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Online Wine Writing and the Trust Divide

For about $100, the cost for a couple of profile tests, I’ve gotten to know myself better and hopefully you’ll get to know me better, as well.

Why would you even care?  Maybe you don’t, but as a reader of this site you are a participant in reading the scribbling’s of an online wine writer.  As Woody Allen said, “90% of life is just showing up.”  By showing up, you are part of my wine life as well as others that take to their computers to live their wine life out loud.

Recently, spurred by year’s long acrimony that continues to rear its head every couple of months, I’ve been thinking deeply about how to overcome what I perceive to be a lack of institutional trust with online wine writers.  It seems it’s not enough to write well, often and with knowledge of the subject.  Derision is still manifest.  This derision is not necessarily directed at me, but of the genre of online wine writing in which I choose to participate. 

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I have identified four contributing factors:

Systemic skepticism.  Our national trust, according to the 11th annual Edelman Trust Barometer, has fallen precipitously low across business, government, non-profit and media.  There’s never been a better time to not trust what you hear, see or read.

Information ubiquity.   There’s too much information and opinion.  The signal-to-noise ratio is dangerously skewing towards noise.  While I don’t have facts to back it up, I would hazard a guess that the last five years has seen a greater quantity of wine writing than the previous 20 years combined.  Here, when everybody is a critic, nobody is a critic.  Put another way, when you’re supposed to trust everybody you end up trusting nobody.

Insularity.  When I made my two year long sojourn into the wine business, virtually every meeting amongst relative strangers started with a recitation of their resume; this is a phenomenon I’ve not seen repeated in other industries.  In the wine business, your credibility was vetted within five minutes based on who you know and where you’ve worked, not your bona fides.  It seems interlopers need to earn their merit badge, a difficult and long proposition denoted by tacit approval and tenure, not a meritocracy.

Brands.  Whether we want to admit it or not, brands, especially media brands, lend credibility to writers.  Without naming names, a review of the weekly Wine Opinions “Wine Review Weekly” will reveal wine writers with column inches in major dailies that possess less experience than many online wine writers who don’t have a masthead with an engendered brand that burnishes their personal star by proxy.  When talent is equal between two writers, the reader will defer to a brand—that’s marketing 101, and true of our media consumption, as well.

But, where to go from here?

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Recently, online wine writer Pamela Heiligenthal asked an open-ended question about whether online wine writers should earn one of the alphabet soup wine certifications.  She took lumps for her opinion, but I have a hard time arguing with her premise.  Those that are serious about wine and writing will undertake a commitment to demonstrate knowledge in the form of academic achievement.  Absent a brand, demonstrated knowledge is a hallmark of credibility.  And, online wine writers will likely always face limited resources in creating a trustworthy brand.

In addition to demonstrated wine knowledge, I would also humbly suggest a move towards conscientious disclosure that leads to a holistic professional view of a writer that engenders trust.

In the realm of consulting and services-based business development, a touchstone is a book and philosophy called, “The Trusted Advisor.”  The premise of the book is the equation that goes into creating trust-based relationships with your clients.  In the case of the online wine writer the clients are readers.

In my view, the notion of so-called “transparency” online is a false positive and a little bit of bullshit, because a reader doesn’t know if you’re trustworthy so quantifiably alleviating that question is an imperative.  Addressing that, a methodology has grown up around, “The Trusted Advisor” and includes a “Trust Quotient.”  In loose terms, a Trust Quotient is made up of your credibility, reliability, and intimacy, divided by your self-orientation. 

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The Trust Quotient begins to alleviate whether an online wine writer can be “quote/unquote” trusted.  But, it’s not the only factor.  There are other factors, as well – what are somebody’s strengths, for example.  A blog like mine that deals in issues and ideas may not engender trust if the style is contrary to my strengths.  Here, the Clifton StrengthsFinder extrapolates on what I’m good at. 

And, finally, a more subtle issue:  How does a wine writer work?  What’s their working personality? Are they subject to irrationality and flights of fancy that impact the quality of their work?  The Meyers-Briggs Type Indicator® measures psychological preferences in how people perceive the world and make decisions.

These factors combined:

* What is your wine knowledge base?

* What do you do well / what are your strengths?

* How do you perceive the world and make decisions / what’s your style?

* Are you trustworthy?

All make up the whole person that fills in the credibility gaps that are otherwise deficient in a one-dimensional view of a writer through his or her writings.

So, I’ve created my own equation.  If you know me, you would know that a math equation is the last thing that’s a strength, but this is relatively simple.  My equation says: Respect = Your Knowledge + Your Strengths + Your Style divided by your Trust Quotient.

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Assuming that those factors come out positively, than, ultimately, an online wine writer should stand in judgment against any other wine writer regardless of the masthead they write for.

In that vein, here are is the $100 bucks worth of analysis that I’ve spent to understand myself a little bit better.  As my profiles indicate, I’m driven, work towards expertise, I’m self-confident, strategic and an achiever.  To that end, I’m willing to stand in the court of public opinion in order to earn your trust and respect.

Jeff Lefevere’s Knowledge (Goodgrape.com archives from 01/05 – 02/11)

Jeff Lefevere’s Trust Quotient (initiates a PDF download of my actual report)

Jeff Lefevere’s StrengthsFinder (initiates a PDF download of my actual report)

Jeff Lefevere’s Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (initiates a PDF download of my actual report)

Finally, if it seems like I’m defensive, I’m not.  My personality profile indicates that I’m a leader, responsible and accountable; it’s a mantle I take on for all online wine writers.



