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Measuring influence or communication skills

Do you have influence? This question is causing quite a stir at the moment, but what does it mean in the wine world?

This question will be of particular relevance next week at the London International Wine Fair. Why? Because with the massive growth of online sources of information, wine businesses will want to understand who can help them spread their message, and build their brands.

“I’m 47 on that”

Influence“, in theory, goes beyond raw numbers of readers, hits and followers, and instead promises an insight into a wine communicator’s ability to engage their audience and generate some kind of activity (see here for a previous post “Writing Under the Influence of Twitter“).

In many ways, it is analogous to how wines are scored, except this time it is the communicator themselves being scored. Take James Suckling for example, infamous for his point-scoring perspective, in the world of influence he himself is scoring 47 and 53 instead. I don’t think he’d like these numbers, but should he be impressed?

The “science” of measuring this influence is in its infancy, but developing every day to include a wider range of information sources. Two of most widely used services today are PeerIndex & Klout, and for your enjoyment, analysis and feedback, here is a list of “top 100 wine twitterers” I have created from the MANY folks I follow every day:

(Click on the link for the full global list of the most influential wine accounts and for information on what the different columns mean)

You will note:

  • The list is ordered by an overall influence score that does not relate solely to wine (I am hoping to work with this data in the near future)
  • The list is arbitrary & incomplete – I certainly don’t know all twitterers interested in wine
  • It is a mix of all those with interest in wine, covering many different segments – winemakers, marketeers, personalities and consumers that could/should be looked at separately
  • It is based largely, at this stage, on twitter activity (though facebook, linkedin and others are apparently taken into account). So if you are not on twitter, tough luck!
  • Most of all, influence is a very personal thing, so you probably will disagree with this list

For comparison, here are Klout scores for the same top 10:

Klout score for wine

Unfortunately Klout’s list does not allow for more than 10 users at the moment, so it is very hard to compare (but this data should be available shortly) however, you can see a similarity in the general order of users.

In essence, the influence score is a measure of how likely a message sent by this person is likely to be heard and acted upon. It is calculated based on measures such as the size of the audience, the volume and quality of interactions with that audience (messages, retweets, lists), the nature of the content being shared, and how unique and interesting that is, and more.

Measuring your social media skills

But does it mean anything? More importantly, does it help in any way?

I feel uncomfortable with the idea of “most influential” lists, yet I do recognise that the people who feature highly are those I read and look out for.

I believe it would be better for the term “influence” to be replaced with “skilled at social media communication” – unfortunately that is a lot less catchy. I believe that these measures are really about how skilled the person is at communicating clear messages in a way that people will want to follow, read, share and react. Skills are learned, and the effort and time users invest in these accounts is therefore also reflected in the score.

Does it matter? Whatever you think these measures mean, they do reflect the profile of certain people and messages. More decision-makers (advertisers, PR companies, buyers, consumers) are paying attention. For that reason alone, the answer is, Yes … but don’t lose sight of the big picture!

It is always important to keep an eye on the leaders in a field, but don’t forget that in an area that is developing as fast as social media, the next big thing is probably not included yet!

Next week’s LIWF will see a lot of influence at work, and if managed well, see these scores rising. Brands will see their influence scores rise as visitors share their reviews and links online. Communicators will be discovering and sharing the kind of unique content that their readers are interested in, and looking to share. Who wins? Everybody – brands, writers and consumers, and the online wine culture.

Have you checked your score? Is it a fair reflection? Want to know how to improve it? Come along to the Access Zone on F70 at the London Wine Fair to ask us.

Update 10/5/2011: here is a list just of UK wine bloggers as an example

Stay tuned to WineConversation.com as we explore the area of influence, or communication skills, and look in more detail at what this might mean.

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The Access Zone – the London Wine Fair’s best Roller Coaster

Why do you go to a wine fair? I think we’ll all agree the answer is “to do business”.

Simple.

