There are two facts which make social media posts interesting to the tourism sector. The first is that people love to post pictures of food, and this can be a great way of attracting attention to a particular destination. The second is that people tend to trust content that is generated by their social peers, making it much more valuable than ‘official’ marketing content.

All of this is well-known, but the next step usually involves analyzing how social media users respond to this kind of content. Researchers at Hong Kong Polytechnic University, however, took a different view, and set out to discover why people were so keen to post food pictures on their travels in the first place.

In today’s online world, it is South Korea’s social media users who lead the way in terms of overall usage. The South Koreans play a significant role on global platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, while also making use of local variants such as Cyworld and KakaoStory. Interviewing South Korean social media users therefore seemed the ideal way to find out more about why pictures of food are so appealing, both to the audience and to the poster.

The study participants were asked to describe the food-related images they had posted on social media and to explain their reasons for doing so. In this way, the researchers were able to identify seventeen key themes which underpinned the desire to share food experiences. The most important were ‘social and relational’ factors which might be expected due to the nature of social media. Others included self-image projection, articulation of emotions, and the archiving or sharing of information. A majority of the posts were actually made after the travelers had returned home and taken the time to organize their thoughts, which indicates that a clear attempt was made at ‘impression management’, although in many cases the images served merely as reminders of the happiest moments on a recent trip, and usually involved exotic food items originating in local markets or restaurants.

Many of the posters appeared to be using food as a ‘hook’ to gain the attention of their audience through a comfortable topic that appeals to everyone. They reported feelings of satisfaction and popularity when their pictures attracted comments. Some posters used food as a means of boosting their own image, such as posting pictures from upscale restaurants to create the image of a successful lifestyle, while others liked to be seen as culinary experts who could advise friends on the best dining options.

It was also reported that people who post food pictures on social media are better able to connect with their destination. The act of seeking out local food, or visiting local markets can help to build a better understanding of a destination and its people, and sharing these food secrets online can in turn generate greater awareness among the audience.

It is clear that food-related social media activity can bring about significant benefits to the tourism industry through the presentation of authentic first-hand experiences which can influence the ideas and behaviors of others. This is particularly important when the product or service to be consumed is not one which can be otherwise sampled beforehand, so although the habit of taking pictures of every meal might seem odd to some, it makes the photographer feel good and focuses attention squarely upon your destination. In short, it is definitely something to be encouraged.

Wang, S., Kirillova, K. & Lehto, X. (2017). Travelers’ Food Experience Sharing on Social Network Sites. Journal of Travel and Tourism Marketing, 34(5), 680-693.