Before I get to my recipe for today (it contains bacon beware meatless Monday pristas!) I want to dish up something that may not be easy to swallow: food blogging quality. So I may need to duck after I have written this, but speaking out is often a dirty job and somebody has to do it. I usually pass the interview stage and get to do the job so here goes dears …
First a bit of background: my daughter and I own a business that produces television shows and publishes recipe books. However, at the heart of the business is brand marketing which means whatever we do is geared at positive branding for our clients who … you’ve guessed it, market their brands. We specialise in food brands – big food brands not the local or regional salad dressing manufacturer or fruit seller. If you open your grocery cupboard and fridge/freezer, you will find at least thirty food brands in there we helped build. As a basic requirement for our jobs, we need to know brand marketing and be able to spot consumer trends – not set them, Miranda. Spot them! So we spotted that consumers spend more and more time online and we tracked this trend and realized that within a few years, digital and online is poised to become an advertising mainstay for consumer brands. Can you thus imagine our consternation and lack of understanding at the prospective clients’ negative attitudes when we approached them to buy into and become part of our website-cum-blogs? They were mostly sceptical, but more than a handful flatly stated that local food websites and blogs are not of the standard that they want their brands be associated with. They’ll wait, was the general outcome. We had to pitch our concept to almost a hundred and fifty brands before we managed to reach our target: five advertisers on our website. Those are awful stats and especially if you compare them to our other successes: usually we would pitch a concept to (say) five potential brand advertisers and at least three would buy into the concept. Those ‘other successes’ would be generating advertisers for our television shows or recipe books, of the most expensive marketing concepts to execute …! With that in mind, we could not quite understand their objection in investing a fraction of that cost into a website or a blog.
Now, several months into writing this blog, and spending most of my time on spotting the trends in this realm of ours, I get it: those big brand advertisers are right to wait and see if the overall standards of local food blogs and food websites will improve. Although I only mention local, this is not to say that you don’t also get horrifically blah food blogs elsewhere on planet earth, but advertisers – yes, those multi-national brands stuffed in your fridge and grocery cupboard and even those other big ticket brands you drive and sit on and bathe in – are only concerned with returns on investments in the countries in which the brands are marketed. So even in big International brand business, local is a crucial buzz word. Therefore it’s important to determine why we write our blogs and my spotting revealed a few reasons:
It’s a hobby for fun, a little ego-stroking and a bit of freebies (if this blogger is also competitive, views and visitors and hits become serious emotional triggers)
It’s a passion for food and sharing (plus a bit of the above)
It’s personal brand building to enhance another business (these bloggers market their restaurants, food styling, photography, direct selling agencies, their own food brand, enhance their CVs and have some or all of the above)
It’s a serious, strategized budding future online business
Of the above, the bloggers who do it for a future online business generally deliver the best content in terms of creativity, images, writing and originality. They understand that in today’s virtual realm, giving is the new taking. They understand that they need to deliver (give) great content to get visitors to dwell on their blog or website (take their time). Why? ‘Cause they know that big, serious brand advertisers want to see their brands in publications or domains or spaces that deliver on quality, originality, integrity and credibility.
Here is what any blogger who wants to make money need to know: big brand advertisers sneer at proposals from volume flashers. Those are the folk who brag about hits and unique or absolute unique visitors to their blogs or websites. All that your dazzling volumes ‘tell’ the advertiser is how well you may be doing in search engine optimisation or how hard your host is pushing your blog, nothing more. If you do not enjoy mostly local visitors and good dwell times with low bounce rates on your blog or website, advertisers immediately realize how little you know (or care) about hard-core brand marketing and the quality offerings of your work. Needless to say, advertisers who want to create name awareness for their brand may benefit from high volumes to your blog. But established big brands (read really big budgets) need more. They need visitors to sit and engage in your blog or website (and their brands) for longer. They want the content of your blog or website to improve the usage, frequency, loyalty, added value, word-of-mouth-referral rate and trial of their brands. Every big brand has a competitor and they want users to switch from the competitor brand to theirs. They want non-users to try their brand and they want to get into bed with likeminded bloggers and website owners. Serious bloggers and website owners understand that image and the creative and strategic standards of a brand’s ‘bible’ are sacred to the advertiser and these are the bloggers who toil and invest and work on their content and deliver credibility and integrity. They are investing in their blogs’ longevity and financial sustainability.
One of them (in my opinion) is Nina Timm – her images are superb and she invests time, money and effort into them, she makes her recipes her own (meaning she does not lift them and just add a link to the website where she lifted it from like other lazy bloggers), her blog has a voice (she writes about family fare) and she networks and promotes her blog constantly online, on radio and wherever she gets an opportunity. She does not take advantage of her blog space on food24 by punting advertisers on that space and is serious and devoted and honest and transparent in her dealings with freebies and the odd advertiser on her other blog.
