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The definition of Hell


is sitting through another panel on “how to monetize your wine blog.” It just happened again–it’s baack–at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference (which I did not attend).

Personally, I’d prefer to be covered in honey and eaten alive by red ants.

How do I know that the WBC monetization panel was boring if I wasn’t there? Because some things are knowable in themselves. I know the sun is shining someplace even though right now Oakland is covered in fog. I know that Jennifer Anniston’s marriage will not last, if it even happens. And I know that the topic of monetizing a wine blog is contentlessly bankrupt. There just isn’t anything more to be said about it, so let’s stop pretending it’s somehow worth an hour of anyone’s time.

Actually, I do have an inkling of what happened at the WBC monetization panel because the great Joe Roberts put up this video of what he said there. I watched and listened. Joe has been exploring the Terra Incognita of the monetization waters like Columbus sailing the ocean sea, in search of new worlds and new riches. He is going where no man has gone before (well, except for Gary Vaynerchuk). Joe’s advice, if I may be so bold as to summarize it, is two-fold: You can monetize your blog by taking advertising, but this will always be limited, because wine blogs will always have limited audiences and so the pay won’t be all that great.

Or you can “monetize yourself.” Now we get to the nugget of making money. ”Be your awesome self. People will start to call you. Producers will ask you to create content on their sites…The more unique your voice, the more likely you are to get those calls and get some of those gigs and charge a higher rate.” Let’s not forget speaking fees as well.

I call this the Paris Hilton or Kardashian phenomenon: Be famous for being famous. (Gary V. pioneered this too.) Your talent, such as it is, consists in the ability to become known. Then it builds on itself. Once you’re known, you become knowner. People call you up, not particularly for your wine expertise, but because they want you to tell them how you became famous, and so you build a lecture series based on…how to become known! Or how to use the tools of SEO to optimize traffic on your blog…which makes you even more known.

Well, this certainly wasn’t how wine writers got known in the past. But who am I to judge? We’re living in new times, which require, I’m told, new tools. I’m trying to master those tools myself. So I take my hat off to Joe Roberts. Really, I do. He said two years ago he was going to make it in this racket and he seems to be doing it. Well done, Joe.

* * *

And speaking of social media, let’s headline this part:

Do you give more than you receive?

The key to success in the social media sphere, it turns out, is the same as it’s always been, from the Bible to the Golden Rule to the Beatles (“the love you take is equal to the love you make”):

“Create more value than you capture.” That’s the received wisdom from Tim O’Reilly, who runs O’Reilly Media, as reported today in Fast Company.

His theory is that “authenticity”–that Holy Grail of social media–“comes more from giving, not getting.” If you’re just a consumer, feeding off other people’s tweets, posts and comments instead of giving your followers, readers and friends more content than you’re consuming, then you’ll never “get” social media or succeed at it.

I’ve been accused in certain circles of not “getting” social media, so this message hit me, and made me think. At first I was guilt-struck: Gee, maybe I am  consuming more than I’m producing, which would make me a social media parasite.

But then I realized how much I’m actively tweeting–several times a day–and posting to Facebook–ditto–and then there’s this little blog (give ‘til it hurts), and I thought, Just how much more am I supposed to give?

Question: When it comes to social media, how do you know if you’re giving enough?

  1. Steve, tweeting several times a day does make a SM expert. I also don’t know that any one that said you were a SM parasite. I do think that your perspective is interesting because your taking the same road just in reverse. You’re trying to social media-ize yourself. You’ve already gotten the monetization down. You obviously think SM is important or you wouldn’t be trying so hard to use it. Just like bloggers that think making money is important.

  2. Steve – you’re close on this but missed something pretty fundamental: you don’t get calls for being known only, you get them for the combination of skills that you bring. In my case, I am not he best taster, critic, writer, or video guy, etc. But I can combine them well, and I have some chops in each; it’s the combo. that makes me, as a ‘hire-able’ package, compelling to some folks with money. I’m not there yet, but I’m getting there slowly, and continually trying to improve. I do appreciate the mention, as always!

  3. Wrong again… Jennifer Anniston’s marriage will last.

  4. Years ago, at the first wine bloggers conference, I said, if you want to monetize your blog, get a job in the wine industry. I know I sounded like I had just come in from Mars, when in reality I had just come in from 15 years of being in the wine business. I know well how it works.

