Liveblog: New to Food Blogging? How to Stand Out

BlogHer Original Post

Welcome to the liveblog of the BlogHer Food '10 panel "Vocation - New to Food Blogging? How Do You Stand Out In a Crowded Food Blogosphere?"

Here's the description:

In an increasingly competitive space, how do you stand out among food bloggers? We've done panels before featuring long-time food bloggers who have achieved growth and success. This time we'll talk to food bloggers who have shown growth and success in two years or less, despite entering a crowded field. Learn how these food bloggers accomplish their goals by building a strategy, understanding how to drive traffic and building their personal brand. Natanya Anderson, who dishes at 20-month-old recipe site Fete and Feast and resource blog Austin Food Lovers, will moderate a conversation with Marla Meridith, who launched Family Fresh Cooking 18 months ago; Amanda Rettke, who created I Am Baker less than one year ago, Carrie Vitt, author of the two-year-old blog and new cookbook, Deliciously Organic. Despite the changing food blogging landscape, these bloggers show that you can still find a way to stand out and make a name for yourself. And they're willing to share their secret sauce!

Your liveblogger is Sassymonkey. Check back during the panel (10:00am - 11:15am on October 8) for the liveblog!

NA: What I love the most about this group is that we're all very different. We all approach blogging and define success differently. There's no one right way to blog so I hope there's something for everything.

The purpose of the session today is about finding your voice in a crowded blogosphere. I'm going to ask our panelists to introduce herself and tell why she started blogging and what she does to stand out and her their own success point.

CV: I got started because seven years ago I was having 24/7 migraines, I had two small kids and my husband was deployed. After going to doctors I discovered it was from pesticides. I slowly switched to organics and was able to get off medication. I thought that there must be more people out there who were having the same problem. When I moved to Florida my friends found out I was an organic cook and I started giving lessons. It got busy and I decided to just put it all on a blog. Now everyone knows where to find that pancake recipe they kept asking me for. I post recipes using non-processed ingredients - for example, no white flour- but that tastes just as good as you've always had growing up.

NA: You post about a growing need. Can you tell us how that has impacted the blog?

CV: I think that only posting recipes that use unprocessed ingredients makes a difference. I don't think that everyone who reads the blog always uses whole wheat flour. I suggest that people make one change a week. Do it slowly. I try to make it accessible for everyone. If someone changes the way they eat I feel like a success.

AR: I started blogging because I love to eat. I had a mommy blog but I was baking for my children and started a baking blog. People liked reading about cupcakes! I've been doing it about a year. I take pictures of stuff, put it on the blog and hope people look at it. That's my plan.

MM: My blog changed my world. I know it sounds kind of corny. I'm a mom of two kids. I was used to working really hard and then I wasn't working at all. I was very into fitness and healthy eating. I'd pack up a healthy lunch for myself and the kids and head to the gym. People kept asking me what I was eating and then someone asked me if I had thought of starting a blog. I had never heard of a blog before but I researched it and started about a year ago. I jumped into the blog world to share my healthy meal planning strategies. I do high-energy recipes and like to make things look good. I had missed my creative side (after I stopped working) but I wanted to be a full-time mom. Blogging helped me find a full-time career. I focus on sustainable and natural ingredients. I needed to live a life but I was trapped within in my life. Thanks to my blog I've made the best friends. We're a niche of hard-core people. No matter what your goal is it's a fun place to start and watch it grow.

NA: I started blogging because I work in marketing by day. I stopped creating content as I moved into management and I missed it. I started blogging to do something creative. It helps me with my day job. You (bloggers) are the people brands are reaching out to. You all are the voices that people trust. I don't have a lot of time to devote to my blog but it's a creative outlet for me. I'm a mom, I work and then I blog. Then I discovered there was a need in Austin for content about food in Austin. I encourage you to let things to come to you. I just wrote this post about food events in Austin and it changed everything. It takes me places that I never planned on going.

Let's talk about defining success for our blogs. For me it's about having fun, being creative and people enjoying it. It's somewhat freeing because I write about what I want to write about and I've found an audience. My blog is smaller because I'm not trying to make it into my job. It's about having fun.

