How Food52 Uses Social To Fuel Content, Commerce, And Community



Grace Ouma-Cabezas of Food52, shares how the publishing company has successfully created a cohesive community tapping into social as a driver of audience creativity, fueling both content and commerce.


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Food52, an independent digital food publisher, began as an effort to create the very first crowdsourced cookbook in 2009. Fifty-two weeks and 140 recipes later, co-founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs realized they had much more than the raw materials of a cookbook at the fingertips.

We interviewed Grace Ouma-Cabezas, Senior Marketing Director at Food52, to learn how the company has used social media to evolve from crowdsourced database to premier kitchen and home destination.

SMW: What’s Food52’s biggest focus for 2018?

GC: We’re really looking forward to the year ahead. Our content, commerce, and community value proposition gives us a really unique ability to delight our audience—from a roundup of genius one-pot recipes, to offering the perfect French oven to make them in and a space to share cooking successes and questions—and we’re excited to keep building on that.

Our key areas of focus are creating the best and most comprehensive resource for our growing community of kitchen and home enthusiasts. As much as we love our devoted community, we know our offering can cast a wider net and be more inclusive.

SMW: In terms of marketing, you employ various tactics spanning live/in-person events, digital content, and even a podcast. How do you weave these into a cohesive plan?

GC: The key for us is really honing in on platform behavior and what kind of content our audience engages with and where. We coordinate regularly around distribution that is informed by the best practices of the platform—and create content and messaging with the optimal distribution method in mind.

For example, we recently launched a Change The Way You Cook content series to help home cooks up their game, and we really dug into the best way to educate our users. We created an email series that builds on our lessons each week. We’re leveraging social to encourage community participation with our series hashtag #f52cooking and plan to integrate UGC in the email series once that hashtag populates. And as this series is evergreen, we’re looking to integrate a video component as we refresh it throughout the year.

SMW: Can you describe the importance of tapping into audience creativity at Food52?

GC: One of the most fun things for me is the fact that Food52’s origin story is rooted in community, before community and UGC were buzzwords. Starting out as a recipe sharing and contest site gave us the credibility and authority to build on audience creativity in a way that feels genuine. Whether it be through our social platforms, Cookbook Club books, or our hotline, tapping into the wisdom of the community is core to our brand.

SMW: Besides Food52, which other players in the digital publishing space are you excited about?

GC: I’m a longtime fan of Refinery29 and how they treat content verticals and engagement across their social platforms and email—they still serve as the gold standard for any publisher that targets millennial women. Teen Vogue is really breaking through the clutter and offering real, authentic engagement for young women in a space that is normally seen as “fluff”—they are creating real communities of young people and sparking real conversations—and it makes me excited about the next generation of leaders.

I continue to keep an eye on Tastemade and how they curate video content across platforms as well. With the “hands in pans” cooking video reaching saturation, I’m interested in watching how they evolve. I’m finding BuzzFeed’s extension into hard news and long-form journalism really interesting. As much as I love a quiz about what kind of potato I am, it’s been interesting to see them breaking important news stories in recent years.

SMW: Food52 currently boasts 1.8 million followers on Instagram. How have you approached building a breakthrough presence on the platform?

GC: I can’t speak to this without shining a light on Kaitlin Bray, our Director of Social Media, who has truly been the visionary and architect of our strategy here. The kind of following and engagement we have doesn’t happen overnight. She’s been lovingly cultivating this platform for over two years. She and her team are absolute experts in curation: bringing in the right mix of both community-sourced content and our own photography that is all absolutely beautiful and delicious, along with continued experimentation.

We had a big win this holiday season, tripling our direct sales from Instagram, a majority of which came from Stories. In a time we could have been dampening engagement with messages that may have felt too promotional, we were able to use our voice and creative style to contextualize our unique products to that audience.

SMW: As both a newer and independent company in your space, what has been critical to ensuring Food52 stands out amid other food and lifestyle content?

GC: Our content, community, and commerce mix is what makes us stand out. Unlike a traditional retailer, we can talk to our audience and add value beyond just a purchase. Unlike a traditional publisher, we offer a space for community-building and a commerce component that furnishes the home and kitchen that accompanies our content. We have the permission and authority to make authentic connections with our audiences and do lifecycle marketing in a way that truly feels like a service. This is what makes our jobs fun!

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