Yesterday, I braved the masses of SXSW hipsters on 6th Street to attend TECHmunch Austin, a food bloggers workshop put on by Babette Pepaj, the founder and CEO of Bakespace.com, Jaden Hair, the food writer and photographer behind SteamyKitchen.com, and Austinite Natanya Anderson of FeteandFeast.com
Jaden Hair and Babette Pepaj
The workshop was promoted as a 5-hour intensive and it lived up to the billing. Babette opened the day by saying she wanted every participant to be able to leave with 3 hands-on tips from each presenter to take home and implement right away.
The day was full of one impressive presenter after another. Here are a few highlights from my notes.
Cathy Brooks, a media consultant and founder of Other Than That, told us to focus on our personal stories — and not just the "what you do" but also the "why you do it."
"We live in a time when who you are has never been more important. We have access to people's stories that we've never had before," she said.
Brooks said she had been inspired by civil rights organizer Marshall Ganz, who realized that even people who were opposed to his point of view would listen and consider his thoughts when he connected with them on an individual level and told them why civil rights were important to him personally. He told his personal story.
She advised using all of the tools available (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) to tell your narrative, that those are all pieces of the puzzle.
I asked her a question about where to draw the line on personal privacy in what you share. She said everyone has to decide for themselves up front what topics are off limits and respect those boundaries. "Just because you can, doesn't mean you should."
Addie Broyles, Anna Gonzalez, Erik Deutsch
Local foodie and Austin American-Statesman food writer and blogging community leader Addie Broyles joined News 8 Austin's Anna Gonzalez and moderator Erik Deutsch from ExcelPR Group in Los Angeles to discuss how to connect with traditional media.
Addie said she uses Twitter to keep up with the 100+ Austin blogs she reads. Addie has really brought together the Austin food blogging community with networking events and her comprehensive list of Austin bloggers.
Addie recommended coming up with a formal press release with photos, recipes and info about your blog and posts to submit for her consideration. She reminded bloggers to develop their news judgement in deciding what stories to pitch to her. She said she always needs stories around the holidays.
Anna Gonzalez, a senior web producer for News 8 Austin, said she reads Twitter regularly to mine for stories. She reminded bloggers to just pick up the phone and make the connection with her if you have a story idea.
Gonzalez recommended posting Twitter highlights of posts to draw more traffic to your blog. She also had a tip for anyone interested in posting video to their blog — she recommended the Kodak video recorder (over the Flip) because it has audio input for a microphone, which is very important for sound quality.
Next up, Jaden Hair talked about building your brand. She started thinking about Steamy Kitchen the traditional way, with a business plan. But then she realized she needed a more inspiring plan for herself and what she wanted Steamy Kitchen to be. So she got out the scissors and posterboard and made a "vision plan" with images representing all of the elements she wanted to include and goals she wanted to reach with her site. She keeps this up on the wall where she can see it every day to remind her of her goals and keep her motivated.
Early on, Jaden said she didn't worry about using her name when promoting her site, she focused on putting Steamy Kitchen's name everywhere instead, with the tagline "Easy Asian Recipes."
She recommended that bloggers "decide what you want to be known for and specialize in that."
She also emphasized the importance of diversification of your revenue steam. Because she's not dependent on any one source of income, there's room to maneuver if things change. Jaden writes and photographs not only for her site, Steamy Kitchen, but is also a food columnist for the Tampa Tribune, Discovery TLC, and cooks twice a month on the Daytime Show. She has also authored a beautiful cookbook, The Steamy Kitchen Cookbook: 101 Asian recipes simple enough for tonight's dinner. She said she wants the cookbook to drive traffic to her site, since that's what she owns and has complete control over. She said online ad revenue has been high the last couple of quarters, but she expects that won't last.
Jaden said her formula includes:
• Expertise - your recipes must work.
• Authentic passion – her voice and enthusiasm is the same wherever you see her.
• Diversification of revenue streams.
• Generosity of community — "You are only as successful as what you give out to the community."
Speaking of generosity and sharing with the blogging community, Jaden has partnered with her husband, Scott, and Todd Porter and Diane Cu of White on Rice Couple to produce the just launched Food Blog Forum.
Food Blog Forum "offers practical and valuable information for food bloggers from food bloggers. From useful and informative food photography and styling tips to current updates on social media and technology, FBF is a powerful resource to maximizing the potential of your food blog." What a great idea! I can't wait to check this out.
Nichelle Stephens, Emily Farris, and Cathy Erway
The next session "Selecting content, building buzz and growing readership" brought together Nichelle Stephens, co-founder of Cupcakes Take the Cake, Emily Farris, author of Casserole Crazy cookbook, and Cathy Erway, of The Art of Eating In.
These presenters discussed how their specialty interests helped them develop a niche market: cupcakes for Nichelle, casseroles for Emily and eating in in NYC for Cathy.
• buy your domain name
• be consistent with your subject
• be sincere
Are you getting tired yet? Yes, this was a lot of info, but very valuable.
Next up was Ben Huh on going viral and building community. Ben is the publisher of Icanhazcheezbuger and the new site, Epicute.com, focusing on cute food.
Ben emphasized the importance of building your readership with "stairstep" growth instead of a spike and then the inevitable fall that follows. He said "going viral is a myth." You have to keep quality consistently high day in and day out and deliver what your users want. Building a community around your site will help your business grown and that community will fight for you, he said.
• post on a regular schedule for reliability
• let discussion happen, let the community make decisions, but be patient enough for that to happen
• don't change your behavior based on technology, make changes based on your audience
• more posts mean more data points for measuring success
Whew! Believe it or not, that's not even all of it. There were more sessions on search engine optimization, FTC disclosure and working with brands. I'll save those for another post.
Thanks again to everyone at TECHmunch for putting this together, especially in Austin. My only bit of constructive criticism is that everyone was a little squirmy by the end of the day from many hours of sitting in hard chairs. A break in the middle with a light lunch would have been nice. The workshop took place at Parkside restaurant, which I've been looking forward to checking out. But we didn't get much opportunity to sample their food, just a fruit and cheese platter for a snack. I, for one, would have been happy to pay a little more to be provided a real meal during the long day. But otherwise, it was a delight to meet so many other local food bloggers — I can't wait to check out all of your blogs — and to get the opportunity to ask questions and learn from the experts.
Thanks, TECHmunch! Hope you guys have a wonderful time in Austin during SXSW.
Postscript: Apparently, I missed out! After reading some other posts on TECHmunch, it looks like I must have just missed the Parkside appetizer spread after the workshop. I was twitchy from too many hours of sitting and ravenously hungry, so I headed out in search of sustenance. I saw only cupcakes (Sugar Mama's red velvet made me swoon) and cocktails. I'm bummed I missed it. Will have to try Parkside again sometime post-SXSW.
Also, wanted to mention — there are more TECHmunch events planned for Los Angeles, New York, Chicago, Tampa, Indianapolis, and Seattle soon. Sign up for more info.