Free-lance writer and second-most read South African food blogger Jane-Anne Hobbs, writing the Scrumptious South Africa blog, described food bloggers as “desperate for attention” at the Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting last night, and their genre of writing can be called “vanity publishing”, she said. The bloggers present felt that this description probably applies to bloggers across the board!
The Food & Wine Bloggers’ Club was started earlier this year, and “pairs” a different food blogger and a wine blogger every month. The wines of the Wine Blogger are tasted, and Warwick/Vilafonte’s Mike Ratcliffe brought along his Warwick Professor Black, the unique Warwick Blue Lady without vintage, and Vilafonte Series M 2006 (the highest rated Merlot blend according to Wine Spectator), for the bloggers to taste. Food was served by Cafe Max. Meetings are informal, and questions are answered during the two-hour meeting, encouraging fledgling bloggers to obtain input and tips from more experienced bloggers.
Jane-Anne said that through social media, “opinion has been democratised”, creating a serious threat for traditional media, with their short lead times in publishing restaurant reviews, or food information, compared to traditional magazine and newspaper publishing, and this is leading to tension between the two media types. She started her blog three years ago, and it reflects her love for cooking and for developing recipes. While one may not get financial reward out of a blog, especially if one does not accept advertising, which is Jane-Anne’s policy (nor does she accept freebies), she feels that she is adding value to her readers, and she herself receives emotional, intellectual and entertainment satisfaction from writing her blog. She advised that food blogs must focus on accuracy in terms of ingredients and method of preparation, but also in terms of spelling and grammar.
Online integrity is vital, and one must trust one’s palate in expressing what one experiences, even if it is not the popular view, one blogger said. One should track one’s performance, and Jane-Anne advised that referring to, and tagging, names of chefs such as Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson and Gordon Ramsay leads to increased web traffic. She also advised that one “should find one’s voice” through the blog, and allow one’s readers to “get to know you”, and one’s personality should come through, whatever one’s communication style might be. While content is king, a “yummy and descriptive” headline is vital in attracting readers into the content, and photographs should be of a “reasonable quality”. Jane-Anne feels that it is sad to see so many young people’s idea of food and cooking being shaped by chefs and cookery book writers such as Ramsay, Lawson and Oliver, without them having exposure to a more classic cooking culture. With her Scrumptious blog, Jane-Anne hopes to broaden their cooking knowledge.
Mike Ratcliffe is probably the most experienced social media marketing wine marketer, and impressed with the different tools he referred to and uses: Blogging, Twitter, FourSquare, Twideo, Google Maps Latitude, and Nice to Meet You. He has opted out of Facebook, due to the lack of control. He writes a Vilafonte and a Warwick blog, being the Managing Partner of the former brand, and the Managing Director of the latter brand. Vilafonte grapes are grown near Sante Wellness, between Paarl and Franschhoek, and the wines are made in a state-of-the-art venue at Bosman’s Crossing in Stellenbosch, while the Warwick wines are made the traditional way by Mike’s mother Norma on their farm. Her 25th vintage celebration will take the Warwick wines around the world with 40 dinners, at which 10 vintages of their wines will be tasted. Mike is an irregular blogger, as he travels a lot, and finds he has more time to blog when he travels. He “leans to controversy” in what he writes, he says, yet he will not pick a fight, and will step back in a fight. He complimented www.wines.co.za for their platform on which he is encouraged to write, creating huge exposure to their 40000 unique readers per month.
Mike advised bloggers to be responsible in their blogging, as one influences views. One must check one’s information sources, and not use a blog as a platform for retaliation. If one disappoints one’s readers, they will no longer follow the blogger. A blog is successful when one is passionate about one’s topic, and about writing. Twitter is on a growth trend, he feels, and positional tweeting (crowdsourcing) will be introduced soon. Mike uses traditional marketing communication media too, such as advertising and PR, and the 2000 members of the Warwick Wine Club are an important testing and tasting ground for new wines developed. He claims that his marketing is spontaneous and dynamic, but one gets the impression that Mike Ratcliffe knows exactly what he is doing in marketing his brands, and is acknowledged by his peers in this respect. He was praised by a fellow blogger as a professional.
The next Food and Wine Bloggers’ Club meeting is on Wednesday 18 August, and will “pair” Sam Wilson of Food24 Blogs, and Rob Armstrong of Haut Espoir in Franschhoek. Bookings can be made by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com