Group Gordon’s Jordan Miller explains why a food magazine he doesn’t read has him hooked on social media.
Earlier this week, a short work break turned into 17 minutes and 54 seconds (plus three commercial breaks) spent watching a video of Bon Appétit food director Carla Lalli Music teaching a famous drag queen how to make churros using only verbal instructions. I had no particular interest in learning how to make churros, and normally my attention wanders when a video hits the three-minute mark. I don’t even subscribe to Bon Appétit. But I am a huge Carla fan. Bon Appétit has created a marketing strategy based on promoting the personalities of its quirky, fun, creative employees rather than focusing only on the magazine, and I’m hooked.
Corporations face a lot of criticism for trying too hard to engage their audiences, especially on social media. Authenticity is a primary factor in consumers’ perception of a brand. Companies trying to capitalize on this regularly make costly missteps by improperly toeing the line between authentic and awkward—or even offensive.
But Carla and her colleagues aren’t corporations trying to show their humanity; they’re just real people. Bon Appétit’s secret ingredient is to let its people take center stage, and it works. All those individuals interacting with their followers, each other, and the brand has created a social media storm: the 60-year-old magazine has more than 2 million followers on Facebook, 2.5 million on Instagram, and 3 million on YouTube and Twitter. Over time I’ve added more Bon Appétit staffers to my own feed (sometimes without even realizing they work at the magazine). All of a sudden half the posts I see on Instagram are from associate web editor Alex Delany (45,000 followers), senior food editor Chris Morocco (37,000), test kitchen manager Brad Leone (224,000), Carla herself (75,000), and several others who appear regularly in the #BAStaff hashtag.
Like Carla, several staffers host engaging video series that have millions of viewers and the fan following is strong—just ask anyone who’s taken the “Which Bon Appétit Test Kitchen Chef Are You?” quiz on BuzzFeed. When editor Claire Saffitz (154,000 followers) announced her departure in August (only to return several months later), my corner of the Internet was devastated.
Why does this strategy make sense? I already admitted I’m not a subscriber, and I’m not in the target audience for the print magazine (high-income, middle-aged adults). But, by creating a strong and truly authentic social media presence, Bon Appetit has opened up new revenue streams for its bottom line. My clicks bring in ad revenue, my video views sell product placements, my shares offer free advertising, and the items I purchase through affiliate links in articles all support the Bon Appétit brand. The magazine has stayed true to its roots as a food and lifestyle publication, but it has found ways to adapt, modernize, and expand its audiences without alienating its traditional readership.
Bon Appétit’s strategy won’t make sense for every company, but it can still be instructive. Can you do more to humanize your brand? Are there opportunities for different parts of your organization to interact with one another for mutual benefit? Who or what best reflects the authentic parts of your brand identity, and how do you convey that authenticity to your audiences? And when all else fails, what favors can you call in to bring in a drag queen to liven things up?