SXSW: Bridging the gap between youth, food and social media

Spoon University is the buzzy food media company created by young people, for young people. The site brands itself as “the everyday food resource for our generation,” and was birthed at Northwestern University. It was there that two college friends, Mackenzie Barth and Sarah Adler recognised the existing gaping hole in the marketplace surrounding the relationship between young adults and food.

Banning together to launch the initiative, the site now covers recipes, restaurant recommendations and life hacks for the everyday problems facing young people when becoming young adults (think dorm life and being broke). The founders were joined on stage at the Driskill Hotel on day two of SXSW for a panel discussion surrounding their millennial media empire in the making.

Starting off as a print magazine, Spoon University offered its readers ideas for making food with friends on campus. “We packaged what we learned and helped other people create similar organisations on their campuses,” says Adler, who noted that the organisation has since grown to accumulate 200 global chapters across different institutions. Spoon has since recruited a number of global contributors to assist in the ideation and creation of content and experiences that the media company has to offer. “Young people don’t want to just consume content, but create content,” says Barth. “They have opinions and they now have the technology to let them share their opinions with the world,” she continues.

“People today are using food as an anti-technology,” says Eve Turow Paul, a writer and brand adviser who joined the pair of co-founders on stage. As our devices continue to be an extension of our hands, Paul credits the consumption of food as being one of the very few IRL experiences left for young people. She notes however that much of this experience is so often dutifully documented across social platforms – offering a user’s audience a filtered glimpse into an everyday activity that is intentionally glorified.

Paul also spoke of how these curated food pictures bucket the individual content creator into a particular mold in the eyes of their audience. For example, if a user captures a picture of avocado toast, they are projecting a certain image of themselves (which holds a different degree of value) to the world by alluding to eating that meal, so says Paul. “We’re at a significant shift in human culture where we are diverging from what is real. And in many ways, young people are bringing it back,” she continues.

Brands must be weary of the behaviour of this group. “[Young people] want you to have a conversation with them. Part of this is because people are sharing so much of themselves online,” she says. Brands who host interactive campaigns and get the consumer involved with the development of products by encouraging ideation, are bound to win.

“[The] only way you will make people unskeptical is by showing the human side,” notes Paul who points to Lays’ ‘Do Us a Flavour’ contest as a noteworthy case study. The contest, which encouraged users to pitch a unique flavor, ultimately achieving 14 million submissions. The reason for such an impact? “You are empowering people to be creative, you’re then giving them the ability to show off to their friends,” says Paul. A winning formula.

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