People don’t want to waste their time walking around for 3 days, with sore feet and bad food, unless there is a something to be gained from it. Whether you’re a winemaker selling your wines, a wine retailer looking for new discoveries or wine writer looking for the next big story to pitch, we all have £ signs in our eyes. Our end goal is: Doing business.

Today the fact is that, more and more, business is going online. From this people have made the jump to say that you don’t even need a wine fair if you can just do it “virtually”. Unfortunately for us, this quickly falls apart when we ask for a taste of a wine … I, for one, find licking my laptop screen a non-starter. So we’re back to mailing samples, organizing ourselves a bit more and doing the work piece-meal.

Wine fairs are great at one thing: Bringing people together. Heck the work “fair” is exciting, evoking dreams of ferris wheels, candy floss and adrenaline-rushes from impossibly-named roller coasters, but none the less a fair is a fair. With hundreds of people wandering about there is an opportunity for all wine buyers, sellers and communicators to find some business. But again, maybe a ‘one or other’ mentality is just a bit too passe.

We host a conference each year and we limit ourselves to 200 participants. We are a small focused group of individuals who come together to talk in person, face to face. Funny thing is that we also talk online during the whole conference with each other, including those who could not be there. During big tastings, where we sit quietly and listen to a speaker walk us through a selection of wines, behind the deferential murmur is a wild cacophony of twitter and Facebook conversations. Opinions are exchanged & dialogs fomented.

Imagine if you did that on a much larger scale.

That is what the Access Zone is all about at this year’s London International Wine Fair (#LIWF). A place to discuss the internet, to track the conversation and to encourage dialog. With free wifi for all, plus power points (outlets for you non-Brits) galore, we offer a location to learn about the web, share your stories with other curious folks and get your questions answered.

This year, working with MadCatMedia, we are bringing you 3 days of live video from the fair. Live video that will not just share a message, but encourage a dialog about wine, wine communications and much, much more. With an open door policy and the ability to be watched online or in person, our desire is to show people that the world is not a place of black and white but a prism of colors that stand within.

We’ll come back and explain more about what we are doing in the coming days, but for now let us know what you think. Will you stop by? You can check all our events at the official schedule: http://vrazon.com/accesszone and even watch a recap from last year.

See you at the fair!

You don’t “need” an app for your wine business

Recently I was talking to a friend who was doing project management on a mobile phone app for a department within the Catalan government. Voicing his many general frustrations with working for the government, there was one particular issue that caught my ear.

He stated that all they seemed to know about the project when they approached him was that they “needed” an app. Loosely, they knew they could do something with maps in the city of Barcelona, but most importantly they “needed” an app.

Let me be absolutely clear, no one needs an app.

What people do need is to solve problems, or simplify elements of one’s business or job. These are the starting points. No one would say “I need a shovel”, then go out and buy a shovel without knowing what you’re going to use it for. If you need to dig a small hole, you buy a shovel. That said once you know the size of the hole you need, you might decide that a shovel is  the wrong tool.

I know “apps” are in fashion but a useless app built only for the sake of “having an app” is not only a waste of money, but can reflect negatively on your product overall. Asking your consumers to download an app when they visit your site builds expectations, and if when they decide to download it all they get is the same content you have on your website already, but in a smaller, less convenient form, you’re not thinking of your consumer, but rather your ego.

That said, there are a lot of things today that could and would benefit from having an app, but rather than thinking about the app first, figure out the problem, develop a solution and consider whether an “app” is the best way to solve the problem.

Cheers

What’s so Odd about Oddbins?

Oddbins is in trouble, and it needs a new lease of life, and probably a new investor, to survive, but brands CAN survive repeated near-death experiences if they have something to live for.

Newspapers and the wine media are full of doom and gloom stories about the future of Oddbins, once the UK’s coolest wine retailer. This week they announced that they were closing 39 shops, losing around 200 staff, and that this was probably just the start. The reality is that once the financial situation reaches a state of crisis, trust evaporates and things only get worse. Of course many of us working in the wine business either grew up working or shopping there, so many people are very upset.

Yogi on Meditation.

What seems to be missing from the discussion are positive suggestions on the future for this brand.

