Are Instagram and Snapchat the new cookbook or mere “cook-tainment”

Katrina Clarke | April 22, 2017 | CBC Life

via @lobosworth/Instagram

On a recent dreary Thursday, I found myself learning how to make a cabbage and ramen noodle salad… from an Instagram story by Lo Bosworth. Yes, she of Laguna Beach fame.

It turns out I’m in good company when it comes to finding recipe inspiration on random celebrity and food blogger social media accounts! Food bloggers say their millennial audiences are increasingly looking to Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat to find recipe inspiration — meaning bloggers are amping up their bite-sized video output on those platforms. Some embrace it, but some still want their engagement (and traffic) on their website, where they make money. Others worry the deceivingly simple clips will end up discouraging amateurs from cooking.

“Four or five years ago, the blog was really the only spot to share what you were making,” said Ethan Adeland, managing director of marketing with Food Bloggers of Canada. “Nowadays, it’s complementary.”

Adeland said bloggers used to engage with readers through the comment section on their blogs, but social media is now spreading discussions and engagement across different platforms. Bloggers must now interact “everywhere,” he said, but there are upsides to the extra work. “The bonus now, with Instagram stories or Facebook live, is you can invite those people into your kitchen,” said Adeland.

Blogger Gaby Dalkin (Matt Armendariz)

Some bloggers are savvily embracing the new opportunities. Gaby Dalkin of What’s Gaby Cooking is one of the more prolific food blogging Snapchatters (@whatsgabycookin). Dalkin hosts a weekly Snapchat cooking show, during which she posts a list of ingredients, encourages her viewers to take a screenshot and then films an informal tutorial one snap at a time.

But not everyone sees quick tutorials as a good thing.

“Its cook-tainment,” said Tiffany Mayer, a writer and food blogger based in St. Catharines, referring to the ubiquitous sped-up 30-second videos frequently seen on Facebook. “While I think they’re great for inspiring people to get into the kitchen or to look up a recipe… they do give an illusion of simplicity and ease.”

Mayer said the risk is that people will watch short clips, try the recipe themselves and be discouraged when the finished product doesn’t turn out as hoped.

Other bloggers say they’re happy to engage with users on social media but still want to drive traffic back to their home site, where they make the most money.

Lauren Toyota and John Diemer of Hot For Food

“It’s kind of playing a bit of a game because I don’t want to give all my content away on Instagram,” said Lauren Toyota, founder of the Hot for Food vegan food blog and YouTube channel. “(But) young people are already on Instagram and Snapchat, so they really don’t want to go elsewhere to get recipes. They want to find the information right there.”

(@hotforfood/Instagram)

This tug-of-war means Toyota is posting instructional recipe clips on Instagram Stories, seeing users replicate her recipes on their own Instagram accounts, and hoping new followers will head to the Hot for Food YouTube channel and blog for more content.

Does all this social media recipe-searching mean cookbooks are dying out? Adeland doesn’t think so.

“Years ago when social media was expanding with all these different platforms…people were predicting the downfall of cookbooks,” he said. “Cookbooks are still a thing.”

Indeed, San Fransisco-based independent publisher Chronicle Books said 2013 was one of its best years for cookbook sales.

Adeland said more members of his food blogging network are getting book deals each year. Their already-established fan base makes them attractive to publishers, he said. He also attributes cookbooks’ staying power to the emotional connection we can develop with books.

“Nothing will ever beat having a cookbook on the counter, having some of the pages stained,” he said. “To me, that’s still the best.”

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About Katrina Clarke

Katrina Clarke is a Toronto- and Vancouver-based freelance reporter. Her work appears in the National Post, the Toronto Star, CBC Life and J-Source. Reach her at katrina.clarke24@gmail.com or on Twitter at @KatrinaAClarke.
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