Top 7 Lessons from Blogher Food

My Love Affair with Gourmet -- Crab Cakes with Spicy Avocado Sauce
Tacos Por Favor -- Shredded Chicken Tacos with Tomatillo Sauce

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent this past weekend in San Francisco for Blogher Food, a conference on food blogging. I didn’t get to spend a ton of extra time in the city (had to get back to my Nuni) and you can get the actual liveblogs from the conference presentations on the Blogher website (I attended Visual Track 1 & 3, and Vocation Track 2, and given that many of the presentations I was most interested in ran simultaneously, you can rest assured that I’ve already spent a lot of time with those liveblogs), so I thought I’d give you a run down of my takeaway from the conference.

Top Seven Things I Learned About Food Blogging from Blogher Food, 2009

7) Read Your Manual.
Every photography session leader said this more than once. The point is that if you don’t know what your camera is capable of, how are you going to exploit it? I think there’s a larger blogging (and life) lesson here as well — know your tools. Know what they can do, what their limitations are, and how to make them do what you want. If you have more options at your disposal, you have greater control over the final product.

6) Know Your Audience.
A blog by its very nature is open to anyone, but it pays to think about who might be reading yours. Look at the search terms that lead people to your site, and what makes them stay. Think about everyone who might be reading, and don’t condescend, or obfuscate. Break it down. This was illustrated perfectly at the conference. I really do appreciate the financial support of the sponsors, but there was definitely a disconnect between some of the sponsor products and the audience there. I sensed it when I saw Pillsbury demonstrating their EZ frosting in a can, and it hit me full in the face when lunch was the latest line of frozen pasta meals from Bertolli (unsuccessfully promoted by a very dashing Rocco DiSpirito). These products may be very good for what they are, but an audience of food bloggers means an audience of people who care enough about food to devote a great deal of time to seeking it out, cooking it, photographing it and writing about it, and who are more likely to decorate a wedding cake than use EZ Frosting, make their own pasta from scratch than ever eat the frozen stuff. (I’m not above shortcuts myself, but why on earth would I buy frozen precooked pasta when pasta is so easy to cook?) Like I said, I appreciate the financial support of the sponsors (and I buy Pillsbury flour and Bertolli fresh pasta), but the actual products they chose to promote were not a good fit with the audience.

5) Take Inspiration from What’s Around You
I really loved the visual presentation given by Matt Armendariz and Heidi Swanson because it got me thinking, instead of just giving me information. And one of the things that I really liked was the idea of creating a visual look book of photographs that inspire you. Jaden Hair continued this by saying instead of a busines plan she creates a visual goals board to keep her motivated. I think that we try so hard to stand out from the pack and make our mark that it’s hard to stop and remember that you can learn so much from what others are doing and find a lot of inspiration in a variety of ways. Listening to some of my favorite food bloggers speak, like Matt, Heidi and Jaden, but also David Lebovitz, Ree Drummond, Helen Dujardin and Elise Bauer made me realize just how much I have to learn but also how lucky I am to have such great models to inspire me.

4) Put Yourself Out There
In the Vocation Session 2 with Helen, Jaden and Amy Sherman, they emphasized over and over again how important it is to put yourself out there. Get out from behind the computer, go to events, meet people. Your blog may be your business card but what you’re really selling is yourself, your expertise, your personality and your talent. I tend towards shyness (unless I’ve had too much coffee or too much wine), but I took this advice to heart and really tried to go out and meet people this weekend. I introduced myself to bloggers I recognized, bloggers I didn’t recognize, an editor from a national publication. And response is nearly always positive. I didn’t have a SINGLE person look at me, give me a haughty smile, and then turn their back on me (isn’t that the fear when you introduce yourself to a stranger?). And the conference was so much more worthwhile as a result.

3) It’s all About the People
A message that came up again and again this weekend is that blogging is not just about content, it’s about community. Your blog doesn’t stand alone, it’s part of a larger community of like minded (and not so like minded) people who all care enough to participate. On a practical level this means read other blogs and comment on them, join Twitter and tweet and respond, do blogging events, and participate in the larger community. And after this weekend, I can tell you that the food blogging community (with only a couple of exceptions) is full of nice, smart, interesting, talented and funny people. They’re worth engaging.

2) Be Authentic
Another theme that came up again and again was be authentic. Write with your real voice. Tell your story. That’s the way to distinguish yourself. Because people are looking for recipes when they come to a food blog, but they’re also looking for a person. And if you’re not being authentic, you can’t keep it up. I think the whole Rocco DiSpirito episode threw this into high relief. Food bloggers can smell the BS. And I assume my readers can too.

And Finally:

1) Do it for love.

This weekend made me remember WHY I started the blog in the first place. Because I love food, and I love cooking and I wanted to share it with other people. Blogging isn’t going to make you rich (unless you’re dooce), or thin (unless you’re summer tomato), or famous (unless you’re Julie Powell). But it can make you happy. Just like chocolate.

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