The first ever Food Bloggers’ Conference in the southern hemisphere was held in Cape Town on Sunday, and was attended by some 60 food bloggers, so dedicated to their craft that they gave up a whole Sunday over a long weekend to attend the Conference.

One of the attractions to attend the Bloggers’ Conference was meeting bloggers and Twitterers that one has read or one follows.  JamieWhoSA, Michael Olivier, Sam Wilson (speaker) and CookSister (speaker) were in the audience.    At the end  of the day, a number of friendships had been formed, and new followers were added to Twitter accounts.

The key lessons learnt throughout the day were the following:

1.   Decide whether you are a cook who likes to write, or a writer that likes to cook.  This will guide one’s writing style and content

2.   Bloggers love an audience, so they must write for them, and not for themselves.  That means that one must research one’s audience, and find out what they like to read and why.  Measurements may have to be “translated” to suit the American market, for example.   Alternative product/fruit/vegetable names may have to be provided for names used in other countries.

3.  “Find your inner voice” – you must love writing to blog.  If you are struggling, change direction.

4.  Punctuation, spelling and grammar accuracy are of paramount importance

5.  Have focus about what you are writing, and it can be as wide or narrow as you like

6.   Keep motivated – 60 % of new blogs close down after one month

7.  Photograph everything you eat or prepare or are served, so that you can use the photographs at a later stage

8.   Take inspiration and motivation from comments, and delete and ignore the negative comments

9.   Evolve the blog, “shake it up” and make it better all the time, to keep it fresh

10.   One’s blog writing is a permanent record on the internet, and therefore can be a reflection of one and one’s brand for many years to come.

11.   Recipes should be treated with reverence, to show respect to women who came before

12.   Not all celebrity chefs can write recipes, e.g. Jamie Oliver, and they have a team of food editors, stylists etc that do that for them

13.   The headline or title of the blog must be snappy, interesting, mouth-watering, evocative and say “bite me”.  It also is important for Google searches, more so than the blog content.

14.  The first paragraph must summarise what the post is about.  It should not be too long.  It should not contain any whining, complaints, excuses or excessive bragging.   It must want to make the reader read the rest of the post.

15.   The picture must go in the top half of the post

16.  Ingredients in recipes should be listed in order of usage, can be categorised in sections, and must be accurate.  The method should be written with precise instructions, to realistic serving sizes, without the use of jargon

17.   Natural light is the best light to use to photograph food.  Use a muslin cloth to soften it if the light is too bright. Avoid using the flash.

18.   Choose a blog template that suits you and your needs, i.e. ability to accept comments, to have RSS feeds, to have links to Twitter and Facebook.  The template will influence what your blog looks like.

19.  Be realistic about the time blogging takes, and the blogging frequency you can keep up with.    

20.  Don’t write about what everyone else writes – be the first to write about a new topic.

21.  Check the appearance of the blog on different computers, as it can be influenced by browsers.   Avoid light type on a dark background.   Check the font size and type.   Avoid clutter.

22.   “You are the heart of the blog, it is about you, show yourself, be yourself” (CookSister). Stay in touch with your readers.

23.   One’s Facebook, Twitter and blog persona must match.  Decide upfront how much to reveal of oneself.

24.   Use YouTube, Ning, BlogHer and Stumble It!

25.  A picture creates read-appeal.  Contrast dark and light colours in styling food for a photograph.  Less is more.  Props must be photographed out of focus.   Tag photographs.

26.   Copyright is a consideration.  Ingredients cannot be copyrighted, but the preparation method can.   Add a copyright sign to the blog and each post.

27.  Do not be too intimidated by a lawyer’s letter re defamation and copyright, but don’t fight it if they are serious.

28.  Free products/meals must be transparent in a review

29.  It’s OK to make money out of one’s blog, as it costs money (e.g. restaurant visits, ingredients) to write it.  Do not slant the blog to sponsors’ products or services if they take an ad.  It will blow one’s credibility.

While many improvements can be made to a Food Bloggers’ get-together in 2011, the Conference was enjoyed by all, and all were delighted by the many give-aways, as well as heavy-weighted goody-bags they received.  It was R 430 well spent.  The Giggling Gourmet, Jenny Morris, served a very generous and delicious lunch in her new Cook’s Playground test kitchen on Napier Street.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com