I’ve been asked quite a few times how to get started in creating a Food Instagram or a food blog. I had no clue what I was doing when I started my food blog and Instagram in August 2017. I wish I had more of a guide. I did a whole bunch of research on the Pittsburgh Food Instagram scene before I launched trying to make sure there was a place for me to add something new to what I thought was a not so crowded blog and Instagram scene. I was following a few accounts that were regularly posting content and thought I could do it just as well as they do. You can read in detail why I started here. In the end, it really boiled down to trying new foods and restaurants, documenting my eats, sharing them with people, meeting some new people, and all the great and selfish benefits of being a popular food “influencer.”
I learned a lot over the last three years as I tried to build my Instagram, my blog, and my overall brand. Since I have created something which has become recognized as a top Pittsburgh food Instagram I’ve been wanting to share some of what has worked for me and what has not worked. Others who have been interested in starting their own Food Instagram or blog have also reached out to me to ask for tips or help. I am normally glad to share, but I remind people that these are the things that have worked or not worked for me. I also fully acknowledge that sometimes I really have no clue what I’m doing. Sometimes I don’t have the time to dedicate to making my brand moderately successful into very successful. Take it with a grain of salt. What worked for me might not for you and what works for you might not work for me. I also have no formal marketing training. I’m usually just winging it. So here it goes, here is what I have learned and the advice I can give.
Anyone Can Start a (Food) Instagram
This is the first piece of advice I always give. If you want to start a Food Instagram or any Instagram, go for it. Anyone can create a username and start posting photos of the food they have eaten or cooked. This doesn’t mean your Instagram will become popular. A popular Instagram might not even be your goal. You might just want to document your meals or share them with your friends. If those are your goals, that’s fine! This advice really works for any subject that you are passionate about. The best Instagram, Blog, TikTok, Podcast, whatever is based on something that allows you as the creator to have a channel for your passions and creativity. So if you want to start an account do it, with the exception…
Do NOT Start a Repost Account!!!
If you are planning on using someone else’s art, photos or videos to try to become popular without giving proper credit or contributing anything of your own, don’t do it.
Do Your Research
When I started AlexEatsTooMuch, I did a bunch of research about the current Pittsburgh Food Instagram landscape. I missed so much. When I started following accounts, I only found about 10 accounts at most in Pittsburgh. I felt I could do things better than some and different from others. There were a few making really great content. However, only a couple actually had a strong “influencer” following. After I started my account and started posting, I actually found many more accounts in Pittsburgh than I realized. Many accounts were owned by people who didn’t post regularly. This was in 2017. Now there is a new Pittsburgh Food Instagram every couple of weeks.
Pick a Good Handle
I have found there are three different options for picking a name or a handle for your Food Instagram or Blog. The first is probably the easiest but the least obvious which is to use your own name. This would work best if you are trying to build your brand very specifically around your name. This is great if you are planning much more to be published. However, it might also be less catchy or memorable. The second is to do something based on the very specific food or location which you will be featuring. This is why you’ll see thousands of accounts based just on burgers or dozens of accounts in a city featuring a variation of that city name. This can work best to create a theme or attract more interest based on people looking for that topic, but it can be limiting and not very original. Pittsburgh has tons of accounts with Pittsburgh, Burgh, PGH, 412, etc in the handle name. The third name option is what I did which is come up with something somewhat original that no one else would have. There are a couple of people that have a handle similar to mine but no one has felt the need to create AlexEatsTooMuch2. This allows me to post more non-Pittsburgh food and if I ever happen to move I don’t have to rebrand. The downside to an original handle is if you are trying to focus on a specific city, Pittsburgh for example, you need to hustle more to get noticed because your account isn’t just going to show up on a search of a bunch of city-specific terms. I know that issue has impacted me at times.
This might be harder than it sounds. Many people will try to imitate someone else’s Instagram or blog because they like what that person is doing. This can work to an extent, but put your own personality into it. People can tell if your Instagram or blog has nothing to say. It will also stand out to Restaurants, Brands, and PR firms if your Instagram is not just a copy of another one posting the same images. You are your best brand when trying to show off you have something to say or contribute.
