Commentary: Credentialing for Wine Bloggers

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WineWonketteLast Fall during the North American Wine Blogger Conference there arose a debate: Is it ethical for wine bloggers to accept wine gratis from the wine industry (Wine Blogger and Industry Interaction: What Crosses the Line)? Fast forward a few months and now the debate has moved onto who should legitimately get wine for free–camouflaged in a discussion about “Wine Blogger Certification.”

On-line media and a variety of blog platforms have put the power of the publisher into SpilledWinethe hands of the people.  Anyone has the ability to be a “journalist.” Much has been said about the frustration of traditional media at having their publications shrink, their jobs eliminated, and the requirement that they “go on the web” and post a blog. It’s a legitimate concern that is causing traditional media to rethink its business model. What was once legitimate news has been replaced by infotainment. And many members of the traditional media have sought some some of adherence to “standards” so that something can be called “news.”

That said, this current debate among the wine bloggers appears to be a wine of a different color. Over the past couple days  twitter posts (“tweets”) ranged from

  • “fake business cards” used to get “free wine” becoming a “huge concern for small wineries”
  • whether or not certification was necessary
  • what sort of criteria should be used to establish certification.

It seems that just as in every “industry,” wine blogging has grown to the next level; where more seasoned wine bloggers worry about how they are going to establish and maintain their own legitimacy when any June, Ward or Beaver can print up a card, slap up a few paragraphs on the web and call himself a blogger. So we have at the moment, the idea that “real bloggers” need to have some way to set themselves apart from the commoners–i.e. protect our turf.

After reading a number of well-thought out posts on the subject like those from my fellow twitterati WineDiverGirl, Winebratsf and mwangbikler on CaveMan Wines I posted the following commentary, which I’ve expanded and incorporated here.

Protecting the Turf with Wine Blogger Credentials

Industries that require “credentialing” usually do so to either (1) put up barriers to new entrants (2) to protect the consumer (3) generate income from the credentialing process.

We certainly don’t need to protect consumers from bloggers because as most are unpaid and don’t rely on advertising to stay afloat, we tend to provide purer critique (while still an opinion) of a wine from the consumer’s point of view.

As for generating income from credentialing; there are a number of credentialing groups whose blessing means next to nothing. In the past I worked in higher education – marketing an Executive MBA program among many others from competing schools. Our program differentiated itself through accreditation. But soon a number of different accrediting groups sprang up. The public had no idea which was legitimate and which was not — so all the money and time we spent going through the accreditation process offered very little return on investment (ROI). As demonstrated by the talented Thea on LusciousLushes blog, nearly anyone can crank out a certificate, frame it, and put it up on his wall (or in this case a widget on her blog.)

For the most part wine blogs are simply editorials giving the blogger’s opinion about a wine. Anyone can look up the score from Wine Spectator or Wine Advocate, but we think the average person just wants to know (1) is this a good value (2) is it enjoyable (3) and is it obtainable. And most of that is clearly subjective.

There simply aren’t objective measures to determine whether or not a blog should be “credentialed” or a blogger certified; because the success of the blog depends upon the goals of that particular blogger.

To the point of getting discounts or S.W.A.G. (e..g. free Stuff We All Get), wine industry professionals and other bloggers tend to be able to identify those boggers who contribute to the promotion of the industry.
However, it would seem to me to be a small investment for the industry to provide bloggers with discounts or advance access to wines for review. Some industries require all sorts of hoops for the media who cover them to jump through.   What I always find baffling is that any industry would want to limit or reject what is essentially cheap or next-to-free publicity and advertising for their product.

Putting up barriers to new entrants simply lowers the overall quality of wine blogs, as does ALL competition in ALL industries. When the media serving an industry starts to become homogenized, consumers are only benefited by new entrants. And it pushes everyone writing about wine to do what he can to set his blog apart from the others.

To me credentialing is not a good idea, or in a word–stupid. It simply would not provide bloggers, the industry or consumers with any benefits that would outweigh the chilling effect on the growth of wine blogging through the entrance of new bloggers.

~ Amy Corron Power
aka WineWonkette

About Amy Corron Power

A licensed attorney, Amy is a wine-lover, foodie, photographer, political junkie and award-winning author who writes about Wine, Food, Beer & Spirits. As Managing Editor & Tasting Director for Another Wine Blog, she travels all over the world's wine regions to share her experiences with her readers and nearly 10,000 twitter fans. She holds certifications from International Sommelier Guild, regularly attends Houston Sommelier Association events and is currently studying for her California Wine Appellation Specialist certification through the San Francisco Wine School.
  • http://cavemanwines.com Michael Wangbickler

    Hey Amy. I understand your perspective on this, but consider the view from the other side. Wineries are presented with hundreds of bloggers. How do they determine who is legitimate? We don't want to “limit or reject what is essentially cheap or next-to-free publicity and advertising,” but it just isn't an economic reality for wineries to send wine samples to everyone. That is a lot of wine. Whether it is a credential or some other metric, wineries need guidance on when and where to send samples to get the most bang for their buck. I believe it is up to us WIne PR professionals to discuss and eventually provide a solution.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com jpower

