Social media is transforming the way some people experience food - from sharing recipes and forming communities to posting photos as they chow down at their favorite new bistro. Brands naturally want to be part of the engagement, and media companies like Foodbuzz are helping them do just that.
More than 1,600 people have submitted entries to the Foodbuzz site in hopes of being part of Project Food Blog, a reality show-style competition set to begin next month. Contestants will battle in 10 different food-blogging related challenges. Foodbuzz is a network of photo-heavy food blogs from which the community-centric Foodbuzz.com site surfaces the best of content.
Buick is the exclusive sponsor of the contest. But, in addition to a prominent placement on the Project Food Blog page and a link to the Buick Lacrosse vehicle on Buick.com, the automaker will also connect to the Foodbuzz community as sponsor of the Foodbuzz blogger festival in San Francisco in November. The winner of the contest will be announced there, as people gobble street vendor food and organic produce, and check out a brand pavilion.
"The important thing here is not necessarily that it's food, but it's blogs and peer-to-peer [communication]," said Ben Dehan, founder and CEO of Foodbuzz. "It's about finding places where people believe each other at a grassroots level."
The Foodbuzz network attracts 7.5 million monthly U.S. users according to Quantcast, but the Foodbuzz.com site itself draws a fraction of that - around 204,000 globally. Though they don't necessarily offer the same level of social features or community engagement, other more established recipe domains attract far more monthly users. Quantcast estimates that FoodNetwork.com brings in 6.8 million monthly U.S. visitors, while AllRecipes.com attracts 6.2 million and Epicurious 1.2 million. The Foodbuzz numbers are based on Quantcast's direct measurement of its site and network, while the others are estimates.
There is a proliferation of food sites that thrive on community - or at least have social features. Nibbledish.com, for example, calls itself "a community of enthusiastic cooks," and allows them to create profiles, post recipes and photos of their creations, and follow other members of the site. Visitors can sort recipes by category - "Recently Popular" or "All Time Best," or they can filter members by "Most Recipes," "Boys," or "Girls" categories. Recipes run the gamut from the traditional (crumble top blueberry muffins) to the whimsical (mojito cake), and members can post comments or add their own variations on recipes. A rendition of classic pancakes reads, "Replace the 2 eggs with 2 rounded tablespoons of pumpkin puree and add a pinch of cinnamon and nutmeg... holy crap, you will be IN LOVE with the results."
Other sites are self-professed "food porn" purveyors. Food & Fizz lets users register to post eye-catching food photos that link away to their home sites, where accompanying recipes and more salacious photos await. Federated Media's food and blog community Serious Eats has a similar section called "Photograzing." Many of these offer little more than standard display advertising, but SeriousEats, which according to Quantcast's direct measurement attracts 1 million monthly U.S. people, also offers section sponsorships. A section featuring recipes for Mediterranean classics like Tzatziki and Baba Ghanoush, for instance, is sponsored by Sabra, maker of hummus and other Mediterranean dips, and links to a promotional contest tied into the advertiser's broader "Taste Intervention" campaign.
Foodbuzz does offer standard display advertising, though its more comprehensive offerings are long-term section sponsorships coupled with offerings more directly integrated with its network of bloggers. In the hopes of getting its products into the hands of influential foodies, and in turn raising brand awareness, Newman's Own sponsors Foodbuzz's Family Bites section, which compiles "A weekly collection of 9 convenient recipes your family will love" from across its network.
Foodbuzz has used an approach not unlike what's become very popular in the mommy blog space: It seeded Newman's Own goodies to 100 family meal focused bloggers, and they blogged about their experience incorporating them into their recipes. The deal also includes a recipe each week from one of those bloggers that calls for a Newman's Own product. Foodbuzz also facilitates brand connections to community events at restaurants or in bloggers' homes. Pasta and pasta sauce brand Buitoni is another sponsor, exclusively presenting the "Flavor of the month" section.
"For a company our size to be getting these types of advertisers, this scale, these buys... it's indicative of something going on here from a [social media] approach," said Dehan. The three-year-old media company has 30 people on staff, including eight sales people in San Francisco, New York, and Chicago.
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Kate Kaye was Managing Editor at ClickZ News until October 2012. As a daily reporter and editor for the original news source, she covered beats including digital political campaigns and government regulation of the online ad industry. Kate is the author of Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media, the only book focused on the paid digital media efforts of the 2008 presidential campaigns. Kate created ClickZ's Politics & Advocacy section, and is the primary contributor to the one-of-a-kind section. She began reporting on the interactive ad industry in 1999 and has spoken at several events and in interviews for television, radio, print, and digital media outlets. You can follow Kate on Twitter at @LowbrowKate.
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