On the other hand, bloggers with a passion for food and people and living who blog as a hobby and to still the hunger for sharing, deliver superb content. It may not always be the sharpest images and in focus and the recipes may not be perfectly written, but it’s from the heart. And the enthusiasm and joy and passion with which they write are infectious. I never miss a post from Janice Tripepi. She is (in my opinion) the most authentic and honest home food blogger we have in South Africa. May her blog live long and hard and continue to deliver buckets of joy and authenticity to our screens. And so I have other brilliant blogs to commend for simply sharing and having very little covert motives and social modus operandi: Scrumptious (hell yes!), Pink Polka Dot, Sous Chef and many others.
From a marketing perspective, the blogs that fall in the category of personal brand building are the ones that (often) fail to market themselves or boost our collective advertising sales. There is one local blog clearly established to market the services of the blogger that consistently delivers other people’s content and I suspect it is to drive traffic her way so that other areas of her life may blossom – like her profession. This is not to say that these folk are doing anything wrong, no. In this case it is just important to know that although you cannot copyright a recipe, websites have rules, terms and conditions and legal notices that bind us to a specific behaviour model. You may (usually) not use a recipe from another source as is. You can only do that with the origin’s knowledge and permission. Just adding a hyperlink to the origin is not enough. You cannot copyright a list of ingredients but the methodology is another person’s intellectual property and you have to change the words while still giving credit to the origin. But what does this have to do with quality content? Using other people’s work stops creativity and progress in its boots, that’s why! At the heart of blogging lies the sharing of recipes and food ideas but in the absence of legalese for bloggers, it’s professional and ethical (and may even be a legal requirement) to request permission to use another’s work as is or if you change it, to site the origin of your inspiration for a re-worked recipe. And of course, the less you rely on other author’s work, the more creative you are and the better (hopefully oh, dear!) your content will be!
Point is good bloggers delivering great content know that great food is more than just writing, following (or cribbing) a recipe. It shows intent, training and experience, good taste, an eye for detail and technique, and above all the selection and quality of ingredients (Like Janice). So long story short, good food blogging asks for good food and all it entails including (above all) good intent - even if it’s with financial gains in mind. There is nothing wrong in wanting to earn a living, it’s just wrong to harm the greater ideology and its supporters in the process.
The big issue is that regrettably, we are a society that seems to insist on rewarding low stats and believe me if you reward low stats, you will continue to get low stats. Sometimes posts so poorly and transparently self-serving make it to their blog space’s home pages and the big main pages elsewhere on the Internet. Some days it is so bad I have to field calls and emails from fans, friends and possible advertisers with negative comments. Not a single one of those posts would ever have seen the light of day in a magazine or a publisher’s office. Why are they ever posted as a yardstick of what our local blogging is about? They should simply be there on the latest posts feed where they will be read and enjoyed by some but not be held up as the heros and she-roes of local blogging brilliance. There is room and a need for all sorts of quirky and poorly-written blogs. But not as the poster kid for bloggers …
From a marketing and image perspective with a view to attract big bucks advertisers to food blogs, only blogs with the very best of the best content should hit home (pages). It’s obvious to even the most unenlightened that if a post is featured and promoted all over the site, it gets the visitors regardless of the content. And if this indiscriminate promotion of poor content continues, food blogs will never enjoy solid brand advertising support. And here I also dare say (may as well go all-the-way) that the gushing comments some bloggers place on some really bad posts are just so transparently ‘scratch-my-back-and-I’ll-scratch-yours’. Girls, time you realize that quality comes before quantity when it comes to visitors and your own integrity as a blogger. Besides, a polite-but-true evaluation of the post will not only show your ethics but if it’s interesting to boot (instead of just gushing over rubbish) you will attract more visitors who will be curious to meet you!
Just believe me that Content is King if you want to attract serious fans and followers who will dwell longer because they find value if what we offer and also just believe that they will be followed by advertising money, bucketsful of the stuff. You are free to ask me how we can improve our content and how we can improve our income from big brand advertisers instead of greedily and gratefully grabbing the meagre offerings of expedient smaller budget brands (of late) who buy bloggers privately. We all know who they are and we all know who falls for their offers. Just believe me that Cash is also King and if that’s what you’re playing for, it’s easy to keep your eye on the ball: deliver great content. And if food hosts want to attract big brands with big budgets, they need to hear that only the best content should be promoted and if there are too few of those posts, then great content must be generated from partners like magazines.
So keeping my eye on the ball here is my content for the day but I should just tell you there are at least sixty recipes for mac ’n cheese on food24. That is astonishing as there are only 5 basic ingredients in this recipe (mac, cheese, eggs, seasoning, milk) and there could only be two cooking methods, bake or free-form. Oh well, this is blogging … to share. Here is my little version and it has a multi-lingo voice: homely, family, delicious, easy, versatile. The name is derived from the first full sentence my son could speak: Mama Macaroni … enjoy!
Click here for the recipe.
In advance, I apologise if you feel offended at reading this. But you be the judge as to what content you are posting and if you want to debate my opinions and plea for better quality content, then email me at firstname.lastname@example.org The sole intent with this post is to improve and I will gladly enter any action or debate with a view to improve. If I have made an incorret statement, please correct me in the comments below or by email. I wil immediately set it right. I have lots more to suggest to make our blogs significantly improved and pleasurable. Not only just to get visitors.