I know nothing of the financial or management discussions going on at the moment, but I thought I’d say something that has been on my mind since the current owners, under the management of Simon Baile, bought the business from Castel in 2008.

Let’s face it, the future of mass wine retail on the high street is either finished, or extremely uncertain*. We don’t shop there as often and margins don’t cover extremely high rents and staff costs. This is not the full story though. The Telegraph points out that wine is not alone here:

Every bottle of wine we’ve bought in the supermarket over the last year has been a bottle we haven’t bought from Oddbins and its rapidly diminishing off-licence peers. … Oddbins’ troubles are exactly those that have hit booksellers and record shops nationwide. Let’s hope that there’s not about to be another casualty to add to the list.

We have not stopped buying music, books or films have we? We just stopped buying them on the high street.

I know, I KNOW! Books and music can be ‘consumed’ digitally, but that just made them the first to move the shopping experience online. Our lives are changing and a lot of our shopping is now online. I don’t know about you, but our household rarely visits supermarkets anymore and orders stuff with excellent companies such as Ocado.

Wine is no different. Can you imagine an investor buying into a chain of high street bookshops, music shops or video stores in 2008? I’m sorry, but why did Oddbins try to save hundreds of shops? While they were doing that, people like Rowan Gormley were doing the opposite and establishing businesses like Naked Wines.

Oddbins established its reputation because it made wine accessible to people when the only alternative was “stuffy old wine merchants” – even supermarkets were hardly in the game in those days. The reputation was not really built on “convenience” of high street retail but on the knowledge of staff, the quirkiness of the range, the “coolness” of the Ralph Steadman brand image and the general excitement of discovery. I think I’m right in daying, however, that despite this, even at its peak, Oddbins was never greatly profitable even then!

It’s not death, it is moving on to a better place

Where can you best make that happen today, and try and do it profitably? Not in shops, but online.

The future of the Oddbins brand is to “ascend to a higher plane” and move its MAIN business online and keep a small number of outlets as “experience stores” (in the way Apple & Nike have done so well, and Laithwaites is already doing in wine).

I know it will be a tough transition, and I’m sorry to the many fine folks that will lose their retail jobs, but this would also create a whole new category of online advisor jobs where staff could actually use their wine knowledge and spend less time stacking shelves and dusting bottles.

Threshers tried to cling on to its retail model, and after a protracted series of death throws, it eventually collapsed. That brand didn’t have much to live for. Oddbins is different. I believe, along with many others, that it deserves to continue, but it must go back to its ‘Odd’ roots and embrace the future, not cling to the past.

* Real local shops will survive, but big brands are unlikely to. Even Majestic avoids the actual ‘high street’ and their model is based on finding other local sites.

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Wine research through a distorted lens

Last week, an organisation called Wine Intelligence put out a press release concerning the apparent lack of trust consumers had in wine bloggers. I can only imagine it was intended to bait bloggers and commentators into some sort of argument to create headlines.

Ryan Opaz and I talked about it and found there were simply too many questions raised not to comment on it. We’re not sure how else to explain some of the conclusions from an organisation that is trying to sell a research report “worth” £1,300.

A clipboard

Image via Wikipedia

Let me start with the headline:

Independent bloggers are one of the least trusted wine information sources in the UK, USA and France, according to research published today, despite the growing importance of the Internet as a source of information about wine.

A headline worthy of tabloid newspapers, or even untrustworthy “independent bloggers”. Hardly the sort of interpretation that would make me trust an organisation that wants to sell me their analysis of the state of the wine “internet and social media”.

Who are these “independent bloggers”?

There is no explanation. Does it include blogs written by the same merchants that the “regular wine drinkers” apparently trust so much? What about the blogs published unofficially by their staff? What about the many blogs published by wine magazines, journalists, importers, wineries, and even research organisations? What about blogging wine personalities like Jancis Robinson, Tim Atkin, Alder Yarrow, Dr. Vino and others? No?

I’d love to see the definition, and the carefully vetted segmentation applied to the 1000+ worldwide wine blogs covered by this statement.

