Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Foodbuzz Festival Day 2 – Treatise on Goals & Where Do We Go From Here?

Day Two of the Foodbuzz Festival brought content sessions, the tasting pavilion and the gala dinner that included a cooking demonstration with celebrity chef Tyler Florence. The morning content sessions will be the focus of this post.

The morning content sessions were held in the event space and conference rooms at Federated
Media headquarters situated not far from Giants stadium. An easy hop down the Muni from Union Square. 

Breakfast was provided, it is a foodie conference after all, and the highlight for me were the Black Pepper and Cheddar Scones. The combination of those two ingredients in a savory scone created a slightly crunchy exterior followed by a slightly spicy dense bread interior. I took one with me to enjoy on Monday morning when I would finally be on my own for food! Oh, and I got to finally meet Chef Dennis (A Culinary Journey with Chef Dennis). 

Get Serious!

The first session was Taking Your Blog To The Next level with a panel of bloggers from the Foodbuzz
Featured Publisher Community that included, Sarah Matheny (Peas and Thank You), Jessica Merchant (How Sweet It Is), Joy Wilson (Joy The Baker), Tracy Benjamin (Shutterbean) and Kath Younger (Kath Eats Real Food). The overall themes for the session, and that of all the sessions I attended, were determine and focus on your goals, be authentic and project what you are passionate about and not just what you think will be popular or is trending to generate hits. These are all worthy and practical themes to guide your actions with.

I think it is important for blogging communities to be honest with themselves, be objective about the rhetoric versus the reality and walk the walk. So when it was asserted, and no amount of tongue and cheek masks the truth here, that everyone was here because they wanted to “generate traffic, get famous and make lots of money” I was sure it was going to be a long day. These weren’t the goals of everyone I asked about them to, and that speaks directly to where I will go next.

Setting Realistic Goals

If I have to bring the objectivity to the party, I will. At the risk of being marginalized by the community because of my critical honesty I am going to explain why I think those goals are antithetical to the themes spoken out of the other side of the mouth, and why they are unrealistic for everyone to expect. And don’t worry, I won’t make my case without offering my suggestions for how we can use the themes as a guide and set achievable goals. To reinforce that point I offer this. A large part of success in any venture is being in the right place and knowing the right people at the right time, or simply put, luck. You can’t manufacture luck. All you can do is be out there with a solid understanding of your goals and a good personality.

The presenters did an admirable job of providing tips on how people might take their blog to the next level, but where we were largely lacking in specific examples the tips came off as less tangible than they could have been. The tip about the necessity of having beautiful photos on your blog smacks of superficiality and form over function in the grandest of ways. You only have to have them if YOU want them and they shouldn’t come at the expense of YOUR voice projecting YOUR experiences in YOUR content. If someone clicks away because the picture isn’t satisfactory to them they aren’t interested in your story anyway. And you blog for because you love it, right?

In blogging making money is largely associated with ad revenue from traffic. If you flip over to book publishing or endorsements that is a different stream and I’ll ignore that here because the former is often a requirement for the latter. Generating lots of traffic is hard work. The tip here was alluded to but not outright stated in raw and detailed form. Plan on working more than a fulltime job on your blog to generate lots of hits and therefore lots of revenue. Having that time and spending it this way is a choice.

In order to reach the biggest audience to generate all of that traffic you will need to tread into the territory of topics that are popular or likely to trend no matter your passion for them. This the psychological aspect behind SEO, tuning your blog position to have the highest identity for search trend hits. That works against your blog being a passionate expression of you. Consider how often you see the same bloggers involved in all the virtual events that draw in people across all sorts of stated focus areas. You have to decide if you want to be part of a small community of like minded people or dispassionately pump out content to chase down traffic with.

You can’t reciprocate the volume of traffic you get past a certain point, it’s just not mathematically possible. To be both a publisher and a consumer is actually two jobs and you only have time for so much of each. Once you reach that point the majority of your traffic is unengaged and the connection to your community is at its apogee. And popular publishers need lots of consumers to stay popular. There is only going to be so much of that to go around as a community grows. This means the possibility you will be a community superstar is greatly diminished. The statistics on communities tell the story, and come in the form of a 1/9/90 rule. For every 100 community members 1 is an active publisher, 9 are active engagers in the community and the other 90 are consumers who engage infrequently. For the sole publisher to be popular that person needs the others members to focus on his content, and not their own content and traffic. They NEED your focus to make their focus more important. You see the issue, right?

