pretty current to me.)

    The one group that pays close attention to blogs are other bloggers. But that is an irrelevant measure of relevance.

  4. Morton, if blogging is so 2005, then what’s so 2009? Twitter?

  5. Alder, amen!

  6. “No boulder ever got to the top of the hill by itself.” — attributed to Heimoff, early 21st century

  7. Online Marketing Guy says:

    Bloggers should not be offended about not being notified by wineries / PR firms. Instead, bloggers can be active with keeping on top of industry releases distributed via PRweb.com (http://www.newspad.com/all?q=wine&hitsPerPage=50) and MarketWire.com (http://www.marketwire.com/mw/search.do?params=wine&grpSearch=K).

    After all, if the Blogger wants to earn, they should reach out to the companies promoting their products via these press releases. Do the Bloggers expect that everybody will come to them?

  8. “I can’t quibble with Palmer’s 5 metrics, although I believe there are additional ways to evaluate a successful blog: the blogger’s breadth of knowledge and experience; number of visits; demographics of the blog’s readership; the blogger’s reputation in the industry (although not all of these are readily quantifiable).”

    First of all thanks for the mention. There was a little more to the message that M and I exchanged that I am going to turn into a blog post in the next day or so depending on time. I just wanted to break down a few of the points here.

    the blogger’s breadth of knowledge and experience- That is why I value the length of time the blogger has been blogging a lot. Usually if they don’t have knowledge or some sort of insight they won’t get a response and probably will be giving up within six months.

    Number of visits- Alexa and compete can give you a “ballpark” on this. Most people don’t have analytics that we can freely get our hands on so that is what I use to make a guess.

    Demographics- I check quantcast to see if they have it installed on their page. A lot of bloggers that are serious about advertising and figuring out their demographics will have it but in this niche it was few and far between.

    Reputation- I admittedly am going at this with a total outsiders prospective of the niche as I only have been watching and tipping my toe in the water for a few months. So I know who some of the players are but am not blinded by names because this isn’t a space I make my home in. We have to be careful when it comes to reputation and this is where the danger lies with the wisdom of the crowds. A lot of the times people will continually focus on one source or a handful because of their reputation and ignore budding and potentially strong placements because of it. I think it leads to tunnel vision in a lot of industries.

    Every winery/PR firm/event or whatever is going to have different needs when they reach out in this niche. It is going to be different for every single company based on a ton of factors. Hopefully applying some metrics to it all helps narrow things down and keeps people from purely eyeballing a site and making a guess.

    Anyway I love the discussion that has occurred around this entire topic it has been really interesting to read. I hope people from blogger to wineries to PR are picking up a lot from it, I know I am.

  9. Number & quality of comments are the single best combined indicators of merit. Also, blogs tend to get followed not for wine reviews but for commentary on the passing scenery in the biz. Can’t see how wineires sending samples will mean much in this context.

  10. Morton Lesllie says:

    I would expect that young marketing gal would have said, “No. Twitter is so 2008!”

  11. Great conversation here, Steve, thanks for the topic. Wine blogs, fragmented or not, are and will continue to be of keen interest to the PR community as media consumption shifts to the digital, including mobile content. But wine blogs are only one piece of the social media pie and any PR person who isn’t also paying attention to non-wine bloggers like Julia Roy http://juliaroy.com is missing a very big boat. (BTW I do sample the Podunk Daily News if the US Gov will let me ship there.)

  12. So what is so 2009? Facebook?

  13. @Kevin Palmer:

    “Number of visits- Alexa and compete can give you a “ballpark” on this.”

    Unfortunately, this is not true.

    The Alexa metric relies on a browser plugin adapted by random people (who may or may not have an interest in blogs on a particular topic). I have found Alexa indicates only about 1/3 of my traffic. This is not “ballpark”. Others relate the same discrepancy. This undermines the value, credibility and utility of Alexa’s metrics.

