Does Steve Heimoff Hate Social Media? 17

On a recent July afternoon I sat down with Wine Enthusiast wine writer, Steve Heimoff to talk about social media. Over the past four years Mr. Heimoff has developed a bit of a reputation for debunking social media and its promise to sell more wine. It was time to debunk the debunkery and put the issue to rest. I asked Steve some of my own questions as well as some questions crowd sourced from Twitter.

Steve has been a wine writer since 1989, well before wine bloggers and the rise of the social web. What I wanted to sort out with him was to understand the context of what he’s trying to say in his ‘social media doesn’t work’ blog posts. Some people accuse Heimoff of link baiting on his blog with controversial headlines meant to stir the pot about social media (like I did with this post), while using social media to push the message out.

Over the course of our conversation I got the sense he has gotten to know many of the winery owners and wine makers over the years, and has a loyalty to them. So when social media came onto the scene a few years ago, Heimoff started asking, “what can this really do for my friends?”

It’s apparent Steve’s opinions are rooted in seeing the world of technology through the eyes of a Baby Boomer. And his blog is just that—opinions. He generates no income from his blog, but rather uses it as his own personal space to share his own thoughts that he can’t in his day job. Throughout the interview Heimoff was a bit cagey. Like a seasoned veteran of writing, he knew when to side step questions or give a vague answer.

This whole “Steve Heimoff hates social media” perception may have began in 2008 with his Rockaway piece about Rodney Strong. Back then the winery picked 14 wine bloggers and sent them wine making them  promise to write about the wine. Steve was quick to point out the pay-to-play approach is borderline illegal and would never fly in professional writing. Jay Miller, formerly of the Wine Advocate recently discovered that when he and former MW Pancho Campo got into a bit of hot water for a pay-to-play scandal last year.

According the Heimoff, “mommy bloggers who suddenly start gushing about the latest baby stroller aren’t being transparent about getting the stroller for free from the manufacturer.” Steve went on to say, “I don’t hate social media, I just question the claims for-profit marketers make about what social media can do for a winery. I actually really like social media.”

Aside from seeing the world through Steve’s eyes as a Baby Boomer, it also became apparent Steve suffers from what many traditional media personalities suffer from. They’re so used to the one-way broadcast message of, “I talk, you listen to me” that a  two-way dialogue is a foreign concept. A few times throughout the conversation I tried to educate Steve on some basic social media nuggets but he showed no interest in hearing what I had to say.

It reminds me of the TODAY show. Kathie Lee and Hoda have been lobbying on the fourth hour of the TODAY show to get viewers to ‘Like’ them on Facebook or follow them on Twitter. They don’t understand the concept of engaging people through two-way dialogue. If Steve (or Kathie Lee and Hoda) would talk with people instead of at them it would open up their eyes to the power of the social web. But they can’t wrap their heads around taking time for one-to-one conversations online. I referenced Steve’s Twitter feed saying it was lacking @ replies. My comment went right over his head.

I was ready to give Steve some answers about social media, but that’ll have to wait until a later conversation. In the meantime, here’s how our interview went down:


Q: How many blog posts have you written about debunking social media?
A: I’m not a debunker of social media” Humans are social’s the latest way we communicate. When I see these sweeping statements about “social media is supposed to do this or that” I question it.

A lot of wineries are small family wineries. Who’s gonna find the time to do SM? I feel sorry for the small wineries are being harassed to “do” social media.

My question: How does this help the winery make money?


Q: How much blog traffic would you say you’ve generated on average per post? It’s kind of a controversial subject that helps your brand, right?
A: Social media posts get less traffic than other link bait topics like ‘Robert Parker’ or ‘The 100-pt. scale’. My blog has pretty much the same traffic every week. It’s a predictable pattern.


Q: The big question people have is why do you use social media to push your social media doesn’t work message?
A: I never said social media doesn’t work. I’ve asked questions about the claims made by for-profit social media marketers about sales for wineries.


Q: Is there any chance you (or wineries) might not be using it right?
A: I don’t think I’m using it as frequently. I haven’t seen proof that wineries can generate sales from SM. I don’t spend that much time online.