Maybe it is just intended to capture all those individuals who don’t happen to work in the wine business, have not gone through standardised wine trade education schemes, and happen to be writing about wine for their own entertainment and education? The folks who have no “borrowed’ trust and must establish themselves individually. In which case they seem to be doing pretty well to be considered at all and we should salute them!

If that is how they define bloggers then they must realize that these blogs are word-of-mouth amplified by technology platforms, and as such they are trusted by certain very important people – their friends.

What do you mean by “least trusted”?

According to the research, focusing on the UK for now;

1 in 5 regular wine drinkers in the UK trust what independent bloggers say about a wine, compared with the 50%+ who trust what they hear over the counter in a wine merchant.

AND

… just under half the wine drinking populations in [the UK and France use] the Internet for wine information and 16% using social media.

Let’s examine this.

If 16% of all regular wine drinkers “use social media,” they presumably mean that they are on Facebook, Twitter and (whisper it) read blogs. Let’s make the outrageous assumption that you can only trust, or not trust, something you have actually “used” – otherwise the view is not an informed one. The report is supposed to be about the sources of wine information, not the public perception of blogging as this would apply equally to anyone involved in it, not just the poor old “independent” ones.

I’d venture that the numerical similarity of “16%” and “1 in 5″ means that bloggers might actually be trusted by the VAST majority of those who have bothered to check them out.

In fact, even the headline 20% figure means that a great many wine consumers DO have some trust in bloggers, and if you were to look at particular segments of the population who are heavy social media users, you might even find that they are a MAJOR source of trust. Why be negative about something so new and still developing?

Isn’t it actually more shocking that consumers think that 50% of wine shops are lying to our FACES? Bloggers are publishing stuff for lots of strangers to read/watch/hear that they may never meet. These merchants on the other hand are on the other side of the counter, and half of what they say is either wrong or are lies! Apparently.

Market differences

In the USA, websites run by wine shops, newspapers and smaller wine producers are the most used online sources, while supermarket websites rank below Facebook as a source of wine information. The UK tells a different story with supermarket websites proving the most popular online source, whilst in France the brand or producer websites are the most important destinations for consumers seeking knowledge

Does this shock anyone? In the US the vast majority of wine is sold by merchants and wineries, virtually none in supermarkets. The UK market is reversed. The only shock would be that people didn’t trust the people selling them the wine – oh, wait, we did discover that above, but we prefer to bash bloggers.

We considered ignoring the release, but one or two industry news sources decided to pick up on the story and as these things can easily become “fact” (interestingly a criticism usually aimed at bloggers), we felt it might be worth pointing out some of the flaws in the argument for the record.

I’m only able to base my response to the press release, there’s no way I am paying £1,300 for a research report (especially one that promotes itself with inflammatory headlines), so I suspect that SOME of these points may be addressed in the detail. If so, I look forward to hearing from anyone who has read it, … if they bother reading any wine blogs.

Oh! One final irony …

This Wine Intelligence press release, and other reports, were published on a WordPress blog platform! If  the market doesn’t trust bloggers, by extension should we not be trusting this report?

:)

Robert McIntosh and Ryan Opaz

UPDATE: 07 Feb 2011:

Thank you to everyone for your comments, discussion points and feedback, we really appreciate it. Ultimately, the argument is not about research or how to write a press release, it is about perception of social media opportunities. I feel strongly that while other industries are adapting to take advantage of new ways of reaching customers, the wine trade will miss out if they don’t take it more seriously.

Separately, you might like to check out some of the articles that came out since we posted this, including a riposte by Wine Intelligence and some comments from a US perspective including some good research by @winewonkette

Wine Intelligence: Bloggers Bite Back
Vinography: Why trust a wine blogger
Another Wine Blog: Wine Intelligence admits Bias, Ulterior Motives in “Wine Blogger Distrust” Release

There will also be something in the printed edition (and hopefully online) of Harpers this week (10 Feb 2011) as I was asked for a small contribution to the debate.

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