YouTube has been floating around the #2 position in the race to become the most popular search engine worldwide, making it one of the most powerful social media tools for food content marketing and home to the most buzzworthy food influencers online. With so many food-inspired vloggers, YouTube is a great place to learn about all that’s going on in the world of food and beverage. By looking at some of the most popular influencers, we can distill some lessons about what it takes to build a loyal following around your favorite food products.
Of course, being a food influencer requires being an engaging character (whether that means being loved or hated). But beyond this, what makes a food vlogger successful? We’ll fill you in on five of the top food Youtubers and what we learned from them. Although they don’t all abide by the same rules, we noticed that they’ve all mastered a combination of these basic principles:
- Connect food with another topic of interest
- High quality video and food photography really does matter
- A highly engaged and loyal smaller following is better than a mass of unengaged followers
- Get really involved in the local community and become friends with other vloggers
- A little personality goes a long way
1. Rosanna Pansino
Rosanna Pansino is a former actress who chose baking ‘nerdy’ cakes in her small apartment kitchen over a slumping acting career, and it’s paying off big-time. With over 11 million subscribers, her series Nerdy Nummies is now one of the most beloved baking shows on Youtube. So how did Pansino build such a loyal community?
As an actor with an especially peppy personality, Pansino naturally developed a likeable character. But the secret to her success was in marrying a cultural niche (those who identify as ‘nerds’) with a love of sweets. This has proven to be such an effective formula that other influencers are following suit.
Pansino gives practical tutorials on making baked goods—but not just any baked goods. Her followers know that her channel is the only place where they’ll learn to make dinosaur fossil cake, pi pizza pies and other ‘nerdy’ creations. Nerdy Nummies draws on popular TV shows and Hollywood movies that viewers relate with. She uses popular ‘nerdy’ culture as an entry point for those who may not have been so interested in baking.
Nerdy Nummies is a family-friendly show inspiring engagement from kids and young Generation Z’s who may not otherwise try baking—an audience that presents a world of new opportunities for food marketing.
Guest appearances from celebrity ‘nerds’ like Cosmos star Neil Degrasse Tyson also help to boost engagement. Pansino also developed a cookbook based on her most popular recipes, which has helped to solidify her authority on the topic of baking and raised her profile as a leader in the industry.
2. Binging with Babish
Binging with Babish combines the host’s passions for food and film with high-res 4K footage of meal prep in vivid detail that borders on foodporn. Unlike many other popular recipe video creators, Babish never actually shows his face while cooking. By filming his prep station from the front (with only his torso visible), the viewer can focus on the food itself and his fancy handwork, almost as if they were his dinner guest. His straightforward food-focused style seems to appeal to hardcore epicureans.
Babish also aims to recreate your favorites from movies and TV, but with a more adult vibe (Think ‘the Swanson’ from Parks and Recreation or Coq au Vin from Donnie Brasco). His mission is to discover what ‘foods from fiction actually taste like’—and he admits they don’t all turn out as expected. Taking inspiration from popular flicks anchors his content to something with mass appeal, or even a cult following. With an audience of 4.2 million and growing, Binging with Babish may be developing a cult following of its own.
3. Hannah Hart (Harto) – My Drunk Kitchen
It all started when Hannah Hart, nicknamed Harto, piloted a spoof cooking show for a friend. The video of her frying a cheese sandwich while drunk went viral, and the rest is history. Harto didn’t have the high-quality video considered necessary for a cooking channel.
But her production value got better with time and her writing carried her through in the meanwhile. Hannah (perhaps unknowingly) tapped into a powerful trend—the comeback of comfort food—with wacky fast food and cocktail recipes. Although the formula for her videos hasn’t changed much, her series known as ‘My Drunk Kitchen’ has become the foundation for a bona fide foodie channel boasting 2.5 million subscribers.
While no one subscribed for culinary expertise (we hope) or her production value, they were hooked by her skillful (if accidental) use of humor and storytelling. A little personality goes a long way, and Harto has lots of it. Even when her stories make absolutely no sense and video quality is at a DIY level, the viewer just can’t help but watch to find out what will happen next. A bit of unpredictability and a lot of cheesy puns are just a few elements she uses to hook her fans.
Harto solidified her place in the industry with her New York Times best-selling book, My Drunk Kitchen: A Guide to Eating, Drinking, and Going with Your Gut. Despite being more of a parody self-help cookbook, Harto has carved out her own place as the joker on the food vlogger scene. Her success proves that storytelling can be more important than the actual execution (of the video or the food)—a valuable reminder that food should be fun.
4. Yolanda Gampp – How to Cake It
With over 4 million subscribers, How to Cake It is one of the fastest growing influencer driven food brands online and has a Webby Award to prove it. The channel was created by three veterans of the TV industry who came together after The Food Network Canada canceled one of their shows. The self-taught cake artist Yolanda Gampp took the lead as host and is now the self-proclaimed ‘Beyoncé of Cakes.’ Specializing in novelty baked goods, Yolanda can make nearly anything out of cake.
How to Cake It broke the standard mold for Youtube baking shows. Most shows at the time didn’t have a visible host on camera and would stick to a carefully planned script. Instead, Yolanda would star front and center. They also found that breaking the fourth wall to allow banter, laughter and goofing around in the background actually increased engagement by making the videos more relatable.
The team at How to Cake It have achieved a fairly high production quality with elaborate sets and spoofs of super popular cake-able characters from shows like Game of Thrones. Similar to Nerdy Nummies, How to Cake It appeals to a family-friendly audience. Using outlandish costumes and fun music, Yolanda has mastered the element of personality to make baking entertaining.
5. Migrationology with Mark Wiens
Mark Wiens is a world traveler, author, and creator of the food vlog Migrationology, based in Thailand with a cool 4.2 million subscribers. Mark’s show is grounded in his personal story as an adventurer committed to exploring foreign cultures for the sake of food. His viewers have followed his journey from the U.S. to the DRC, across Asia and the Middle East.
Migrationology incorporates stunning cinematography of the places Mark travels and impromptu interviews with local vendors, chefs and regular foodies who graciously welcome him into their homes. Being a quick-moving urban exploration show, Mark tends to focus on street foods of special interest to travelers. Migrationology offers an immersive experience for the viewer, up-close and very personal, in the homes of people with very different foods and eating rituals—an experience that almost makes you feel you’re living vicariously through him.
And this is the key to his success. Mark understood the power of taking the viewer along for this immersive experience even before Anthony Bourdain’s beloved Parts Unknown became iconic for it (Mark started 10 years ago!).
Mark has compiled his knowledge and experiences collected abroad on his blog Migrationology.com. There, he offers e-books and city guides for those interested in the foods of major cities around the world, with a focus on Thailand.
If you’re looking to get more serious about using social media content marketing to promote a new food product, recipe videos and other food-inspired vlogging is the way to go. As these influencers make clear, the best way to build a growing, engaged community around food is to relate eating to other popular passions. Food should be fun—whether this means making cookies out of Star Wars heroes or chowing down on the most bizarre street foods in exotic places, your foodie followers are looking for a fun, immersive experience, so let them have it!