Catherine Pappas, a food blogger and owner of Living the Gourmet has participated in over 20 Linqia programs with great success. Catherine shares her advice for reaching your program milestone, finding your tribe, and finding creativity in sponsored content.

You’ve met your program milestone on nearly every one of your Linqia program– well done! What are your tips for authentically engaging your readers, encouraging them to click through your blog story, and meeting your milestone every time? 

I love this question, honestly, because it actually applies to all of my content, whether paid or not, whether for Linqia or for other networks. With every post we publish, I keep in mind that the post is going to be the flagship for the site as long it remains on the top of the front page. Whether for a few hours or a few days, that post becomes Living the Gourmet for anyone visiting the site for the first time.

The pictures are going to be the first thing people see, and the story is going to be the first thing people read. That is how I approach content – always doing my best because each post is the first impression for however many first-time visitors I receive during the front page lifespan of that post.

That said, if people like what they see and read, chances are a decent number of them are going to interact with the post, whether it’s leaving comments, clicking through links, or sharing it with their friends. That tends to have a snowball effect. The more people interact with the site, the more likely they become to interact with the site the next time they visit, and the more likely they become to draw in new people to do the same through sharing.

For paid content, however, there is the added challenge of ‘not’ sounding like a commercial or paid posting. That means, essentially, doubling my effort because I’ve learned through research and my own trial and error, that people – hate – being advertised to. That means the less a post sounds like an advertisement the more people will pay attention, and the more likely they are to interact with it.

In short, produce content people want to look at and read, make sure your readers are having fun, and then meeting your program milestone really does take care of itself.

Can you share some of your most important tips on how to promote your brand within the food blogging community?

Be as active as possible. I wrote recently in one of my posts about blogging that social media is the first thing that greets me in the morning, and it is usually the last thing I see before I go to bed. That might not sound appealing, but it is an absolute necessity when growing a site organically, and when you want to utilize as little paid advertising as possible there is simply no alternative.

In essence, your community participation and social media presence is your advertising. It is how people know you exist. This means finding groups and communities that relate closely to your site content and your target audience, and then becoming an active and organic member of those groups and communities. Share your content without being spammy. Share other peoples’ content. Engage naturally. Be both interested and interesting. Make friends. Play the networking game.

Also, don’t be afraid to learn from those who are doing better than you. If you spot a site that is way ahead of you and is producing the kind of content you are looking to produce, don’t be afraid to peruse their site and see how they are doing better than you. Also, if one of your networking friends is ahead of you, don’t be afraid to ask plainly and politely for advice.

What was your favorite Linqia program and why?

It is very difficult to pick one. I’m about to wax artistic here, so bear with me. Looking back, I would say the Olive Tapenade post that we prepared for Mezzetta is probably my personal favorite. It was such a simple post, but I think the combination of classic flavors that I put together, and of course the products themselves, when paired with the rustic texture of the photos, and the nostalgic tone that I was able to achieve in the story, really spoke to what I try to do here at Living the Gourmet, and what I try to make the essence of my content. From my personal perspective, both professionally and artistically, it was just perfect.

For optimal engagement, what is the balance between writing engaging content and sharing beautiful photos?

Photographs pull people in, and the writing keeps them on the page. So, honestly, you really cannot have one without the other, but since this is a food site the photography is certainly the most shareable of the content I produce, meaning the photos will get people to retweet or pin the post, and that’s absolutely vital.

Do you have any additional resources you’d like to offer bloggers trying to gain influence in the food space?

Absolutely, I wrote recently about a number of resources that I use on Living the Gourmet, from photo editors to social media, and even what camera and phone I use.

For more from Living the Gourmet, read her Influencer Spotlight.