    What is needed is a third-party tracking service which would include blogger participation in the form of adapting and installing either an app on their root or installing some reliable tracking script (which would not skip counts if a visitor has cookies blocked, or has other security/firewall measures implemented).

    I have mentioned this idea to some in the industry after reading the post and comments here and can only say that something like this is being developed.

    My experience has been that my server-side stats app shows the highest hit rate while things like Google Analytics and StatCounter don’t catch everything.

  14. Yes, M. replied, but… There’s always a “but.” M. put it this way:
    In determining the value of any particular blog, he wanted to
    know if it was relevant.

    Beware the blogger whom, in determining the value of any particular wine, wants to know if it is relevant.

    “…and the loser now shall be later to win, for the times they are achangin’ ” Bob Dylan

  15. @Mia Maim… going after those people like Julia Roy plays back into the wisdom of the crowd point. She has an awesome social media presence but everyone is lining up to kiss her and the same other social media people’s butts.

    Wineries and PR do need to reach out to people outside of the wine blogging community, mommy bloggers, chefs, people with other social media followings but falling in behind the SAME people over and over is going to land you nowhere.

  16. Arthur, total agreement! There is at this time NO metric to accurately measure blog traffic. Period. End of story.

  17. Why are we looking for other metrics besides traffic and reputation?

    Everything else sounds like making excuses for not having enough eyeballs-.

    “My traffic is low, but I get a lot of comments.” C’mon, what is that?!?! They could be from your neighbors cats!

    Facebook and Twitter friends? These hold ZERO weight to blog readership. I usually end up blocking people that have high friend counts and little to say.

    Did anyone mention Google PR?

    On a local ATL radio show, an AM host was jumping for joy that in a recent ranking of general media, bloggers were ranked as having less influence than radio.

    Why is this so hard? And why does it make me nuts?! ; )

  18. Alexa/Compete…worthless for small niches like wine bloggers. Don’t bother. This game is not like in the newspaper industry, counting eyeballs, but rather looked at targeted eyeballs.

    Our readers at Catavino are looking for info on Iberian wines, and nothing else, they are targted to that niche. So a winery from Italy really wouldn’t benefit from my traffic.

    Look for blogs who have readers that are looking for you wines, something you can only figure out if you ask some of those of us in the middle of it.

  19. Morton Leslie says:

    I suppose in 2009 we will just all meet at the soup kitchen.

  20. What goes around comes around.

  21. @kevin palmer — Agree with you in principle but there’s a difference between “paying attention” and “kissing butt.” If we are talking about relevance here, anyone — whether Julia Roy or Gary Vee or our patient host, Steve H — who has managed out of thousands of blogs to amass an engaged, return-customer audience clearly has relevance to that audience. Metrics aside, for me the best way to understand how and why any audience “sticks” (and if that audience could some day be relevant to the wine world) is to pay attention: read, listen, occasionally engage. Kissing butt is entirely optional and anyway has the success rate of first-try soufflés due to generally inherent obviousness.

  22. I got into the whole wine blogging thing, partially out of being just a frustrated writer with a serious need for an outlet, but mostly just to communicate with our customers and friends on wines that we’ve come across that didn’t get any reviews in the print media, or just provide a bit of a retailer’s insight into the ways in which wine comes to this area (Northern Kentucky/Greater Cincinnati). I never once thought of myself as a journalist, nor will I ever. Do I have experience in this business? Yes, almost 20 years of it, in both restaurant and retail. Does that make me any more or less credible? Not sure. I think the big issue for us bloggers is that we feel the need to be legitimized – we want to be credible contributors to this business we love so much. In a way, we are doing exactly what those who created the Internet for which it was intended, exchanging ideas. In a loftier sense, it is that exchange that brings us closer together. Yet still we want more. It will be a LONG LONG time before money can be made on our blogs. So for now, we should find our voice, be committed to our blogs, and just hope for the best. Will that legitimize us in the new media? Who knows.

