They began blogging before it was cool, and stepped into Instagram when it was still fairly unexplored territory.
Over more than a decade, India’s food bloggers have been raking up followings on fresh platforms, while still staying true to their original, traditional platforms. Needless to say, the earlier crop has seen a lot change with time — from popular cuisines to fads, trends and movements. And they have a lot to say about it.
Nandita Iyer, for instance, began her vegetarian blog Saffron Trail in 2006. As did Sia Krishna, with her blog Monsoon Spice on Blogspot. Both are still going strong, the latter with a steady monthly traffic of over 1,00,000. “I started Monsoon Spice when blogging was a fairly new phenomenon and there were just a handful of Indian food blogs dedicated to vegetarian and vegan recipes,” says Sia, “I began cooking out of necessity when I moved to the UK. Initially, my sole purpose for writing a food blog was to create an online cooking journal of sorts, for family recipes that have been orally passed on from one generation to another.”
Bengaluru-based Nandita’s motivation was similar. “I started off in March 2006, just to keep track of my intuitive cooking via a digital diary of sorts on Blogger, the blogging platform. The blog and its readers fuelled my interest in cooking and leading a healthy lifestyle via good wholesome food; that has kept me passionate about my blog so far,” she says, “Now I am on self-hosted Wordpress. I also share my food photos and recipes on Twitter and Instagram.”
That’s one way of putting it. Saffron Trail has 53,900 followers on Instagram, 47,500 on Twitter, over 24,000 on Facebook and 15,000 on Pinterest, all of them flocking towards her home-style, vegetarian salads, curries and rice preparations. But Nandita says that now it’s not just about the recipes any more.
“The main emphasis has become photography — the text and recipes are secondary. Food blogging has become more or less a showcase for food photos,” says Nandita, adding, “Also, video content has become huge, with the penetration of Internet all around India and 4G being so affordable. People are focussing more on video content for Instagram, Facebook, YouTube etc.”
Jeyashri Suresh, a Singapore-based blogger, whose Facebook page Jeyashri’s Kitchen has a following of a whopping 3,80,000, agrees, saying, “People prefer to watch quick one-minute videos instead of watching a detailed one on YouTube. Posting on Instagram helps in gaining readership. Hence, bloggers these days post recipes and step-wise pictures on Instagram itself.”
But the blogger with a 32,000-strong Instagram following isn’t complaining, and credits the photo-sharing platform for its user-friendly interface. “It serves as a good platform for those who don’t really have the time to start a blog or do not know the technical aspects of running and maintaining a blog,” she says, while admitting that it does affect blog traffic to a certain extent. A minuscule extent in her case, since her blog Jeyashri’s Kitchen still manages a monthly traffic of over a million hits.
For her, it’s still all about the recipes, even though she recognises that content has shifted to other points of focus in the world of food blogging. “These days, people are more interested in learning the basics of cooking. Apart from this, vlogs based on daily cooking routines or meal planning are equally popular. Food product reviews have also gained popularity and many brands approach reputed food bloggers for reviews,” she says.
Bloggers today wield some power, thanks to the sheer scale of their followers. According to Jeyashri, influencer-based promotions will remain one of the biggest food industry trends in India this year, next to vlogs on meal planning and cooking routines. “Influencer marketing is gaining momentum in the blogging world. Many food brands approach bloggers to market their products,” she states.
But the picture isn’t all that rosy: Instagram influencers are coming in for plenty of crtiticism, particularly in terms of the actual impact they have on users. A number of factors form part of the concern shown by consumers, chefs and others in the food industry: like clarifying which posts feature sponsored content, maintaining the quality of writing, fact-checking and crediting the right person for shared images and ideas. In fact, ‘micro influencers’ (people who have between 1,000 and 1,00,000 followers) is the new buzzword in town: the idea being that smaller, more intimate followings mean more answerability and a more focussed, impactful influence.
So, keeping their presence consistent for over a decade has not been easy. Nandita clarifies, “I do not use advertising on my blog, but there are a few sponsored posts. I keep them to a bare minimum, and make sure that whatever is the sponsored brand being spoken about is completely relevant to my audience.”
Besides that, new skills have had to be picked up time and again, and the bloggers are happy to do so. As Sia puts it, “My experience of food blogging has helped me grow as a food writer, a recipe developer, food stylist and also as a food photographer.”
Other learnings, like Nandita’s, were a bit more technical: “Aggressive SEO to drive traffic to the blog has become a no-brainer if you want the blog to succeed. In my early blogging days, I did not even know the existence of the term SEO.”
As each platform gets more and more interactive, there are an increasing number of Ps, Qs and legalities to keep in mind. This is where the fraternity spirit plays a role. “Although we don’t meet other bloggers, we build a good rapport through social media. We also have common platforms where we guide each other, solve queries and other technical issues we may face, such as copyright claims,” says Jeyashri.
The community helps one another in other ways, too. “The best thing I like about the community is a reliable source of regional recipes and cooking that are otherwise difficult to find in books or at restaurants,” explains Nandita.
In the end, it all boils down to food. Sia sums it up well: “Personally, food blogging has always been my creative outlet for not just sharing tried-and-tested recipes with photographs, but also to share plates of delectable meals woven around colourful stories of the past, present and future. Over time, it has become a competitive market and many blogs are run like businesses, emphasising on gaining followers. There is nothing wrong with it, especially if you want to turn your passion into a career. Food blogging can be your ticket to scaling new heights, as long as you are committed to blogging even when you feel like no one is interested.”