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Posted in, Good Grape Daily: Pomace & Lees. Permalink | Comments (18) |


Comments

On 02/22, Bobby Cintolo wrote:

Wow Jeff! Thank you for stepping up and putting yourself out there. This is a gutsy article that would benefits a wine consumer and industry professional. The wine and wine blog industry has needed something/someone like this for a long time. Your vulnerability adds credibility.

On 02/22, Jeff wrote:

Thanks, Bobby. 

You hit the nail on the head for what I’m trying to achieve through exposing myself as a professional.

Jeff

On 02/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

‘Without naming names, a review of the weekly Wine Opinions “Wine Review Weekly” will reveal wine writers with column inches in major dailies that possess less experience than many online wine writers who don’t have a masthead with an engendered brand.’ Jeff, I take exception to that statement. On that particular WRW page, I stopped counting when I got to a dozen wine writers who have been writing longer than wine blogs have existed.

On 02/22, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

Geez, Jeff. I never thought of self-flaggalation as the way toward building my brand.

Makes me wannastartalloveragain.

wink

On 02/22, Jeff wrote:

Dennis,

I’m not being flip, but perhaps you shouldn’t have stopped counting.  I don’t make statements unless they are defensible.

Jeff

On 02/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

Jeff, not being flip either. Do you want me to name names or do you want to (I know, you already said “without naming names.”)?

On 02/22, Jeff wrote:

Dennis,

Of course, the WRW list includes many, many well-tenured writers.

My point is that there are also writers who would fit into more of a category of less known name, less cred., less experience.

It’s not my place to sully anybody’s name by referencing them.  Name-checking isn’t the specific point.  But, I will give another general example.  The new wine critic for inland wineries at Wine Enthusiast had her first wine-related byline in 2004. 

Another example—Parker’s anointed son started writing his own newsletter in 2004.

Each of these wine writer’s are talented, sure, but they have also received the benefit of working for media brands that fortified their reputation. 

I’m not trying to besmirch anybody, I’m simply saying that somebody who writes for an established media outlet gets more built in respect than a guy that plinks at his keyboard at goodgrape.com.  It’s just fact, irrespective of talent—mine, theirs or anybody elses.

On 02/22, Thomas Pellechia wrote:

What you say, Jeff, is not confined to wine writing. It is that way with all writing—try getting published in the New Yorker without either having a name or knowing someone who does, or someone who knows someone…

Talent is generally incidental in most fields of endeavor. It is one of the facts of life that some people manage to shatter, but the majority cannot.

On 02/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

And your point about my first wine-related byline being in 2004 is what exactly?

On 02/22, Jeff wrote:

Hi Virginie,

Do you have anything interesting to add? 

Otherwise, I think the post and the comments summarize my point pretty well and it has nothing to do you with specifically.

You’re merely a reference point, for whom I could have, but didn’t name check specifically because it has nothing to do with you as an individual.  Ditto Galloni.

Feel free to comment back if you have anything interesting to say that advances the dialogue.

Jeff

On 02/22, .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) wrote:

I think you are taking the easy way out by saying you didn’t name check specifically when you did clearly pick out two identifiable examples. That doesn’t strike me as responsible or accountable.

But what I’ll add is that you are not taking into account how someone becomes affiliated with a media brand in the first place. That perhaps their talent, expertise, time spent working in the wine industry as a journalist, tasting skills, ability to meet deadlines, writing clips, education and also boots on the ground time in the field covering, at least in my case, California wine, might count for something too.

On 02/22, Jeff wrote:

Virginie,

It’s not about you.  I wouldn’t take it personal. I don’t have *any* problems calling my shots.  Should I have chosen to, I would have.  The whole damn post is about being accountable and responsible. 

Again, if you have anything to add that isn’t about you, and is germane to the post have at.

Jeff

On 02/22, Pamela Heiligenthal wrote:

Hey Jeff, if you care to join me, I have a cave with lots of elbowroom to stretch out smile JK.

On a serious note, I’m totally stoked about the Trust Quotient and your equation (Respect = Your Knowledge + Your Strengths + Your Style divided by your Trust Quotient) is on point. I’m spending the bucks and taking it for a test drive. Thanks for sharing your results and for bringing this to light.

On 02/22, Joe Herrig wrote:

I don’t think our styles could be any more different, but damn you are good at making a point.

Nice post.  Trust is critical to writing success, and it starts with honest and accurate writing.  I’d say consistent writing as well, but I’d rather be flexible with my opinions than totally convicted.  I’m just not smart enough to assume I’m above influence.

On 02/23, Fred wrote:

Jeff,

Your formula for wine writers is no different than that of any business that aims to be a brand. It is all about creating trust.

And I trust you won’t waste my time with any more navel gazing. You have an excellent publication . . . so snap out of it!  F.

On 02/23, Jeff wrote:

Fred -

No more navel gazing.  I try to stay away from it as a general rule, but once or twice a year I’m guilty.

Jeff

On 02/23, Howard Hewitt wrote:

Navel gazing has it’s place. Good stuff Jeff! I come at things from a little different perspective. I find many writers leaning too much on personal opinion, perspective, and experience. I’m an old journalist - so I love interviewing and sharing the opinions and experiences of others. I intermingle my own where appropriate, but I think the road to credibility and trust begins with some acknowledgement there are many better-informed opinions than my own. I don’t always see that a lot.

On 07/08, Buy Wine Online Australia wrote:

Chardonnay is by far the most widely planted grape crop in California, comprising over 40% of all white varieties crushed in the state in 2000.


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