Q&A with a Wine Influencer: Who is Meg Houston Maker?
For the second year running, Meg Houston Maker has been featuring in Social Vignerons’ Top 20 Wine Influencers on Social Media.
This, in itself, demonstrates that the wine content she shares on her social media channels is engaging, and engaged with.
But understanding who is Meg Maker, and grasping what is her contribution to the world’s wine community doesn’t seem obvious. At least it wasn’t to me when I researched her profile on her author website MegMaker.com and her blog Maker’s Table.
Maker defines herself as a wine, food, and culture writer, as well as an editorial strategist.
Between other accolades, she recently received the award for 2015 Best Writing on a Wine Blog by the Wine Blog Awards, and was chosen as a Favorite Wine News Blog in the 2014 Millésima Awards. She’s also notably working on writing a book for new wine lovers at the moment.
But beyond those résumé highlights, I wanted to learn more about Meg via our world famous Q&A with a Wine Influencer. Who really is Meg Houston Maker, and how does she get to create such engaging content on various channels?
Q: You seem to have your hands on a variety of projects and activities. How do you generally define what you do?
As a writer, I research, develop, and write articles and long-form narratives, publishing them on my own site and elsewhere. I’m also in the midst of writing a book for new wine lovers. My writing takes me all over the world to meet with producers, taste their wines, and try to understand what links them to their land. Last year I visited the Rhône and Champagne; Sicily and Tuscany; Valencia, Mallorca, and Cava; Mendoza and Patagonia; and California and the Finger Lakes. This year my travels, so far, will take me back to Spain, Portugal, California, and—who knows?
Also an editor and editorial strategist, I work with others to develop and refine their own narratives, from editing a single article to establishing content strategy for a whole publication. I’ve been involved at the launch of one corporate and two consumer wine magazines, each with a different content mix — lifestyle, technical, educational, entertainment, or a combination.
Rounding out this activity is strategic communications consulting, which I provide to corporate and nonprofit clients across industries. I’ve been working in digital publishing and commerce since the dawn of the web, and with social media and web analytics since the early aughts. That background informs everything I do.
Q: In addition to being a writer, you define yourself as an ‘editorial strategist’, what does it mean practically?
Good editorial strategy requires you to do two things well. First, you must understand readers and their interests. A publication is dead without readers. Second, you must understand the publication’s goals. What is the editorial effort about? Why should this publication exist?
The two needs don’t always map perfectly to one another, but at the intersection lies a narrative sweet spot, which is the material that readers want to read and editors want to cover. Once you’ve found that, through research and analysis, you make your best guess about what will connect. Then you assign the material, publish, and monitor readership to make sure it’s working, using analytics and other tools at your disposal. If it’s not working, make adjustments. Repeat.
I love working at that strategic editorial level, but I also love partnering with a writer to edit a single piece. The processes actually aren’t so different, because, again, you and the writer must first understand the editorial goals — who would want to read this story, and why. Then I’ll take their piece and crack it open, inspect its machinery, figure out what’s working to move the story forward, and what might be needed to make it more clear, more powerful, more true. At the very end of the exercise we work on copyediting. It’s essential to get the structure right before polishing the surface.
Q: What brought you to writing about wine?
I began writing about wine in 2008, with the launch of Maker’s Table. At the time I was working toward my Master’s degree in creative writing, focusing on creative nonfiction and personal narrative. I have a longstanding interest in nature, culture, and place, along with their expression through agriculture, viticulture, gardening, cooking, food, the table. Writing about wine and food was a way to explore these beautiful topics and share my discovery process — both natural and literary — with readers.
I pay attention to great food and wine writing, and great food and wine writers, to figure out how I can improve. Great food writing transcends the surface narrative, goes beyond talking about food to talking about people, traditions, messy cultural artifacts, history, emotions. Confounding the problem is that we seem to have reasonably good visual literacy, but very low taste literacy, and most of us English-language commentators are still trying to figure out how best to describe taste and flavor. I love that ineffability, though, the challenge of writing about wine, of trying to explain to others the signals entering my sensorium. It’s a vexing and beautiful exercise, and I doubt I’ll ever fully master it. I somewhat hope I don’t.
