By @SimonCocking

Irish Tech News interview with Zack Gallagher @IrishFoodGuide , winner of the 2014 Rabo Tweeties social media Award. We caught up with Zack at the recent Rabo Tweeties awards to hear how he has embraced blogging, tweeting and other forms of social media to promote both his business and other Irish food producers.

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Well done on the award – is that your biggest win to date?

Yes it is. I’d been shortlisted for several awards for my Irish Food Guide Blog over the last few years but the RaboTweeties Award is the first time that I’ve actually won! It was great to see the amount of votes I received from the people I’ve been promoting around Ireland. And great to be named Best Food Promoter in Ireland on Social Media.

What’s your background? Are you a chef? Do you have a day job too?

I’m a chef by trade for the last 28 years, but I’ve also worked front of house in hotels, bars and accommodation. My dad was a printer so I grew up in media, the traditional lead-print type, before computers. I’ve spent the last two years working from my kitchen table building a new business venture, Irish Food Tours. Which brings together food producers, tour operators, accommodation providers and restaurants to offer pre-arranged visits to farms and artisan food factories for guests. It covers all 32 counties in Ireland and we have another website www.IrishFoodTours.ie that explains how that works.

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Your blog has been going for 4 years, why did you start it?

I actually started the Irish Food Guide Blog in 2008, originally as a web-guide to other Irish food guides. It was a simple website that included framed links to all the Irish food writers’ websites, that were online at that time. With our kids growing up fast I wanted to find another way to work in the food industry so I turned it into a Food Blog with the hope that I could turn it into some kind of a business. It has helped me develop Irish Food Tours.

Does it make money itself or is rather just a great advert for what you do, and what is going on in Donegal?

The Irish Food Guide Blog doesn’t make money directly, it acts as a showcase of what’s going on in the food industry all over Ireland, but it helps me build up a following that have become my food producer partners and also my target market for Irish food tourism.

Regarding social media in general, what’s your approach? Where do you put most of your time, twitter, blog, paper.li?

I use Twitter most. I compare Twitter to a guy with a signpost pointing to a restaurant down a side street. If the guy wasn’t standing there you might walk past the chance to get the best meal of your life. I use Twitter to point out the blog and to highlight all the other great food people and products we have here in Ireland. I set up thepaper.li/IrishFoodGuide to collate tweets from the people I follow into a daily Irish Food Digest!

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You have a great following on twitter, almost 20k, how long did it take to build up? And how much are you able to respond to fans?

I joined Twitter in July 2010 and the following has been a good steady build up. If you have something interesting to say or share, people will follow you. I almost always respond in some way with anyone that takes the time to contact me. If you’re using Social Media for business you have to respond otherwise it’s like opening your shop door but putting no one behind the counter!

You seem like you would be a great fit for pinterest and instagram too? How much time a day do you spend on it?

I’m only lately getting into Pinterest and I don’t use Instagram much at the moment. I put aside about 20 minutes in total every day to check what’s going on in the Irish food circles online and share anything new or push a new story on the Blog.

Any plans for your future social media ventures?

I run several other Twitter accounts – one being @IrishCatering which is a Chef Job sharing account. It’s got potential to develop into an online Chef Agency. I get asked to talk about social media for business networks and I have the social media for Irish Food Tours ready, to work hard this year. There are a few other things in the pipeline, but they’re all related.

What sort of impact has your social media activities had on your business?

Because, until now, I have mostly worked as a chef, social media has actually been the tool to create new business for me. I am taking my chef skills, my social media and organisational skills and putting them to work in a whole new manner. I also have a food stall that I take to Food Festivals and I use Twitter and Facebook to highlight where I’ll be with it. So, social media has had a huge impact on my working life.

What are your top tech tools you use?

I use Attracta  to do my SEO for the various websites. I use PaintShopPro for my images. GoogleDocs for sharing. I taught myself basic html use but I have no knowledge of any other scripting. I use both Blogger and WordPress for the websites.

Tips to other SME’s thinking about developing their online presence?

  • Don’t sign up to auto-tweets from a machine!
  • Don’t tweet your ‘un-followers’
  • Always look at your online presence from your customer’s point of view. Is there something basic you’ve forgotten to put in your profile that’s important to your type of business – like your website address or where you are based, for example, which happens quite a lot!
  • Make time everyday to share or RT one thing that interests you and tweet at least one thing about your business.
  • Taking out a print advert projects your business over a large audience, but many of the readers will have no interest in your product – whereas with social media you can directly target potential customers that are looking for whatever you sell – this saves you money.

You’re based in Donegal Town, what’s the broadband like?

The broadband in Donegal needs a serious shake-up. Larger towns have excellent speed but once you go outside the town borders we are back to 54Mps and less. It can be frustrating.

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What’s great about living in Donegal?

The fact that you’re never far from the coast, the fact that you can walk in the countryside in 10 minutes, the people and the excellent Food!

Work / life balance, your philosophy?

I made a conscious decision a few years ago to build a business that gives me more time to be me. I like being me. We only get one shot at life and we should make the most of it, but that doesn’t mean working yourself to an early grave either!

Anything else you’d like to add, and or I should have asked you?

It has taken me almost two years to get the model in place, of delivering Irish Food Tours over all 32 counties to tour operators from all over the world. This was by taking different abilities that I have and pointing them in a new direction. Many times, while figuring out the details, I’ve asked myself should I just go back to the kitchen and many times I’ve answered ‘no’ because this is a better business and a better lifestyle for me and my family. But you do get doubts in your head. Listen to them, reason with them and plough your own course. If it’s gonna be, it will be.

You can follow me on Twitter @IrishFoodGuide

Thanks for asking me for an insight into to what I’m doing. There’s a lot of politics in all businesses and it’s really good for the soul to get even a wee bit of recognition for what you do sometimes.

Thanks cheers Zack