CV: I want to provide my readers with recipes for wonderful food made out of unprocessed food that tastes just like the food we grew up on. I want to give everyone the opportunity to make healthy meals for their family. I think sometimes we watch our numbers too much. We get too wrapped up in how many people read us. You might only have five readers but maybe one of thm is an editor for Martha Stewart. Stay focused on what you are trying to say and it may change someone's world.

AR: I enjoy baking a lot. When I bake something, blog it and then someone says they want to make it for their family -- that's success to me. I can also get feedback on what I do and get inspired to do more. If you are just putting stuff up to get readers and are not enjoying it, it's probably not going to grow. Readers can see that you don't enjoy it. Success is enjoying what you do. People will see that and come back.

MM: Success comes in many forms for all of us on the panel. For me I got so excited when I started having conversations with people. Maybe they loved the recipe. Maybe they have a suggestion for an ingredient substitution. At first you are kind of talking to yourself. I couldn't even get my mom to comment. Success for me was really about creating a vibrant community with conversations going back and forth. I am a numbers person and I can get really into numbers but true success is letting that go and enjoying making the recipes, taking the photos and all that comes along with that. True success is someone coming to my blog and going, "Holy mackerel! Look at that recipe!" Success is making people smile and laugh.

NA: If you take anything out of this question it is that every one of us have a different definition of success. I challenge you to write a mission statement for your blog. You don't have to share it but it will help remind you of why you blog. Ask yourself why you are blogging. Does what you are doing apply to your statement? Your statement might change in the future.

We said don't get wrapped up in the numbers but we do want to talk a little bit about how we direct traffic to our blogs and how we do or do not use social media.

MM: If you want to make friends online you need to comment on blogs. You need to have conversations. Say hi. Introduce yourself. Talk like you are talking to a friend. Embrace the social opportunities as much as you can and commenting is a great way to make online friends. And then it moves to Twitter and Facebook. Social media is HUGE. My online friends are my friends. I'm a huge twitter junkie. The more you use it, you start to learn the ropes. Stumbleupon is good for me too. People can flip around your posts internationally. Any social tools you do it can make your blog grow. It's about asking questions AND giving information. It's give and take. And don't be afraid to ask questions, even if you think the bloggers is a "big" blogger.

AR: I don't really know how to use social media tools. For me it's about photos. That's how I get my food blog out there. If I get a picture submitted to Food Gawker and it gets on there -- that's 1000 hits a day. You don't have to have a huge camera to get pictures. I took a class once and the instructor used a point and shoot to get gorgeous photos. If you are posting about food people want photos. You have a personal community you will find something. It doesn't have be social media -- maybe your local newspaper is looking for that.

CV: Last year I didn't know how to take photos. I got out my point and shoot and called my brother. He told me that the first rule is no flash and that's where I started. I signed up for every search engine I could find. I recommend opening up a small email account and filtering those emails to there if you do that. I read Problogger and I'd google "how to drive traffic to my blog." I started submitting things to Food Gawker and TasteSpotting and I was rejected a lot. I still do get rejected a lot but when you get in, it's fantastic. Food Buzz is another one.

When I first started I didn't know what I was doing but decided I needed to post 2-3 times a week. I think it's important to be consistent. People know that that you will have content up and keep coming back for it. I asked a friend of mine who is in marketing and he said that once or twice a week you need to give them something great information-wise like a recipe but once a week you should so something personal. They want to know you.

NA: This is what I do in my day job and everything that these women have said is true. When you give content to people in a blog they give back to you. We all lurk but take 30 seconds to leave a comment to the people who have left you comments. I try to share useful information with other people. Share great stuff that other people have written as well. You are establishing yourself as a resource. I use Hootsuite which allows me to schedule tweets and information. I schedule stuff on Sunday night for stuff for the entire week for Facebook. I load up stuff I want to retweet but I don't want to tweet them all at once so I schedule those. There's a small monthly fee if you don't want ads.

Food Blog Forum is a new community that is Jaden and the White on Rice Couple (Todd and Diane). It's a way for you to establish yourself and meet other people. You can't participate in every community so ask yourself where your people are and go participate in those communities. What's the return on investment when your investment is time?

