This morning I received an email from LinkedIn listing groups I might want to join. I don't use LinkedIn much but one group jumped right out at me: Food Bloggers. I clicked through, thinking, "yes! Finally! This is what I need!"
Have you tried networking with other food bloggers? I've been baffled over the last few months to discover that by and large the "networking" sites I've found are a bunch of links to people's blogs. How do you form relationships with a link? Where are you supposed to go to ask questions and get real answers without getting bombarded with "vote for my blog!" or "check out this awesomerecipeyoucan'tlivewithout!!!" or "we'd love to tell you... pay for this conference and you too can be one of 500 people to listen to someone we decided was an expert tell you how THEY did it... but not really give you any clue as to how to do it yourself."
The problem, in my opinion, is two-fold. Part 1) we aren't a formalized industry like lawyers, accountants, journalists, etc. so a lot of us are doing the best we can with what we've gleaned from other careers and industries. Part 2 (and most important) many people don't understand what networking really means.
Networking can best be described as "a process where you develop long term relationships with others for mutual benefit." And to delve even deeper into that definition the secret behind truly successful networking is not about what others can do for you but what you can do for others.
Here's an example: a few months ago I was at an alumni association event. I met a young couple who are looking for a home in a particular Boston neighborhood. I happen to know a real estate agent who specializes in that neighborhood. So I connected them. I haven't bought a house from this agent but I trust him. I found out later he was able to help this couple close on a condo. I got zero out of this endeavor and yet it was completely successful networking because a person in need (the couple) was able to connect to a specialist (the agent) through a networking source (me).
As bloggers we are often so consumed with raising our readership that we throw links to our site out there willy-nilly without taking the time to build relationships - the foundation for successful networking. We think there is some big secret we need to hold close to our hearts lest someone steal it from us. I'm certainly not the most popular or successful food blogger out there but I don't think I'm taking anything away from anyone else. Thus far I haven't felt like anyone has taken anything from me, either. So why all the secrecy?
I repeat: networking is about what you can do for others.
So where do food bloggers go to network? I haven't found the place yet. There is Foodbuzz, but really, I haven't found a way to successfully network on that site (if someone knows how, by all means, kindly clue me in!). There is the Food Bloggers Association but I can't figure out what you get for your membership and it doesn't appear to be terribly active (most recent post I could find was from December 23, 2011). There is the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association but most of us bloggers aren't journalists by training or trade. There is the Association of Food Journalists, but again, most of us aren't journalists. There are professional organizations for the culinary industry (I am a member of the American Culinary Federation and Women Chefs and Restaurateurs) but unless you have the credentials to join those professional organizations you're out of luck there, too, and anyway, they aren't blogger specific.
So I decided to create a place. Ideally I hope that within time this can grow into an official sort of professional organization but that will require time & money that I don't currently have and in time, would have to charge a fee for membership which I am unwilling to do until I can be explicit about what one gets for their membership. In the meantime, I decided to create a closed Facebook group since it's easy to post messages and connect with others through a group page.
What is this group for?
1. Connecting with other food bloggers. Hopefully we will be able to form professional relationships with each other that do not revolve around promoting each others' content. Form relationships based on mutual interests and genuine camaraderie. The rest will follow.
2. Asking questions. Any question. I can't guarantee anyone will be qualified to answer. But you should be able to ask the question. What kind of questions? How about... what is SEO? What makes good content? What's the best book for learning how to take good photos? Where do I find information on the going rate for advertising? Is anyone going to the Foodbuzz conference? Etc.
3. Professional development. While some of us may have degrees in journalism, culinary arts, or photography I doubt anyone has a Masters of Blogging degree (that would be interesting!) but that doesn't mean we can't develop ourselves professionally through respectful discussion of best practices.
What is this group not for?
1. Posting content or links to content. You post a link to your blog/page/etc and you will be removed from the group. No warning. No second chances. It's really simple. No posting links to your blog (or anything that resembles your blog such as your Facebook page, Pinterest boards, twitter account, etc).
2. No posting links to giveaways, products, promotions, requests for votes, etc. It's not rocket science - no spam. Again, no warning - you'll just be removed. As in, "you are the weakest link. Goodbye."
How to join?
1. Request to join and the admin (currently me) will approve you. Once approved, read the FAQ. I highly recommend reading this document closely. It's not meant to "test" you but simply to ensure that we're all serious and on the same page. Join here.
2. Introduce yourself (more on this in the FAQ) and update the member directory document with your info.
3. Read through the current posts & the docs before posting - you may find what you're looking for!
4. Post, ask questions, answer questions. Be active, respectful, and sincere.
I'm sure there will be a huge learning curve for many of us as this progresses - especially for me. For now, I'm excited and look forward to meeting you on the Food Bloggers Network.