(Steve mentioned a few times he thinks we are becoming too addicted to online interactions and not enough time offline. I fully agree with his observation—we are becoming addicted to the social web in lieu of the real world around us.)


Q: In your eyes, what is ‘social media’ supposed to be?
A: I question the claims that marketers say social media can lead to sales.

It doesn’t mean wineries shouldn’t engage in social media.


Q: What’s the role of wine writers in the industry?
A: Education of consumer, wine recommendations  are the single most effective driver of sales, wine writers humanize publications.


Q: What’s the role of sommeliers in the wine industry?
A: Help diners figure out what to drink with their food.

(This answer was surprisingly naive to me. Steve had just got done telling me how wine writers and ratings were the single most effective driver of wine sales. Apparently sommeliers don’t educate consumers, buy wine or sell it on the floor?)


Q: Do you think wine will be sold with a single tweet on #CabernetDay day? 
A: I haven’t heard of it, what is that?


Q: How do you explain online wine people like Joe Roberts gaining any sort of voice or influence in the industry? 
A: There’s certain people I’m rooting for as the next ‘James Laube’s’ of the world. There’s probably only a few people who can be influential about wine writing and make a living. I won’t name names but I’m rooting for a few people.


A big take away from this dialogue is the point Heimoff made about us being too addicted to the web. Over the past four years I had one perception of Steve through his blog posts and blog post comments, but I had never sat down with him in person.

There’s still a value in face to face conversation. Our sit down changed my perception a bit about Steve’s message because I was able to get more context about what he’s been trying to say.

Hopefully I was able to change his perception about what the social web is or isn’t. I’d still like to share some insights about how the social web works, and successful case studies from my time at St. Supéry or with some of the Bakas Media clients. We have plenty of successful examples but I don’t publicize them.

In the future, I suggested Mr. Heimoff reach out to people who know more about this subject and interview them for his articles. But the blog posts are just op-ed opinions so I doubt there will be any input from credible sources.

Either way, our time together was valuable and serves as a reminder communication is best served online AND face to face.

Please share your thoughts

17 thoughts on “Does Steve Heimoff Hate Social Media?

  • KK LaFournaise

    Good interview Rick! I don’t encounter very many wineries anymore who feel the same way Mr. Heimoff does about Social Media. At least not here in SoCal, but to each his own. Mr. Heimoff’s blog/articles must be serving other like-minded readers/viewers and therefore he is serving a niche of wine marketing. Good for him!

    While you and I are of the same thinking that a dialog, conversations or even a debate on open channels of new media can be quite beneficial to wine industry sales (or any industry). I find myself to busy to be too many places talking about my passion for the wine and tourism industries of SoCal. For me the conversation online has become a natural place to be able to connect and reach beyond the front door of the tasting rooms. Do (or did) my conversations lead to wine sales? Absolutely! I too have had many mensurable success stories I would be happy to share with Mr. Heimoff. Maybe Mr. Heimoff should put a post up asking for success stories, I bet he would sent to many to even publish.


  • Robert Larsen

    Hey Rick. There are some inaccuracies here. There were not 14 bloggers. The whole Rockaway thing is referenced here without solid homework, a bummer considering you do such a good job promoting the good side of social media and blogging-journalism. I also think the characterization of Steve is off. He and I are not best pals. I would say, though, we do have mutual respect for one another because of rapport and an on-going dialog over time. I do not need to defend Steve, but this post doesn’t seem to fit the fella I’ve come to know.

  • Fred

    Rick ~ Is there data that demonstrates a direct link between a given social media platform and a given winery’s POS system? In other words, not anecdotal information but actual, trackable data that put this whole conversation to bed. I would love to learn how this is done on a scale that compares with email marketing. Thanks, F.

  • Louis

    Having worked at a premium Napa valley winery, and having been the wine director for a 35 million dollar chain of retail package stores I can say with a good bit of authority that while social media is a great compliment to other marketing and advertising initiatives, it has very little if any effect on sales. We hired consultants, created a position for SM director, established metrics and did all the research. We found very very little evidence that our FB/Twitter/SM presence contributed in any way to driving revenue. While it did have a measurable effect on event attendance, it showed no real contribution to brand growth or extension.

