Whisky Advocate

Whisky producers: be honest with your social media marketing.

September 28th, 2010

I am asking everyone who works in the whisky business to identify themselves when commenting on this blog (or other blogs and forums, for that matter) on topics relating to your brands.

The anonymity of social media can often be a good thing. People can be honest and open with their feelings.

But people can also take advantage of this anonymity. There have been many times when I’ve given a mediocre or poor review of a whisky (or when you have commented unfavorable about a whisky), only to have someone chime in and say how great they think the whisky is. They usually are new to WDJK.  And, although they might use a fictitious name and email address, if they aren’t careful enough, I can trace their URL or IP back to a corporate whisky address.

When I catch someone pumping up their brand, I call them on it. I have done so here on WDJK several times. The list of guilty parties range from the largest down to the one of the smallest and others in between. (I’m not going to list specific brands. It will take me a long time to go through my 987 posts and your 16,610 comments and find them, and I don’t have the time right now.)

It doesn’t happen often, but it is still going on (as recent as this year on WDJK). I’m asking all those involved in the whisky industry to be fair and honest when using social media. If you work for a company and your comment is specific to one of your brands, identify yourself.

40 Responses to “Whisky producers: be honest with your social media marketing.”

  1. Mark C says:

    I’ve had that on the forum too. I would also prefer those in the industry to make themselves known clearly and have recently called a member out who was almost using the forum as a form of market research. Cheeky, and it’s not uncommon.

  2. Willie says:

    It’s the same point as your first gripe John. Marketing people are less than scrupulous when it comes to honesty.

    • Mark C says:

      It’s not always marketing types, though.

    • Ryan says:

      Willie,

      I believe John’s point today is putting folks on notice. Not just scrutinizing their motives. When industry insiders benignly pose as innocuous guests on John’s blog, they undermine the integrity and credibility of his blog… his work. He is entitled to call them on it, and I’m glad he feels strongly about it.

      • Texas says:

        I am not too worked up about the MM 46 thing…but totally agree with John here. 100%

        I am sure John will get to it at a later point, but reviewers that seem to have some sort of vested interest with the producers are just as bad…maybe worse.

        • Ryan says:

          Agreed!

          • Mark McGuire says:

            I, personally, think the WDJK would be more than “well entitled” to let all of us know who these people are (and more importantly which conglomerate/corporation they work for). Publicity, in this case negative, is the only thing that will STOP the commercial politicalization (i.e. branding) of these posts/threads. Honesty is the best policy.

    • Ryan says:

      I believe John’s point today is putting folks on notice. Not just scrutinizing their motives. When industry insiders benignly pose as guests on John’s blog, they undermine the integrity and credibility of his blog… his work. He is entitled to call them on it, and I’m glad he feels strongly about it.

  3. Gary says:

    One of the beauties and ultimately problems of the anonymity of the interwebbies is that it sometimes emboldens people to say things they ordinarily wouldn’t have the courage to say. It can create some fun exchanges. But, ultimately full disclosure is probably always the best answer. If you are putting it out there with an honest review that at times may be critical, the reviewees should at least be forthcoming as to their identities when responding.

  4. Red_Arremer says:

    It’s just good etiquette– you shouldn’t even need to bring up the ethics of it (though they’re what’s important).

    And I’d like to give a shout out to Sam Simmons/ smsmmns/ Dr. Whisky/ Balvenie Brand Ambassador– He’s been dealing with the complexities of this situation, first hand, for quite a while– He’s often demonstrated an awareness and concern with these issues. Got any insights, Sam?

  5. Behaviour like this makes you wonder if the brand ambassadors or industry people in general have so little confidence in their producs that they don’t have the guts to defend them under their own name.

  6. Michael Z says:

    …full disclosure is the only way….

  7. Yello to Mello says:

    The whisky business takes social media extremely, furiously serious. Thats the single thing I noticed in the past 2 years. More than any other business I have seen.

    In a way you can’t blame them. Yes, its a snake move pumping up their brand anonymously. However, as the internet is huge the whole ‘community’ of whisky on the internet is relatively small. Google any IB or OB and the first page will turn up one of the major blogs or some forum post, sometimes before a MJ or JM review is found. One mediocre to bad review could be devastating to their marketing and they know that.

