It had been a year since the last GF tweetup but none of had gotten rusty in the preceeding 12 months and I think the debate was lively…
What did readers look for in a GF / coeliac blog?
* Monika said she looks for recipes, lifestyle ideas, travel advice and GF places to eat.
* Elaine looks for ‘workable family / children solutions’ and usable information with valid references, either concerning medical matters or ingredients.
* Happywombelle is “always looking for new places to eat out safely especially somewhere new”.
* Jude looked for more wheat-free but not necessarily gluten-free resources, and stated that there weren’t so many resources for non-coeliacs.
What did bloggers feel were their key aims and responsibilities in running their blogs?
* Caleigh (Gluten Freek) said she aimed to bring “exciting food and doable recipes” to her readers, and make that they work. She added she’d never suggest that anyone should change their diets.
* Carly said she felt she had to be careful with recommendations or health advice.
* Sian (Gluten Free Mrs D) said: “I blog about travel to show that being a coeliac doesn’t need to limit your life.”
* Matthew (HungryBoyfriend) said his aims were “to rate places I like, create some noise so restaurants start to take GF into account, to give feedback, both good and bad. My responsibility is to be honest and unbiased”.
* Kel (GFPhotographer) blogs “to let others know that they are not the only ones struggling, to share my experiences and to help GF business get a bit of exposure”.
* Sarah K (WutheringBites): “to become a GF resource for anyone with intolerance, IBS or other”.
* Sarah H (GFBlogger): “I blog about the best GF stuff I can find so everyone knows about it, but also to tackle issues, spread awareness…”
As well as being supportive and offering informative writing, it seemed unbiased writing came across as key for many bloggers, but Carly questioned whether reviews of products could be unbiased if bloggers were receiving free sample products.
* Kelly (GlutenFree Cake Lover) said she’d never say something tasted good if it didn’t, but had recently eaten poor quality cake at a new café and instead messaged the establishement privately instead of blogging about it.
* Caleigh said she only reviewed products she genuinely loved – Sian agreeing to this – but she does give product manufacturers private negative feedback.
* Matthew said he would write a negative review as it “helps educate” and “customer feedback [is] essential” but hasn’t on other occasions as the restaurant ‘went out of their way’ to put things right.
* Carly writes up ‘good and bad’ and tries to be constructive, though pointed out that she thought bloggers are influential and had a responsibiltiy not to harm a fledgling business with a negative review.
* Kelly added that if she tried something truly horrible she feels she should share it with readers, and Sarah H added she would only posts negative reviews if the issue were serious.
So was there an overall feeling that a newer GF establishment deserved more of a chance to fix any issues, with honest private feedback, but perhaps an established brand was more ‘fair game’? Or should bloggers not hold back for anyone – and treat all the same?
* From the manufacturing side, Stevan (Foodamentalists) made a very interesting remark: “I stopped asking people to do reviews as I never had a bad one and didn’t want people to think I was paying for them”.
* Elaine had earlier stated she was sceptical of reviews and ‘overwhelmed’ by sweet things on blogs, and Jo concurred, saying “some blogs I read only seem to ever give glowing reviews” and didn’t trust these as much. She said she’d like to see more honesty and occasional negativity – since some of the GF food out there “is awful and I’d like to know the truth”.
* New cdchatter @il_pirataagreed: Surely it would be helpful for some bloggers to post negative reviews rather than withholding, he argued, pointing out it would help him next time he was in a shop.
* Mark said he’d stopped reading most blogs. “They are always really positive towards half-hearted products that have been launched too early”. Truth on GF products is required, he argued, because prices are often high and it would help save a ‘fortune’. Challenging those who perhaps felt they should hold back on negative reviews, he asked “Would AAGill give them a second chance?”
There were contrary views:
* On the other side, Sian said she doesn’t blog to make money in the way newspaper reviews write for a living – but argued it was more of a labour of love (nb. my paraphrasing).
* Caleigh agreed that this was the key difference: “we write about what we like”
* Kel agreed too: “It’s a passion! We don’t do it for money.”
* Sarah H was the contributor who perhaps was more swayed by the arguments on the night: and wondered whether perhaps letting people know about really bad products was a good move, after all.
Should bloggers not be afraid to criticise or challenge one another occasionally? The support offered is strong, but is it to the expense of disagreements which inspire debate or correcting information which may not be accurate?
* bloggers are ‘too nice in comments’ argued tatooinechick
* Sian and Caleigh mentioned that they (and some others) had recently received very unpleasant and nasty comments on their blog.
Some pointed out that if you don’t like a blog, don’t read it, and if you can’t think of anything good to say, say nothing, but Monika added that healthy debate and disagreement can be good. And Sarah K stated she’d valued constructive comments.
* Caleigh made a strong point: “Maybe bloggers know much of ourselves is poured out into a blog – so know how potentially harmful disagreeing could be?”
There was a spin-off discussion on awareness in restaurant industry…
* Matthew said knowledge isn’t strong enough. “I don’t think I should have to ask what’s fried where!”
* Kelly agreed but said we’re a long way from that – she is “still shocked if a restaurant or café knows what GF means”.
* Roland made an excellent point: “It’s poor and always will be while the industry relies on employing part-time workers”.
* Mark said he’d come from the industry: “It’s not great. I hate eating in the UK. Too many buy in pre-cooked and reheat [and have] no clue what’s in the product. Most in the industry are passing through – don’t see it as a career.”
