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Teaching Social Media Savvy One Food Picture At A Time

Published: Friday, August 12, 2016 - 4:58pm
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(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
Angela Schuster directs a class on how to take better Instagram photos of your food.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
Sherry Shahriari takes a photo of flatbread at an Instagram class at Tanzy Restaurant in Scottsdale.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
Maggie Lorentzen shows a photo to her sister at an Instagram class in Scottsdale.
(Photo by Lauren Gilger- KJZZ)
Renee Fuentes takes a photo of her drink as part of a recent Instagram class in Scottsdale.

Social media has become an important tool today to help grow a business or shape a personal brand. But, we have all mostly used Facebook and Instagram to document our lives.

So, what if you’re no good at it?  What can you do then?

Turns out, there’s a class for that.

The Show’s Lauren Gilger went to an Instagram class set up by a local public relations firm at Tanzy Restaurant in Scottsdale. There, they’ll teach you how to take better Instagram photos of your food. (If you didn’t know these kinds of classes exist, they do.)

At the class, about a dozen people gathered in the back room of the swanky restaurant, and listened to Angela Schuster’s social media advice.

“If you want to have a good following, you know, you have to have your hashtags, you have to have a clean looking grid,” Schuster told the class. “But you also have to be posting consistently for people to be wanting to follow you and see what you’re up to.”

Schuster is a social media strategist for the public relations firm that’s putting on the event, a recent graduate of journalism school, and a self-identified millennial.

“One of the most important things is: When are you going to post your photos? When is it going to get you the most likes, the most views, things like that?” she asked.

(First thing in the morning, in case you were wondering.)

Soon enough, the participants were out of their seats, taking pictures of a display of food laid out before them: “Burra-cotta,” or burrata with ricotta cheese, rib eye steak with roasted fingerling potatoes, flatbread pizza and more.

As they took pictures, Schuster reminded them that lighting is key. “Using your flash sometimes can kind of bleach out your picture,” she said, “I’ve had friends who I make hold up their phone flashlight behind me just so you can get the right light.”

Schuster knows her job is “a very millennial thing,” but she also knows that social media savvy is now a commodity.

“You’re trying to drive people to your business,” she said.

A new type of marketing

Instagram, the smartphone app in which users post photos for their followers to see, like and comment on, is just one social media tool that’s becoming increasingly important for businesses, bloggers, photographers, authors, just about anyone in building their “personal brand.”

“It’s definitely how businesses are marketing now,” Schuster said. She said that Instagram is how millennials like her find restaurants and stores that they might never have heard of before.

And that seems true. Talking to the gathering of people at Tanzy for this class, it’s clear that personal branding – and figuring out how to garner coveted Instagram likes, or what Schuster calls "engagement" is essential.

There was an intern at Arizona Foothills Magazine, an owner of an Italian shoe store, and a food blogger there that night. One attendee, Ann Stussi, said she was just there because she liked taking pictures of food.

She doesn’t even have an Instagram account, she said, though her daughter tells her that it’s the thing these days.

Asked if she wanted to start an Instagram account, she was hesitant.

“It sounds kind of time consuming, but, we’ll see!” she said.

That’s a sentiment that Executive Chef Michael Press can relate to.

“I think maybe that has held me back in the past, you’re like, ‘Oh God, just let me, I just want to get back behind the line,’” he said.

While he swore he’d get better at posting on his Instagram account, he also said, sometimes, he just wants to do his job.

“I just want to butcher a side of tuna, I don’t want to take 10 minutes to take a picture of me butchering a side of tuna,” he said. “I just want get it done because I know I’m going to need it for tonight’s service.”

But, he said, he knows it’s important.

“In this day and age, it’s part of business. It’s part of being a chef,” he said.

Technology updates age-old storytelling

“It’s the network nature of the job market right now,” according to Alex Halavais, director of the master’s in Social Technologies program at Arizona State University. “You’re not going to work for the same company the rest of your life; you really do have to brand yourself if you want to have a job in the future.”

Halavais is a sociologist who studies social media and how people learn from it. And, he said, social media isn’t inherently bad or selfish or unhealthy. It can be, but, he doesn’t even think this is all that new.

“Really, what we’re seeing is not a trend but a return to what we used to do, which is tell stories to each other,” he said.

While technologies will change, Halavais said the idea of mass interaction, in which large numbers of people can talk to large numbers of people, is likely the way of the future.

“Some part of me thinks that we’re actually returning to something very basic, which is, ‘I want to tell you a story,’” he said. “Have you seen the rainstorm that just hit Phoenix in the same way that I and my friends have seen it?”

But, then, why do we so often make fun of people for their social media activity? To Halavais, it’s a matter of conceit.

“None of this is supposed to be constructed,” he said. “That’s part of the conceit, you’re supposed to do it so well that you’re kind of revealing the true self in taking this picture.”

For this millennial generation that’s using Instagram so often, Halavais said it’s an opportunity for creativity.

“They’re definitely modeling themselves after what they see online, modeling themselves after those who are famous online,” he said, which can lead to unhealthy behavior, or to something much more promising.

“Many people also just engage in it by producing their own goods and producing their own image and, in that case, I think it is, without being too Pollyanna-ish, kind of this dawn of a new age,” he said. “You have this ability to be creative in a way that you haven’t in the past, and I think, overall, that’s spectacular.”

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