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Jeff Stai: Small Business Blog Interview

by Brian Brown (follow me on Twitter): September 14, 2006

Tubbs and my shipment from Twisted OakThe UPS guy came today. He asked if I was 21 and wanted to see some ID to prove it. When I opened the box to check out the two bottles of wine I was expecting, I was met with a bit of a surprise...a rubber chicken. Furthermore, the chicken was wearing what can only be described as a yellow neck warmer with the words, "please turn chicken" on one side and the name of the winery, Twisted Oak, on the other. Please note that Twisted Oak did not package the kitten with the shipment. Tubbs inspected the box only after I had opened it (oh, and there were two bottles of wine in the box too!).

Jeff Stai from Twisted Oak spent some time telling us about his blog. We reviewed them last week. I hope you enjoy...

"If I didn't have other things to do I could spend all day blogging it up."

Pajama Market: How has the blog impacted your company?

JS: Not very much so far, but we only started in May. I can at least see it is getting our name out there, potential customers have started finding us, and we are getting samples into the glasses of writers we might not otherwise reach right away. At some point all this word of blog to word of mouth will hit critical mass, or one would hope...!

PJ: What has the response been from your customers/clients?

JS: It has been a bit of a challenge getting our current customer base to check it out, but we're getting there.

One thing we are doing is putting things on the blog that before would have been just another web page. For example, we had a big event at the winery recently called the "Cave Loot Extravaganza". We dress up as pirates, "loot" wine from the barrels in our wine cave, and sample them to our "Twisted Few" (wine club) members. Many of our members also dress up as pirates and I post pictures to the web. This year I posted them to the blog instead and got a nice flurry of hits.

As you can see some of them are pretty imaginative - in the past, we've even had "software pirates"!

(In hindsight I probably should have made it one post rather than four for easier linking, and used some of the other composition tools you have mentioned to improve the layout. Still learning.)

Another thing we are trying is something we call "Show Us Your Twisted" - the idea being to send us pictures of you and your friends drinking the wine or just being somewhere "having your Twisted on", so to speak. Many of these pictures seem to involve a rubber chicken, which is our sort-of mascot. We've gotten a decent response so far.

Yet another thing I'm trying is using the blog to augment content in our printed materials. For example, the law changed last March and we can no longer call it "Port" on a new label design - that's now reserved for the Portugese. (Similarly, US producers can't use words like "Champagne" and "Burgundy" on new label designs. Old designs are grandfathered.) Calling it "Touriga Nacional Fortified Dessert Wine" (which is what Port is) doesn't sound very good, so we're calling it "Pig Stai Pour't". Really.

Anyway, I write a newsletter for the Twisted Few that goes out with every club shipment. There is a blurb in the next issue with a little advance hype on the release of our "Pour't" wine. I wrote a blog post on the subject a while back, so the blurb in the newsletter directs the reader to the blog to find out why we call it "Pour't". Thanks to your prompting me to set up a search box, I can direct the reader to this link:

http://www.elbloggotorcido.com/

and have them search for "starboard", rather than printing a long link.

PJ: What types of things about your work day inspire you to write a post on your blog?

JS: What doesn't? I could be a total blog slut with everything that goes on around here! If I didn't have other things to do I could spend all day blogging it up. And if I get stuck, a little product testing...

One thing I need to constantly remind myself is that I do have new readers, and many of these readers have not been exposed to the many things around here that are everyday things for us. For example, right now I am already behind on crush (grape harvest) reporting. I need to remember that, even though we have previous years' pictures on the web site, this year's crush is new for the new readers and will (hopefully) be interesting to them.

PJ: What have been the biggest surprises with your blog so far?

JS: Well, this interview for one...!

Also, the degree of interaction with other bloggers, and what I have already learned and been inspired to do. The help from Josh over at Pinotblogger on the Geek Sheet redesign is the best example, which you mentioned in your first post about El Bloggo Torcido. Josh's post on a desire for better representation of geeky data led me to go back and implement a half-baked idea I had been knocking around. Josh and a few other commenters made some really good suggestions for improvement. And our printed materials are now better for it, while still being fun and obnoxious.

PJ: What blogging program do you use for the blog? Did you create this blog yourself? How do you like the program?

JS: Last year we tried a brief experiment with a "crush blog" set up just to report on the progress of the harvest. I wanted to use the blog format mostly for content management so I didn't have to design a web page every day. I set up a WordPress blog through our web site host. I'm sure WordPress in its latest version is a fine program, but the version offered by our ISP was down several revs and was a pain to manage. The comment spam was especially horrible - no filtering and no way to just trash them all at once.

Last Spring I was inspired to look at blogs again by finding your blog when you did your "Winery Week". Both you and "The Winery Web Site" report have said great things about Typepad so I went with that. I've been very happy with it after some initial concern...

When setting it up for the first time I found the "standard" themes to be pretty disappointing. I feared that I would have to delve into "templates" to get the blog to have a similar look to our web site, and I didn't really have time for that. The good news is that, if you spend time poking around, you can change quite a bit about the look and feel within the custom theme interface. It ended up being a lot easier than I first thought.

One feature that I think is lacking is the ability to easily answer comments as comments, which seems to me to be the right way to do it, at least within a week of the initial posting. You want your conversation right there. I feel like I should be able to do this from within my Typepad interface. Instead I have to enter the comment as a regular commenter and then go approve myself. Way too many steps. (If you agree let Typepad know - I have. Their current suggestion is to edit your comments into the commenter's comments. That seems non-optimal.)

Interesting. I haven't encountered that many steps with my comments because I don't have to approve them before they go live. I can see where this is a royal pain if you are moderating your comments though. The suggestion to answer a comment within a comment is totally out there. I've never seen this done on a blog and I think it would be considered bad form. As far as letting Typepad know, I have my own long list of suggestions for them. The more I use Typepad, the more I like it, but I would like to see a few things added here and there.

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Comments

My bad experience with WordPress comment spam is probably going to mean I am moderating comments for a little while longer - though I just haven't seen it with typepad. I'm mostly leery of spam but also want to make sure there isn't any %@#$! in the comments. Other than that, most anything goes.

I thought I had posted a comments policy, but it was buried in the wine review instructions - gotta fix that. It seems now every day I read your blog and I end up with more work to do!

Thanks for posting the interview - love the picture of Tubbs! - j

I've had very few problems with comment spam in Typepad (woo hoo!) so that's a big plus as far as the platform is concerned.

Tubbs is a bit of a lush.

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