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Food Blogging in the age of social media : A Chat with Carlotta Panza

Carlotta Panza, food writer, storyteller, and pasta lover, discusses the passion, creativity, and hard work that goes into creating compelling content and building a successful brand like La Panza Piena on Instagram.




How did you start your food blogging journey?

My journey began when I launched my Instagram page La Panza Piena in 2015. It started as just a platform to share my thoughts. As the years went by, my passion and knowledge of food grew. I realized that I wanted to write more than what could fit inside an Instagram caption, and that's when I launched my first website and then my second website, where the writing covered mainly guides and recipes.

When I was doing my master's I got into a new side of food, which was the emotions tied to it. Emotions like how eating something can instantly transport you back 20 years or how certain flavours remind you of a person who is not in your life anymore or a million other things.

I was so intrigued by that. I started thinking about these short stories revolving around food and emotions, and I pitched my first short story to the digital magazine, Italy Segreta. The story I pitched was about La Scarpetta, which is an action you do when you clean up the sauce from your plate with a piece of bread. They liked it. And that's how everything began.


Tell us about your newsletter, The Cabins of Curiosities

With the help of some collaborators, I've launched a new newsletter. Because I realized I was only expressing my opinion. And I'd love for others to share their expertise. So I reached out to my community, and the feedback was great!. As a result, I decided to call this new newsletter The Cabinet of Curiosities.


What would you describe as your niche in food blogging?

I'd like to say that my specialty is Italian food culture. So anything to do with food culture, food history, forgotten ingredients, recipes, traditions, or just odd ingredients at the market. Or even discovering small restaurants and food shops that are not widely known.


Dishing out mussels on a (winter) round trip of Sicily via sailboat



What are the processes involved in creating your Instagram content?

My method is quite spontaneous. That, I believe, is one of the reasons for my slow growth. I believe it took me a while to find my niche. In part, this is due to Instagram's algorithms. I prefer my Instagram content to be spontaneous because I spend a lot of time creating content for my newsletters and for collaborations. It's more relaxed. I prefer to live the experience first, and then if it's worthwhile and the photos are beautiful, I'll post about it on Instagram. And I believe this is also why I work well with Instagram stories because they are much more spontaneous and do not require as much planning as posts, as well as being more interactive.


Spontaneous posts or carefully studied posts, which according to you is better?

I believe that spontaneous content works better. However, trends play a significant role. Certain foods are far more popular than others. Pasta, for example, or anything that is a little food "porn-ish" will be more successful than, say, a salad. However, I believe that posts with a bit of a story to them do well and resonate with the audience. I usually post something I made or ate at someone's house that has a story behind it. If I have to do a restaurant-themed post, I might do a list of my top five Japanese restaurants in Milan or something similar. Those posts, in my opinion, are beneficial as they are informative, rather than just inspirational.


Do you do brand and restaurant collaborations? Is there pressure to endorse all collaborations?

I do get invited to restaurants or events at restaurants a bit. But those aren't like collaborations. But they're so important because you get to network with the industry.

It's complicated because there's no such thing as a free meal. Most people clearly state that you don't necessarily need to post about it; if you have a good time, then you can post it. Making an objective evaluation when you’re not paying is tricky. I think to myself “if I were paying, what would I think of this meal?” Perhaps I would think that the music was way too loud, or the main course was a bit cold, or that the quality to price ratio wasn’t fair.

Raviolo con tuorlo




How do you remain authentic on Instagram?

I make an effort to only discuss experiences that are accessible to everyone. I believe that quality food should be available to everyone. Everyone should be able to enjoy good food and cooking, not because they are forced to, but because they have the ingredients, knowledge, and curiosity to do so.


In what ways do you keep the audience interested?

It's difficult. I get inspired by talking to people who have nothing to do with Instagram but are extremely knowledgeable. And now, with the addition of contributors, they play a huge role because it's a group of people with diverse backgrounds, tastes, and ideas. As a result, they will always create new and unique content. One of my contributors, for example, wrote this lovely piece; about the simple pleasure of eating under the sun or finding a table in the sun, (not in summer obviously!) That was beautiful to me because it's something we do as humans often without even thinking about it.



In what ways do you engage with your audience?

