A Rant…In Response to a Rant…

I’m no social media guru. I’m pretty shit at it actually – I don’t really understand it fundamentally, so for my businesses it always feels like a bit of a chore. I have an Instagram account with just over 700 followers, but each pic might only get 20-50 likes. I have 1000 odd followers on Twitter I hardly ever talk to. In short: amateur.

I can see though the power of it in the wine industry, and given I spend most of my time talking to consumers under 35 – I regularly witness conversations which are smattered with ‘oh yeah I think I saw it on Insta somewhere’.

Nick Ryan’s ‘rant’  in WBM  (sorry, actual article seems to be in print only) baffled me. They even put it on the cover. It’s called ‘Learn to Taste or Fuck Off’. Charming. In short he tells us he’s older than young people and maybe that’s the reason he doesn’t understand social media. He reminisces about a time when wine writing was written by people who have not one, but ideally ”two of the disciplines required for the craft”. Then he gives us two examples of Instagram accounts which ”frankly, give [me] the shits”. One uses stock photos of wine and cheese, and now with 80,000 followers, the owners of the account get invited to drink free drinks (free drinks! Because no wine writer ever got free drinks before). The other has 76,000 followers and is apparently some guy showing the bottles, rehashing press release notes ”in place where personal insight or capable wine assessment might go”. He doesn’t name the offending accounts and I have no idea who they belong to either.

He describes how he thinks they got such big accounts: they start with stock images, use the hashtag #wine, buy some followers until the numbers start to look good and ”before you know it a bunch of PR kids…have marked you down as a key influencer”. He laments:  ”some bloke who can’t say anything about wine other than what you told him in your press release has 50,000 more followers than Halliday, Hooke, Stock, Stelzer, Bennie, Otten, Faulkner, Mattinson, Walsh, Tony Love, GT, WineFront and this publication (WBM) combined”.

I wonder why that ‘bloke’ has more followers then? Maybe he bought them. He probably did. But even so, it misses the point. It actually not followers alone which get you on the key influencer list, its engagement. Even the PR ‘kids’ (which by the way, is so offensive to write off a whole business function as being young and useless) know that.

Maybe he has more followers because Instagram isn’t about words. Its not a great platform for your ”craft” of writing detailed tasting notes. It’s about pretty pictures and clever hashtags. And for that reason, is perfect for the majority of wine interested young people who, unbelievably, want to engage on their terms.

Maybe he has more followers because Halliday, Hooke, Stock, Bennie et. al. write exceptionally well, but they are wine experts. They write for people who understand their references and wine vocab. Actually, from my perspective their accounts are fascinating: full of icon wines (i’ll never drink #sadface) and great descriptions – but my consumers – the ones who pay me to teach them what some of those words mean, don’t know who any of those guys are. How dare they be interested in wine but not engage with our top wine writers!

Maybe they have 76,000 followers because we, the industry – have got it really wrong. Still trying to apply our academic, critical vernacular to consumers while wondering why they don’t engage. I feel compelled to quote Dan Sims from Bottle Shop Concepts here:

‘’ I would argue that young people ARE interested in wine. They’re just not interested in reading/hearing about it the same old way in which wine has been communicated, by the same people, nor sit in a class room to learn about it. From where we sit, people want to learn about wine the same way in which they consume it; socially. And then share their experience. Said people also complained about the shrinking of column inches in newspapers dedicated to wine. Again, why are you surprised if you’ve been saying the same thing over and over again for 20 years?’’

But, behold – Nick managed to finish on a positive note: ”If you really do favour quantity over quality, then perhaps these guys may be the best judges of your wine after all. And to those considering carving out a vinous niche on Instagram all their own, I have three slivers of advice, delivered in a way you might understand: #learntotaste #orlearntowrite #orjustfuckoff ”

It’s like a wine writers equivalent of a  tantrum.

Apparently though his ranting ”isn’t motivated by self interest. It’s actually motivated by a love and respect for the craft of communicating the wonder of wine”. And from what I’ve seen, Nick is a great wine communicator. But this article – to me, is negative for no good reason and it talks down to the reader.

Mostly I’m perplexed about why WBM, a great industry magazine, would publish such negative hyperbole. Those column inches could have been dedicated to understanding how that guy with 76,000 followers actually did it, and why it matters. How does he drive engagement? How do the brands get exposure through him? God damn, they could have even talked to those useless PR kids about how wine brands might utilise social platforms to access consumers. They could have provided a case study, some research, or even published the names of the account holders so we can decide for ourselves. Instead, they’ve indulged a dude who has an opinion.

Sorry WBM, I get lectured enough from my parents, I don’t need your columnists doing the same thing.