On The Subject Of Wine Influencers
The subject of wine influencers has come up a lot lately. I've talked about it here and there online, and a little more in depth with my clients and in my online Instagram Marketing course.
But, in regards to this article by wine writer Miquel Hudin (with whom I have never engaged online – yet), and this article on how we need to make the consumer the subject of our marketing (by another wine writer, Leandro Cabrini), along with a few questions that have been coming up lately, I felt like I needed to provide my point of view on the subject of influencer marketing as it pertains to the wine industry.
I love talking about this subject because it’s something that has been important to me ever since I started my social media, writing, and PR career over 10 years ago. At that time, I was known as a wine blogger, and during the day I worked at a PR agency in Santa Rosa that specialized in food and wine.
Even a decade ago I straddled the space between the two worlds of working in PR/social media and of being a wine writer who would get invited to wine events or receive bottles in the mail for publishing reviews on my website. Even before the FCC formed some rules for how influencers could talk about free samples, I always wanted to be upfront with my readers and ensure that people knew if I got a free tasting or a free bottle. The views I posted were my own, and it was important to me that my readers were aware of that. Nowadays (with Instagram influencers) this is simply done with a hashtag in the description of an Instagram post. With bloggers, it is a disclaimer at the beginning of the blog post.
WINE INFLUENCERS - LET’S TALK
Within this blog post, I feel the need to defend influencer marketing within the wine world. Many of the conversations I see taking place within Facebook groups definitely reminds me of when I started wine blogging – arguments about how it was hard to tell who was a real, dedicated wine blogger, and who was merely in it for the free stuff…. Who actually had a community they were talking to, and who else was just talking to other wine bloggers because they were friends with each other.
Now, it’s also about trying to figure out if someone who is emailing your winery asking for a free tasting in return for an “Instagram feature” is legit, and whether you should pay attention to, or ignore that person.
INFLUENCER MARKETING IS TRENDING RIGHT NOW BECAUSE IT CAN WORK.
I'm not here to debate if it works or not, because I know firsthand that it can – when done correctly. I will say that influencer marketing requires a great amount of trust between a brand and a third party, meaning that the concept isn’t black-and-white and won’t necessarily increase sales straight away. But, that doesn’t mean marketers shouldn’t pursue influencer marketing…
TWO REASONS WHY WINERIES WANT TO WORK WITH INFLUENCERS
1 - The influencer’s own network
Consumers are becoming increasingly skeptical of brands and marketing tactics, so building trust is crucial. Working with influencers to create a more authentic story can allow a brand to promote themselves to a whole new audience, one that already engages with and trusts their respective influencer.
Instead of being skeptical of a commercial or social media ad, consumers are trusting that if their influencer of choice loves the product, they will, too. By learning about Instagram marketing as a whole and getting your product in front of an audience, you can grow.
2 - Imagery
One common goal amongst the brands I work with is developing relationships with influencers in order to have them capture images from their unique point of view. Influencer photographs provide A different set of eyes taking pictures of the tasting room, the glasses of wine, vineyards, and the cellar leads to images that capture an individualistic story of the winery, as opposed to the same pictures over and over.
If you work with influencers who are known for great photos – especially photos that match your brand aesthetic – you can work with them to use these “user-generated photos” for your own marketing efforts.
NOTE: When working with influencers, you should ask to create a contract (detailing what photos you will use, what you will use them for, how you will compensate them, etc.) if needed.
THE ARTICLE ON WINE INFLUENCERS
This article on how to tell if a “wine influencer” might be a fraud dives into a bounty of information about how wineries could tell if a “wine influencer” may look too good to be true. And, just note, the words “wine influencer” are in quotes. There are a lot of fakes out there...
THAT... I DEFINITELY AGREE WITH
Instagram has largely transformed from a way of showing the behind-the-scenes of your life into a specially curated magazine of what you want people to see. Generally, it’s a highlight reel of a person’s life (though, sometimes Instagram Stories is the real thing...sometimes).
Fake influencers are those with exaggerated (AKA paid for) followers, and/or paid engagement. This honestly makes everyone look bad, because it becomes really hard to tell who’s legit and who paid for thousands of bots to follow them.
Going back to the TRUST issue, people follow food/wine influencers because they trust them to provide information about the best new restaurant or wine (at least, those are the questions I get asked on a daily basis). Most people have the ability to influence a small circle of friends and family, but social media influencers have the ability to influence a larger community of people. The size of said community can range between what is called a micro influencer (someone with between 5,000 and 20,000 followers) and the larger influencers (think the Kim Kardashians of the world).
WHEN FOLLOWER COUNT CAN BE PAID FOR, HOW DO YOU KNOW WHO TO TRUST?
There are definitely a few signs that point to whether or not an influencer is fake, especially on Instagram (which the article goes into detail about). Here are some of the things I look for when thinking about working with an influencer in the wine or lifestyle space, but the following factors can apply to many influencers’ spheres:
A mix of content
Similar aesthetic to the brand
Are they right for the brand (aka not a lush or promoting something that goes against core brand beliefs)?