I Get It, But What Do I Do?

So what should one do, especially if they still aspire at a chance at popularity and getting paid? The easiest way will be to look for a job in the industry you have passions about. If you have a job that pays the bills and you don’t want to change, you may need to change your goals. Time is the ultimate leveler here, and if you have all the time in the world to invest and to be patient you might end up winning in the end. Unless you plan on “working” all the time you just won’t be able to do it. Once you think about the reality here and fall back on, “but I write my blog because I love it”, you have a lot of options to continue to have fun, build a small and loyal community and be out there for luck to take over.

I will say that as I was doing a bit of review on the content for the post I bounced over to the sites of the presenters and found that Joy Wilson has a recent post entitled Real-Talk Blog Tips that addresses some of the tips offered with a bit of detail. Many of the points are consistent with what I am saying here and the more voices addressing the issues the better.

Write about what excites you. I came back from the Wine Bloggers Conference in July with realization that my passion for wine, beer and spirits had gotten muddied in all of the food projects I had been doing. I had taken on those projects because of my supposed desire to resonate with the Foodbuzz community. I was doing things I was less passionate about. I reset my focus. That refocusing has made me consider my connection to Foodbuzz, but my goal after this weekend is to try and find foodie partners to help co-present food and beverage content that springs from our mutual passions. I made some connections, and I need to make more, that are promising towards this goal.

The points in the above paragraph were reinforced in the Blog Design Bootcamp session when I offered my inner considerations about figuring out how to resonate with the community more. I need to refine my mission statement to include a goal to partner with others to help share my passions and enhance both my own and partner’s blogs. Got it.

Putting Yourself Out There & Making Connections

Whether it is to partner with or because what they do resonates with you, make connections with other bloggers that make sense for you. If they are also looking for birds-of-a-feather to engage you make find they aren’t just traffic, but an influencer for you, and vice versa. How popular they are shouldn’t matter and focusing on that in an attempt to use the association to increase your position in the community is going to reflect badly on you.

Another thing from that session that was on my mind was my focus on beverages and how that makes me unique in the community. I love what I do and know it is where my focus should be. My niche was held out as a positive thing and the advice that I stay true to it was heard loud and clear. Thank you to the Kristin Guy (The Cuisinerd) and the Sabrina Modelle (The Tomato Tart) for their great ideas and advice!

I also attended that session because one of the action items I took away from the Wine Bloggers Conference earlier in the year was a blog facelift. I need to do it and I picked up some tips to kick around as I gear up to tackle this task. I have set this goal for me. I want my own blog to look nicer, and the bonus that it will present better to others is just that, a bonus. The one specific tip I picked up was that when considering a new color palate for your blog you can pick a photograph you particularly like and extract the colors from it. Pretty neat!

One of the underlying an implicit themes in blogging is to make it about you. I think each new blog post should be part of an unfolding story, containing both revelations of the new day and connections to days past, even if those connections aren't directly stated. As an example, over the weekend I visited several brew pubs and beer bars in San Francisco. This is something I love to do. I feel like I can take the pulse of a place through the locally crafted beers. At 21st Amendment I was hoping to find their IPA named Brew Free or Die. Why? Because my home state of New Hampshire’s motto is Live Free or Die and Brew Free or Die is the name of the homebrew club I belong to. They didn’t have it on tap, but it showed up at the Friday night event which gave me a smile. The beer was good but the personal connection, 21A had to contact the club to ask permission to use the name, was what I was after. I also went to Gordon Biersch specifically because I wanted to try their Marzen, a beer that is a recommended style example for the Marzen/Oktoberfest category of the BJCP style guide. I had judged this category for a recent competition and I wanted to try an example that I can’t get at home. In those two posts, both already live, I continued to follow my passions and connected the activities in them to my life. For readers I hope this helps them better get to know me and the things I am interested in. We should all aspire to tell stories (OUR stories) in our blogs. This is a welcome alternative to the factual and procedural details of cooking, which can be so dreadfully boring without a good story.

