With 18 million monthly readers, plus well over a million social followers, one might say that the editorial team behind The Kitchn—a daily food resource—has quite a full plate. Ariel Knutson would agree. As the site’s savvy engagement editor, Ariel is tasked with creating succulent social experiences that inspire and delight their readers every day.
What’s her recipe for success? In the following Q&A, Ariel dishes on how a small social team (no really, she’s a mighty team of one) is cooking up big ideas.
1. How important is social to The Kitchn, and how do you manage your time across all of these channels?
The Kitchn receives many of its 18 million visitors a month through search, but over the last two years we’ve been working to also build our audience on social media, an effort which will be increasing even more next year. My job as the engagement editor is two-fold: I push out all content to our social platforms and also create (and help polish) daily engaging, social-oriented content I know our readers will love to drive social traffic and engagement on the site.
The key to getting all of this done is good old-fashioned time management. I rely on tools that help me schedule content in advance and in bulk. For example, I schedule Pinterest for the whole week on Friday (unless there is holiday-oriented content), and I try to schedule Instagram multiple days out.
By setting aside time to distribute content in bulk, it also makes it easier for me to quickly pop into our social channels throughout the day and engage with our readers on posts and answer any questions. When you have a small social team, it’s easy to overlook this part, but it’s super important. Don’t be a robot! Talk back!
2. Where do you look for inspiration when building out your content calendar?
A good chunk of my job is looking at what people are talking about on social media, and what people are engaging with on our social pages, and bringing all my insight back to our editorial calendar. I get a lot of inspiration from Pinterest and Twitter for trending content, Instagram for recipe content, and Facebook for big traffic content.
3. What marketing channels have been most successful for The Kitchn as a brand?
In the past two years The Kitchn’s Facebook page has grown from 60,000 followers to almost 1,000,000 (just a couple more weeks!). This is a result of lots of experimenting, creating social-driven content, and using paid social tools. The traffic that comes in from Facebook can’t be beat for The Kitchn.
That being said, the platforms I’m most excited about right now have very little to do with traffic back to our site. I love the rich, personal engagement we find with followers on Instagram, and the user-generated content (UGC) that has come from our monthly Instagram themes. I find it to be the best social platform to get your brand message out there.
I’m also super excited to create new kinds of content for Snapchat right now. I love that unlike Instagram, it’s less polished and creates an entirely new user experience for our readers. It’s very “behind-the-scenes,” which I love.
4. What have been the biggest challenges in creating or curating content?
The easy answer to this question is always time and resources. Coming up with ideas and different avenues for experimentation is the fun stuff.
5. You have nearly 150K Instagram followers. How do you keep them engaged?
Right now The Kitchn posts five different types of Instagram posts: UGC, recipes that link back to our site, behind-the-scenes at The Kitchn, events or programs The Kitchn runs, and video. Each of these kinds of posts has a purpose for engagement.
Our UGC posts typically have the most likes on Instagram, and people are always super excited to be featured. It’s a great and easy way to get people involved with your brand on Instagram. Our video gets the most comments, including a lot of people tagging friends, which is super important for follower growth and building community.
6. Do you see Instagram as a traffic driver?
As our Instagram followers grow, so does the traffic we see from Instagram. Will the traffic ever get as big as Facebook and Pinterest? Probably not. But that doesn’t mean I don’t consider this type of traffic valuable.
Instead of telling our followers to “search Google” or switch out daily links (which I think looks confusing), The Kitchn uses Like2Buy to drive traffic from Instagram. This is a small luxury we give to our readers, and makes our site and Instagram easier to navigate.
7. What types of images resonate with your fans? Has this changed over time?
The photos that resonate with our fans are large, vertical, close-up, clean, and delicious. I’m already seeing higher engagement with the vertical photos that Instagram recently enabled. I find photos with warm-colored foods do well, with a white or blue background for Instagram. There are certain foods that will always do well, like cheese, fries, avocados, and cake. Slow cookers always win, and images with words tend to do well. These things have not changed in the time I’ve been with The Kitchn.
This year we’ve experimented with doing small visual features, like ways to dress up your avocado toast, which perform very well across our social platforms. They’re beautiful, easy to make, and deal with a trendy subject. We’ve also been experimenting with 15-second social videos, which have seen great engagement on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
8. How do you create those mini videos? Is there a secret sauce?
The Kitchn doesn’t have a large budget for video compared to other traditional publishers, so that means we have to get creative and crafty with our video ideas. This is a fun challenge to have. For our mini videos that are aimed for social (specifically Instagram), I try to choose easy, trendy recipes or ideas that don’t require a lot of explanation or shots. A lot of these ideas come from things we’ve already featured on the site.
This summer the video director and myself set aside one day to shoot eight small videos for social. It was just her, the camera operator, myself, and an assistant. You can get a lot done on the cheap if you’re super organized about everything.
My favorite video we’ve done so far is this super-easy grilled cheese video, which saw great engagement on Instagram. The concept for the video was easy, the subject was trendy (cheese, amiright?), and the payoff was big. It took little effort and money to create.
9. You mentioned user images too. How do you go about finding and selecting the right UGC?
The Kitchn has a monthly Instagram theme where we ask our followers to post something related to our Instagram theme with the hashtag #thekitchn. Right now we have about 140,000 images on Instagram with that tag. It’s the easiest marketing tactic ever and people absolutely love being featured.
I currently use the Curalate Canvas feature to track everyone who tags a photo with #thekitchn. Every couple of days I go into this section on Curalate and approve and schedule a handful of images I think would resonate with our followers.
10. Any exciting content plans in the pipeline for the holidays?
November through January is The Kitchn’s Super Bowl. Food is obviously a big part of the holidays, so it doesn’t take a lot of extra work to make things really fly on social. That being said, we have a some mini videos that are aimed for the holidays that will be released in the coming months, a few Pinterest boards that we’re refreshing, and holiday Instagram themes for November and December.
11. How does your team define “success” – and what do you feel has made you successful so far?
Success on social for The Kitchn means three things: Traffic back to the site, brand identity, and community. Traffic back to the site is easy to figure out, but it’s harder to quantify brand identity and community. That’s why I look at our share rate—a share on Facebook, a retweet on Twitter, a friend tagged on Instagram, or repins on Pinterest—across social media. Your fans are your biggest advocates, and keeping them engaged and listening to them is where you find success.
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