  • Randy

    Who gives a shit what Heimoff says, likes or dislikes. Anyone still listening to corporate-sponsored NYC publishing wine “pros” deserves to have a cellar full of syrupy, sloppy wines that will not age worth beans. That goes for RP, the wine Speculator and any other chumps who won’t throw their family’s livelihood in the circle yet talk shit about others who do. Hippocrates. These couchseat keyboard connoisseurs don’t even know what the hell the speak so why even discuss their insignificance?.

  • Maitre T

    Louis – my background is similar to yours and my experience is the same as yours – little effect on DTC sales. We cross-referenced FB friends and our DTC database and only 22% of FB friends had even made a direct purchase with us even though the geo dist skewed local! Small correlation, no sign of causation.
    There’s real value to be had in the social graph but most wine social media consultants still don’t get it and repeat the empty phrase “join the conversation.” Most FB posts are never surfaced in the feed and thus never seen. No you know why only 30 of your thousands of fans respond to a post. FB as communication platform is like a standing on the corner of Seventh Ave and Broadway and screaming at the top of your lungs. Sure a few folks will hear and maybe respond but you are not reaching the millions you are led to believe.
    As I said the real value is in the social graph but that is hard work and most consultants just don’t have that kind of skin in the game.

  • Alana Gentry (@girlwithaglass)

    I am intrigued by the comments this post generated. I’ve been a successful marketing professional for 25 years and it surprises me that some of the commenters are not aware of the value of increased name recognition, in other words, word of mouth referrals. This goal should be at the top of every marketing plan. Measuring DTC sales against FB friends is short sighted, and the results are completely predictable: if you ask the wrong question, you’ll get the wrong answer.

  • Don

    As a small winery owner I can say Social Media has been very beneficial in raising brand awareness which is what we expected it to do. Sales are not generated online unless you offer something “cheap” and we are not into that game. I have problems with bloggers that focus on what they term QPR (Quality/Price Ratio) as if that is the best measure of a wine. It is interesting to note that folks doing this rarely own a winery or vineyard, have never made wine, and have little if anything invested in the business. With regard to the Rockaway issue I saw little difference between what the winery did and what the wine magazines do except the winery took the lead. Magazines do not go out and buy the wine to review, they expect it to be sent to them gratis so they can make money telling folks what they think of it.

  • Lindsay ML (@LindsayLigature)

    While I won’t say I’m not disappointed that there wasn’t more “meat” to Steve’s responses, it’s nice to see them here. I was sincerely hoping he’d surprise me — to be characterized as a baby boomer with antiquated views of social media makes sense in the saddest way. It’s one thing to not believe or agree with something you thoroughly understand, and another to have a knee-jerk reaction against the unknown.

    That said, I tend to feel protective of the wineries as well … in many cases, their social media isn’t helping them as it should be. I loathe “gurus” who come in and cost thousands for nothing more than an over-inflated twitter following.

    Per some of the comments: I think the reason many social media metrics don’t show direct ROI is because, as Maitre T says, “most consultants just don’t have that kind of skin in the game.” It’s easy to grow followers and buy friends, it’s hard to sell things via engagement. That said, it certainly is very possible and I also agree that many positive examples exist. (And you know, with enough anecdotes, you’ll eventually have a pattern.) Personally, I’ve seen great gains via social media, but it takes time and — sorry about using the magic word — authentic engagement.

  • Alan Goldfarb

    Fred: Re: POS. What is the POS that wineries achieve when pouring their wine at various and sundry — near-daily — events? These cost capital, too, but what is the return, and why do wineries keep in doing it (because they having always been doing it?)? It’s all about brand-building; and it takes a long time to get one’s name to reach critical mass. My good friend and colleague Steve Heimoff, I know is not opposed to SM per se; but like me, as “trad” writers, our domain is being threatened. We all know the pratfalls of unedited, unvetted, and unthoughtful (a word?) writing predominating the blogosphere (this is not to say there aren’t excellent online writers out there — see Fred Koeppel’s, i.e.). But the aforementioned types of writings as well as journalism — as with a great deal of social interactions — have been cheapened.

    Bu this is all to say that SM is essential to any winery’s existence in the first part of the 21st century, and will continue to be, although the channel is not necessarily of my demographic. But I do know a new paradigm when I stumble across one The shakeout separating the yeast from the must to badly paraphrase a cliche, is yet to occur; which is why we and Steve are suffering through the morass in order to get to the other side.