The final session was on Effect Social NETworking, primarily a conversation about using Twitter to engage other and promote you and your blog. Facebook and Google Circles were also mentioned. Thank you to Irvin Lin (Eat the Love) and Stella Parks (BraveTart) for their energetic presentation of the subject. Some of the stories Irvin told about his tweet-style (missing words and unintended plays on word let’s say) came across with palpable authenticity.

I didn’t end up getting a lot out of the session being an active Twitterer and frequent considerer of how the tool can be used to market a content brand, but I did pick up one interesting opposition of two ideas. It was stated that the half life of a Tweeted link is about two hours. I suspect this is largely because most people chase followers and clog up their timeline with so much stuff they miss lots of value-laden tweets. Without a shift to using lists (or some other meta-model) to corral followers of varying important topics down into smaller timelines this is not likely to change. From this it could be fairly inferred that you need to tweet the same new content several times, and with a bit of shrewdness maybe at different times of day and on different days, to get the most thrust into your follower base. There has been some industry analysis that supports this idea. What followed however was a comment that resending the same link multiple times risked irrelevance whereby you would be perceived to be creating a lot of noise. These two ideas are somewhat incongruent to each other and might need additional thought to have good sense made of them.

There was also talk about Klout and how it was a good measure of your influence. I have Klout account and have had score averaging in the 50’s for almost a year. It has been as high as 63 and with recent algorithm change I saw it briefly sink into the low 40’s before springing back up. I don’t check it that often and I don’t carry out specific actions in hopes of increasing it. I do what I do and am who I am, and I use the score to help me see the community I am part of in a broad way. Focusing too much on measuring something I do for fun takes away some of the fun. The Klout Perks program is a nice bonus though!

I broke out of the session early to interview Rufus McLain one of the Foodbuzz Community Team members for a future post. Learning more about what they do in support of people like me ended up being hugely valuable for someone flirting with the choice to renew the contract or not.


If bloggers want to get paid like a job, they need to plan on working a job for their blog. Want to be notable for your blog beyond a small group? Refer to the prior sentence. Otherwise, keep doing what you are doing because you enjoy it and the connections you make along the way should create plenty of opportunity for fun. Don’t worry about how much of this, or how do I make more of that, or why is that person more popular than me, you’ll only end up back at the first sentence of this paragraph.




Jen said...

I don't have anything to add, but I wanted to say that I think this is a great post. I think that assuming everyone blogs solely because they want to be rich and popular is just damaging the spirit of the community.

Laura @ Sprint 2 the Table said...

Great post! I wasn't able to attend Kristin and Sabrina's session, so I really appreciate the tips.

There's a wine bloggers conference?! That would be amazing.

Sippity Sup said...

Tremendously well said. GREG

Richard Auffrey said...

Hi Jason:
A lengthy and well spoken analysis of many important blogging issues. I agree with much you have to say.

As for the assertion of people being there to “generate traffic, get famous and make lots of money”, I think that is correct to a significant degree. Despite what people might tell you for their reasons. Not everyone is truthful, often trying to hide their more mercenary reasons for being there. Most, though not all, people do want more traffic, to be more well known, and to make more money.

You did a great job in trying to make everything more realistic. Few people will actually gain a book deal, become nationally famous, or make lots of money. Which is similar in all fields. If you are not blogging because you love it, then you probably should not be doing it.


Cucina49 said...

Thanks for the thorough summary--the next best thing to being there!

Shannon said...

One thing I know was missing from this weekend, purely because of the sponsorship was the whole online marketing aspect (that I do each day in my day job). If people honestly think that bloggers only got big because of commenting on other blogs, content or tweeting they are going to be sorely surprised. While the average blogger might not get into running paid advertising, there are so many avenues available to help with traffic that I feel that others want to keep "secret". There are lots of marketing 101s out there and I think that the foodies just haven't latched on to the notion that they can do this too.

I'm one of the ones who didn't fall into the "generate traffic, get famous and makes lots of money" because with my knowledge I'd probably already be halfway there and be a brand myself. I blog for my friends who are all over the world who I keep in touch with. I blog because I want a place to put all my hikes, all my kitchen creations and to look up how I tortured myself last November with kettlebells.

Chef Dennis Littley said...

what a great recap of the day, there was so much information, and you took the best notes! Thanks so much for the shout out and was indeed a pleasure meeting you!