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The Gourmet MBA

Taking her food blog to the next level

Raise your hand if you take pictures of your meals and post them to social media.

Now raise your hand if you do that and know how to monetize it.

That’s just why Danielle Heath, Class of 2019, is pursuing a Master’s in Business Administration degree. She’s a food blogger on Instagram—her feed BostonBehavior has 7,600-plus followers and counting. She’s getting her MBA so she can be as good at business as she is at blogging.

“The value of being in the MBA program for me is that I’m learning how to run my own business and elevate what started as a hobby into something that I can do full time,” says Heath. “Running an Instagram site presents interesting business challenges.”

Along with studying balance sheets and expense reports, she’s also learning crucial business tools like how to be a better negotiator. That’s especially important as she tries to monetize BostonBehavior. She can’t make money by selling advertising on her site (social channels don’t have that functionality) or from subscribers (it costs nothing to follow BostonBehavior on Instagram). So she has to find other ways to get something from a restaurant in exchange for eyeballs.

“One thing that’s been helpful at Suffolk is figuring out how much I can charge based on my following,” says Heath. “Or how much I can charge to run a contest or take pictures a restaurant can use on its own social media streams. Having that skill definitely complements my business model.”

Not a hobby

She may have started out as a weekend gourmet snapping photos of her yummy dinners. But BostonBehavior has evolved into a potential revenue stream. Which means Heath has to approach each restaurant she wants to visit as a one-time business partner. She’ll reach out to the manager, explain what she wants to do, and, most importantly, demonstrate how it’s good for the eatery—with the data to back it up.

“Bigger food bloggers might have 100,000 followers,” said Heath. “But that doesn’t matter if the people aren’t in Boston. About 90 percent of my followers are local to the Boston area, and most are my age. So I can deliver a really targeted and high-value group to a restaurant that I put on my feed.”

All the kitchen has to do is bring out some signature dishes for Heath to photograph on her iPhone. She handles the rest: the shoot, the food styling, the editing. It’s hard work. She ends up rearranging furniture, standing on chairs, staging the food in multiple ways, taking dozens and dozens of shots, then going through an exhaustive selection process to get “the one image” that she likes.

All the while she’s thinking about her thousands of followers, the number of “likes” she wants to get, as well as the promise of multiple reposts of and comments about her mouthwatering imagery. It can be a lot of visibility for a pretty minimal investment on a restaurant’s part.

The fringe benefit? Once she’s taken all her shots, she gets to sample the fare—although it’s often long after the meal’s been served.

“Yeah, I eat cold food a lot,” Heath says with a laugh as she bites into a slice of much-photographed pizza.

Heath recently parlayed her Instagram experience into a full-time job at Metter Media, a social media management company whose clients include several restaurants.

–Ben Hall