Saturday, January 3, 2009

Influence of The Passionate Foodie & Other Blogs

There are millions of blogs out there, about an incredible range of topics. Any one can create a blog and talk about whatever subject they wish. You can find a blog about even some of the most esoteric of topics. There are thousands of food and wine blogs and many new blogs will continue to be created in 2009.

Many agree that blogs have an influence yet there is plenty of disagreement over the extent of that influence. The professional print media, including food and wine critics in magazines and newspapers, still possess the greatest influence over the public. Their opinions often still carry great weight. For example, Robert Parker and the Wine Advocate still have a significant influence over how well certain wines sell as well as what price. And their influence will continue for years to come. Millions of people still read food and wine magazines and their readership is not going to vanish overnight.

Yet food and wine bloggers do have some influence. Restaurants, wineries, and PR people all realize the growing importance of blogs and they have begun to treat bloggers like they do the professional media. Acknowledging the influence and importance of blogs, some in the professional media have started their own blogs, often associated with their print publications. Wine Enthusiast magazine (12/31/08 issue) listed their Top 10 Wine Stories of 2008 and #7 was Wine Blogging.

Amateur food and wine reviews have even taken on importance and influence in non-blog areas, such as Chowhound and Yelp. On these forums, anyone can post their thoughts about a restaurant or wine. They are basically anonymous though so not all of the reviews possess the same level of credibility.

How do you measure the exact influence of bloggers? That is a question that still does not have an adequate answer and which should be studied and researched. Part of the problem is that a person who goes to a restaurant because they read a recommendation on a blog often does not tell the restaurant about it. The same applies to someone buying a bottle of wine at a store based on a blogger's recommendation. Thus, it can be hard to assess how the impact of a blog.

I, and other bloggers, have some proof of their own blog's impact. I have heard as much from some of my readers. I know they have gone to certain places because of my recommendations. I have also heard from some restaurant owners that some of their patrons were due to my blog. Yet I know I also have not heard from everyone who has done so. I have received more feedback concerning the recommendations in my weekly newspaper column. As my readership grows, it seems logical that my influence also has increased.

If you combine the potential impact of all food and wine blogs, then it could be considerable, even if not fully measureable. I am sure in the near future there will be attempts to better assess their impact. No one is predicting that blogs will lose influence in the future.

An important thing that restaurants, wine stores, and more should realize is that they should treat all of their customers as potential reviewers and critics. One never knows when a blogger or amateur critic is one of their customers. If they treat a customer poorly, it could easily come back against them when a negative review is posted online. And at least some of their potential customers will read that negative review and could decide not to visit that place because of it. Yet if a place treats everyone well, then they might receive more positive reviews and thus enhance their customer base.

I would love to hear from all of my readers who followed up on any of my recommendations. That is another reason why I would like to see more comments on my blog. I would love feedback, to see which of my recommendations you agree or disagree. I also would like to hear if you rely on the recommendations of other blogs.

Let us start a dialogue!


Anonymous said...

Well stated Richard. This is an issue we struggle with constantly, working hard to spread the good word regarding the impact of wine blogging on sales, despite the lack of comprehensive market research. I can only hope articles like yours will aid individuals in educating restaurants, retail shops, etc as to the influence blogs are having on their decision as consumers.

Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much Gabriella. Though studies are needed on the impact of blogs, I don't think anyone can deny they are having an impact. And that impact will only logically grow with time. Those restaurants, shops, etc. that get involved now, will be at the forefront and will likely benefit the most.

Mad Chef said...

Well, I think these sites offer enough influence that the restaurants are keeping an eye on them. I had a terrible experience at aujourd'hui semi-recently, posted a completely factual review on yelp, and the maitre'd actually used information from the review to figure out who I was, called me (reservation number) and yelled at me. So, as you can see, they do keep an eye on these sites. Hopefully some of them will begin to understand what exactly these are for. We are smart enough to take reviews for what they are, individual experiences.

Alternatively I had a good chat with the owner of moonstones (and cobblestones) over reviews on yelp, and hopefully helped him understand how people pick and choose info that is important to them from the reviews. So one guy didn't like the layout of the menu? So what, doesn't bother me =)

Think I'll stop rambling now, ha

Richard Auffrey said...

Welcome to my blog Mad Chef and thanks for your comments. I do agree that more and more restaurants are paying attention to what is said on blogs and review sites. Though obviously, such as based on your experience, not all restaurants quite understand how to properly handle such comments.

Reviews are an individual experience, and different people will view matters differently. That is quite logical too.