Posted by: Matt Browner Hamlin | January 28, 2011

Defending Whisky Bloggers

My friend Mike C. at Whiskey Party has a must-read post blowing up the strawmen of whisky blogger hating journalists. I think the key part of the long and thoughtful post is this:

According to Forbes (ironically a whisky blogger himself for online retailer The Whisky Exchange), whisky bloggers are social misfits harboring grudges and hurling insults from the bowels of their parents’ basement. Yet they are also “shameless bootlickers” happy to write a good review in exchange for free samples and a chance to climb their way into the industry. They are disproportionately powerful techno-geeks capable of warping the Google rankings for their own nefarious purposes. Yet they are also insignificant know-nothings, and a flash-in-the-pan best ignored by our betters.

They are self-styled digital emperors, unfairly breaking the industry’s tidy monopoly on criticism & marketing, in which, “only a few years ago there were only a few people to keep happy: a long-established coterie compromising a handful of 5-star hotel managers and a few highly-qualified specialist journos.”

That is a galling quote from Forbes, and one that hints at a profound laziness on the marketing end of the whisky industry. But all bluster and hyperbole aside, Forbes’ rather schizophrenic rant isn’t really about whisky bloggers. It’s about the way technology is changing the relationship between brands and consumers, and how distilleries are managing that transition.

Swap a few words and the critique offered by Forbes isn’t terribly different from what political reporters have been saying about political bloggers for the last eight-plus years.

The rest of the piece is too rich to warrant easy summary, so I’d suggest you just go give it a read.

I won’t be surprised if, at some point, cocktail journalists start getting twisted up about cocktail bloggers in similar fashion. I haven’t seen anything quite like the attack from Forbes on scotch bloggers, but don’t doubt the sentiments could be shared on the cocktail side of professional journalism. The most obvious thing, at the end of the day, is that there isn’t some magical difference between someone who writes about scotch or cocktails professionally and someone who does those things as a hobby. The quality of the writing will be judged by the readership and audiences will fluctuate accordingly.

The only other comment I’d make about whether or not bloggers become a problem for spirits companies is that this is less about the opinions of bloggers in these fields than it is about (1) the actual merits of the products these companies sell and (2) the amount of resources these companies have put towards educating the blogging public about the merits of their products. If spirits companies are genuinely concerned about what bloggers are saying about them, they should be spending money on staff capacity to interact with these communities full time. Maybe your boutique PR firm isn’t cutting it with their press release spam to bloggers. Maybe bloggers don’t really care about your label redesign after all. Maybe the top ten cocktail or whisky bloggers online merit the same attention as the top ten professional journalists in those fields. And maybe, after all, you just make a mediocre spirit that has gotten where it is because of tens of millions of dollars of advertising convincing people that they will be beautiful and sophisticated for drinking your product; that is, maybe it’s time to make something good instead. Unless and until spirits companies put meaningful resources and meaningful strategies behind the outreach they do to spiritous bloggers, they really don’t have a right to complain about the consequences for poor reception from these same bloggers.

At least, that’s my two cents.

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Responses

  1. Good god, I think you nailed it.

    I hope you don’t mind if I repost this on my site.


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