When you start to show love to others by sharing their information they do it in return. The more you can give the more you can get.

Question from Twitter - What's your pitch? When you are asked about your food blog what do you say?

CV: My blog is about unrefined organic ingredients and try to make recipes the family will love and taste like the food we grew up with.

AR: I blog about baking. I have a mommy blog and a baking blog and give them the address. That's it.

MM: Family Fresh Cooking is a high energy blog filled with whole food recipes for the family. I want to inspire people to get into the kitchen and start cooking. Being new to food blogging I have to keep reminding myself of my mission.

NA: Even if you never pitch your blog, being able to pitch what you do and what your blog is about is important and makes it easy to introduce people to it. It you should have an elevator pitch.

Question from the room - My biggest challenge is time. I had a lot of enthusiasm but I don't have time. How much time do you dedicate to blogging and what to you do when life happens?

CV: Each blog post takes me about 4 hours, including cook time -- cooking, photographing and blogging. I do have kids but I try to look at the week and plan what do I want to make this week for dinner and what can I make that I can blog about?

Audience question from Nancy Baggett (KitchenLane.com) - When you are talking about the four hours, is that creating the recipe? Are you creating it from scratch or using and referencing an existing recipe?

CV: Half of my recipes are original and half are adaptations. I'd love it if they were original but I was writing a cookbook (it comes out next month) and I don't have time to do original for both. It's about an hour for cooking. At least 45 minutes for photography. Then the writing. I have someone read the post before I publish. I leave out things and make mistakes. My husband edits my posts. About 50% of the time I leave something out or make a grammar mistake.

AR: I don't have a timeframe. Everything I do is fit into our daily life. I'm a SAHM. I cook with my kids and cupcakes might take us all day. Managing time is the most important issue for me. If I set myself a goal of having a recipe up tomorrow I can manage my time better.

Is anyone doing completely from scratch recipes? [Hands go up around the room.] You are a fantastic niche but that must take a lot more time. It would almost have to be your job.

From Nancy Baggett in the audience - I just finished a deadline with a cookbook and trying to keep a blog going with original recipes and a cookbook... it's too much time. I guess I should market it as a blog with original recipes and everything is tested in a test-kitchen. I also do kitchen tips. I should market it that way, too.

AR: a great option for those people who develop recipes is to consider doing a tutorial on your blog for how you do it.

MM: I spend a long time on blogging. My creative writing power is channeled best in the morning. I wake up at 4am (I know, it's just my thing) and then I'm tired by 5pm. I get up, have a hot breakfast and then I sit down and write for a few hours. Then get the kids get up, and they go to school and I go to the gym. Then it's mid-day. I develop my own recipes, I'm always thinking about them all the time while I'm running errands, at the gym, etc. Then I go to other blogs and look at ingredients and look at how people use them. Then I cook for a few hours and develop the recipe. I jot down notes to make sure it is RIGHT. (I have two cookbook proposals in the pipeline so I'm working on the whole process.) To shoot and style the food takes another few hours. So I can't do it all in one sitting. I cook one day and shoot and style the next day. Then I need to write and style the the actual post. I don't track my hours.

NA: There is no right or wrong. I don't do a lot of original recipes. I'm a crazy planner and I found out that people are really challenged by planning how you should plan an event or a big meal. I create plans for how to do it and break it down into hours and minutes. They aren't about the recipes (I link to those) but how I organize the timing.

I just started doing monthly themes. I devoted August to green chile recipes. October is flavors of fall. When I do themes a lot of recipes share ingredients. I cook on Sunday and then write during the week. I'm "batching" the process.

From the audience Rita (http://getcookingsimply.com) - I'm a food professional. Do you have to do the social media part of blogging? I'm not going to do twitter. Can I simply do the blog?

NA: Absolutely. You make a choice. There's a benefit to social media but then you need to ask yourself how to get the word out about your blog.

AR: I pulled up your blog, Rita. You are unique and original in your content and that shows. You will get a following because of that.

NA: We can all spend time doing lots of things on blogs. What is the most important investment of time?

CV: I like a clean look. If there are too many things on the page it gets overwhelming for the reader. I make it as clean as I can so they are not overwhelmed with content.

