Have dreams of making it big as a food blogger? There’s a science to it. Photo: Lumina/Stocksy
Food blogging as a career is, for some, the stuff of daydreams. Yet more and more, one-time hobbyists are turning their blogs into full-fledged, money-making ventures by attracting the attentions of big-name sponsors. One blogger, who we’ll call Mallory, has done particularly well: Last year, she made more than $150,000. This year, she expects to clear a quarter of a million.
“You’ve got to decide: Is this a personal thing or is this what I want to do to make a living?” Mallory told Yahoo Food. Her blog is a few years old, though she only began making big bucks last year when she signed with an agent, which helped her land deals with major grocery store brands looking to reach a digital audience.
Most often, she’s paid to write a recipe post using the brand’s product — something that, not long ago, the same brands might have recruited bloggers to do for as little as $50. “I won’t do a post for less than $3,500 now,” Mallory said. “My average is about $5,000, and my high is $10,000.”
“Large brands were not thinking this way a few years ago — it’s a definite shift not only in terms of their spending, but their mindset,” said Raina Penchansky, the chief strategy officer of talent agency Digital Brand Architects. Although she doesn’t represent Mallory, her boutique firm handles about a dozen food-focused bloggers and social media personalities, including former Yahoo Food Bloggers of the Week Claire Thomas of Kitchy Kitchen and Love & Lemons’s Jeanine Donofrio.
“There’ll always be print media, and there’ll always be television,” Penchansky said. “But traditional brands are definitely seeking out opportunities with bloggers, because that’s where the audience is. And you have go where the audience is.”
For Mallory, that audience is in large part her robust social following on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest: She boasts roughly 300,000 followers combined across all four platforms. There’s no magic formula to gaining a loyal following, she said — it’s simply the result of being active on social media, both by posting frequently and replying to readers. And we mean frequently — Mallory tweets, Facebooks, Instagrams, and pins multiple times throughout the day, Monday through Friday. That’s in addition to posting two to three new blog posts a week, each of which require at least three rounds of recipe testing and numerous staged photographs. It’s a full-time job.
Being active on social media is key to growing a loyal readership. Photo: Jovo Jovanovic/Stocksy
But Mallory also relies on other bloggers for traffic. She says there’s an unspoken quid pro quo amongst heavy hitters that if one blogger promotes another’s content on social media, the favor will be returned. There are even “secret” Facebook groups dedicated to this practice: A blogger will post a recent story and openly appeal for tweets, likes, and comments. But the only way to join these traffic-driving groups is to be invited, and the only way to be invited is to get a top blogger’s attention.
“You can’t just expect to walk into a community and everyone will accept you with open arms,” Mallory said. “Make sure you retweet their posts, but add value to whatever they’ve done. Don’t just write ‘yum!’ It pays off in the long run.”
Mallory also pointed would-be bloggers toward aggregate sites such as Foodgawker, TasteSpotting, and Tasteologie. If you have good photos, the sites can be huge traffic drivers, plus sites like BuzzFeed often scour them for story ideas. (Think posts like “17 No-Bake Pies That Just Want To Be Loved” or “23 Meals You Can Cook Even If You’re Broke.”) “Being featured on BuzzFeed when you’re new? You get a ton of traffic and followers,” Mallory said.
Once a blogger has amassed a decent social following and is enmeshed in the food blogging community, that’s when the money starts to pick up. You can apply to join ad networks like BlogHer, Martha’s Circle, or Google Adsense, which run ads on your site for a price. (Blogger Kiersten Frase has a good breakdown of them here.) At one point, Mallory said she was making up to $12,000 a year through these ads alone.
There are also marketing agencies that connect bloggers with big-name brands with budgets to match. Although many of these companies — which include places like Collectively, Tap Influence, Pollinate Media, Weave Made Media, and CookIt Media — are relatively new on the media scene, some command rosters of hundreds of bloggers. The idea is to match a company with a blogger whose audience it wants to target. The more defined and specific the blog — whether it be a vegan food blog, a gluten-free food blog, or a barbecue food blog — the more defined its readership, which appeals to brands trying to hone in on a particular demographic.
Taking beautiful photos — essential to food blogs these days — is all about practice, Mallory said. Photo: Cameron Whitman/ Stocksy
“It’s just utter chaos out there,” said CookIt founder Laurie Buckle of the crowded food blogging landscape. “The only way to survive that competition is to create a brand for yourself and to surface yourself on every possible platform: On your phone, in videos, an app, etc.” That’s why Buckle thinks the diary-style food blog, which defined the early days of food blogging, is a bad route for anyone who wants to make money. “That kind of blog will always be out there, but that’s not the future of business in blogging,” she said.
Mallory agrees that branding yourself is important, but stresses that bloggers who want to remain likable should do it in a measured way. “Don’t be a robot,” she said. “I put my family on Instagram. Readers want to see the other side of you — that’s what people relate to.” There’s also such a thing as too much sponsored content: “You don’t want your readers to think, ‘All she does is sponsored posts,’” Mallory said. Even non-sponsored blog posts can prove profitable if they appeal to the right audience — for Mallory, her beautiful imagery across the site has led to lucrative freelance photography gigs.
It’s a lot to take in, Mallory admitted, but she hopes fledgling food bloggers take note. Many seasoned pros are tight-lipped when it comes to disclosing how much they’re paid by brands, but Mallory believes that more awareness will translate to bigger budgets and more food blogger success stories.
“There’s no point in being secretive — there’s enough work to go around,” she said. “I always think it would have been nice if someone helped me.”
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