Egg-cuse me, but you oat to know that this blog is cereal-sly no yoke and I promise, you are not going bananas…
For my 1,650+ followers of my Instagram account @breakfastwithbex, punny comments such as this, accompanied by yummy breakfast photos, are nothing out of the ordinary. Once known around campus as a typical English creative writing major, editor/writer for The Hill News, and volleyball player, my identity upon arrival back to St. Lawrence for my junior year this past August suddenly became, “Hey, you are BreakfastWithBex!”
I have been surrounded by great food ever since I can remember thanks to the value of impeccable cooking and baking that I learned growing up in my Penfield, N.Y. household. My mom, Betsy, is a baking sensation in my small hometown and her special touch in the kitchen has always been inspirational to me throughout the years. Whenever I attempted to mimic her cookie recipes, my baked treats just never seemed to compare. I needed to find my own niche in the kitchen: breakfast.
Growing up, my three brothers and I raved in anticipation of Saturday breakfasts and post-Sunday mass pastries. Whether they were waffles, pancakes and sausage, Mom’s cinnamon buns or Dad’s omelets, we loved the weekend breakfast specialties outside of our mundane weekday cereal. When I came to St. Lawrence, I found a new desire to experiment with different breakfast ideas, especially healthy oatmeal dishes to accompany my fitness-driven lifestyle and need to prepare a filling but quick breakfast to fuel my hectic day-to-day schedule. Every so often I would prepare an oatmeal dish with varying fruits and nuts mixes, or I would bake some muffins and post my creations on my personal Instagram account. Interestingly enough, these posts turned out to be my most popular, accompanied by texts from close friends saying how delicious my breakfasts looked. This positive response got me thinking: Why not combine my love for breakfast, photography, and the joy of laughter all into one product? With purely fun and creativity in mind, I spent part of spring break in March of 2014 creating @breakfastwithbex.
At first, my brothers would roll their eyes at me as I staged my breakfasts on the kitchen counter, featuring my bowl of oatmeal as the “star” in daily photo shoots. But I did not let that stop me. My followers and friends were very encouraging, both on Instagram and in person, thus I continued.
As the positive feedback rolled in and my number of followers surpassed my personal account, I began to realize @breakfastwithbex could be more than just a hobby. I spent many hours and weeks marketing my account by commenting on other food bloggers’ profiles while simultaneously encouraging them to check out my profile. The influx of attention to my account steadily grew. As I analyzed the most successful food accounts such as Kitchen Daily, Chobani, and Dennis Prescott, I found that one of the main reasons for their popularity was due to their effective use of hashtags. Without being a member of the Twitter community, the concept behind hashtags was a learning process. I researched the most popular and highly viewed food hashtags on Instagram and began hashtagging words and phrases corresponding with each breakfast post. My audience grew dramatically.
The moment I realized @breakfastwithbex had more potential than I ever imagined was when my posts started getting reposted by highly recognized food Instagram accounts such as Kitchen Daily, The Kitchen, and Kitchen-to-Feed as well as winning brunch competitions across Instagram. When companies such as Flatout Bread and Chobani commented on recipes in which I used their products, my desire to make @breakfastwithbex bigger and better skyrocketed.
So, by the time I reached 800 followers, I began plotting the next piece to my @breakfastwithbex identity. After an unbelievable opportunity shadowing St. Lawrence alumna Barbara Goldberg ’80 at Thomson Reuters in New York City this past June, I learned that many attractive applicants for internships/jobs in the journalism industry are bloggers who have created their own unique identity through social media. With this in mind, I used blogging skills that I learned and applied in Professor Juraj Kittler’s Literary Journalism class and taught myself the ins and outs of WordPress in order to build my own blog. This blog, which I revealed at my 1,000-follower milestone, would feature my breakfast recipes within the context of personal blog articles. My excitement grew when I was offered a network partnership with Millennial Kitchen, a food evolution movement from fast, unhealthy food to a whole-food, plant-based healthy diet. Then in October, I was contacted to become a contributor and network partner with Honest Cooking named one of the best digital food magazines in the world by Vanity Fair and winner of multiple Saveur Food Blog Awards.
After spending my summer blogging multiple times a week, creating new breakfast dishes and investing money and time into building up my @breakfastwithbex identity, my return to campus this semester proved to be quite the challenge. I knew that finding time to continue my daily breakfast posts and blogging would perhaps be a bit stressful with my hectic schedule of academic responsibilities, club meetings, newspaper commitments, volleyball practices and more. But I was determined to continue what I love doing. How can an extremely busy college student with a tight budget and barely any free time continue what seems like a full-time job as a food blogger? Well, it is more manageable than you may think!
Frequently I get asked, “Do you get up at the crack of dawn every single morning in order to make such fancy breakfasts?” or “How long does it take you to come up with your punny captions?” Typically I decide what I am going to prepare for breakfast prior to going to bed. I will make sure I have all the ingredients I need, or I will merely plan to go to Dana Dining Hall or the third floor of the new dorm to cook in the new kitchen. I do not go out of my way to purchase expensive breakfast ingredients, rather I buy certain items in bulk (oats, raisins, and nuts) and often stock up on fruits, toppings, yogurts and liquid ingredients at the dining hall and the Pub. This is very manageable for any college student to do without breaking the bank. As for the punny captions, I credit my sarcastic sense of humor. The time I invest in my breakfasts, the quality of the photos and the captions each play an important role in what makes @breakfastwithbex so successful and keeps my followers looking forward to every post.
Perhaps one of the greatest surprises of all is that while I have been focused on doing something that I love, I have also been building my own brand and unique identity through @breakfastwithbex without even thinking twice. It has provided me with quite the plethora of networking conversations and opportunities, especially among St. Lawrence alumni. Sarah and Josh Pike, both successful 1999 alumni in the food and advertising industries, have told me to keep doing what I am doing by maintaining my authenticity because companies seek to connect brands with up-and-coming food bloggers, such as myself, in order to advertise their products.
So, what is next for @breakfastwithbex? In January, I plan to spend some time at The Journal News with the company’s food team, which runs its own food blog Small Bites. Then, I am off to the Washington Center Semester in D.C., where I will engage in a 4-5 day internship, ideally in the journalism or magazine industry. No matter where Breakfastwithbex is located, I can assure you that she will continue posting, blogging and bringing a few laughs to her growing influx of followers!
Rebecca has taken over St. Lawrence's student-run Instagram account, @herewegosaints, this week. Tune in!