Friday, September 14, 2012

Wine Bloggers – Who and What Are We?

( My #WBC11 wine blogger posse photo-bombing dinner with some locals peeps. )

Wine Bloggers – Who and What Are We?

In the opening paragraph of my first #WBC12 post, Doon,Been, What, Huh? – Matters of Experience I conjectured that “The wine bloggers conference is a lot of things to a lot of people, or it should be.” I can further clarify what I meant here by saying that the Wine Bloggers Conference attendance is composed of a wide range of different people with a diverse set of interests. There really should be something for everyone. But do we truly come together despite our diversity?

Diversity is a good thing by so many measures. Lots of different ideas and tastes being co-mingled keeps things interesting. But diversity does have its challenges. Developing a coordinated community with common goals when such diverse interests are in play is the particular challenge I am thinking of.

First off, who are we?
  1. First we've got the writers. These talented folks know how to write and could write about anything, but they are passionate about wine so that is their muse. Whether they attempt to educate about wine or write flowing, beautiful prose about wine appreciation, writers are constantly looking for new experiences to inspire them. This group often gets a specific session at the conference where consideration of what makes a blogger a writer and how bloggers should factor writing into their efforts takes place. Just so I am clear, not every wine blogger is ever going to be in this group. Why? First off some folks don't aspire and others don't focus on their writing enough. For some wine blogging is strictly about providing information and not experience, and the quality of such writing is always going to be viewed differently. Others still use photos or video as their medium and the few words they do write glue things together pretty well. 
  2. We've also got our educators. Many of the conference attendees are wine educators in some capacity, and their pursuit of life-long learning about wine, food and other beverages drives them to be at the conference and anywhere they can learn more. Meeting new people to share their experiences and education with is implicit it their being. Some in this group find themselves at the front of the content sessions leading discussions or moderating panels.
  3. Then we've got our producers and agents of wineries. Some of the attendees to the broader conference are producers (winemakers, tasting room managers, marketing managers, etc) and enjoy both sides of the conference. Attending the conference for the potential exposure, educational content and the overall good times positions them well to meet new followers and share stories from their corner of the wine world.
  4. People who represent trade associations, media outlets, product suppliers, co-operatives and legal interests are yet another group. Bloggers that are specifically focused on the wine business and not consumer topics also fit in here. This group is the poster child for the ideas presented here because the people within it have their own diverse priorities. Much like producers they are angling for both additional exposure and new channels for their products and services to be available in.
  5. We’ve got our buyers and sellers. These are the wine buyers, wine shop owners, distribution agents and folks from all parts of the wine supply chain. These folks are often hunting for new wines, new accounts and new markets.
  6. We’ve got folks who are zeroed in on specific topics or have personal politics that prompt them to focus on certain aspects of wine and the wine business. They are on the ground looking to answer specific questions and be advocates for specific choices. In Portland I’d say this group was best identified by those folks who were interested in the bio-dynamic, organic and sustainable themes.
  7. What connects us all and acts as an umbrella for folks that don’t specifically identify with any of the above descriptions? This is the group is made up of what I am calling the wine enthusiasts & networkers. This is where that drive and second life travelling to hang out with wine people where wine is made and enjoyed is what for fun comes from. These people best represent what could be considered the uber-wine-consumer, educated, mobile and thirsty. I think the consumer thread binds us together more than we admit. I'm going to drill into my thoughts on this topic in an upcoming post. This group is made up by people who are really interested in using wine to live well. The agenda here is pretty basic, fun (the party people fit in well here) meeting new people, experiencing new wines & food resulting in a shit-ton of good memories to take home. 
Some attendees cross-cut several of these definitions and the groupings are being presented more to illustrate the diverse priorities than to represent a hierarchy or a legitimization of one class over another. People new to wine blogging might not initially fit into any of the specific camps and can self-select over time.

What we end up with is a pretty diverse set of priorities to coalesce.

This diversity can be witnessed first hand by looking at the growing blog post directory from #WBC12.

So where do we go from here?

How do we build a coordinated community embracing all of our inherent diversity? What are the common goals? Is a code of ethics and standards, something all good-functioning communities or associations need, something we all will aspire to? 

Flipping it around, what problems do we currently wrestle with because of this diversity? Are there aspects to the Wine Bloggers Conference that shake out the way they do because of the need to transcend all these differences?

Problems exist and anytime we get together as a group I have little doubt that we all want events to be better than they have been before, but that only happens when we recognize and work on the things we’ve struggled with and don’t like. But do we, or is it just a small group of folks who have recognized the needs and their role in stewarding us along?

Here are a couple (and just a couple) of my observations from #WBC12 that I think we as as a community could use some work on:
  • Respect for presenters and guests to events. Seriously. We all need to shut up when someone is addressing the group. Gossip at a break. If you can’t contain yourself, excuse yourself and go somewhere else. This is an ethics and standards thing. Respect should be given to those that have been invited as guests to participate in our events. We should extend this respect to our peers who might care about something we clearly don’t if we can’t keep our yap shut.
  • Proffering and furthering bad or meaningless advice. The giving of advice is a serious business, and we should take the opportunity to give it to others more seriously. The best examples might be “be yourself” or “write in your own voice”. What do they mean? When saying this does the person mean “take the time to better understand who you are and your motivations so you can be aware enough to write and engage with them in mind?” If not, I think a key point is being lost. Even if this is the intended meaning, the two statements really aren't the same thing and the generalization is nowhere near as useful on its own as we might hope. When one of the goals of our group is to support each other we should make sure the advice we give is useful.
  • Impact measurement. Everyone in this group is curious about the impact we might have, some even pronounce it specifically, but where is the evidence? In order for us to answer the impact and influence questions we have to define how to measure these cohorts and consistently capture data in order to do so. We can’t wait for anyone else to do this. Why? Because they won’t be trying to answer the same questions and they won’t have the trust of enough of our ranks to make it real.
Overall these are some big questions and I don’t presume to have complete answers to any of them. I have my opinions about certain realities found in those questions, but I’ve yet to conclude how I relate to others on the same topics. One of the major realities, something Joe Roberts (1WineDude) articulated so well already this week in Wine Blogging Isn't Dead, is that wine blogging is still very young and we are short on answers of what and when results should be expected from us collectively. Maybe some conversation and follow-on posts in response to this will help me and the community at large with these quandaries.

So I ask these questions to all you, my peers I the wine blogging community. Who are we?  What are we? What should our goals be? How do we take this community to the next level?



1 comment:

cmolchany said...

Thank you, Jason, for a thought provoking look at WBC and the community of wine bloggers! It is quite remarkable, when you look at the pool of attendees, to see the diversity of who we all are, what our backgrounds are, and what our different intentions are in attending.

I agree with you and Joe Roberts - wine blogging is only in its early years. The nature of blogging means that anyone can join in at anytime with any objective. You don't have to apply to blog or pass a test. It's open enrollment! That's both a blessing and a curse. It could mean that the group - as a community - will mature more slowly than the average individual. It also poses a challenge to the organizers of WBC (of which I am now a part of). Who do we cater to? How do we help - as you say - take this community to the next level?

I don't think I have the answers exactly either. All I can say is that we at WBC are listening to you, are here to listen to your ideas, wants, dislikes, etc and to make each conference better than the last.


- Cindy