AR: I'm big on photography. I think people are more likely to grab a photo and share that on twitter than they would a recipe. Anyone can take beautiful pictures.

CV: Google how to take pictures of food. Say I need to learn about x about photography this week and focus on that. When you know that google the next thing you need to learn about.

MM: Last year at BlogHer Food I went to the photography session and that's when I started learning. I had been talking photos with my iPhone before that. I want drool-worthy photographs for my recipes. A blog is social interchange of information. You don't have to use Twitter or Facebook but you need a way to have a back and forth with people. Choose what works for you.

CV: Find your niche and stay true to it. I want people to know I'm wholesome, unrefined and organic and good.

From the audience Dianne Jacob from Will Write For Food - No one has talked about voice. What do you think about the power of your own voice to draw people to your blog?

NA: In the end voice is the most important thing. Your style of photography is also part of your voice. People can get recipes from millions of places so they come for that but they come because they are yours. When I wrote about green chile enchiladas but I shared my memories of that. I shared a piece of myself. It's about authenticity. I love the Pioneer Woman because I enjoy reading her voice. My favorite blogs are ones that I really like to read. You passion should show though.

CV: I struggle with voice. I try to write like I'd be talking to you. Sometimes I don't. Sometimes I sound too technical. It's something I'm working on.

AR: I have two blogs. I don't share my personal views on my baking blog. I have some strong opinions and I don't share them on my baking blog. People want to see my photos. That doesn't mean I don't have a voice. I can share a disaster and have a voice on that but people don't come there for my opinions on life.

MM: It's an easy question and a very tough question. Having your voice is what will set you apart and set you free at the same time. I need to be careful how I approach some things on my blog -- like my children. When we write it is in the public eye. How am I going to present things today? It's going to come from my voice no matter what. I have my own voice but there are fundamentals to writing and photography. I'm open to learning everything there is to know about photography, writing, how I prepare food, etc. No matter what stage you are at in life you constantly need to be absorbing and learning. I cringe whenever I hit the publish button because it is going public. It's out there for the whole world to see. You need to be mindful of that. If you have something unkind to say? Maybe that should be be an email to your best friend and not a blog post.

From the audience, Michaela Murphy from Fine Cooking - Last year Fine Cooking launches a series called The Best of the Blogs. We launched it because we were being inspired by blogs. So we wanted to create a platform for that. But as we move forward with it, what are you interested in that would make that platform more popular? Should we do a user-voted contest? What would make it a meaningful experience for you?

NA: I like it when the media plays the role of curator. I think it's great for you take your trained eye and help us to find great and interesting bloggers and help us find great blogs. How can you help us connect with one another and find one another?

AR: Do you have contests to appear in your magazine?

MMuprhy: We're working on that. We have a facebook page and we're on Twitter. You can tell us on there.

NA: Something from twitter - do we make money with our blog? And what's the threshold for cookbooks?

No, I don't make money because I don't try. But that's my choice and I'm ok with that. When you start to make money with it, it's a business and you need to treat it like that. You need business plans and to think about it differently.

CV: I don't. I don't even have ads. I only want to have ads for foods that I can stand behind. If I'm only doing organic, unrefined cook I don't want to advertise a cake mix, for example. I have a press kit and I'm going to pitch some companies that I support. I started writing my cookbook before I started my blog. Nothing is standing in your way if you have a good niche. I sent out my proposal for a year but I got a lot of rejection letters. I knew that I had a good plan and I kept going. My rejections were a badge of honor. Then I got three calls in one week. If you believe in yourself and your mission it will come if you are patient.

AR: I have BlogHer Ads. I just like BlogHer. I don't feel constricted by it. I feel they encourage all our perspectives. I think the reason I'm here today is because my blog is a success. I love what I do and I think you do too. if you want to get paid you can do that and stay true to your mission. It may not be a lot of money but you can supplement your ingredients.

MM: I think it can be done. I have an agent that came to me through my blog. I have ads. It was hard at first and a lot of the products weren't really my thing but my blog is my full-time job. I think we all deserve to make an income from our passion and my blog is my passion. I think someday the day will come when I can pick and choose who can be in my sidebar. But I know you are coming to look at my content, not my ads.

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