By Liz Shannon Miller
Building a successful presence on YouTube isn’t an easy prospect, even if you’re one of the top food-related brands on the web. So when Allrecipes, a longtime friend of the home cook, decided to get into the game, it got a little help. Or, rather, the company took a short cut.
Allrecipes, which was founded in 1997, only began experimenting with video about four or five years ago, according to VP of consumer brand strategy Esmee Williams.
“We dipped our toes in, waiting to find out what our consumers wanted to interact with,” she said in a phone interview. “We have a huge following already, thanks to the website — “ Allrecipes.com currently receives 30 million visitors every month, according to numbers provided by Williams “ — but YouTube was something new for us.”
So, in 2011, Allrecipes acquired the pre-existing YouTube channel Food Wishes, created by “chef” John Mitzewich. Mitzewich produces and posts two or three videos a week showcasing how to make various dishes, never appearing on screen but narrating the process as he goes with his now-trademark self-deprecating humor.
Mitzewich began producing videos in 2007, and his origins were humble: “I would duct-tape [a web cam] onto a spice rack. That was my tripod,” he said via phone. During his first two years on YouTube, he never fully optimized the service’s features — but he did manage to produce a large library of content. “I did a lot of things wrong when I started. The only thing I did right was be prolific,” he said.
Mitzewich’s approach, though, ultimately paid off — the channel currently has over 720,000 subscribers; videos receive an average of five-to-six figure view-counts. And for Mitzewich, being under the Allrecipes umbrella hasn’t changed his work process — he’s still a one-man operation, taking fan suggestions for dishes to cook and posting to his channel and the Food Wishes blog.
The one major change for Mitzewich is that Allrecipes now handles the business end of his business, for which he’s grateful. “They’re a big corporation — they’re already good at the business stuff,” he said. “I’m able to focus on making my two-to-three videos every week. It’s a great symbiotic relationship.”
As part of the Allrecipes team, Mitzewich said he provided “a lot of critiques and consulting, quote-unquote” on the company’s approach to their YouTube presence.
“We were able to learn what content resonated for the YouTube audience,” Williams said. “Because if you’re not creating content that people get excited about and want to engage with, you’re not going to find success.”
In addition, Mitzewich shared his insight into the way food video in general was evolving, and the best strategy for creating it. “A lot of my input went towards making the videos feel personal — with less of that corporate voice-over style,” he said. “If you want people to like it, it’s got to have that personal touch. If it has good ratings and viral sharing, it’s because it doesn’t sound like the Kleenex voice-over person. I think that’s just the trend of all food video online.”
What Food Wishes provides is a YouTube-friendly brand that supports Allrecipes’ other content — which is why it remains a separate presence from the official Allrecipes channel. “If you ran [the two channels] together, you’d risk diluting that brand experience,” Williams said. “It’s a very different audience with a different expectation of the content they want to view.”
And the existing fanbase also needed to be considered: “Chef John has built a following, but he’s also built a community, and YouTube is where they wanted to interact with each other.”
The main Allrecipes YouTube channel doesn’t necessarily have the full force of Mitzewich’s personality, but that’s due to a difference in audience and approach native to the nature of Allrecipes.com.
When the typical home chef visits Allrecipes.com, they are coming to the site, in Williams’s words, “at the exact point of need” — at that moment, they’re trying to solve a problem or tackle a challenge in the kitchen, and are looking for help. However, on YouTube, Williams said “There’s less immediacy of intent — there’s more browsing.”
That’s why Chef John’s Super Bowl prediction videos, which use chicken wing bones to guess the winning team in advance, wouldn’t play well for Allrecipes — but have nearly 100,000 views on the Food Wishes channel.
The main Allrecipes channel isn’t doing too bad, though, numbers-wise, with over 200,000 subscribers. And according to Williams, Allrecipes receives more comments on its YouTube demonstrations than on the main site.
However, “the types of conversation occurring are different,” she said. “They might watch food and cooking content without intent to prepare — it’s more about fun. The entertainment factor can be stronger on YouTube.”
* Editor’s Note: VideoInk, now inspired by Upworthy.