Can I still sip with you? Talking Instagram, influencers, and expertise.

Last week I shared my thoughts on haphazard labelling and the need for better collaboration in the wine world. Following this, my friend, and peer, Charlotte, introduced me to Sarah, who had enjoyed the article. Fuelled by a glass of Albarino, a quiet apartment, and miserable Miami weather, Sarah develops upon the topic. She talks #youcansipwithus, the need for sensible criticism, and self-reflection …

Thank you to Charlotte for introducing me to Sarah, and to Sarah (@Sarahtacp/@whatsarahdrinks) for sharing the following thoughts.

If you spend any amount of time on wine Instagram, chances are you’ve stumbled across the #youcansipwithus hashtag. It was created by a group of women who are concerned about the negativity sometimes felt towards the online community, and a perceived general lack of welcoming in the wine world. I’ve been following it with great interest. It’s good to see that it is encouraging more people to be vocal in the world of wine, and I’d like to add some thoughts.

Most wine pros want as many people as possible to be excited about wine, to talk about it, study it, and write about how fascinating and delicious it is. They love the product and they love it when others love it too; they’re evangelic. Many also welcome the vast social media coverage attracted by wine. Other product categories should be green with envy, as Josh wrote earlier this week.

I’ve been lucky to learn about wine from many brilliant people, including several talented experts. Their experience and expertise remain invaluable to me. Nothing can replace their years of study, tasting, and travel. But, I also learn from my friends who don’t know sauvignon from Sangiovese or think Rioja is a grape, or who only drink buttery chardonnay even though the rest of the world tells me it’s so over. I like it when friends tell me their thoughts on a particular wine before asking for mine. It’s a point of view that I don’t get when I’m surrounded by pros.

My point is everyone has a perspective. If you’re new, you don’t need to pretend to be an expert to be interesting; just be yourself. The most interesting people I follow are humble and honest. Ask questions. Even the experts jump online to ask questions.

You can tell there’s a “but” coming, can’t you?

Here it is … “but” there are some valid reasons why some segments of the Instagram community are criticised, and, as long as our criticisms are sensible and not personal, we should be able to talk about these things without being labelled as elitist or unfriendly. Let’s run through them.

Follow/unfollow (in the sense of unfollowing even those who connect with you) is annoying. I understand why this is such a popular strategy (the despised algorithm), but for regular users, it’s pretty irritating to get follow notifications in the knowledge that your new friend will dump you as soon as you return the favour. It sort of goes against the spirit.

Comment bots. While I was typing this, I got a notification from a wine account that roughly said, “Nice pic! If you like wine, follow me…” Seriously?

Then there’s foul play. There are a couple of bad eggs in the nest, accounts with thousands of fake followers, and those who purchase likes on every post. If they were just doing this for an ego boost, it would be weird but not offensive. But they are selling, advertising and receiving product samples, often from producers without the marketing expertise to know any better. This is not just immoral, it’s also fraudulent.

Some people consider comment pods to be foul play. This is a thorny issue. If it’s done to create a facade of influence to gain sponsorship, as it is in many industries, that’s not good. But I know that many in the wine community do genuinely enjoy the engagement.

Honesty. Do you really love that bottle, or do you love it because you were sent it as a gift? I’ve noticed improved transparency recently, but there’s still room for improvement.

And here comes the most difficult one. Look, I’m all for being yourself. I live on Miami Beach, if I had a conservative bone in my body, I’d probably have evaporated the second I first stepped onto Ocean Drive. So post whatever you want, wearing whatever you want. But there are going to be people who work in the trade (which has been historically pretty male-dominated) and who sometimes worry about being heard, who occasionally see a certain type of content and think, “D’oh, this isn’t helping my demographic to be taken seriously in this industry.” (Here is some further reading for you.)

None of this is to say that any harassment is justified. It’s not. I’ve seen some of the memes, and I don’t find them funny or appropriate. It’s right to call them out, or better, just ignore them. I’m all for a friendlier internet.

Just please know that the people (or is it “person”?) behind these don’t represent the majority view. The majority of criticism has absolutely nothing to do with snobbery or dismissing the views of non-experts. Some of it, like the memes, is trolling. Most of the rest is provoked by some valid irritations about how the platform is used by some (but not all) accounts.

I joined the Instagram wine community two years ago. My initial motivation was to understand how it worked. I’d been asked to create a company page for marketing purposes, and honestly, I didn’t have a clue where to start, so I created a personal wine account to educate myself. It was an experiment, and in the early stages, I tested (albeit briefly) several things that I’ve criticised in this post on my account. I expected that it would be easy to gain a big following. I imagined cases of fine wine filling my living room, trips to France…

It wasn’t, and none of that happened because I slowed down quite quickly, but something else did: I met some cool people. When I was in London, we would hang out, taste together, or meet up at industry events. The same has been true in Miami. I’m constantly getting recommendations for travel and wine through Instagram. If you’re not involved, I encourage you to join in. There are plenty of people on there who are keen to distance themselves from the questionable strategies that I’ve mentioned, and everyone seems pretty friendly.

So guys. For the most part, this is a really fun community. You should be able to talk freely about wine and the majority of people are not passing judgement. It’s a good thing – please keep going or if you’re not already, get involved. Just please, please, Instagram responsibly.

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