A guest post by Jamie Schler
Last year, after signing a contract for my first cookbook, I decided to Tweet again — but on food and politics. Not just food.
I already used Facebook almost every day as a marketing tool. I posted about my food writing projects, shared links to food stories, recounted travels, and showed photos of what I baked. While I had long abandoned Twitter, I needed to reconnect with my modest following and promote my upcoming book, Orange Appeal.
But I immediately found myself drawn into the non-stop political conversations about the US presidential election, which then spilled over into Facebook. I found myself spending more and more time shuttling between my social media accounts to engage in political debate.
This behavior wasn’t so unusual. I have long been ardently political; in fact, politics is one reason I left the US and moved to Europe in 1985. I got involved in online political blogs and forums well before I started a food blog in 2008.
Soon my husband, and then my literary agent, told me to stop posting about politics.
The problem was that I was promoting not only my cookbook, but the hotel that I bought with my husband in 2015.
“It could really hurt the hotel’s business if potential clients disagree with your views,” my husband warned.
“This isn’t very good for your reputation as an author,” said my agent.
My surprise at their reactions quickly turned to disappointment and then frustration that I was being silenced. But I understood that my priorities were selling my cookbook and developing a welcoming, open business. And what would happen if my publisher, with whom I am connected on social media, had different political opinions?
I discussed how much to write about politics with fellow food writers and cookbook authors who are also politically vocal. I wanted to fight for the world that I believe in, using my platform and adding my voice. It seemed more important than the risk.
I know many food writers who refuse to post anything political on social media for fear of hurting their brand and driving away business. But others are so angry with the political climate that they don’t care. They find it more important to get out a message than sell another cookbook. These writers mark a clear difference between their personal and professional pages. They restrict who can see their political opinions. They feel that politics is deeply personal and a part of who they are and what drives them, and they expect their friends to accept this, or unfriend and unfollow. I am solidly in this camp.
But I decided to take my husband’s and agent’s advice. I reduced my political postings on Facebook and limited my political activity to Twitter. That was even as I also used it to promote my cookbook and network with fellow writers and editors.
And then my Twitter following took off.
It’s grown by a third or more since last November, in as many months as it took years to build the first two-thirds of followers. These are numbers that tweeting about food never brought me.
Obviously, a successful mix of food and politics thrills me. I’ve become part of a vibrant community of activists, but I am – I keep reminding myself – still trying to sell a cookbook, promote myself as a freelance food writer, and market my hotel in France.
So I ask myself:
- Does this new following, which now includes well-known entertainers, activists, politicians, and even big-name food personalities, buy my cookbook?
- Could those celebrities with millions of followers, who’ve connected with me because of politics, share the link to my cookbook on their feed, thus increasing sales?
- Will the writing about politics hurt my business?
As I watch my following grow, it’s difficult to tell who’s leaving me and why. Twitter algorithms seem to affect visibility. As food posts diminish on my feed, replaced by political ones, it’s possible my followers see less of my food tweets.
Here’s the bottom line: My posts about politics get a lot of action. My food posts, not so much.
Yet I weigh these pros and cons everyday, each time I send out a tweet. I’m still not sure I’m doing the right thing. Sometimes I feel that writing about food these days is a luxury, frivolous in the face of what’s happening in the world. I think I have an obligation to fight for what I believe in.
But maybe my job as a food writer and cookbook author is to alleviate the distress of the political landscape. I hope that I make even a handful of people happy when I punctuate the political noise and anger with a recipe, a photo of cake, the link to an inspiring or informative food story, or the joy of a cookbook.
So I’ve decided I’ll continue to use my social media platforms for food and politics, as long as I am reasoned and careful, despite the objections and my own reservations. My goal is to find a way to make my two selves work together until I can stop worrying about the world and get back to just food.
I realize that this is a complex topic. Each of us must decide how much we want to participate in politics online. I’d love to read about where you stand. Do you use your social media platforms to voice your political opinions alongside your food posts and blog or book promotion ? And how does it affect your business or brand? Or have you decided to stick just to food? Why?
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Jamie Schler is a freelance writer specializing in food and culture. Her work has been published in The Washington Post, Fine Cooking, The Art of Eating, France Magazine, and Modern Farmer among other publications. She writes the IACP award-winning blog Life’s a Feast and is the author of Orange Appeal (Gibbs Smith, August 2017). Jamie lives in Chinon, France where she owns the Hôtel Diderot and makes lots and lots of jam.
(Disclosure: This post contains an affiliate link.)