Building a Following
Getting followers is not easy. Start out by telling your friends and family to follow you. You can also follow others that may have a similar interest and they may eventually follow you back. There is the ability to gain followers organically by creating great content and using hashtags. Another option is to follow everyone. I see this a lot where a new account follows everyone that likes one of their posts or follows other similar accounts. I’m not much of a fan of the following everyone approach. There is also the ability to have a promoted post so new people will see your post and account. Definitely do not pay for followers or Likes. This will hurt your following in the end because you may appear like you have a lot of followers, but they aren’t real and they will not engage in your posts.
Quantity vs Quality
There are two different thoughts to posting content. The first would be Quantity of posts. You can create Feed posts multiple times a day or create several Feed posts from the same meal or post to Stories constantly all day. This will definitely allow your account and content to appear more in the Feeds of your followers or in search results. However, if the posts are not engaging they may get skipped, your account hidden, or even unfollowed. I tried this method early on trying to post multiple times a day and post whatever I had available. However, this was before Feed posts were allowed to have up to 10 items, and before Stories existed. Now I create Feed posts 3 to 6 times a week and I try to have at least 2 items in each Feed post. Everything beyond that goes to Stories or doesn’t get posted. Feed posts with at least 2 items will show up in a follower’s feed at least 2 times if they did not Like it the first time and they happen to scroll a lot. The thing I find more important is the Quality of a post. I truly don’t feel the need to create a Feed post just to post something. If a meal wasn’t photogenic or the photos were crap, I probably won’t post it even if the meal was amazing.
Create Engaging Posts
I always do at least two things on every Feed post. I make sure the photos are quality photos and the caption is something of value. In my captions these days I like to create an attention grabber or headline in a different font. The rest of the caption is something about the dish or my experience eating the dish. If someone actually reads your post they can learn something about you, the restaurant, the recipe, or the dish you cannot get just from the photo. As I mentioned in the last section, try to have two photos or items per Feed post. This allows for the viewer to swipe between the photos and possibly spend longer interacting with your post. Lastly, use hashtags on the posts to have them show up for others who are searching for a topic. There is a maximum of 30 hashtags per post. There are lots of theories as to the right number of hashtags to use. I just use 25 to 30 on most posts.
Learn the Basics of Photography
Phones have amazing cameras now. They can make taking a high-resolution photo very easy. However, just because you have a good camera, it doesn’t mean the photo will be great. Friends make fun of me all the time when out for a meal because of the amount of time I might use taking photos. I will stage the food in several ways. I will play with lighting. I will try different angles and distances. I will also take a ton of photos. There are times I will take only a couple of photos and sometimes I will take over a hundred photos if I’m doing multiple dishes or want to try multiple things. In the end, I still might only have one or two good photos. Likewise, having a fancy camera isn’t going to ensure you take a great photo. You just have more options and the ability to take a nice photo. I think my photos do turn out better when I use my DSLR, but I don’t always use it. The things I try to look for or do when taking a photo are as follows:
- Natural lighting or a well-lit spot
- Pro tip: Use a friend’s phone if possible with the flashlight on or the Notes app open (not in Dark Mode) to create a fill light
- Reduced shadows from lighting
- No flash
- Remember the rule of thirds when trying to frame the food
- Play with Pro mode on your phone or download camera apps that allow for the ability to change shutter speed, iso, and other settings.
- If posting to Instagram, remember that your rectangle photo in 4:3 or 16:9 is going to probably be posted in a square 1:1.
Edit Your Photos
You can easily make a mediocre photo look pretty good by spending a couple of minutes editing. It can seem intimidating to try to edit because you can easily make a photo worse. However, most phone apps make it so easy and do most of the editing for you. Instagram has built-in editing tools and filters. They aren’t the strongest but they can be a good start. I like to use Google Snapseed when editing on my phone. It has a lot of preset filters and a lot of basic and intermediate options for adjusting the photo. I have also tried using Adobe Photoshop Express and Adobe Lightroom Express which I think need a little more skill to use. If you want to go to the next step or edit photos taken on a separate camera, I’ve used Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Lightroom, and Corel AfterShot. These are definitely getting more difficult to use.
