Do you have a niche food blog that targets certain readers, such as bakers, paleo eaters or local restaurant-goers? The challenge is how to find the right readers and fans, or how they discover you.
Halal food expert Yvonne Maffei knows who her readers are and how to attract them. She has over 1.1 million likes on Facebook. Establishing her blog, MyHalalKitchen.com, has led to brand ambassadorships and sponsorships from many companies in the halal industry.
We met when I spoke in her home town of Chicago years ago, and more recently I coached her on a cookbook proposal. Her forthcoming cookbook, My Halal Kitchen, comes out in 2016.
Here’s what she had to say about finding and serving a niche audience:
Q. How did all those Facebook fans find you?
A. I was posting two or three times a day on Facebook, giving away recipes and cooking tips and any kind of inspiration. Our community is word-of-mouth, and things spread really fast. All the family and friends are going to know about it. If their friends liked the page, people noticed it. Maybe 20 people share a post with family and friends around the world.
In Chicago, where I live, I go to events, banquets, and parties to get known. People like to meet you in person and then they spread the word. Wherever I go, I am always passing out business cards or a favor with my name and website address.
Q. But your following is international, right?
A. I do have huge international readership. American readers are first, then Canada, and then Pakistan is third, because they speak and read English and are actively looking for halal information.
Q. Facebook drives traffic to your website, more than other social media?
A. Yes. Maybe it’s because of the age group. Instagram is for a younger crowd, but it’s not the millennials as much as people in their 30s or 40s, because they have families and want healthy recipes.
Q. Let’s talk about your recipes. They are not necessarily Middle Eastern. There’s Greek Salad and Strawberry Lemonade, for example. How do you decide which recipes your readers want?
A. Sometimes I’ll ask a random question on social media, like, “What are you craving in the summertime to drink?” I’ll absorb the replies and see if I can create something people would like. I like the element of surprise, to not have expected recipes that are typical Middle Eastern and Asian. I want people to see that they can make anything halal — like something they saw in a restaurant and couldn’t order.
I do a lot of demos of foods people don’t normally eat, mostly because they can’t find them halal, like Chicken Parmesan and Tiramisu.
Q. I watched a cooking video on YouTube of you making black bean dip, and I was disgusted by some of the ignorant comments.
A. I just ignore the comments. If I focus on that I won’t be able to continue.
Q. Unlike most American recipe bloggers, Thanksgiving and Christmas are not your biggest traffic sources. I assume the month leading up to Ramadan is your busiest time. What do you do to prepare?
A. It’s changing a little bit because Muslims are getting into Thanksgiving and the holidays, but yes, the big events are Ramadan and Eid. I usually share meal plans, shopping tips, what to do with leftovers, and party ideas. I just did a free e-book for Eid cooking and that was pretty popular.
I have an advantage because Muslims are not going to find a food magazine that caters to them.
Q. How do you convey that you are a trustworthy member of the tribe in your posts?
A. Your audience will tell you what they think of you. I disclose if I’m paid. I only recommend products I actually use, so I can provide an authentic experience. People can tell.
I also give people resources. People aren’t coming to my blog or my Facebook page just for a recipes. Their number one question is “Where can I get this?”
Q. So you have to be an expert on all halal quality products.
A. Yes. I want natural products, suitable for moms who don’t want artificial ingredients. They also want tayyib ingredients, an Arabic word that means pure. In the Koran, it says that God has ordained for you what is permissible — halal — and pure — tayyib. People are looking for organic products for this reason.
Q. Many of your posts look like regular food posts, but there is subtlety. Is that because you insert a knowledgeable sentence, such as : “It’s so simple to make, mainly because you can get the pre-formed Angus Beef Burger patties from Crescent Foods, a quality halal brand that is known for their humanely raised and antibiotic-free poultry products, and simply add your own flavorings to it.”
A. Yes. Also I use Arabic words, like inshallah (God willing) and al humdullilah (thank God), and mashalla (may God protect or bless).
Q. Why is that?
A. Muslims of every nationality know certain Arabic words because are part of their every day life, whether you’re Malay or American or Indian. It’s part of prayer, and prayer is Arabic no matter what language you speak.
Q. Was it important to you to be recognized by The New York Times, or are there other publications that are more important to your readers?
A. Not necessarily important, but I was excited that halal and Ramadan were mentioned. People were excited that The New York Times paid attention to us. We were recognized.