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Etnographic Research on Food Bloggers

My team and I carried out an ethnographic analysis of the “Food Bloggers’ Tribe”, for the course in “Consumer Behaviour and Relationship Marketing” taught by the late Prof. Brendan Richardson. Our Analysis aimed to investigate the current situation of the food blogging phenomena focusing on:

  • The tribal linking values.
  • Its configuration as a “serious leisure”.
  • Media convergence and the adoption of new platforms.
  • The outline of the food blogger career path.

At the end of o which we also were tasked with the design of an experiential marketing campaign that took into consideration the marketing implication of our findings.

Among the various project that I completed during my master thesis, this was one of the most engrossing, also because it has been one the longest taking most of the year to successfully bring to fruition.

I consider this project as a natural continuation of my bachelor thesis and it gave me great insight on how food blogger evolved as a “modern tribe” and how, more in general, the virtual communities’ configuration changed over time

Methodology

Based on the type of study we conducted, the methodology we decided to use was the one of:

  1. Online Participant Behaviour (netnography): This methodology was used as the primary framework for our analysis as bloggers and their followers use their virtual space to interact with each other. Everything is online. This allowed us to become more immersed with the members of the tribe as well as analyzing the non conditioned behaviour of the followers online.
  2. Web Content Analysis: This enabled us to understand the creativity and content and the interaction rather than just the textual writing evident in these blogs.
  3. Semi-structured Interviews: After identifying a common pattern and some consistent themes across the blogs’ contents and conversations, semi-structured interviews were carried out.  This provided good insight as we got information from members of the tribe as well as the leaders of the tribe.

We focused on analysed various prominent Irish food blogs and food-based social media profiles (FB, IG, twitter). We also had the collaboration of Caroline Hennessy (Bibliocook)   and Wayne & Janice (Irish Beer Snob) that kindly accepted to be interviewed.

Theories Behind Food Blogging

Serious Leisure

Blogging falls into what R. Stebbins (Serious Leisure and Work, 2009) describes as serious leisure which is defined as:

the systematic pursuit of a […] core activity that people find so substantial, interesting, and fulfilling that, in the typical case, they launch themselves on a (leisure) career centred on acquiring and expressing a combination of its special skills, knowledge, and experience.

In Food Blogging, this characteristic of ‘’serious leisure’’ is prevalent. The presence of a career in food blogging is quite blurred when deciphering between professionals and amateurs. Food Bloggers have been discreetly setting the standards and practices of communication which can be compared to those of professionals. Being a successful Food Blogger is now recognised as a viable job in the food and communication industries.

Convergence Media

Food blogging is reborn as a convergent media which is defined by Jenkins (Convergence culture: Where old and new media collide, 2006) as:

The flow of content across multiple media platforms, the cooperation between multiple media industries, and the migratory behavior of media audiences who would go almost anywhere in search of the kinds of entertainment experiences they wanted.

The unique convergence occurring in Food Blogging is explained by the fact that while the Food Blogosphere was born in the realm of new media (the Internet), it must (by nature of its realm) rely on the offline food world, as well as traditional media spheres such as print and television. Food Blogs are a complex combination of different media, interest and content which include cookbooks, photography and logging a personal diary.

This was particularly prevalent for our research as we began to recognize the fragmentation of the community and the lack of interaction on the conventional blogging platforms ie the food blog itself. These interactions have not disappeared but they have shifted and reconfigured toward social media platforms. We see it as a second convergence due to the nature and the receptivity of blogging. This is why we decided to include social media and those food bloggers who use social media to enhance our research.

Findings: Themes and Analysis

Food Blogging can fall into Cova’s definition (Tribal marketing: The tribalisation of society and its impact on the conduct of marketing, 2002) of a tribe where the aggregating factor is something more than common interests, but non-rational and archaic elements –locality, kinship, emotion, passion. We believe that Food blogging can configure as a tribe.

Experiencing Appeal and Excitement

The first recurring theme we inferred from the data collected was the search for excitement and experiencing appeal through food. Moreover, the visual impact of the virtually shared photography of food. These photographs not only accompany the recipes themselves, but they also represent content itself, still, pictures that have food as the subject, considered as artistic subjects

It beings aesthetic value, paying particular attention to the presentation. The combination of a vivid photograph of the food and an interesting is commonly referred to on social media as “food porn” or #foodporn. This very well explains the underlying seek for excitement and arousal, which can be translated by the famous phrase “food to eat with your eyes”. With the evolution of media technology towards visual experiences, this influences an individual’s perception of what is attractive, exciting, curious, and attention-grabbing.

Hedonistic Consumption

Consumption is hedonic and not utilitarian – particularly in leisure situations, in which the phenomenon of food blogging lies.

The consumer is looking less for the maximisation of benefits as traditional marketing presumes; they are seeking experiential gratification within a social context The overall experience is what the consumer gets in return for their money and the “festive” or hedonic value is reflected in the potential entertainment and emotional aspects obtained.

Skilled Consumption

Foodies focus on the aesthetic and the sensual appreciation of food as a form of claim to cultural distinction. Thus, Watson et al.’s (2008) analysis of one food blog sees it as part of the blogger’s search for personal significance and identity through “skilled consumption” experiences, shared with a “community of consumption”, other bloggers. They are also exhibiting their skilled consumption. The time and effort expended allow them to move up their Serious Leisure career ladder in the eyes of their community of consumption.

Food as a Social Connector

Food blogging can be seen as the “grandmother’s recipe book 2.0”. With this comparison, the values brought from publishing a recipe in a culinary blog post is not the simple physical sequence instruction that leads from raw ingredients to a finished dish, but as a traditional recipe handed down. It is the culture, the interests and passions of the blogger.

Please read the whole document for the exhaustive analysis and the complete list of references used: Ethnography Report on the Food Blogging Tribe.

Or check out the final presentation of the project :

Categories: EtnographyFoodMarketingQualitativeResearchSocial Media