  23. Let me throw in another perspective: I’m a freelance writer, and I doubt my personal blog is ranked high enough to be “relevant,” and I don’t care. Steve said there’s no money in blogging. I agree. But I use my blog indirectly to make money–my editors can look at it and see my unvarnished, unedited voice. They can gauge whether I know what I’m talking about. And then they can give me paying assignments.

    I don’t have time to whore out my blog or put ads on or any of that other stuff; I barely have time to do it in the first place. But I’ve found it to be an important piece in my business puzzle, so I keep at it. Besides, it’s nice to have my very own corner of the internet in which I can post my own thoughts and opinions on everything wine. Which is, I suspect, why most people blog.

  24. Gretchen, you expressed my thoughts perfectly. “My very own corner of the internet.” Yes!

  25. How about something simple, like blogs that are interesting to read, are informative, and most importantly, entertaining. You can put all the ornaments on the Christmas tree you want, or list all the criteria for a relevant blog, but at day’s end, did you enjoy the ornaments, or did you enjoy (or were you entertained by) the blog? If the answer to that question is yes, then the blog has relevance. I’m not arguing against the criteria. I just want to read a blog where I learn something, and more importantly, am entertained by it. On the other hand, I tend to be simple.

  26. Larry, hopefully the fact that you’re reading my blog means you find it informative and entertaining! Believe me, I’m trying as hard as I can.

  27. I send samples to bloggers. I don’t send them to all bloggers. I base my decision on whether to send samples as follows:

    1. Can they write? Yes this takes time, but maybe no longer than figuring out what “Quantcast” is and how to use it. I’m no English professor by any means, but I take the time see how the blogger writes. A sloppy, wandering, and/or vague writer isn’t going to do me any good.

    2. Age of the blog and posting I prefer someone who has been at it for more than a year, but I have been known to take a chance on less. When I started this many of the good ones were still kinda new. And they need to post with some regularity.

    3. Comments. Not just how many per post, but the number of different commentors and how thoughtful their comments are. Again, you have to take the time to read the blog and reach an intelligent decision on whether to engage with them.

    I find it curious that those five criteria say nothing about relevance or ability. A blog about White Zin could score high in all of those criteria and yet be completely irrelevant for sampling my Tempranillo. Numbers aren’t enough, you have to think!

  28. Yes, Steve, your blog is BOTH informative and entertaining, and your efforts are greatly appreciated. You and Eric Asimov are my two favorite bloggers, and while I have not been able to review all 800 plus sites(several hundred left to go) , you two make blogging fun, interesting , and a learning experience. Some folks can make a metal can into an interesting discussion. Others can’t make a discussion of the Louvre into anything but boring. You are very much in group one. We all appreciate your efforts… and look forward to tomorrow’s blog. Thanks.

  29. Larry, I am humbled by your comment. My deepest thanks. I work very hard on every post and try my best to keep
    readers in mind. All my years in journalism have taught me that what I write ain’t worth diddly if people don’t like
    reading it. Again, thanks. You made my day! (or my night: I just got back from NYC after a fairly grueling flight.)

  30. I would expect that young marketing gal would have said, “No. Twitter is so 2008!”

  31. as a young and mostly irrelevant winemaker, i can say with confidence that the only way to know which blogs are relevant is to read them

  32. Hey Steve,

    A few ideas how you could further evaluate a blog.

    Use site operators to search the website for your relevant varietal/region. For example site:steveheimoff.com + “pinot noir” to see if the blogger writes about your topic much.

    If they have an RSS feed, try to see how many subscribers they have; that will be a good indication of their actual reach.

    Google PageRank is important if you’re looking for link value.

    Alexa is OK, but is so normalized that you can only get a basic idea of the reach. Compete and Quantcast do offer good insight as well.

    There are also good sites like myblogguest.com/ and HARO where you can pitch stories to other bloggers and news reporters.

    Also, check Google Trends, and search for relevant terms to your winery. You’ll find examples of latest news articles, and see the search trends for particular terms, which could be revealing.

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