    I’m with you on the definition of hell… Stop bringing in “stars,” because they attract bees to the honey, and bring in wine pros who are doing it. Then everyone can stop meditating on their navels on this one.

  5. Steve, I want to start off by saying that I don’t have any axe to grind with you. We met briefly at the 2010 Wine Bloggers Conference, and I found you very kind and enjoyed speaking with you. I find you talented and enjoy your perspective. That said, I feel like you repeatedly project some kind of baggage into these issues that seems to distract you from understanding what is really being said.

    The idea of using a body of work to sell your skills and abilities to a perspective employer is far from new. Every artist, copywriter, etc. who has had to look for a job is familiar with the concept of a portfolio. It just so happens that bloggers use their blog and other electronic media as their portfolios. Although it has been a small sample thus far, there have been several bloggers who have leveraged their work online to pursue career opportunities within various avenues of the wine world, myself included. For some of us that means writing for more mainstream publications, for some it means working for wineries, and for some it means starting a wine label. These are all cases where people have used their body of work to aid in monetizing themselves. The concept is not new, only the tools being used to accomplish these goals.

  6. Dear Ben Simons, thanks. Like I wrote, it’s a new world and maybe I just don’t get it. I mean (and this is not directed to anyone in particular), what sorts of careers are the bloggers–let’s call them Gary Vannabes–looking to develop? Speaking and lecturing about building up your social media skills is indeed a career, and possibly a lucrative one. But what does it have to do with wine? Or wine writing, for that matter? I can see someone reaching the point where they’re paid $25,000 to talk to a convention of Bechtel engineers or Citibank bankers about social media. That’s serious money, and I don’t begrudge anyone from going for the gold. I’m just saying that I love and respect the field of wine writing as I have come to know it over my lifetime and career. And in some troubling ways, it’s eroding around the edges. Still, there remain some very fine young wine writers who are committed to succeeding the old fashioned way. Jordan Mackay, for instance, in San Francisco Magazine. He’s building his credibility through solid reporting, not maximizing SEO or leveraging Twitter to build his brand or depending on a YouTube personality to attract viewers. See what I mean?

  7. Dear 1WineDude, well you know the only reason I write about you is because I respect you and your career fascinates me. If I didn’t care about you I’d never mention you. You do have a lot of chops and I know you’ll go far. If you get a chance, read my reply to Ben Simons where I explain myself a little more.

  8. The great irony of “social media” is that Steve Heimoff is the best at it. (PPPE)

  9. I only recently pulled my head out of the sand and joined twitter to promote my new blog. Over the last week, I’ve been pouring through wordpress books and pulling my hair out over all this stuff. I’ve come to the point where I just don’t care if I monetize my site. That isn’t the reason I’m blogging. I’m blogging to share a different perspective on wine.

    And I totally agree with you about being famous just for being famous. You should have some expertise on your subject matter. I’ve read wine blogs with blatantly incorrect information. I always want to say something, but never do. The worst offenders are the “natural wine” people.
    And this is why I normally never say anything, because now I’ll probably get flamed by the natural wine lovers.
    We’re all just finding our own paths, and I guess we should just let the free market sort out the garbage, but unfortunately there’s a lot of garbage out there.

  10. Jennifer Aniston seems like a nice girl.

  11. Steve,
    Jordan and I are friends and he does amazing work. The fact that he is not leveraging those tools to help elevate his game is not a positive but rather a missed opportunity.

  12. Paul: !!! Really?! I hope Jordan gets a chance to weigh in.

  13. Thanks Cameron. I don’t know what PPPE means but hopefully it’s nice!

  14. Thanks, Steve – I know it’s all good.

    I just don’t understand how my panel and the related video got looped into your conclusions about being famous and leveraging fame to talk about how to get famous. I mean, we covered NONE of that in that session. We talked about these topics:

    – SEO to increase readership (essential for ad revenue)
    – How to leverage your brand to propose books and eBooks and using them as revenue streams
    – Ad networks that are suited to wine blogs, and affiliate networks that are suited to wine blogs that benefit the network, the affiliate and the readers
    – Leveraging any brand capital (monetizing yourself) to get hired to do other things (speaking on topics like the nexus of wine and other things, which I do from time to time and get paid to do; writing content for industry blogs or e-tailers or wine producers on their outlets; traditional writing gigs).

    The only intersection of that and the culture of fame (which I’ve got nothing against, by the way) is leveraging the brand capital you can build up – the public face of your knowledge and expertise, etc. – after you’ve built it up on your blog.

