The current social media “wars” taking place both in the food and wine arena should be a reason for bloggers to get together, and to write a Code of Conduct for blogging. This serious call came from Emile Joubert, a PR consultant to the wine industry, and writer of the Wine Goggle Blog, when he addressed the final and best attended meeting for this year of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club at the Grand Daddy Hotel in the Cape Town city centre.
Emile was a most entertaining speaker, and challenged wine bloggers in improving their ‘game’. He had brought along two De Wetshof wines from Robertson-based winemaker Danie de Wet, the Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, as well as Kanonkop Pinotage, the only South African wine in a recent list of “100 most exciting wines in the world”, and a magnum of Glen Carlou Pinot Noir, which were tasted by the bloggers. Emile praised the initiative of the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club, which was established in May this year. He has seen the benefit that his wine clients have enjoyed through the increasing number of bloggers, all wine lovers with an opinion, he said. Social media is a perfect platform for wine promotion. Every wine has a story, he said, making it eminently ‘blogable”, unlike spirits or beer, which are more generic beverage categories. Wines have a brand name, a culture and a personality, and these characteristics can be used to good advantage by wine bloggers. Emile acknowledged the leadership of Mike Ratcliffe in being the first wine blogger ever, for Vilafonte, about six years ago.
Emile was critical of wineries embracing social media by opening a Facebook page, and paying lip service to social media through poor writing on their blogs and in their Tweets, which give the wine industry a poor image, he said. He said that many wine bloggers “are more enthusiastic than talented in writing” about wine, wasting the time and space for serious wine lovers. They are boring, he said, and if they contain spelling errors, they are an embarrassment. He said that many bloggers are too obsessed with readership numbers, using links non-stop, no use he says if their blogs are lousy! He encouraged bloggers to develop their “own voice”, and to create their own ‘blog brand’. “Speak your own voice clearly, succinctly and passionately”, he urged.
Most social media programs of wineries lack a strategy, in his opinion. He recommended that a 1/3 each of one’s action should be focused on SOCIAL, MEDIA and MARKETING. He described the wine industry as ‘ego-sodden’ terrain, with over-intellectualisation of wines, for example, referring to wine tasting of “tar” and “figpaste”, having run out of new adjectives to describe the taste of wine! Emile feels that bloggers will make traditional mainstream media wine writers obsolete, and that is why Neil Pendock too has taken to blogging. He mentioned that the recent ‘Swartland Revolution’, a marketing activity by a number of Swartland wine producers in Riebeeck Kasteel to make their wine region “sexy” via social media marketing, had made TIME magazine.
In developing a Bloggers’ Code of Conduct, Emile called firstly for anonymous comments to be disallowed, saying that this would never be allowed on a letters’ page in a newspaper. He also called for a boycott of restaurants that ban writers! When asked, he explained the split in the wine industry, based on wine writers being pro- or anti-Platter. The anti-Platter writers are unhappy with sighted tastings to judge the stars awarded to each wine, as they can influence the livelihoods of those affected by lower star ratings. He called Platter “the best phone book” for the wine industry. It would appear that this group of writers is also critical of Wines of South Africa (WOSA), in that they feel that the monies spent on marketing South African wines is not effectively spent. Accepting ‘freebies’, including airline tickets and more, is frowned upon, and leads the anti-Platter faction to expose their ‘colleagues’ guilty of this practice without disclosure. This leads to backstabbing, infantile behaviour, and persons dishing out insults without being able to take them in turn.
The Food Blogger Marisa Hendricks from The Creative Pot blog praised her Twitter and blogging friends for their friendly support and ‘chattiness’, which makes Social Media enjoyable to her. She was honest in saying that she is a ‘messy’ cook, that her family does not eat fancy food every night, and that there are irregular meal times in her household. She focused on three aspects of a blog, in making it more successful. The design of the blog is paramount, as it expresses one’s personality.
Secondly, food photography needs attention. In her household photography is mainly done at night, which is complicated as far as lighting is concerned, making dishes look too yellow. She says that cellphones are not made to give good photograph quality, and that one should choose the right camera (she uses a Cannon), read the manual that comes with the camera, and experiment with the camera settings. Natural light is best, and it can be softened by gauze, she said. Food should also be lit from the side, and not directly from above. Food styling is equally important for successful photography, creating a desire of “I want to lick my screen”, she said! Styling can be enhanced through the use of cutlery, glasses, doilies, napkins, etc. White plates are classic in food styling, but bright plates offer a contrast for a one-colour food dish. The styling should be natural, in how one would eat the dish. This helps one when one submits one’s food photographs to what she called ‘foodporn” sites such as Foodgawker! Thirdly Marisa spoke about advertising, and she only allows text-based ads. She does not want her blog to look like a “billboard”. She knows that advertising could be off-putting to her readers. She also discussed affiliate links, to cookery books sold by Amazon, for example, which can work well if used properly.
In discussion it was mentioned that bloggers’ “user-generated content” is becoming more trusted for recipes and information than are recipe books and magazines. Marisa called for better hardware to read blogs. Disclosure of receiving free products is paramount, it was said, and PR companies should not expect bloggers to write about the products they have handed out, much like a print journalist will not guarantee that he/she will accept a media release. It was felt that one should not write about something one did not like.
A competition amongst attendees to find the most frequent Tweeter during the two-hour Bloggers’ Club meeting led to a flood of Tweets. Hila Jonker (who Tweets as @LadyRaven) won the prize of a bundle of fresh greens from the gardens of the wonderful new restaurant Babel at Babylonstoren.
The 2011 programme for the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club will be announced closer to the start of the new year. The first meeting of the year will be hosted by Pigalle on 26 January. More information is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter: @WhaleCottage