[Pajama Market] How has the blog impacted your company?
Mary Baker: We're a very small winery, and we do not usually submit our wines to mainstream wine publications and critics. We appreciate the good scores, but it's just not an effective way to reach our audience. For instance, the 2003 Zinfandel Reserve that Robert Parker scored 91 was sold out two months before the scores were published. Another wine, a syrah, was sold out ten months before the central coast Rhone scores were published!
The blog has connected us with a whole community of people interested in wine that would not otherwise know about us. Other bloggers have been very complimentary and generous about providing links. This creates a buzz that is about the winery-our wines, our people, our hospitality, even our sense of humor.
After starting the winery blog, I was asked to start the Women Wine Critics Board blog, which brought me, and therefore Dover Canyon, to the attention of writers like Mike Steinberger at Slate magazine. And recently I was interviewed by a writer working on a piece for Business Week. These are amazing connections for a business of our size.
Writing the blog has also helped me clean up my monthly enews. I feel less pressured to include everything. I can keep the email simple, and provide links to more information on the blog. On the blog I can say more about our limited production wines, and the information is viewable far longer and to a broader audience than in emails. In turn, this encourages people to visit the blog regularly-and it's a much more personal interface than emails.
We've also been pulling in new people to our email and wine club lists because they read the blog and become intrigued about the winery. My stat counter shows that people looking for general wine information or even recipes come to the blog and end up staying for awhile. Sounds like our house!
[PJ] What has the response been from your customers/clients?
I began the blog as a way to create a personal connection with existing customers and wine club members. I think it has done that very successfully. Although we're not getting much comment activity yet, we do receive compliments via email and in person. Also, customers and readers ask me about ongoing projects . . . how's the new cookbook coming? Things like that. I think it really helps them feel that they are on the inside track with us. Which is exactly where I want our customers to be.
[PJ] What types of things about your work day inspire you to write a post on your blog?
Writing the blog has cleared up my writer's constipation forever. The exercise of writing short pieces has awakened me to a whole universe of potential stories. Everything that falls in my inbox or passes by my window is potential blogmeat. All I need now is more hours in the day!
I try to balance my material between customer questions, production insights, shameless promotion, and a pinch of controversy.
[PJ] What have been the biggest surprises with your blog so far?
Well, as I said before, the sense of community and appreciation in the blogosphere. And due to that, the blog has become a much more effective marketing tool than our website. I constantly update the information on our website, but the blog is the marketing outreach that creates conversation.
The blog has taken preeminence over our website, which I had not anticipated. Our website is a homespun Microsoft Publisher effort. I've clung to it because fancy-schmancy web designers sometimes takes weeks to update material, can't spell wine names, have rigid ideas about web design, and often have no real idea of what a small winery's needs are. With the blog software, I have a professional-looking, very interactive interface with consumers and a whole sphere of customers-to-be. The website has become a pantry for our more staple information-contact info, order form, wine club application, etc. The blog is our kitchen-it's where wine, food and life are discussed.
[PJ] What blogging program do you use for the blog? Did you create this blog yourself? How do you like the program?
I did create the blog, and I use Typepad, because it was recommended by Mike Duffy at the The Winery Web Site Report blog. I have been very pleased with it. I can customize the look of my blog, and experiment with different functions.
It has issues with cut-and-paste-it garbles the html and I have to sort through the coding to straighten it out-but that's understandable as cut-and-paste usually picks up formatting that is different that what the blog software expects to see. Still, I often c&p because I prefer to write in a word processor; it's easier for me to read and edit my material.
Another criticism I have is that the Search widget they provide doesn't work well. I'll test-search for material I know exists in my blog, and I get all kind of weird results, mostly links to material outside my blog, and no link to the article I'm looking for . . . try searching for 'cooking with wine' and you'll see what I mean.
Still, I like the clean appearance of Typepad, the creative options, the widgets, and the Help Support staff is great. They always respond right away.
[PJ] Is there anything else you would like to share about your blogging experience?
The blog is a great place to refer people to when they visit-we had postcards printed with color photographs of the vineyard on the front and the blog address on the back, with suggested post titles, and we drop one inside every purchase. We want our visitors to stay in touch.
I'd also recommend that anyone contemplating an online presence also visit their industry discussion boards and really get involved. I am a wine forum host for the eGullet Society of Culinary Arts & Letters (www.eGullet.org). I am proud to be a part of their global volunteer staff, and the exposure has been tremendous. Whatever your industry, I think you'll be pleasantly surprised by the numbers of people who appreciate some insider insight and advice.
Mainly, I think that for small businesses a blog is all about the "cottage" industry feeling, it's about having a place where customers and visitors can vicariously visit. You want them to feel comfortable and welcome.
Thanks Mary! I have a huge recommendation for you regarding search. Add a Google-run search box like the one I have on Pajama Market. As you can see, the formatting can be adjusted so it looks like a pretty plain search box and the results are Google-like. I hear what you are saying about the Typepad widget. If it's anything like the Typepad Knowledge Search then it doesn't give very good results at all. For help installing one, check out this post I recently wrote called Using Google search on Typepad.
Follow me on Twitter by clicking here.