    For the latter, this is NO DIFFERENT than what you’ve done with WE, for example. You get paying gigs to speak, write, etc. because of your position at WE, which is part of your personal brand.

    I’m just scratching my head at how this got twisted into something else entirely?

  15. I should add that I see no difference in building credibility from Jordan’s standpoint (I also count him as a friend) and mine, excepting that Jordan is much more talented than I am. SEO gets you superficial traffic, potential fans, not cred. If you don’t have chops, people will not stick around, and you will not build cred. Ok, that is all! 😉

  16. doug wilder says:

    I think Joe is doing a great job in building his reputation as a leader in wine media and therefore his brand marketability as has Alder Yarrow, Leslie Sbrocco and a few others who have pursued the social media star path. As such he is defining a new genre of expertise. Giving up the day job to throw yourself into something different takes courage, commitment and vision; but there is little choice when you are suddenly going everywhere people pay you to go. I watched his video as well, and the explanation of writing about wine online as a “niche of a niche of a niche”, with a narrow level of interest for readership is concise.

    Like you, I am weary of the ‘web ad as monetization’ mantra. When I started blogging (literally the morning of the first WBC), I had just left a career where I wrote extensively about the wines I tasted. At the time I saw blogging as a temporary bridge to what I would do next which would likely involve getting back to influential writing about wine. Like many attendees, I signed up for the ‘monetizing your blog’ session at WBC1. Afterwards I wasn’t satisfied that the only solution being discussed was web-based ads. I didn’t drink the kool-aid then, and as my brand has evolved in ways I hadn’t fully anticipated in 2008, I am pleased that what I now write is still free of advertising, completely supported by subscribers and done on my own terms.

    Given the sheer number of bloggers that continues to enter the ranks I think it is inevitable that excellence will rise to the top and create opportunity for certain writers in genres that neither you, Joe, or I can fathom. However, it isn’t realistic that the message of ‘being your awesome self’ will immediately translate into success. You need to work your butt off and be recognized as a resource.

  17. Steve – great writing speaks for itself but distribution is the fundamental tool that powers all business. Writing is a business as well as an art. Social networks, SEO, etc are all parts of distribution. Not using them is missing an opportunity to expand your audience and establish your presence in an ever increasing digital world. Again, if they are not being used it is a missed opportunity to broaden the audience and expose more readers to the quality work of the writer. Simple math.

  18. Another important nugget: We all want to be validated, and getting ‘pursued’ by those who want you to be part of their event, write or contribute in another way may be very attractive to those who are new to it, but there is the risk of becoming over-exposed and diluting your identity/worth if it doesn’t fit within the framework of what your goals are. Learning to say ‘no’ was one of the best pieces of advice I was ever offered.

  19. Steve, not all of us who are writing wine blogs have any desire to write in traditional media, or to enter the speaking circuit. My desire was to move into the wine industry. I ultimately want to become a winemaker, and my chosen path is a combination of apprenticeship and formal education. I chose to use a blog as a way to gain attention and credibility from those in the industry and to gain a foothold with a winery. It took a couple of years, but I found a position marketing for a winery here in Washington that is also allowing me to gain experience on the production side of the business. I can directly trace my ability to get a job in the industry to my blog.

    My point would be that not everyone who writes a blog is doing it with the same goals, but there are several different ways that a person can “monetize themselves” outside of selling ads or becoming a social media guru.

  20. Ben Simons, good luck! I’ll look for your brand one of these days.

  21. raley roger says:

    My conclusion after reading Steve’s blog post and the subsequent replies is that Jennifer Aniston should probably start blogging.

  22. Sam Dependahl says:

    This post is right on target, except I really think Gary V was more interested in selling wine-and later demonstrating his expertise for the sake of building an agency-than just being famous. What about Jordan Winery? It just won best winery blog at the Wine Blogger Awards but I don’t think they are in it for the fame. They are monetizing their blog by communicating their story, and hopefully winning over the hearts of consumers. An audience that cares about and trusts what you have say can be leveraged in many profitable ways—whether it be getting a job in the wine biz (like Ben), opening a tasting bar (Josh Wade) or being an awesome wine personality (1WineDude).