  8. David D says:

    Part of the reason they feel compelled to do this stems from the fact that points and ratings make it easier for them to do their job – mainly, they can just sell the review rather than the product. Ratings are the only tangible marketing tool these guys know how to use anymore, so when they see one that doesn’t go their way, they freak out. I could play you all three voice mails on my phone right now from vendors that want me to taste their products and each message is a list full of ratings, awards, competition victories, and points – not one word about how the product is made or the fact that it may be delicious! When these people go from liquor store to liquor store, they carry these reviews like trophies. The inverse of this situation is therefore also true – when they get a less than glowing score they attempt to bury it like a corpse, or at least present a different perspective to counteract the negative press. To a certain extent, I can see where they’re coming from because, believe it or not, I’ve had countless customers refuse to buy a bottle because it only got 89 points. However, John is right that using anonymous logins to do so is pretty unscrupulous.

    • Ryan says:

      Being barraged by shelf talkers, or vendor media kits, and a sales staff repeating and reinforcing shelf talkers, is a horrible shopping experience! Especially when the experience comes across as a pathetic effort to blur some humongous gap between branding and reality.
      Mercifully, this is not a universal shopping experience and I go out of my way to avoid such stores. The very same distributors and vendors also happily cater to shops with unadorned shelves as well.
      So while transactions based solely on shelf talkers, or ratings, may sometimes be a hugely disappointing reality for all parties involved; it completely fails to excuse deceitful marketing.

      • David D says:

        I agree with you, but I’m not quite sure what you’re responding to.

        • Ryan says:

          I should have begun that comment, “David, your description of vendors carrying reviews around like trophies brings to mind one of my biggest peeves as a shopper.” And I should have wrapped it up with, “Your insight is very interesting and I’ll see you, “pretty unscrupulous” and raise you totally unscrupulous.” My response was intened as an agreement with, and amplification of, aspects of your excellent comment.

          • David D says:

            Oh good! I was getting nervous that you were responding to me as a retailer and that maybe we had put up shelf talkers somewhere and you had seen them. I take a lot of pride in writing all my own notes if possible and never, ever, allowing advertising written by the producer on the shelf. I will sometimes, however, paste info from John’s reviews or historical info from the vendor website into the notes if I’m rushed.

          • Ryan says:

            Sorry about that poorly written initial comment… felt like a jerk after reading your reply. No, I was completely agreeing that it is such a shame that blurb marketing has become soo dominant, and paradoxically so shabby and sleazy. Great to hear you look after your customers by filtering outside marketing and writing-up personal notes.

          • Henry H. says:

            I can confirm that David’s notes are excellent and quite independent. They are also, by the way, in the range of an order of magnitude less hyperbolic than those of his predecessor at K&L – and thank goodness for that!

  9. Paul Kavulak says:

    It happens everywhere. I have to tell you though, I’ve been following your industry over the past year or so and in some cases, I’ve learned who to listen to – and who to blow off. It is pretty frustrating when that odd voice chimes in and I have to wonder if it is something to listen to or not. I can’t stand it when I see a review that just seems to come in from someone’s marketing mob. That said… Keep pushing gang, this type of policing is healthy – if someone doesn’t work against it, consumers and then the industry will sufffer. Just my non-anonymous 2 cents…

  10. Henry H. says:

    When I called out the rep of a U.S. importer here a while back, I was pleased and fairly impressed that he came clean right away. I join with John in imploring all of you to reveal early and often who you work for. We’ll respect you so much more in the morning.

  11. George Jetson says:

    I use a nom d’ net not because I am famous or important, but to sidestep less than friendly netizens from glomming on to your personal identity information. I am sure as business people, the whisky reps here do the same thing. Maybe the pseudonyms could be a little more descriptive or they could announce their affiliation more honestly.

    The social media problem is not unique here and many restaurant owners who are also very sensitive to bad reviews, do exactly the same anonymous thing to counter a bad review or seed a bad review toward their competitors. Anyone who doesn’t have an awareness of the potential of the net to artificially manipulate and manufacture the “truth” is a prime target for the “i-P.T. Barnums” of today.