Don’t be afraid to occasionally try something new. This could mean trying to do new angles, trying videos, trying different caption formats, or even working with other people. It could help you find a new audience or a new talent you are not exploring. An Instagram or blog is all about having a place to channel creativity. If something interests you, then try it out. If you don’t like it, stop doing it.
When I made this Instagram and Blog, I barely reached out to anyone to work with them in the first 9 months. I would see in other cities, Food Instagrammers were all hanging out with each other and doing meals together. The first time I got a group of us together, it was super successful. Over the years, we have been able to get more regular meals and drinks together. It helped to build more of a community and increase our reach. It also really gave me an opportunity to make some of these people who have the same interest in eating and cooking into my friends. It also led to show that a large group of Food Instagrammers getting together could create a promotional blitz for a product or restaurant.
Working with Restaurants, PR Firms and Brands
This is such a complicated topic. In my first year, I was only invited into two restaurants. I was waiting for restaurants to acknowledge my existence and it was not happening. It took time for me to build up my brand to make it appealing to other brands. When brands started reaching out, I didn’t turn down anything. It helped me to show I could promote these other brands. The moment I realized I needed to start turning things down was when a restaurant invited me in to try their new burgers and it was one of the worst burgers I had ever eaten. I like to only try to work with brands that really fit my brand theme. I also had to learn my own value. I had to explain to brands what I was willing to do, what I would require as part of the partnership and what I should be paid if that was required. I would say when first starting out, don’t expect to get invited to many things and don’t expect many free meals. If you really like a restaurant and would like to ask them to collaborate, do it appropriately. Explain to the restaurant what you have to offer. Some might be interested. Others will not be interested. If you ask nicely about a collaboration and they are rude to you in return then maybe they weren’t the best to collaborate with in the first place. Definitely don’t ever act like you are entitled to a free meal.
Don’t be afraid to tell people about your Food Instagram and Blog. How else are people going to find out? Early on, I went to an info session led by a local PR firm with a panel of Influencers. People in attendance would ask questions, but not mention who they are. Take those opportunities to say who you are! I asked my question and immediately led with my username. I also occasionally share it all over social media. I cross post back to my personal accounts when it’s something I’m really proud of doing. I will try to comment on other people’s posts. Find opportunities for others to find out who you are and what you are doing.
Create a Media Kit
Not everyone needs a media kit. However, some brands will want to see basic facts about you and examples of your work. I created multiple versions of my media kit to have it available. I have a one-pager that just gives why I created my account and statistics about my account. I also have a much more detailed media kit which includes examples of posts, what types of posts I offer, and how much I charge for some posts. This can be helpful for larger brands and PR firms to see but it can also help you to be taken more seriously.
Create a Website
A website can be incredibly important. Something that was explained to me is social media platforms are fads while websites are not going away. As soon as people start to lose interest and move on to the next type of social media, your website can still exist as a place for your content. It can be as simple as just a portfolio to let people know you exist and link back to your social media. The best would be to create a simple website and create blog posts. Utilize one of the many free platforms that exist. If you are really planning on going all out, you can buy a domain (a web address), pay for hosting for more space, and create a larger website with lots of posts and images. As long as you keep the website active and pay for your hosting if required, your web presence will continue to exist even after people leave Instagram for whatever is the next great social media.
I know this is a lot of info and a lot of tips. I hope this helps someone out who’s starting a new Food Instagram or Food Blog. This certainly isn’t what will work for everyone. Many people won’t even think this is good advice. Hopefully, for some of you, this will be the help needed to get started. Two other resources I will provide are from two of my favorite Instagram Bloggers. SkinnyPigNYC shared this year a great post about fears to get over when starting a blog. She has also posted many other great pieces with tips about blogging and creating a media kit. I also would highly recommend checking out some of the tips from Jeremy Jacobowitz, formerly Brunch Boys, who has built a brand over the years and has created a lot of YouTube videos with tips, but also a podcast talking about branding, outlets for creativity, and changing your brand.