* Laura found chains to be better: “individual establishments struggle; high turnover doesn’t help”
* Caleigh said some have got it right; but sadly many more remain “hard work”. There remains a problem with lack of servers with knowledge of the menu and coeliac disease.
* This “grinds my gears” said Sarah K (thus providing your chair’s laugh-out-loud moment of the night…)
* Sarah H felt her local restaurants were doing a lot better lately.
* Il pirata thought Coeliac Map to be very good.
* Kevin has started a Plymouth-based blog. Here it is.
That’s it, I think. Please correct me if I’ve misrepresented your views – either privately or in comments below – and I will correct. Ditto if I’ve missed an important comment (possible as there were some good ones without the #cdchat hashtag that may have passed me by).
Obviously, feel free to expand on or clarify your thoughts in the comments.
I found some of the remarks on blogging very interesting, and I think my views are very much driven by my background as a journalist. I view blogging more as a publishing venture – like an online magazine or paper. One of the key aspects of a magazine or paper is a healthy and active letters page, where opinions and views, often at odds with those expressed in the publication, are aired and subsequently debated. I think blog comments serve the equivalent purpose online, and is why I like them to be vigorous and a little provocative, and to challenge – and I tried to introduce a bit of that spirit into the discussion last night.
Would it be fair to say that many bloggers don’t see it this way – and see it more as the expression of a hobby, a medium for ‘socialising’, in a sense, and a vehicle for sharing a passion, for indulging in their loves and in helping others out?
I’d like to know whether any who took part, on reflection after sleeping on it, have rethought their views at all? Or might change the way they blog or interact online? Or, conversely, has the discussion reinforced your previous approach / thoughts even more?
A few have already asked when the next #cdchat might be. I guess autumn, post holidays, might be good, but please feel free to organise one sooner if you’re keen. John (GFLifeIreland – where is he?) has chaired one in the past, and anyone else wanting to take one over and run it how they please is more than welcome to go ahead.
Thanks to those taking part, and I look forward to hearing your thoughts in comments – and you can be contrary and provocative if you like! 🙂
Bravo, @HealthJourno, for having organised, yet again, what seemed to have been an extremely lively 'chat' – so sorry that we were not there in person to take part.
Very interested in the bloggers – and manufacturers' – comments on reviews. I know that we come from a slightly different angle (as a website whose purpose in life is to review and write about freefrom foods) but we very firmly believe that reviews must, if they are to be worth doing, be honest.
That does NOT mean that they have to be abusive ('that was the most gross and disgusting cake I have ever eaten') but that if a cake, for example, is too dry/sweet/overcooked/solid you do need to say so.
However, we see it as our role as to encourage manufacturers to do better so we also always praise when we can and phrase any critical comments in as positive and constructive a way as possible. ('This cake has lots of potential – and really good that it is egg free as well as gluten free – but we felt that it needed a little more work on the texture as, although the flavours were interesting, it really was a touch on the solid side.')
We do accept – indeed ask for – free samples. In an ideal world we probably would go out and buy but realistically, doing so would seriously stretch our resources both in terms of times and costs and far fewer products would get reviewed. But we absolutely do not believe that should in any way restrict out comments – and hope that anyone who sends us a product to review knows that. If they are not happy with our comments they are free not to send us any products in the future.
However, for what it is worth, we have found that manufacturers' response to constructive criticism has been almost entirely positive with many taking on board our comments and coming up with what we all (including them) felt was a better product.
Very interesting read and debate about should you be critical openly as a blogger. It's helpful to be truthful to those trying to make a decision based on your information but hurts like hell if you are the supplier being reviewed. At http://hungryglutenfreevegetarian.wordpress.com/ I am very black and white about product or restaurant reviews. If I love it I enthuse and if I think it stinks I say so.
I have an in-built need to share what I have discovered that I think is fab. If I have spent hours researching something I think if I share it, it may save time for someone else. Lately I am really excited about diet changes broader than avoiding gluten (the food hopsital concept), that have made me much healthier and stopped me feeling ill.
Culturally for me (and I think culture is a big factor here) it's normal to just be totally honest even if the truth will hurt. I don't accept second best and in my own business (high end fashion accessories) use negative feedback I am very grateful for to improve our products or not source from a particular supplier again, but it does come to me direct so involves no public shame and ill-feeling. If no-one tells me how do I know there is an issue that needs fixing?
However if they tell me in a shitty way we hate them but if they tell us nicely we bend over backwards and give them freebies, discounts, etc – even if it was the customer's mistake like giving us the incorrect delivery address. On that note I'm going to tone down my negative reviews having thought about it this way.
Although born in the UK my parents are Polish and Polish people are very direct I have noticed. No bushes are beaten ;-). Sometimes that makes me wince but I also hate being told what somebody thinks they think I want to hear as that just feels like I am being lied to.
I get very passionate about food and am an emotional person so that spills into rapture and sometimes rants.
Thanks, Michelle – for that insight into how FoodsMatter.com approaches reviews of new products and your thoughts on the value of honest and constructive criticism to the FreeFrom Food industry.
Thanks, Marta, too – interesting that you think culture is a factor. Do you think traditional British politeness and reserve has an impact on the way British foodies blog?
Yes I do generally but not all Brits hold back.