      A PC, an iPhone, a Blackberry, or an available laptop could all allow someone to ask Mr. Google if the blogger is legit. Not to mention, when I go into tasting room, or even a wine bar, I pay for whatever I am drinking. If the staff is friendly and has the time, or if I definitely plan to write about them, I give out a card. What they do next is up to them. They are under no obligation to treat me in any special way, although many do, and I appreciate it, and I certainly don't expect it. Frankly, credentialing is both kind of silly and useless. Who issues them? By whose standards will they be issued? Can they be revoked for not posting well or often enough?What if a blogger is spotted enjoying a bright pink glass of Franzia? Is poor design enough to exclude one, or must it be coupled with poor grammar as well? I rarely do negative reviews, the last blogger brouhaha like this suggested that bloggers who don't should be made into pariahs, will that be a consideration? Let the wineries set their policies, and the blogging community can deal with their policies, or they can deal with us.

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      I probably don't have to tell you that “PR professionals” can be just as easily manipulated in determining “who” and “what publications” are relevant. Having worked in PR, marketing and advertising for 15 years prior to law school, I know the kind of power that we PR folks, as gatekeepers can hold. I've seen government sole source justifications for a less relevant media outlet because the PR person got comp tickets to sporting events, exclusive dinners, and backstage passages totally unrelated to the client to whom they were recommending the media. As gatekeepers PR folks are benefited by a smaller pool of options. But my comments weren't really directed as to determining how the wineries should invest their marketing budgets. I agrees with you — that is certainly where some sort of metrics can help. I was looking more at in-person contact within the Tasting Rooms. And in that instance I would advise a winery to set a universal policy for initial tastings–and seek to establish a relationship with the bloggers who can bring them business. But there are always gray areas where you can include bloggers in events — maybe even with a discount versus free tickets — no matter what the metric says. In that instance its more of a loss leader–that can provide benefits in the long run. My chief concern was that muc of the discussion seemed to be driven by established bloggers or established media seeking to determine who could join their “club.” And in that respect, it tends to be the same across industries and organizations. There is the tendency for the group, as it gets larger, to seek to exclude others through “certification” and “credentialling.” To me, that just leads to mediocrity and pretention which will neither benefit the consumers or the wineries.

  • http://wannabewino.com Sonadora

    I truly have trouble believing that fake wine bloggers are a problem in tasting rooms. Really. More and more I'm seeing tasting room staffs who have computers behind the bar who can quickly and easily pull up your blog if they so desire.

    Anyone can make up a fake card for anything. The trade discount and free wine that people are bandying about can be just as easily claimed by anyone with a fake card as traditional media, a distributor, a winery from another state or region, a retailer, etc. I am not convinced that what is supposedly a problem with people claiming to be bloggers, if it is a problem, does not exist with people claiming to be from any other part of the industry.

    And here, I repeat again. Hobby. My hobby. I make not a dime from my wine blog. In fact, it costs me money to register the domain, pay the hosting fee, buy business cards, etc. I do it for fun and the love of wine. I did it for a while before anyone ever offered me a bottle of wine or waived a tasting fee and I would continue to do it whether or not I got those things and in spite of anyone trying to impose a credential on my HOBBY. I love wine and that's the long and short of it. I keep the blog just as much for myself as I do for anyone who stumbles across it. And if consistently blogging nearly daily for the last 2+ years isn't enough for people, well, then frankly my dear, I don't give a damn!

    • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

      Great points Sonadora. I'll continue to see it as turf protection and insecurity among some of our existing bloggers until I see “relevant and legitimate” (as opposed to anecdotal) evidence to the contrary!

  • http://www.fiascowines.wordpress.com aaron

    Hi Amy,

    Maybe it comes down to seeing who has the most google juice within the blogging world before making a decision on where to send your wine. Maybe it doesn't matter if bloggers have hero or zero status within the wine world. If wineries are confident in their product they should send there promotional allocations to whoever. Look at Hugh Macleod and Stormhoek,,,,

    • http://www.fiascowines.wordpress.com aaron

      Ohhh I forgot to say………The most important thing is what the drinker thinks

      Cheers

      Aaron

      • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

        I certainly agree with you there — the ONLY thing that matters at the end is what the consumer thinks. And I think that's how bloggers are different from regular wine writers. We are consumers first and writers second. Which doesn't necessarily make our reviews better or worse — but in targeting us with their wines, wineries are getting closer to the level of the consumer with out the “middle man” ;)

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    I certainly agree with you there — the ONLY thing that matters at the end is what the consumer thinks. And I think that's how bloggers are different from regular wine writers. We are consumers first and writers second. Which doesn't necessarily make our reviews better or worse — but in targeting us with their wines, wineries are getting closer to the level of the consumer with out the “middle man” ;)

  • http://www.anotherwineblog.com WineWonkette

    I certainly agree with you there — the ONLY thing that matters at the end is what the consumer thinks. And I think that's how bloggers are different from regular wine writers. We are consumers first and writers second. Which doesn't necessarily make our reviews better or worse — but in targeting us with their wines, wineries are getting closer to the level of the consumer with out the “middle man” ;)

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