  • Louis

    The value of name recognition is perfectly illustrated by Name recognition means very little if you can’t convert that awareness to revenue. You take dollars to the bank, not FB likes and twitter followers. Recognition without value is a complete waste of energy and resources. I agree that name recognition is inarguably an important part of any successful model, and as I stated before, social media is a great compliment to a larger marketing plan, but businesses must use that recognition to showcase their value. Brand value and brand value alone will be the fuel for success regardless of how many people know who you are.

    If you have nothing worth saying or doing, SM is a waste of time. Companies spend lots of effoort data mining what they call “relevant followers”, the inherent problem being that you end up recruiting a bunch of people who don’t really care what you are, regardless of if they know who you are.

    The problem with SM marketing, is MARKETING. SM needs to grow on its own organically and be focused on being a dialogue with current supporters and customers. It should not be used as a marketing tool to generate new business.

  • Bob Henry

    From today’s Wall Street Journal:

    “Social Media Fail to Live Up to Early Marketing Hype”



    “Social media are not the powerful and persuasive marketing force many companies hoped they would be,” concludes Gallup Inc., which on Monday is releasing a report that examines the subject.

    Gallup says 62% of the more than 18,000 U.S. consumers it polled said social media had no influence on their buying decisions. Another 30% said it had some influence. U.S. companies spent $5.1 billion on social-media advertising in 2013, but Gallup says “consumers are highly adept at tuning out brand-related Facebook and Twitter content.” (Gallup’s survey was conducted via the Web and mail from December 2012 to January 2013. The survey has a margin of error of plus or minus 1 percentage point.)

    In a study last year, Nielsen Holdings NV found that global consumers trusted ads on television, print, radio, billboards and movie trailers more than social-media ads.

  • Bob Henry

    A bibliography on the subject of social media and Return On Investment:

    MIT Sloan Review: “Can You Measure the ROI of Your Social Media Marketing?”


    Harvard Business Review case study: “Increasing the ROI of Social Media Marketing”


    Harvard Business Review: “Social Media — What Most Companies Don’t Know”


    Here is the link to the full text of the social media study from Harvard Business Review:

    From the summary titled “Why Social Media ROI Can’t Be Measured”

    [Link: . . .

    . . . is this excerpt of The Atlantic article titled “Dark Social: We Have the Whole History of the Web Wrong”


    “There are still things we know we don’t know, and things we don’t even know we’re missing in terms of social media measurement.

    “For proof, look no further than The Atlantic, which shook the social media realm recently with its expose of ‘dark social’ – the idea that the channels we fret over measuring like Facebook and Twitter represent only a small fraction of the social activity that’s really going on.

    “The article shares evidence that reveals that the vast majority of sharing is still done through channels like email and IM that are nearly impossible to measure (and thus, dark).”

    An excerpt from The Atlantic article itself:


    “On the first day I saw it, this is how big of an impact dark social was having on The Atlantic.

    “Just look at that [pie chart] graph [see online — Bob]. On the one hand, you have all the social networks that you know. They’re about 43.5 percent of our social traffic.

    “On the other, you have this previously unmeasured darknet that’s delivering 56.5 percent of people to individual stories.

    “This is not a niche phenomenon! It’s more than 2.5X Facebook’s impact on the site.

    “Day after day, this continues to be true . . . dark social is nearly always our top referral source. ”

    Bob’s summary: The majority of the interpersonal communication and “sharing” is via e-mail and Instant Messaging . . . outside of the sphere of influence of Facebook or MySpace or Twitter or LinkedIn.

  • Bob Henry


    Back on June 24th, I posted my twin comments.

    Only today (July 10th, 2014 at 4:52 PM PT) am I receiving an “auto-reply” note in my in-box that it escaped moderation?

    Wassup with that?

    ~~ Bob

  • Bob Henry



    Back on July 12th, I posted my comment about “evidence-based management/marketing.”

    Only yesterday (July 19th at 1:35 PM PT) did I receive an “auto-reply” note in my in-box that it escaped moderation.

    ~~ Bob