In the digital sea of food bloggers, how does one find ways to stand out, inspire others and continually bring compelling content to the table?
Christi Johnstone makes it look way easy. As the very ‘sweet’ and talented voice behind popular dessert blog, Love from the Oven, Christi has seen much success over the past four years since creating her blog. From brand collaborations and TV appearances to the release of her very first cookbook, Smart Cookie, the proof is in the pudding that Christi is on top of her game.
We caught up with Christi as part of our “Influencer Spotlight Series” to get a behind-the-scenes look at how she built her personal brand, what keeps her fans engaged and for a peek into what’s in store for her food blogging future.
CJ: I started ‘Love From The Oven’ in 2010. Baking has always been a hobby of mine; I was always the person bringing a dessert to get-togethers and parties. It really surprised me to learn how intimidated many of my friends and family were when it came to baking. ‘Love From The Oven’ grew out of my desire to show others that baking can be easy, simple and enjoyable. I wanted to encourage my friends – and later, readers – to think that “this is easy, I can do this!” and help them feel confident in their own kitchens.
360i: What would you say is the biggest contributor to the growth of your huge fan base today?
CJ: I think that there are a number of factors at play to grow a fan base. I truly believe that content is king, and you have to deliver great content that your readers will find useful. With each and every post, I strive to give my readers something of value; be it a recipe, great tips or resources. I have always been passionate about photography, and I think that high quality images that draw readers in are very important, especially in our fast paced digital world. I strive to always be candid and genuine with my readers, and I hope that when they read my blog, they feel as though I’m talking to them as a friend that is sharing my favorite recipes and cheering them on in their own kitchens.
360i: With your book release this year (alongside hundreds of recipe posts), how have you continued to find inspiration for innovative ideas in the food space?
CJ: When developing recipes for my book – while continuing to create recipes for my blog – there were certainly moments when coming up with creative ideas felt like a challenge! I’ve found that it’s important to get out and find inspiration outside of food, in everything from art to nature. Traveling and trying new regional dishes always provides fabulous inspiration, and I enjoy stopping by local food trucks to try the creative foods that they are serving up. I also love to comb through old cookbooks – while it’s great to come up with creative new recipes, I still think there is value that can be found in traditional, staple recipes. As bloggers, we often focus too much on always trying to come up with completely new creative dishes, while time and time again readers voice their desires for good old fashioned recipes.
CJ: I had no idea that my career would turn to food! My undergraduate degree is in photojournalism, my graduate degree is in professional counseling, and every job along my career path included marketing in some way. So while I never expected to have a career creating and sharing recipes, it is a wonderful combination of my love of baking and professional strengths. The love of food is universal and connects us all, and it’s great to be able to work as an Influencer in this industry. While a chocolate cake recipe can simply be a great recipe, it can also be someone’s first recipe success. It can be the recipe a mom makes for her child’s first birthday, or the recipe that a grandmother bakes with her grandchildren. I love being able to create and share recipes that go beyond food and create experiences and memories.
360i: What sorts of criteria do you consider when evaluating brand partnerships?
CJ: When I consider working with brands, there are two main factors that I immediately take into consideration: Is the brand and/or product one that I organically use or could use, and can I bring something of value to my readers through the partnership? If the answer to those two questions is “yes,” then I look at moving forward and creating content that is beneficial for all parties involved. I absolutely love finding ways to promote brands and authentically engage my readers, while providing them something that they can use. I work extremely hard to make sure that my work with brands is more than just an advertisement to my readers. I take pride in creating great sponsored posts for brands that my readers truly enjoy.
360i: What have you found to be the most rewarding moment as a food influencer over the years?
CJ: It’s incredibly rewarding to work with brands I grew up with, and it’s been surreal to see my book sitting in bookstores – and appearing on national TV is pretty amazing. All that said, I think the most rewarding moments are when readers reach out to me via comments, email or social media to share that they’ve made my recipes and have had success with them. The original goal of my blog was to inspire readers and give them the confidence to try new recipes – and to this day, that is what brings me the greatest joy. In this busy, automated world, connecting with somebody over something that still is such a hands-on and heart-in activity truly is the best.
360i: What is your favorite social platform – and is this platform the same as your most ‘successful’ social platform?
CJ: I think that social media platforms are rapidly evolving and as content creators, we have to evolve with them. Facebook was once my favorite way of connecting with my readers, and Pinterest is a wonderful outlet for driving traffic to my site. While I love the Pinterest traffic, I also know the platform will continue to evolve, so staying a step ahead and looking to other platforms is very important to me. I absolutely love Instagram, with its behind-the-scenes, more personal feel. It’s great to connect with brands, other bloggers and readers on a slightly different level. I think it’s important to stay flexible with social media, and know that tides can always change – and to be prepared for that.
360i: What kind of work are you hoping to do in the future?
CJ: I would love to continue to partner with brands to create content my readers will enjoy and find valuable, while promoting the brands and products I love. I’ve recently started doing more work for brands to use on their own websites and trade materials from food photography to recipe development, and would love to take on more of that type of work. I also think video content is becoming a larger medium for bloggers of all genres, and I am looking to incorporate more of it on ‘Love From The Oven’ in 2015. Additionally, next year I’m excited to add a few very carefully selected monthly contributors to my blog.