Q: You are ranked within the Top 21 worldwide wine influencers on Social Media as published earlier this year on Social Vignerons, does that mean anything to you?
It’s an honor to find myself in such stellar company.
Q: Would you say that social media has influenced your editorial on makerstable.com? Has it encouraged you to cover certain topic because you knew your audience on these specific channels would like it and share it more?
About a quarter of my site’s traffic arrives via social channels, mostly Facebook, Twitter, BuzzFeed, and Wine-Searcher. I’m mindful that many readers have started in a short-read channel but landed in a long-read channel, and I always try to craft my pieces with a provocative lede, a strong first paragraph, beautiful imagery. This brings them into the narrative swiftly before slowing them down for a leisurely read.
These are actually fairly standard journalistic tactics, though, and in truth I don’t use them specifically because I get social traffic. I use them simply to get readers to keep reading.
Overall, I wouldn’t say that social media has influenced my editorial mix. I certainly don’t focus on any particular topics to win social shares. I know that listicles and infographics, slide shows and videos, and short, punchy, click-to-tweet-able lines get tremendous circulation in social space, but those hardly ever suit my writing interests. It’s just not how I roll.
Q: How do you manage your various social media channels? What do you like to share, and how?
There’s a significant overlap in followers across my social channels, but I use the channels differently because they have such different affordances. Facebook is conversational and has become strongly visual. Twitter has turned into a broadcast channel, somewhat depersonalized. Instagram is visual, yes, but it also serves as an intertextual medium, used to support stories people are also sharing elsewhere — wine review on the blog, bottle shot on Delectable, vineyard image on Instagram.
On Facebook and Twitter, I tend to circulate information from my reading and research that I find compelling and think my followers will appreciate. I pay attention to engagement results, then adjust accordingly. I do share my own writing, but try to lean more heavily on other content to avoid “look at me!” fatigue.
Like many writers, I maintain both a personal Facebook account and a Facebook fan Page. The Page is fairly new, but I’m experimenting with originating content there — wine reviews, mainly — then sharing those to other channels. Facebook users seem increasingly reluctant to follow off-service links, and I’ve been advising my clients to create short versions of their articles to post natively to Facebook. As a writer this breaks my heart, because the longer stories deserve to be read. But in a noisy communications environment, getting even a piece of a story read is success.
As for wine apps, I’ve been a Delectable and Vivino Pro user for several years, and have posted detailed tasting notes on hundreds of wines to thousands of connections. The engagement is limited, though, and I haven’t found a way to make the activity feel usefully bidirectional. For a time I was posting bottle shots and full wine reviews on both services, plus Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. It was too much. Plus, on Instagram, a bottle shot has low engagement compared to a vineyard, garden, or tabletop shot. On the other hand, if Instagram were to add label recognition, it could be a wine app home run.
Instagram has been gaining in importance to me. I was a visual artist first, before I studied writing, and remain a strongly visual person despite my professional focus on text and narrative. I find myself using Instagram to add flesh and dimension to the immediacy of personal experience. In a way, Instagram is becoming my most precious personal channel.
Q: Do you learn from the feedback given on social media? If yes, what? How is it different from what you would learn meeting people in person?
Absolutely. The feedback is nearly instantaneous, and I love how people often push me to think in new ways about the material. I’ll frequently poll for insights and advice, too, mostly on Facebook, where it’s still easier to have a threaded conversation.
Q: And lastly, do you think we will continue seeing you influencing the wine community on social media in the same way you have so far within the next 10 years?
Who could say? On this date ten years ago, Facebook was still a closed network and Twitter was a twinkle in the eye of some guy named Dorsey.
Actually, I think we’ll see the demise of “social media” as a standalone phenomenon. It will seem antiquated, quaint, anachronistic. Even today, conversational and sharable components are ubiquitous across digital publishing, so we don’t really need to call out the “social” aspect of communications anymore. The world is talking, and that won’t stop anytime soon. I just hope to continue to be part of the conversation.
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