It is a time-consuming task. Interacting with people is great, although I find it tricky to divide my time between creating content and interacting with people. Quizzes are something that works well for La Panza Piena. However, because algorithms change so frequently, it's difficult to say that quizzes are exactly what lifts my engagement because it's always different.

Outdoor cooking, Salina, Eolian Islands. January 2023




How do you deal with content fatigue?

I believe that I simply try to live my life and am then inspired by outside influences. I try not to place too much emphasis on Instagram. I’ve never done a full “Instagram Detox” although I might not post much if I'm on vacation. In general, I find my balance. I believe that doing things solely for Instagram content is the wrong mindset. I believe in doing it for the sake of the experience. I'll post it if something visually appealing comes out of it.


What are your experiences as a freelance content creator?

My previous job was as a freelance content creator. The content creation side of the projects was always my favorite. What I found challenging was following so many different clients on social media, because a successful profile requires at least two hours of interaction per day, which means that if I have four clients, I spend eight hours a day just interacting, not creating or scheduling content.



How has social media changed for you in the recent past?

I believe it has changed dramatically. First of all it used to be easier for someone to build something from scratch. Now things are much more complicated because the market has become saturated.

I mean, in general, it's changed for the better since I started, but Instagram in general has evolved so much. Not always in a good way. I think the biggest thing I don't like about it is when they switched from showing content in chronological order to showing content based on algorithms and engagements. I hate not being able to see pictures that my friends post on my personal Instagram. Instead, I'll see post after post on celebrities, memes and viral videos (which I admit at times are entertaining).


Top tips for a successful social media presence?

Be completely yourself. Unless it's a profile for a restaurant or business. I believe you must show your face. People must understand that there is a figure (or more) behind the brand. In my opinion, there are several approaches to this. It doesn't have to be just talking to your community through stories, there are different levels of personality you can incorporate.

Be consistent; this does not mean posting every day, but it does mean not disappearing. It's perfectly fine if you want to take a break. However, try to maintain a consistent posting frequency.

And simply be enthusiastic about it. Because if you're passionate about something, it will happen. One of the best compliments I receive is when someone says, "You can really see and feel the passion you have".

You should also have a good eye for visual aesthetics.


Freshly made orecchiette



What do you think is the key to having a large Instagram following?

I don't have a single secret. I believe in consistency and collaboration.



What are your thoughts on Instagram influencers becoming full-time jobs?

I feel like influencers are the new celebrities, not just in the food industry but in general. It's intriguing, and it's a new challenge for the world. I believe that many people are still unaware of the power that comes with having 2 million Instagram followers. It's incredible and unique.


Would you take it up?

Maybe not as an influencer, but I'd like to start a food-related business. And La Panza Piena will become my way of communicating it. However, I want my future business to take place “in real life” with real people. And social media is the way to share and communicate the brand and initiatives.


Do you have a fixed content optimization strategy, and how frequently do you use it?

Yes, but it's not too strict. But I do it now and then, and I look at the things that went better than others. And I wonder why this worked. Is it because of the content? Is it possible that I didn't post it at the appropriate time? A million different things, you know.

What I pay close attention to is when is the best time of day to post, and so on. It probably made a bigger difference when posts appeared in chronological order. But they still have an impact now. If my main follower base is in Italy, I know that if I post at 2 a.m., no one will see it. You want to post when people are most likely to be on their phones. Also, Instagram works in such a way that if your post does not receive a certain number of likes, interactions, or engagement, it is pushed down. So it doesn't stay up there for more than a few hours. It jumps up and down based on likes. So you want to make sure that the majority of your community is online when you post.


What are your hopes for social media?

I want Instagram to appear more genuine. In general, I wish it would value quality over superficiality. So, for example, value the content based on the time it took to create it and whether it's communicating something interesting, rather than something that is, once again, just visually appealing, ASMR or food porn-ish.



Visit Carlotta's blog at https://lapanzapiena.substack.com/ to read her works.



Food has enormous power. It's how we communicate with one another, fuel our bodies, and connect with ourselves. And, because it is important, we must revolutionize how food is portrayed worldwide. Fudd is always pleased to include such accomplished food bloggers as Carlotta Panza as friends and consultants, and together with them, we are working to bring about a sea of change in how people think about food and communicate about it.


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Guest
Jun 25, 2023

Love this story!!

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