On the Internet, Everybody Knows When You are an Ass…

August 23, 2011


This post topic has been on the back burner for a while, and some recent, heated online commentary, forced it to bubble up to the front.

Now, they say that ‘nobody likes a critic’, but these people are an important part of consumer review, and are often held in pretty high regard…unless one is not happy about what/how they are critiquing…

The spark that ignited the short comment-flagration, was Lenn Thompson’s Palate Press article, sharing his impressions about the state of the vines and wines in Virginia.

A single respondent outburst serves as a good example, and while I’ve run the risk of the issue going stale, I thought it better to review my post a few times before putting it out there.

Thompson has been cranking out quality content for years, does a heroic job of covering NY, and has probably tasted enough wines to put him in a very high percentile relative to the general population…even within the trade.  I don’t always agree with his assertions, but he’s not a crack-pot or assassin by any stretch of the imagination.  I only met him briefly at WBC11, and have been reading his stuff for several years, but my ‘analysis’ of the situation is not based on a friendly bias.

People have multiple reasons for posting thoughts on the web, via long form post, micro blog, reader comments, video and audio, and I am quite glad that the general public and professional channels alike have these kinds of resources available.  The technology is liberating people, and allowing a kind of freedom that fosters change on a similar level to what the automobile did in a previous century.  However, just as with driving a car, the use of the technology should be done responsibly.  In this case, not so much because of the damage that we can do to others, but for that which we can do to ourselves, and what we are trying to represent.

One would like to think that something like the Social Media Sobriety Test would not be required, but joke or not, it does point at a real world issue.   For civilians, the risk associated with an ethanol fueled rant is minimal, but for those associated with the trade, the stakes can be much higher.

Having followed the innovations, escapades and adventures of Gary Vaynerchuk, as well as having consumed his messaging about new media and brand leveraging, I could not help but consider the flip side of his arguments.   While he focuses on the positive aspects of building a brand in the modern economy, and the power of being able to turn a dissatisfied customer into a loyal fan, through direct interaction, there is less content addressing the pitfalls of when social media allows us to screw up…and what the associated costs are.

It comes down to Brand Equity – posts and comments either elevate or undermine with every word.  It is a universal principle that it is harder to build and develop than to destroy…once destroyed the path to rebuilding generally inclines.  Personal take on situation…Andy Reagan of Jefferson Vineyards, had a knee jerk reaction to criticism of Virginia Wines, criticisms that were not even directly leveled at his operation.  Maybe it was because JV was not among Lenn Thompson’s favorable mentions, that his ire was raised, but in any case the response was disproportional to the alleged crime.

Anger does not equal passion…unless it is of the unbridled sort, and where a number of Mr. Reagan’s fellow Virginians responded to Lenn Thompson with reasonable, informative, and well considered comments, Andy Reagan’s rant was the TCA in the mix.  I will give Reagan credit for taking the time and energy the next day, to mop up after the spill, with lengthy responses, as a responsible digital denizen should.  I also do appreciate that some of his colleagues stood up for him and VA in the commentary and other posts.  The quality of these characters must speak to Reagan’s somehow…but at a distance, still do not carry the same weight as that original expostulation.

Mea culpa and defense by colleagues aside, I still am left with a bad taste in my mouth…and I wonder what it will take to wash that away.  The attempt at rectification of the situation, required a certain amount of social capital investment on Mr. Reagan’s behalf, and on that of his associates.  My only direct meeting with Jefferson Vineyard was at the the speed blog/tasting, and with only five minutes to spare, the impact was limited.  The wine did not knock my socks off, but was good enough to jot it on the ‘visit’ list.

The comment rant changed that…with 200 wineries in VA there are plenty of choices…and while Reagan may feel that they “make the best wine in the entire world”, the next time I am in old Virginia, I will still likely spend my time elsewhere.  When I visit somewhere, I’m not necessarily looking for the greatest wine ever, I’m looking for connection, and the people that make the wine are, as, if not, more important.  The unrestrained outburst undermined the desire, for this potential consumer.

We live in a democracy, that probably somewhat resembles what Thomas Jefferson had hoped for.  In this society all opinions are valid and accepted…we all just need to be prepared for how those positions are received and interpreted.

While some sites rigorously police the discourse for integrity purposes, some firms have requirements such as Social Media Employee Use Corporate Policies, others use the platforms to purposely expose controversial positions, and then there are those that have no controls, possibly for entertainment value.  As long as ‘reality TV’ mentality rules, we should continue to be prepared for rational discourse to go sideways from time to time.  Whether Andy Reagan learned anything from the experience is neither here nor there…does this serve as an example for the greater community? Perhaps.

On the internet, nobody knows you are a dog… but they will certainly know when you are being an ass.

Comments (5)


  1. Sarah says:

    For the love of god – move on and find some real news to report. Lenn should have checked his facts before he published the article. Andy wrote an emotionally charged response and the blogging community pounced on him for that. Do us all a favor and write a factual article on wine inside of trying to take a crap shoot at a very talented winemaker.

  2. todd says:

    Thanks for the comment. I’m sorry that you perceived this piece as a shot at Andy. His choice of action was his own, the long tail of the discussion is out there, and I have simply used it as a necessary Public Relations lesson for the rest of us. We all run this risk, and need to do whatever it takes to manage it. I’m not going to deny his talent, because that is not what is at issue.

    As regards my own choice of action as a consumer, as of this moment, if I have made a mistake, it is one I can live with. My mind could certainly be changed, but the point is, someone else would have to invest time and energy to move that process.

  3. Jason Phelps says:


    Right on with the angle. There is a bigger problem and solution with what is going on in the wine trade here, and a while a certain amount of dissonance is expected during growth the issue of all actors being professional is clearly a trouble spot. I have enjoyed all the banter that many of the controversial after-#WBC11 posts have created. I hope others have as well.


  4. Todd: As an Internet marketeer in my real life, this is definitely an issue we deal with at my day job regularly. We have guidelines in place though, and most employees know how to act on blogs and social media. As far as I know, we haven’t had any issues. Nothing like what happened with my Palate Press piece certainly.

    Sarah: I don’t know who you are (since you only use your first name) or what exactly you have to gain by saying the same thing over and over, but I think it’s time to move on. It was an opinion piece based on my experiences. Your assertion that I should “check my facts” I assume is only about one of the many issues I raised — vineyard yields, right? If you want to ignore the rest of the points, that’s your decision. Luckily, many in the VA wine industry are not ignoring them and I’ve had some great email discussions with other winemakers.

    You said “take a crap shoot at a very talented winemaker.” I’m not sure exactly how one takes a crap shoot (it sounds painful) but I don’t think Todd is doing that here. He’s using Andy’s over-the-top response to my story to illustrate a larger issue. I’m not sure why you’re being so defensive here. We all understand, on some level, why Andy reacted the way he did. We just don’t think it’s particularly smart.

    Surely you must have something better to do than defend someone who doesn’t need defending. Andy is a big boy and can take care of himself I think.

  5. todd says:

    Lenn & Jason,
    I appreciate your input, and am glad that you got the point of the article. While I am a complete proponent of free speech, certain constraints that come with maintaining professional conduct, are awfully important.

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