4foodie, the biggest Instagram food influencer in Taiwan, has gained nearly 420,000 followers on Instagram in 2015. Last September, 4foodie held a two-day Extreme Flavor Food Market (重口味市集) at Uni-President Department Store in Taipei. They invited people to enjoy foods from 20 restaurants with no entrance fee. With the large number of people flooding into the food market, the trash cans filled up every 10 minutes.
Victoria Chuang, one of 4foodie’s founders, busy greeting the Taiwanese celebrities and YouTubers while directing part-time workers to take out the trash.
“We were so lucky that we were famous enough to invite those celebrities. Thanks to those big media companies that have reported on us. We didn’t expect all these after we established this Instagram account,” Chuang said.
Chuang didn’t consider the food market a complete success because she found that those celebrities didn’t have a chance to enjoy the foods; they were busy taking photos with their fans. Thus, 4foodie decided to hold any event with a better workflow next time and devote themselves to launching their own products.
To make an impressive comeback this May, Chuang and her co-founders of 4foodie had spent more than three months making the most elaborate preparations for a food party. Inspired by Coachella, they invited a DJ and body painters, launched influencer foodie boxes, and released 4foodie branded medical masks.
“We even prepared one party only for celebrities because they couldn’t enjoy the food last time. They were busy taking photos with their fans,” said Chuang in a phone interview.
Four days before the party, Chuang had to postpone it because of the pandemic. The pandemic has been both a threat and lucky for her business. The lockdown marked the first time the company could recommend takeout foods and teach their followers cooking on Instagram live streams, both of which proved to be successful experiments.
Due to the excellent performance of controlling COVID-19 in Taiwan last year, 4foodie treated their followers to free meals by inviting them to find 4foodie coupons hidden in a corner of the restaurant. They even created a 4foodie Instagram filter and started using TikTok videos to introduce the food they recommend.
“The reason why we can be one of the biggest food influencers in Taiwan is that we are so lucky the whole time,” Chuang said.
4foodie and Chuang credit social media for their pandemic success. The founders have posted on 4foodie about foods from more than 3,300 restaurants since they established the account on Instagram in 2015. As the biggest food influencer in Taiwan, they are still competing with new rising food influencers because the Instagram algorithm didn’t drive their posts harder than it used to.
In 2015, they were just first-year and second-year undergraduate students studying abroad in Taiwan, U.S., and Japan. Different from other food influencers only posting about foods in Taiwan, they were able to share foods from those three countries before the pandemic.
Chuang, 24, remembered the day in 2015 when she, her sister, and two friends were chatting around the dining table. They also shared their food lists, which recorded the delicious meals they found on the internet. After they were so excited about how close their food tastes were, they decided to make a food blog.
Before Instagram became popular in Taiwan, people were sharing their lives on the Taiwanese blog service PIXNET. As a student studying at an international high school in Taipei and familiar with Western culture, Chuang chose to start 4foodie on Instagram instead of PIXNET.
“My friends and I found the food posts on PIXNET were advertorial, which means that those foods were not satisfactory,” Chuang said. “We wanted to build a fair and trustworthy food blog.”
When Chuang started her undergraduate studies at the University of South California in 2015, Chuang posted about foods she found delicious in Los Angeles. Her sister and her friends were responsible for foods in Japan and Taiwan. After Chuang graduated in 2019, she started to post on 4foodie about foods in Taiwan.
4foodie was a platform where they could share their passion for food. She said they didn’t intentionally do anything to attract more followers. Instagram’s algorithm pushed their posts hard because few Taiwanese people were using it.
“They are the first food influencer I know on Instagram. Their reviews and comments are super fair,” said Tammy Chen, 21, who had been to 4foodie’s first food market in 2019. “They are so credible and trustworthy that I would look for their posts when I don’t know what to eat.”
Chuang and her team always remind themselves never to forget their calling to be credible and trustworthy as they started getting paid for writing restaurant reviews.
Every time a restaurant pays 4foodie to write a review, 4foodie asks the restaurant to sign a deal that restricts the restaurant from changing their commentaries. If they find the meal unsatisfactory, 4foodie tends not to publish the review because they think the restaurant deserves a second chance.
4foodie is cautious about the quality of their reviews, but they’re also worried the total reach to their Instagram followers could decline.
“Instagram algorithm changes now. We only spent two months gathering 30,000 followers on TikTok, while we spent six years gathering 420,000 followers,” Chuang said.
To determine if a new post is successful, Chuang said it depends on the first 30 minutes after posting it on Instagram. The algorithm will first drive the post to reach out to five percent of followers. If people dislike or ignore the content, the post will not reach out to more people.
According to inside.com.tw, Instagram might simplify video features like IGTV, Reels, and Stories, but the future trend is that videos will have a more effective reach than posts. Chuang said they hadn’t found the correct answer to solve these algorithm issues, but they’ve tried using TikTok and making videos for Instagram.
“I don’t know why TikTok isn’t popular in Taiwan, but it’s important to go ahead of the trend,” Chuang said.
Social media is an easy platform for people to build their business because it doesn’t cost money to start. And, it provides them an opportunity to turn their passion into business. But, 4foodie is unique.
“4foodie seems to be the only one who takes their patience and time to come through with strategies, instead of building it on an impulse,” said Kevin Liao, 21, who went to 4foodie’s second food market during the pandemic last year.
Chen, a friend of Liao, thought of creating a food blog on Instagram as her business startup. Chen gave up on the idea because she was afraid that she wasn’t able to find a specialty for her food blog and become successful.
“I think young people like us in their 20s to 30s worry too much about fixing problems, especially working with social media, you should focus on yourself,” Chuang said.
She is able to make her passion into business at such a young age because she isn’t afraid of taking risks and facing failure. Running 4foodie taught her, “Plans cannot keep pace with change…It sounds cliche, but just do it.”
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