  23. Randy Caparoso says:

    As someone who also blogs but sits on the sidelines when it comes conferences: ditto, Steve… so much talky talky. But now that you mention learning “new tools,” I can’t get this image of Joe Roberts out of my head — wearing a tool belt like Al the Toolman…

  24. Please Pardon the Prepositional Ending

  25. Randy – HA!!!!

  26. Steve, Really?

    Don’t you think that saying the seminar was boring when you weren’t there is a little like someone saying they never saw “Friends” but new it wouldn’t be funny?

    I was there and I can tell you it wasn’t boring. And clearly people are interested or there would not be an audience.

    As for Joe, he’s a fantastic speaker–dynamic, engaging and charismatic. I’d be happy to listen to him talk about wine or travel or whatever because he’s good. And I applaud him for exploring new paths and encouraging others to do the same!

    Back to the seminar, I think there are a lot of people who really have no idea what to do with the passion they possess. They maybe know how to start a blog, but then they don’t know where to go from there. They need someone else to inspire them to take the next steps and some guidance on how to get there. And, let’s face it if you don’t have a national magazine as a platform it can be tough to get a little love for a blog.

  27. Ps. I love the Jennifer Anniston comments!

  28. Randy, as Joe writes for Playboy dot com now maybe the Tool Time girl – a la Pam Anderson – is a more apt comparison, even if she is taller…

  29. Joe, somewhere in this very long comments section you say: If you don’t have chops, people will not stick around, and you will not build cred. – How does Gary V fit in that equation? I’m a Jets fan too, but all that bs sniffy sniffy and no real information about the wines on libraryTV?

    Steve, I think what you are lamenting about social media, monetizing and wine is parallel to what is occurring in the wine industry as a whole – very sadly indeed.

    I pray that I am never thought of as a Gary Vannabe!

  30. Lori & Ben & Paul M. – THANKS!!!

    Kyle – agreed!

    cmiller – Have you ever tasted with Gary? That man knows his wine, no doubt whatsoever in my mind. He also galvanized thousands of people into exploring wine (not easy to do), and his keynote addresses are amazing. I came to similar places he did in terms of valuing online engagement, but came to them a separate way, so that by the time I read his books and talked with him a few times in person, we realized we connected genuinely. And he’s been a supporter of mine because of that, despite the fact that I’ve been very public about not watching his vids, etc. Bottom line: he has speaking, tasting, engagement, and biz idea chops. So… *that* is how I’d explain Gary :).

    Steve H. – My new definition of hell is getting my ideas and words twisted by people who haven’t watched, read, or attended, and then having to deal with the pile-on from people who also haven’t watched, read, or attended. It’s getting exhausting when it happens; I’m going to be brutally honest, I luv ya but it’s why I don’t visit here much these days unless you’re talking about wine and your life and your work, which are much more interesting to me and resonate a lot more with me.

  31. Is “Monetize” even a word? If you are using a wine blog to get a job, I have a better idea for you – get a job! As another 20-year veteran of the wine industry, I know that nothing can replace hard work, long hours, and pounding the pavement for that sale, that interview, that job. Is this a generational thing?

  32. Susan B. – yes, but the proper definition isn’t the one that’s commonly used with respect to making money form online endeavors.

    As for anything said in my video or during the WBC panel that led you to believe any of it was easy, or didn’t involve talent, hustle, gumption, a good work ethic, etc., I apologize; because it shouldn’t have been in there. The ONLY things that remotely qualify as “easy” are access to the platforms and the low barriers to entry online. I might have opportunities trying to find me now, but that is ONLY because I worked my butt off to establish and myself as meaningful “brands” in the wine space in the U.S. When I get contacted, it’s usually either because someone wants my particular style or voice to be applied to their project, or they’re interested in somehow getting access (through me) to the people who are interested in what I have to say every month (those visitors the ones to whom I owe anything and everything, and continually I’m astonished and humbled at the number of them).

    As for any of this being generational, I’ve no idea how old you are so I can’t comment on that. I was taught to work my butt off, and it’s what I’m teaching my daughter, so my answer I suppose is “I doubt it.” 🙂

  33. Joe, thanks so much for the quick response but my comments were actually directed to the author of this blog, whom I happen to know is part of “my generation”.

  34. Susan – no worries; you might be on to something there, actually, the younger we trend, the more people seem comfortable with sharing and the low barriers to entry for self-publication of ideas and opinions (in my experience, anyway).

  35. Sam — thanks for your comment about the Jordan Winery blog. You’re correct about our approach to monetization.


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