    • “George”, there is no personal infomation to be snatched from a blog comment other than your name. Your email address will be known only to the blog owner. Where do you see a problem with that? This is not Facebook where people post their phone or social security number if they’re stupid enough (they don’t have to, BTW)

      • mongo says:

        some of us have relatively unusual names, and depending on workplace/search issues or personal comfort not everyone may be comfortable with the great google monster indexing and displaying their names in connection with alcohol when people search for them.

        • OK, I admit this could be a problem for private people in post-prohibitional USA that I as a European haven’t previously thought of.

          But this is about whsky makers. Should they be afraid of being associated with alcohol?

    • Followup: My full name and address is featured on thousands of ebay auctions because I am obliged to by law as a professional seller. My blog is required by German law to have full contact information including a clickable e-mail address. So what? I have no problems with that.

      You don’t need the internet for identity theft. A phonebook is enough.

      • George Jetson says:

        Hi, My Name Is Joe Moneybags. I live at 123 Main Street Anytown USA. You may have noticed I buy a lot of expensive things and brag about them to my innocent net friends. No need to come by my house one night when I am off on my three week vacation you read about on my Facebook page.

        • Henry H. says:

          George Jetson – It’s difficult to take your position seriously (if indeed you even have one relevant to the discussion) if you won’t adequately address substantive responses. The point here is pretty simple: People who get paid to market and sell whisk(e)y should not pose as civilians in public, regardless of what name they use for posting comments. They should simply reveal their affiliation. Do you agree or disagree?

  12. Craig McGill says:

    John, a very good and valid point that I didn’t even think still had to be made in this day and age. I’ll confess up front that I have put stuff online as one or two other people – but only when they couldn’t get to the keyboard. And it was still their words, crafted by them first of all.

    But the gaming of reviews and going onto forums posing as someone else? Old school, poor show and easily found out.

    People should welcome the bad reviews – not everyone will like the same stuff – as it is a way of seeing what people think (as long as the review is constructive of course).

  13. Craig McGill says:

    re: outing the people who do it – I don’t think it’s my place to out those who post posing as Joe Public – not on other blogs anyway. Certainly on my own, yes, but if John wants to out those posting fake comments then that is completely fair play to him.

    Also, in all fairness, John is the one who has the IP addresses and has the proof, not the rest of us.

  14. DavidUK says:

    You should really ‘name and shame’ the culprits, otherwise what is to deter them from continuing to do so? We drinkers, who shell out our hard earned cash on whisky would like to know

    • Craig McGill says:

      David, the challenge there is proving who did it. Should you name and shame a company for what one person does? How do you prove it was one person? What if it was a person on their last day of work, who knew John would out the company, and they go on a fake name spree?

      The sentiment behind naming and shaming is right but the execution/proof of who did it is a little bit trickier.

  15. Craig McGill says:

    I’ve enjoyed reading about this debate and have posted some further thoughts over on my own social media blog where people are welcome to come and comment (hope posting the link is OK John) http://bit.ly/anPpK1

  16. Rus says:

    This sort of behavior is entirely expected, given that the job of these people is to influence our thinking about their brands. I think the fact that they post on your blog is a bit amusing, because people are reading your blog mainly to hear your take, not theirs. One commenter’s thoughts on a blog post are just that–one person’s–so whether they come from a whisky lover like me or a corporate stooge is really immaterial. One comment is not going to sway me; however, if I see a pattern with one commenter and I find that his or her views line up with mine, then I’ll pay that person’s comments some heed.

    It’s really up to everyone who participates in blogging or social media (as a consumer more than a creator) to take everything with a healthy dose of skepticism.

    At the end of the day, yes, these people should come clean–but many of them won’t. So we need to be aware that they’re out there doing what they do and take all of the comments we see with a grain of salt.

    • Craig McGill says:

      Rus, if we need to take it all with a pinch of salt then that defeats the purpose of comments, but as you say it’s more about trusted networks – you see someone on a regular basis and think their taste is similar to yours then you’ll pay them some heed.

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