I will admit that writing this post is not as easy as I thought it would be prior to the International Food Blogger Conference‘s start. I wish I had known at the time, so this recap could have been a premeditated attempt. That’s life! Just a couple of months ago, Bertolli was kind enough to sponsor my attendance at the Santa Monica event that took place just a week ago. I would represent the Duo, sharing news and tasting certificates for Bertolli’s Premium Meal Soups for Two, and report back to Amir, and all of you of course, with my findings and newfound knowledge about the state of blogging as we know it. Or at least, as we knew it. Here’s a wrap up full of information and thoughts, along with photos of food because, hey, it was a food conference. Two and a half days of panels later, here’s where we stand!
There are some things we have been doing right, some things we have been doing wrong, and some things we haven’t been doing at all. That’s usually what you learn when you go to a conference. You either harness that information for the good, or you go home sulking and find a new path. Amir and I are great at harnessing for the better good. When I walked out of the Double Tree Suites at 12:45 pm that Sunday, I called Amir five minutes later, leaving him a strange voicemail about not returning his parking pass and needing to chat about IFBC. Perhaps I rambled a little bit about monetization too. When he called me later that evening, we spent an hour going over my stream of consciousness-style mental notes from the weekend, and we decided to pow wow about ways in which we could create, continue and maintain an upward movement for our blog. Before we go into that, let’s talk about the conference.
The folks behind Foodista and Zephyr Adventures organized the weekend’s line up with a focus on food, writing and technology. First up, Linda Nicholson, Robin Goldstein, Dianne Jacob, and Barnaby Dorfman from Foodista on the topic of blogger morals and ethics. ‘Disclosure’ may have been the second most repeated word during the conference’s introductory session, and of course it was used in the context of using your blog, your editorial space, as a forum to work with brands or sponsoring companies who hopefully embody the ideals, practices and products you believe in. I made sure to proudly proclaim our partnership with Bertolli each day during the conference, as well as each and every other time we have worked with them in the past. Working with brands and the idea of ‘selling out’ always comes up in blogging. Perhaps it comes down to people assuming partnerships are accepted for compensation alone without thought to the product. We choose to work with specific companies for specific reasons, and it’s always been the utmost of pleasures to join forces with Bertolli. We appreciate each opportunity that has come out of each venture, and we enjoy their products. We have family members who enjoy their products. We have friends who enjoy their products. If we can share a few tasting certificates with others, so that they may have a taste as well, then it’s all good to us. The panel reaffirmed my belief that we have made better choices about our brand alignments, and we’ll continue to do so down the line.
Next up, it was time for photography. This is one of those topics that fills me with dread, mostly because it has been an uphill battle for us. Our photos are much better than they were two and three years ago, but neither one of us will even dare say that we have taken the steps necessary to even get close to someone like Matt Armendariz’s level. He is a photographer well known within the food blogging world, and the food industry as a whole, because he does remarkable work. He is also willing to share, and that is a quality of a successful person that I have long admired. Each one of us is not competing against the other person, we’re competing with ourselves. (We’ll get into that later.) It behooves you to share what you know with others, so that your respective field can grow and improve. But I digress. Matt hit us with a glossy presentation on lighting, props, styling and presentation that wowed the crowd and opened the floor for questions. We know that, aesthetically, our work has improved, but we’ve done nothing to master the technical aspect of photography, so the final result is the money shot. Matt, you may see us in a class soon.
There were two additional sessions that truly hit home. The first was led by Barnaby Dorfman of Foodista and Rand Fishman of SEO Moz, and the topic at hand was marketing your brand…marketing your brand through SEO. Now, if you ask me, when I think of marketing my brand and SEO, I do not put the two together. Perhaps that is the mistake we, and maybe you too, have made all along. In fact, I still do not draw a linear connection between them both, but I will defer to the experts. Words and phrases flew through the air–search volume, analytics, low competition, inbound marketing, link building, anchor text, scraper sites, Google. Some of the conversation flew over my head, and other bits and pieces I latched onto like a proud preschooler. If one aspect of marketing your brand, your blog, means being aware of its presence and the ability to disseminate information to more people over the Internet, then the collaboration with SEO of course makes sense. Lucky us to have knowledgeable folks at the helm to explain it all, so we can bump our our SEO marketing. We might have to take another course to break it all down!