Comments – are they engaging?
Are their numbers too high or low?
WHY I LOOK FOR INFLUENCERS WITH A MIX OF CONTENT
This is an important aspect to me personally. In my Recipe for Instagram Online Class, I talk about sharing a mix of content because it allows the audience to get to know more about your brand than just the ONE THING you’re already known for. It's also a personal preference, as I don’t like following people who just share pictures of themselves or just bottle shots. My passions include wine, food, travel, marketing, and my family, so I try to share a mixture of content that revolves around all of these passions. I want for my audience to get to know more about me. Also, it’s great for businesses to be known for one thing, but what happens if that “thing” happens to go away? BRANDS can pivot because they build an audience that is supportive of more than just that one thing.
WHY A SIMILAR AESTHETIC MAKES SENSE
Since one of my goals when working with wine influencers is to use their photography for our own social media content, I like to work with people who have a similar aesthetic. This means that their content is consistent with the brand’s content. For example, for Iron Horse Vineyards, I wouldn't necessarily want to work with too many influencers who have a super dark and moody aesthetic, because that doesn’t always mesh well with Iron Horse’s brand aesthetic.
Occasionally it's okay because it's always good to try out new things, but I wouldn't look to do this with most of the influencers I work with.
WHY INFLUENCERS WITH THE RIGHT REPUTATION MATTER
I would like to think that this is a given, specifically in the wine world. Wine marketers have a set of guidelines to work within when advertising, such as not working with anyone under 21, not saying wine or alcohol can make you better-looking or more popular, not talking about relaxing with wine, and not promoting drunkenness. Wineries also have to live by the Tied House Law… That one law, created right after prohibition, states that alcohol producers cannot give something of value to one retailer over another one (i.e., telling everyone to go buy wine at XXX bottle shop). So, since influencer marketing is simply a part of advertising for a winery, the contract with that influencer should adhere to these guidelines as well.
Hiring an influencer with the right reputation is also important because they do change how consumers see the brand. Think about Jared from Subway. Never mind, don't think about that, I know Subway doesn't want you to think about that…
WHY IS IT IMPORTANT FOR INFLUENCERS TO ENGAGE?
I've said time and time again that social media engagement is more important than anything else when it comes to social media. I follow influencers who don't just share pretty pictures or tips about traveling, wine, etc.; I follow influencers who I feel a connection with. And that connection is made through engagement. Those who don't engage with their audience, whether it's an influencer or a brand, are sacrificing an increasingly beneficial and popular portion of marketing. I mean, that's the beauty of social media: it's about being social with other people.
WINE INFLUENCERS ARE A PART OF YOUR BRANDING EFFORTS, NOT SELLING EFFORTS
As I mentioned before, Hudin’s article goes into interesting detail about the issue of influencer fraud, so if you want to know more, check it out. My only issue with Hudin’s piece is that he talks about how wine influencers can help with sales. My opinion is that their influence is solely one piece of the marketing puzzle, and you can’t have all of your eggs (or grapes) in one basket. Influencer marketing, social media, and working with journalists is branding. People need to see your brand several times to even remember you.
One thing this article calls out is those annoying spam comments. You know, the random ones from Instagram pages that have no profile picture that comment “good job” or “I like your content.” That's usually through the use of hashtags. Spammy brands on Instagram will also follow certain hashtags, proceed to go and write comments on EVERY post under that hashtag, replying, “Fantastic work, follow us!” or something similar…so, spammy comments don’t necessarily have to do with Instagram pods (more details on what pods are).
And, I'm going to be honest here. I am actually part of a pod. I've tried a few different ones throughout the years since the algorithm on Instagram changed, and I am now a part of two of them. One is comprised of wine women, people who I would already be engaging with, and it's a good way to ensure that I see their content. And, it’s worth noting that we actually engage more than just through Instagram comments. We have met in person over lunch, drank wine together, and supported each other in our personal lives. I've also been a part of a food pod in the past, and through it, I made food blogger friends. While I'm not a part of that pod anymore, I'm glad I joined and met some amazing people (in fact, I was able to help out one of the women with taste testing recipes for her new cookbook coming out soon!).
This is definitely not to say that people don't overuse pods. You can tell if someone is a part of a lot of pods if they have a ton of comments on their posts but don't answer people back (revisit my engagement comment) or if the comments are from the exact same people, over and over again, and NO ONE else.
Not everybody who uses pods is completely fake. When the Instagram algorithm changed, it meant that a lot of people were receiving less engagement. Like Miquel Hudin comments, pods are a way of boosting engagement from people both in and outside of the pod. I've seen influencers boost (aka pay via FB Ads) every single one of their posts as well increase engagement, so in my opinion, pods are a cheaper version of that and definitely take more work.
YOUR ACTION ITEM AS A WINE MARKETER:
There is a lot more to influencer marketing within the wine world then what meets the eye. Every brand is different, so writing down a plan for what you are looking for in terms of branding is the very first step. I will eventually write another post about the subject (or you can connect with me to work one-on-one), but for now. Check out Neil Patel’s blog post on how to do influencer marketing.