Thursday, February 3, 2011

Trusting a Blogger

Earlier this week, in one of the industry update emails I receive, I noticed the following headline: " Wine drinkers trust merchants over bloggers." I scanned the article, thought to myself "huh" and kept going. Yet, for some reason, during the "Blizzard of 2011" here in Chicago, I kept coming back to this article in my head. So today, I actually pulled the article, as well as the press release on which it was based.

Provenance of the Claim
The email I received said the article was from "Harpers." So, I was thinking Harper's, you know, the magazine that's been around since the 1840's. No, in fact, it was in Harpers Wine & Spirit Trades Review, which appears to be an industry magazine published by a UK publishing company. The article was a summary of the press release put out by the folks at Wine Intelligence, a UK-based company "[c]reating value for wine businesses through strategic advice, branding and research."

The Gist of the "Research Results"
The Harpers article was pretty much a retelling of the press release, in which the following conclusions were asserted about US wine consumers:
  • 20% of regular wine drinkers trust what independent bloggers write about a wine
  • 80% of regular wine drinkers trust what their wine merchant tells them
  • 66% of wine drinkers look for wine information online, and 33% of them use social media to do so
  • The most used websites are those run by "wine shops, newspapers and smaller wine producers"
The summary quote says that "It looks as if the trust levels built up over time by local wine merchants are transferring into the growing power of the Internet, while word-of-mouth recommendations are also migrating into the Facebook era. Clearly bloggers will have a role to play in this new world, but this research shows how important it is to build up trust levels among your audience."

And So What?
The tone of the press release, and the article, clearly imply that bloggers are not widely trusted, and at least one writer took it as an attack. Another responded by pointing out why in fact some bloggers should not be trusted. I happen to agree with him in some respects - there are some bloggers out there who don't really know what they're doing. That's pretty much true of everything.

I also think there is another way to look at this discussion. In a study, by a UK-based company that works and is likely funded primarily by larger wine interests, and likely to have used a very broad brush in the study (we've only got the press release, after all, it's ₤1,300 for the full report), they're saying that 1 in 5 drinkers trust a blogger for information on what to drink! 1 in 5! Of the group comprising all regular wine drinkers, you've got all those people who love white zinfandel and/or other things most wine connoisseurs would not touch, and all those people who don't use computers regularly, let alone read blogs. Yet 20% of the audience not only reads, but also trusts, at least one blog! And of course that number is growing, as everything moves online.

It's a Question of Trust
Just as the press release, as well as the other writers, point out, the fundamental issue is trust. People take recommendations from those they trust. There are good bloggers, and bad bloggers, just like there are good retail wine folks and bad ones. Most people aren't going to trust Joe Schmoe liquor clerk who just started working there part-time. But they should (and I do) trust our guy at the local wine store, Keith, who is one of the most knowledgeable, thoughtful guys we've ever known in the wine business.

Bloggers can build up trust - many have already done so. It takes time and effort, just like building up a reputation as a trustworthy retailer does. And those folks have had many more decades to do so than the blogging community.

Go bloggers!


Paul said...

Great point Sonja - I'd love to have 1 in 5 people try! Nobody knows if they like it til they try it - if I could get 1 in 5 to try?

frederic said...

It's also a question of use. One of my big wine drinking friends will try to match his wine to the meal he is cooking. Sometimes for dinner parties, 4 table wines for each course and a dessert wine or port at the end. The guy he buys from can pick out the right wine for the food he is preparing. This level of individual aid cannot be had from blog posts.

With spirits, the bottle will be with you for a lot longer so you can find a time and place for it. But with wine, you've got one shot once you open the bottle.

~Sonja~ said...

You're absolutely right, Fred - a great point.