WASHINGTON – As the internet peaked in the 1990s, so did Alton Brown’s career: After leaving his bookstore job for culinary school, Brown tested his cooking expertise beneath the Food Network. As creator and host of Good Eats, Brown delivered history, science and cuisine techniques to national audiences between 1999 and 2012.
“After 13 years and 252 episodes, I sensed what I thought was going to be a major paradigm shift in media,” Brown said during his keynote address, “The Future of Food Media,” at Spoon University’s fourth, annual BrainFood convention. “I decided then that I’m going to quit this [Good Eats] because everything is changing – I want to stop what I’m doing, watch how the media changes, watch how the food world changes and then I’ll do something new,”
Since the end of Good Eats, Brown went on to host Iron Chef America, Cut Throat Kitchen, and Feasting on Asphalt, becoming one of Food Network’s most recognizable stars.
“The medium is the message,” Brown said in reference to using social media to redefine the hiring space. His phrase echoes renowned communication scholar Marshall McLuhan’s most famous concept that media used to transmit a message is as important as the message’s content.
Brown’s spotlight on McLuhan’s 50-year-old concept illuminated BrainFood 2017, as a Facebook-estimated 279-plus people descended upon the Brooklyn Expo Center event for six hours on Saturday, October 14th.
In one corner of the room, 18-to-22-year-old, self-described “foodies,” collected treats and samples from various BrainFood vendors. Armed with their friends and food, these millennials posed with their smartphone-cameras, snapping, editing and publishing photos of themselves in real-time across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, to promote their personal brand and connect with others – like employers and recruiters – through hashtags; 85 percent of the latter claiming employee’s online reputation influences their hiring decision to some extent, according to Cross-Tab, a marketing research firm.
In another corner, recruiters from the Food Network, William Sonoma, Whole Foods, among others, circled the floor like ravenous vultures, handing out business cards, pitching presentations and striking conversations with young, food-enthusiasts. With over 69 percent of employers using social media to research job candidates according to Harris Poll findings, unsurprisingly, these enthusiasts shared their food-based experiences with employers through mobile screens set to personal sites, online portfolios, LinkedIn and other media-based applications.
Still, in a different corner of the room, curious eyes and hungry stomachs occupied the space devoted to food-inspired art galleries, likely incorporated to provide exposure for blossoming artists; and enable social media “foodies” and artists to team up to digitally promote food-art for their mutual benefit.
“We’ve come to the conclusion that fusion and trends is how food popularity is born,” said Olga Golubkova and Xiaoyue Zhu, two millennials attending the convention.
“For fusion, a common theme is taking two different products and pairing them together, like spaghetti and donuts,” said Zhu, referencing Pop Pasta, a BrainFood booth providing spaghetti donuts.
“With trends, you see a lot with sweet food right now, but I think savory food will be the next big thing. There are a lot of soup booths here today, so I think it’s a sign,” said Golubkova.
However, some food celebrities attending the convention, like Claire King of Buzzfeed Tasty, proposed a different take on food popularity and branding.
“It’s not always about the food but about the content,” said King during the 3 p.m. speech, “How to Build and Maintain a Meaningful Brand in Food.”
“As we’re expanding, knowing who is accessing your brand remains your bread and butter,” said King.
According to King, using food to determine popularity and promote one’s brand, requires one to understand how others interact with content.
“For example, sharing and posting content on other users’ social media is more important than liking content, because sharing and posting content is a communal experience,” said King.
Through redefining the communal experience to their own needs and interactions, users are more likely to return to a brand for content, so by understanding this relationship, producers can create content tailored to engaging audience networks, said King.
King’s comments were iterated by others joining her on the panel.
“With content, you get a sense of what people want from you overtime,” said Hannah Bronfman, creator of HBFIT, a healthy cooking and lifestyle brand she began on her own during college. “Cross-pollination is another aspect of growth to consider – followers are everyone’s followers; one person can bring in others to stimulate organic growth,” said Bronfman.
“Bet on yourself and on your voice,” said Michelle Davis, a health food cookbook blogger and author also on the panel. “That way if you fail, you fail based on your expectations,” said Davis.
Since launching BrainFood in 2013 beneath their organization, Spoon University, founders Mackenzie Barth and Sarah Adler hope to use Spoon University and its events to empower future journalists and marketers through the culinary space, according to their About Us.
As Spoon University’s site states, “Our [college campus] contributors get personalized analytics on what’s working and what’s not working, so they can learn and grow and launch into the real world ahead of the curve,”
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