It’s easy for me to keep track of how long I’ve been doing live videos — I started right after Noah was born. I had just given birth via emergency caesarean and was still recovering at Westmead Hospital when an email from Google Australia showed up in my inbox.
Google wanted to set up a meeting with me about their soon-to-be-launched new platform, Hangouts-on-Air — they wanted to pitch the idea of using it to do live cooking videos, so I hopped on a video call with them from the neonatal ICU waiting room a few days later.
(At this point you might question what would drive someone to say yes, who had just been hit with the news that their baby was likely not going survive — but that’s another story for another day.)
When Google decided to shut down Hangouts-on-Air in 2016, I explored other livestreaming platforms — you name it, I’ve probably used it — before I found a new home on Twitch.
So what are the big takeaways from my 7 years of doing live cooking videos?
Here’s my list (in no particular order) -
- The Compelling Character Theory (yes, I made that up)
I know the buzzword is to stay “authentic” or to keep it “real”, but the truth is, live video is as much a performance as any other visual medium. I’ve been guilty of showing up bored, unprepared, grumpy, frumpy — you name it (hey, I’ve got a lot going on behind the scenes, alright?) — and I can promise you, it will hurt your audience engagement and viewership numbers in the long run.
So yes, stay authentic, but give people a reason to tune in. If you’re low energy and boring all the time, don’t expect your audience to stick around; nobody owes you their eyeballs.
2. Aspiration vs Perspiration
As my TV producer friend keeps reminding me, cooking shows are meant to be aspirational. You want to create content that motivates and inspires people to want to make the food themselves, not make the whole cooking effort look dreary, or serve up what looks like something the cat dragged in.
I resisted this for the longest time because street food isn’t meant to be glamorous and food presentation isn’t on the radar of your average Malaysian hawker (I grew up in a family tradition of selling street food).
The truth is though, it doesn’t matter if you literally sweat over a hot stove — if your food looks ugly, people will be turned off, or worse, you’ll attract trolls.
3. Grow A Thick Skin
I used to take it personally when I got trolled — and if you’ve been doing videos (live or otherwise) for as long as I have, it will happen. Nowadays, I ask them what it’s like living in mommy’s basement and never having kissed a girl, etc. — but in the past I’d get really worked up about it.
Just remember — if you let it get to you, they win — the whole reason why they do it is so they can watch you fall apart. In fact, I find that they disappear very quickly when they don’t get the response they expected, which is a bit disappointing since I’m usually not done trolling them back by that stage.
4. Carpe Diem
Seize the day — there’s merit in being an early adopter, especially where social media is concerned. By getting in early with Hangouts-on-Air, I was able to build my following on its parent platform, Google Plus, to 1.86 million. That, in turn, opened up opportunities for me to travel overseas and to work with brands as I became recognised as a pioneer of live cooking videos.
Similarly with Twitch, I moved there right after it was bought over by Amazon, while it was actively seeking to expand its content beyond just gaming. As a result, Twitch took the unusual step of onboarding me as a partnered streamer even before I did my first broadcast (typically, you’re meant to have a track record of consistently attracting 500+ concurrent viewers on the platform).
This meant I could start making money immediately via subscriptions, and Twitch also promoted my content so that I’ve had as many as 10,000 people tune in to watch my broadcasts.
5. One Size Does NOT Fit All
Before you start doing live videos, you need to decide who you want to reach and what you’re trying to achieve.The audiences are different on different platforms, and the style, length, “vibe” and rules (eg. with advertising) vary. That’s why I would advise that you think twice before you use tools that are out there to push out the same broadcast everywhere.
My casual, conversational, long-form (2-hour plus) videos on Twitch drive my YouTube audience nuts (in a bad way) because people looking for cooking videos on YouTube expect to learn all they need in 3 minutes, or they start wishing you would just shut up and cook and stop talking so much, your voice is annoying, etc.
On Twitch, it’s all about personal engagement and doing everything from start to finish — I’ve even given dating advice to my teenage audience while cooking, and I know other streamers who take bathroom breaks during their broadcast.
Periscope and Instagram viewers are used to portrait layouts, Twitch and YouTube are landscape, and Facebook people similarly don’t stick around for 2 hours watching you cook. When I go Live on Facebook or YouTube, I usually do it as though it’s a 20-minute public cooking demonstration like what I do onstage — it’s fairly impersonal and what you cook has to be something that can be whipped up within that short length of time.
Do you want to be found online via your videos? Then YouTube is your best bet — when do you ever see Facebook or Twitch videos show up when you do a google search for a recipe? My TV gigs have come about through producers finding clips of me on YouTube and reaching out that way, so my videos are kind of like my resume.
6. Change Is The Only Constant
Just because you’re kind of a big deal on your platform, don’t expect it to stay that way forever. Back when Google was really invested in promoting Hangouts-On-Air (which were automatically recorded and stayed on my YouTube channel) — I would get thousands of views on my live videos (the highest was nearly 30,000).
Once they lost interest, they changed the algorithms so that I would be lucky nowadays to get 200 views on them, which is why I don’t usually do live videos on YouTube anymore.
Also, when I started out, I learned all about best practices like the ideal video length and how often to post new content to get high rankings on YouTube, but that can and has changed over time.
Likewise with Facebook — right now, your buddies and followers might get notified every time you go live — but Facebook can stop doing that overnight and you could end up with nobody watching, so be prepared and plan ahead for that eventuality.
7. Own your own virtual real estate
Finally, as an extension of the last point, it’s important to own your online “real estate” — too many content creators are really just squatters on social media platforms, which leaves them vulnerable when it collapses or if they fall out of favour with the powers that be.
I’ve seen social media platforms touted as the next big thing only to die off — anyone remember Imzy, Blab, Smiletime, and yes, Google Plus, where I was the #1 ranked Australian for a number of years? I lost 1.86 million followers overnight when it shut down in early 2019.
Social media platforms come and go, but my website (along with my email list)— jackiem.com.au — is still around after more than 15 years. Some of my past broadcasts continue to exist there, where they’re repurposed as recipe posts and embedded for the viewing pleasure of anyone with the patience to sit through hour-plus long tutorials on how to make something from start to finish.
That phonecall with Google Australia 7 years ago was a lifeline for my food business and brand. Without bringing Noah into the picture (again, it’s another story for another time), doing live cooking videos has changed my career trajectory from restaurant owner to online content creator.
It helped me to gain 1.9 million followers & get listed as the #2 most influential Australian chef on social media (#1 was Matt Preston, the judge on MasterChef AU), and it opened up opportunities for me to travel and to do television.
Would I do some things differently in hindsight? Sure — but as they say — done is better than perfect.
These aren’t the only lessons I learned, of course; I could write a book on the entire topic. If you’re thinking about whether you should start doing live videos, get in touch via food-fame.com . Or just give me a heads-up about your live video channel; I might drop in and say hello sometime.
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Jackie M is an ex-restaurateur and sole parent of Baby Noah, who was born with Down Syndrome and some very complex medical issues that saw him spend the first 217 days of his life in hospital. She is also the founder of WokAroundAsia.com — an online Asian culinary coaching course where she teaches her students to master Malaysian street food using her proprietary EATS Framework.