Three years ago, I recall seeing some tweets about Food Blog Forum from attendees. It stuck in my mind that they were hosted in Disney World, but it was bad timing for me–we were house hunting at the time and I was only recently re-employed, after spending the prior 4 years as a stay-at-home mom to my kids. Conferences were not on my radar that year, but I stored it away in the back of my brain, knowing that someday I would attend this event.
That someday came last week.
February 27-March 1, 2015, I was lucky enough to be a part of Food Blog Forum Orlando and it was an experience unlike any other. I am so grateful to have been one of the 100 allowed this opportunity.
I have attended conferences before and found that I prefer smaller, more intimate settings. This did not disappoint, as the smaller crowd enabled me to make new friends and be reunited with old. Conferences have become a bit like camp for me–a time to reconnect with bloggy friends in person and catch up on the happenings of the last many months since we last saw each other. The social aspect is important, as you need a tribe of people who understand where you’re coming from.
Elise Bauer of Simply Recipes and J. Kenji Lopez-Alt of Serious Eats would agree: in order to prevent yourself from being overwhelmed–from burning out–you need people who know what you’re going through. You need a support system, and it’s easy to find your tribe when you attend events like this.
But I’m getting ahead of myself…
So what is Food Blog Forum? Like other conferences, you have sessions to help you expand your knowledge on topics in your field. In this case, that included tips on photography, how to monetize a blog beyond the traditional methods, Pinterest best practices for bloggers (my favorite session), and ways to improve your creativity, presented by Victoria Finn, Director of CreativeInc at Disney.
Unlike other conferences, Food Blog Forum was hosted at Walt Disney World. As in, we stayed at the Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, the sessions were held at the Contemporary Resort, and our conference fee included 4 days of park hopper passes (some of the lucky few were even able to bring their families along, and they also received park hopper passes–my family included). I can’t think of any other gathering like it. What a fabulous way to be inspired and let your creativity run wild while exploring Disney World in between sessions!
My family and I arrived at Disney two days before Food Blog Forum began, and I’ll talk more about that in another post. The first night of FBFOrl included a welcome reception at the Four Seasons Resort Orlando at Walt Disney World Resort, with food from PB&G, their pool bar & grill. I made some new friends. I ate some fabulous food. It was a casual meet-and-greet to get us loosened up.
Saturday was the main event. From 7:30 AM to 6 PM, we talked about everything and anything.
Victoria Finn explained her recipe for creativity, including changing your mindset, engineering yourself positive experiences, practicing to improve your skillset (stressing the importance of freshness for new ideas), and how being too busy can actually deter you from the best ideas. Most importantly, she reminded us that all the best stories have a WHY? What’s unique? What’s interesting? These will drive you on the best journeys.
Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple guided us on telling a story through the use of images. There are 5 senses of food photography that we should be conscious of: taste, smell, place, time, and authenticity. It doesn’t have to be perfect; it just has to be you. And it all comes down to the lighting; you just have to look for it and adjust yourself and/or your subject to create the mood you want. Ultimately, it’s your story, your voice, and your message that are most important, not trends. Be true to yourself.
At the “Beyond the Banner” session on new ways to monetize blogs, Lindsay Ostrom of Pinch of Yum, Bjork Ostrom of Food Blogger Pro, and Jaden and Scott Hair of Steamy Kitchen discussed different strategies that have worked for them to increase their income. They reminded us to look at blogging through the lens of marketing and consider how the effectiveness of different types of advertising continues to change. They predicted that traditional banner ads–an income source most bloggers rely on, even if they only blog part-time (myself included)–will become less and less useful as time goes on. We must diversify if we intend to make a living. As Jaden said, “find a need, fill a need.” Where is your expertise? What are you an authority on? Use that to build your niche and you’ll stand out, becoming more marketable and gaining yourself an advantage. I know I have a lot of issues with expertise, but Lindsay stressed the idea of “expert enough”–having the skills necessary to break it down to a particular audience. That you don’t need to know it all, but you do have what’s needed to get from step A to step B and that can be helpful to others. I am a big fan of this, and it’s so much more manageable than trying to get from A to Z in one big chunk.
My favorite session of the day was with Enid Hwang of Pinterest on how to get the most out of Pinterest for your blog. We looked out how the average (non-blogger) user utilizes Pinterest, to take into consideration what is most appealing to them. Because people use Pinterest as a means to plan for the future, Pins have an evergreen life, renewed over and over again. To have your Pins get the most bang for the buck, you want to orient them vertically, rather than horizontally, and use the most beautiful photographs you have. Thorough descriptions with keywords help your Pins show up in more searches; hashtags, on the other hand, make no difference. In curating content on your own boards, remember that it’s best not to spread yourself too thin. Most users maintain approximately 22 boards, which is definitely less than what I have (I plan on cleaning up my boards soon to improve the quality and quantity of them). There are 4 major things Pinners are looking for when seeking food on Pinterest: everyday dishes (easy, weekday meals), entertaining (food to impress), aspirational ideas (next level cooking), and eye candy (beautiful, delicious food). So if you’re Pinning in these categories, it’ll probably get noticed more. And above all, Pin regularly (quality, useful content, of course). I will definitely be looking over my Pinterest strategies and revising, as necessary.
Lunch was served on the 15th floor of the Contemporary Resort at California Grill, and I’ll be talking about that separately in another post…
Then we reconvened for round table discussions with experts in the areas of food photography and styling, negotiation strategies, monetization strategies, working with brands (including Isabel Hittleman for KitchenAid, Veronica Chan for OXO, Stephanie Rogers for Sabra, and Brittny Krause for Florida Dairy Farmers, offering the inside scoop from the brand side of things), working with resorts with Sally Mjoseth of Four Seasons Resort Orlando (an area I’d like to explore more), and blogger burnout, which was also a separate session later on in the day.
It was an immense amount of information to cover in just 10.5 hours, but absolutely invaluable, too. To think that the price of admission included not only all these sessions, but also accommodations AND park hopper passes for us and our families is astounding. I am grateful to have been a part of this experience and know I will be able to apply what I learned to my blogging in the future. Thank you, Jaden and Scott and Diane and Todd, for putting together this most memorable event! Thank you, Julie and Lindsay, for all the behind-the-scenes work you did in making this weekend possible! And thank you, Walt Disney World (especially Leanne O’Regan and Victoria Finn), for not only hosting, but assisting us in our creative efforts AND for providing us with the media park passes that enabled our entire weekend to be most magical! This weekend will be a tough act to follow!
Disclosure: I visited Walt Disney World as part of the Food Blog Forum conference, through which I received special rates on my resort stay and park passes. I was not asked to write this post. All opinions remain my own.