Commercializing social media, and being honest with readers


Commercializing social media, and being honest with readers

The landscape of wine writing has changed quite a bit since I first started earning money writing about wine. [This is a subject I’ve written about before here and here.]

When I started out there were quite a few people making a good professional salary writing about wine. Several writers had specialist columns in newspapers that paid well; now they don’t.

Magazines used to pay decent fees for articles, but inflation and the fact that these fees haven’t changed in the last 15 years means that now they don’t.

It’s the market. The problem is that specialist content used to be worth paying for because magazines and newspapers made good money from advertising on the back of this writing. Writers provided the content to carry the ads. That’s how newspapers began and thrived for so long. That model is broken.

Now all the advertising money is following user-generated content on Facebook, Google and Instagram. The market simply doesn’t reward content providers like it used to.

And for us writers, there has been a migration from print to the web, and more recently, to social media. The problem is that this involves giving content away for free, unless you want to drastically restrict your readership by plonking your work behind a paywall.

But recently I had a couple of approaches that seemed to make sense, in terms of monetizing my social media feed. These involved a reasonable sum of money for in the first instance publishing five sponsored Instagram posts, and in the second, compiling a wine list for a hotel chain, taking journalists on a short press trip to experience these wines in situ, and then making a small number of social media posts as part of the deal.

In an ideal world I would like to keep my social media feed clean and uncompromised. None of my content has been paid for so far, covertly or declared. But if I am able to earn money this way, it frees me to spend more time focusing on my own website and social media feed, in order to produce better and more original content. I’m in the sad position of having to earn a living. It would be great to have a private income or a rich partner, but instead I have to get paid, somehow, for what I do.

Naturally, I will not allow sponsored posts unless they are clearly declared as sponsored, according to accepted industry norms. I hope that as readers, you don’t feel annoyed that there may be an occasional sponsored post (these will be authored by me, clearly marked as sponsored, and I won’t lie for money!). If I can earn some income this way, then this will free me to explore the wine world in more depth, and independently, relying less on organized press trips.

Disclosing conflicts of interest is important. It’s no secret that much of my travel is paid for by other people, and that a lot of the wines I drink or taste are free samples. This is the same for almost all professional wine writers, and although to a non-pro it might feel like this could sway us (don’t bite the hand that feeds!), it is so common that it doesn’t feel like we are being done any favours. If you are a well known writer, you are in demand, and the people who deal with you aren’t trying to buy favour – they just want coverage (which they hope will be positive), and some honest feedback. There’s a selective factor here: a large winery making boring wine has nothing to gain from having me visit, and I wouldn’t spend time on a trip if I didn’t feel I was seeing the sorts of wineries that I could write about. Let’s face it: if a writer could be swayed by meals or plane tickets, they wouldn’t be in demand.

So, in a spirit of disclosure, if you see the occasional sponsored Instagram post, then you know why. And no: it doesn’t mean that I think of myself as an Instagram Influencer! That’s a term I really, really hate. And I value your feedback. Is this something that you can accept, as readers? Or is it crossing a line?

6 Comments on Commercializing social media, and being honest with readers
wine journalist and flavour obsessive

6 thoughts on “Commercializing social media, and being honest with readers

  1. My feedback is as follows; you are one of the few wine writers who gives very frank opinions and who says what they think for better or worse. I’ve noticed more and more wine columnists/bloggers doing more paid for content on social and I totally get why (£) but it means they are less ‘journalist’ and more ‘influencer for hire’ so once they cross the line it doesn’t look like they come back.

  2. Jamie – Thank you for this well-written and informative piece. As a marketing/PR person just delving into the wine industry, this confirms my beliefs about what is newsworthy and how sponsored content should ethically be treated. Let me know when you want to visit the Rogue Valley, OR. We’ve got a lot of great wine being made by some remarkable people. Cheers!

  3. You may give honest feedback to producers – I don’t know – but you never publish anything critical on this blog. So I’m sceptical.

    And I don’t find your ‘everyone does it’ argument convincing. You could disclose, on every visit you blog about, who paid for what. But you don’t.

    I understand that you have to make a living. But don’t pretend you aren’t influenced by the people who help you do that. You are.

  4. This situation has been building for years. I see no problem with it.
    As you say, you have to earn a living and monetising posts is now an accepted form of publishing in some circles. If you generate different revenue streams from your expertise then good for you. Love your website and blog.

  5. I am with Richard Morris. Followed you Jamie a number of years and hardly ever ever read anything critical. Your scores are always generous, way too much so imo. I taste a lot of Canadian wines, living in Alberta, and feel your scores are over the top.

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