SXSW Interactive 2018: The Era of Camera-First Food Panel Recap

S2 at SXSW 2018: “The Era of Camera-First Food”

We had a delicious discussion during our 2018 SXSW Interactive panel “The Era of Camera-First Food” earlier this year.

I was joined on stage with fellow panelists spice chef Lior Lev Sercarz from La Boîte (@la_boite), director and photographer Thomas Schauer (@tschauer), and US trade commissioner Michael Friedl from Advantage Austria (@mfriedl_nyc). We explored the intersection of food and visual storytelling, and how the cultural impact of these trends apply to your brand. Here is the video, audio, and some highlights of the panel.

State of the Plate: What’s #Trending

Inspiration for the panel stemmed from the work we do at Sociality Squared, and our own personal relationships with food and screens. The whole team loves eating and gathering around a table when we get together. We also love working with food clients and creating compelling content for them. Why? Food is inherently social and we, as humans, are social beings.

Even though I own a social media agency, I believe that you can’t replicate the magic that happens when people connect and come together in person. And especially when it’s coming around a table and having a good conversation. 

The kitchen table is the original social network. It is where friends and families are nourished not only through what’s on their plates, but also through connecting with each other through stories.

Social media brings the same principles of storytelling and connecting with each other to the table, (pun intended!) digitally, and at a much bigger scale for relationship-building regardless of physical proximity. This spills over to brands too: People want to connect through emotive storytelling, and see real, authentic content from brands.

We eat with our eyes and our cameras now. The amount of content being created is staggering. In 2016 alone, just as one example, over 73 million just took photos of their coffee. That’s just one beverage.

Interestingly, one study showed when food is photographic, and it’s worthy enough to take a photo, we are actually going to enjoy it more. There’s a ritual to it, of taking a photo, a hesitation and appreciation of it, and it makes it look better.

Brands who are not adapting to this change will fail, and the brands that are thinking social-first and with the camera in mind are already excelling (of course, Sociality Squared can help your brand if you’d like!). One example is Starbucks that has created zombie and unicorn frappuccinos following their customers organically creating these Instragrammable beverages.

SXSW Interactive 2018 Era of Camera-First Food

You Are What You Eat (And Photograph)

Why is photographing food entering our cameras and feeds at such a large scale? The ubiquity of mobile phones and platforms to easily share is one reason. The other is that food is a reflection of our identity. At the end of the day, people want a means to connect with others and express themselves. Food is a universal truth that allows it.

The New York Times Psychology of Sharing Study uncovered why people share:

    • To bring valuable, enlightening and entertaining content into the lives of people they care about
    • To define themselves
    • To grow and nourish their relationships
    • Self-fulfillment
    • To get the word out about causes they believe in

Sharing what matters to you, including what you eat, is a form of self-expression and a medium to connect with others.

Brands can join this conversation by sharing beautiful food photography and also by presenting their products in ways that encourages photographing, videoing, boomeranging, and sharing.

onstage photo

Show Me What You Eat, and I’ll Tell You Who You Are

Whether you’re a big brand or a business just starting out, the rules have changed with social media. With the proliferation of smartphones, everyone is a photographer, and companies of all sizes are invited to the club to grow their brands. Lior pointed out that what once has been reserved for professional photographers and advertisers in regard to beautiful food photography has been democratized. Anyone with a smartphone, a plate, and an Instagram account can partake in this new social currency.

Brands need to join the conversation, and creativity is key. We always encourage exploring and playing with different visuals to make your content exciting and get your messaging across. All of the platforms are constantly updating how people and brands can express themselves, so test them out and see what resonates most with your fans. If you’re not already using video and Instagram Stories, add this to your content strategy and mix.

SXSW Interactive 2018 Era of Camera-First Food

SXSW Interactive 2018 Era of Camera-First Food

The Future of Consuming (Pixelated Food)

While we are digitizing and pixelating our food, you still need to actually eat! Food will keep us human even as virtual reality and augmented reality expands. You can can explain something on Instagram and take a good photograph, but that doesn’t capture the full experience of actually consuming the food. The smell, the taste – these don’t translate digitally. And that’s a good thing.

My prediction for the future of branding and the digitalization of food? From a social media standpoint, it’s just video, video, video across platforms, including vertical video for Instagram Stories. Also, restaurants are beginning to merge the digital and in-person experiences. I would predict that more brands will be doing experiential marketing, bridging the offline and online, where you have people actually coming together in person, and then having those photographable moments that are special.

SXSW Interactive 2018 Era of Camera-First Food

SXSW Interactive 2018 Era of Camera-First Food

10 Tips and Takeaways to Apply to Your Brand

What does all of this mean for your brand? The panel left the following tips and takeaways for brands:

  • Know and love your product
  • Stay true to your brand
  • Customize and optimize content specific to each platform
  • Think vertical: Pinterest pins and Stories (images and video)
  • Be nimble: platforms are constantly changing. Be ready to test and experiment
  • Think visual storytelling
  • Content, community, and conversation are king
  • Social proof is important
  • Offer full visual transparency
  • The content you have is the new visual currency by which many people judge and evaluate you

We also covered that the plate can serve as a platform to address social and economic issues. I’ll follow-up with a separate post to dive into this subject more.

Until then, a big thanks to Thomas, Lior, Michael, and everyone who joined us at SXSW and are checking out the panel content here. I’d love to hear your questions, thoughts, comments, and feedback, so don’t be shy. We’re in the era of camera-first food, and there’s much more to dive into and discuss, and I look forward to following its evolution with you.

Written By:

Helen Todd

Helen Todd is the co-founder and CEO of Sociality Squared, a full service social media agency based in New York City since 2010 who understands the magic of people coming together around what they value and love. Helen is an award-winning marketer, international speaker, and also an advisor and speaker for SXSW Interactive. Helen holds a Master's degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from Emerson College.