Finally, there was the monetization portion of IFBC that sent many of us–or maybe just me–with this strange pit in the stomach. Recipe blogging is a lot of work. It’s a full time job if you think about brainstorming or researching a recipe, shopping, prepping, cooking, photographing, editing and writing one post. Don’t forget sharing that post on Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Tumblr and via email to that small percentage of loved ones in your life who refuse to be ‘social’. There are photos to re-edit, resize and upload to Tastespotting, Foodgawker and Flickr. Oh, and you have an RSS feed of at least 300 blogs to read and comment on, right? Right. Barnaby Dorfman and Melissa Lanz drove home the fact that, yes, you can make money off your blog, and you have several ways to do it. Advertising is not the only way, nor is it the easiest or quickest way. Your content and services, not just your webspace, are valuable, and it should be treated as such. Make sure you do not undersell what you have to offer, and always look for new ways to market yourself for a profit. If that’s your thing, of course. For us, as two people who collectively put in hours of time to maintain this website, we do feel that monetization is a valid and smart way to go. It’s not selling out. It’s selling smart. And we should be smarter about how we work and what it means to us, our readers and those who choose to work with us.
Of course, I left with great tips on time management and productivity by Greg Henry, Marla Meredith and Marissa Brassfield. Control the time sucking elements of social media, find the balance between blogging and living and work efficiently to prevent burn out. Unfortunately, there were panels I could not attend. I missed the panel on working with public relations agencies, but thanks to those tweeting their notes, I was able to walk away with good information on approaching an agency, maintaining good standing and even proper rejection of offers. I was unable to attend the video session with Steve Ellis. There were a few mixed reviews on this panel, so looking back, it was no spilled milk for me. We have yet to fully hop into the world of moving images, and there have been many reasons for that. If you ask many people, they will tell you to stop making excuses and just do it. That may be the top tip for anyone who wants to take that step. I also missed Kimberly Morales‘ panel discussion about eating on a budget, but just like her, we pantry surf, find multiple uses for ingredients and utilize simple foods. That helps to maximize the minimal cash in your wallet. Now you know our secrets–the things we’ve done right, wrong and not at all. We’ve just celebrated three years of blogging, and like last year, we’re at a place where we need to determine where we can improve. We’re patting ourselves on the back for establishing online and real life relationships with some great people in this food blogging community. We’ve worked with some amazing brands, including Bertoll, and have built great foundation with several PR agencies in Los Angeles, San Francisco, Atlanta, Chicago and New York. We have also signed contracts with ad networks to begin the monetization process. What’s next? Our self-taught photography instruction begins, building deeper connections with the community will continue, sticking to a broader monetization program has already been implemented, videos are on the way, and we will improve our SEO strategy to make the site more effective.
This post feels so serious! It’s not as light as most of our recipe entries or restaurant ventures, but that doesn’t mean you should get scared. It’s just one of those introspective moments that feels right to share with you–the folks who take time to read, comment, Facebook and tweet with us. Thanks for sticking it out, and thanks for sharing our moments of change. The International Food Blogger Conference was one of those experiences that teaches you how much you have to learn and how far you can go with that information in hand. It reminds you that blogging is fun, yes, but blogging is also an activity that teaches you about yourself, how to relate to other people, how much of a business person you can be (if you choose), and how artistic you can be (if you like). It’s much more than witty words and pretty pictures; in many ways, it’s a summation of you.
Here’s a hearty thanks to Barnaby Dorfman, Sherri Wetherell, Andie Mitchell and other members of the Foodista and Zephyr Adventures team for their hard work. They are already getting ready for next August’s event in Portland. Hop on to Twitter an search #IFBC if you want to grab some nuggets that are now permanently imprinted in the Twitterverse.
As stated earlier, Bertolli did provide sponsorship and product, which allowed me to attend the 2011 IFBC event. Opinions expressed in this post are my own.