How Martha Stewart Conquered Facebook Live, One Viral Cooking Video at a Time

It helps that she was an early adopter

Headshot of Sami Main

"Martha!" gasped 9-year-old Madeline Zakarian in awe, as Martha Stewart walked into one of the test kitchens in one of her many headquarters, located along the Hudson River in Manhattan. 

Everyone else sitting in the kitchen-slash-studio agreed with that sentiment. Seeing Martha Stewart in person can have that effect.

On the second day of her American Made Summit this past Saturday, Stewart was preparing to take part in seven Facebook live videos, all while being a welcoming hostess to the many panelists, speakers and lunch-goers. The summit is, essentially, Comic-Con for homemakers.

"They reminded her what she was going to cook while she was walking here," whispered Liz Malone similarly in awe, a publicist for Martha Stewart Living. You'd never know it, though, because Stewart is always prepared for anything.

"She can be told with a switch of a hat that she is making something different, and it’s no problem," said Malone.

In the first test kitchen, 40 or so gold ticket summit participants watched as Stewart and Geoffrey Zakarian, a chef, TV host and father of three (including Madeline), baked maple-pecan shortbread cookies, which were crumbly, sweet and as perfect as you'd expect a recipe from Martha Stewart to be. Another 57,000 people watched live on Facebook.

Ever the businesswoman, Stewart adroitly promotes brands in the live videos. In this case, Bob's Red Mill brand of flour, which was also one of the sponsors of the summit. 


        The videos are highly prepared but not scripted, so the conversation can flow anywhere she wants it to.

"For Facebook Live, Martha sticks to the brands she would naturally use in the kitchen when cooking for herself," said Marci Greenfield, director of content marketing. "She loves certain products and loves to point out which ones she loves!"

Just like most Facebook live videos, Stewart's are typically shot on a smartphone, with the handy dexterity of Samantha Schutz, senior producer and videographer of Martha Stewart Living. For the larger segments filmed during the summit, Schutz stood on boxes at the back of the makeshift studio using a slightly more sophisticated camera than her iPhone.

"It's different every time, and even though Martha is full of spontaneity and surprises, she's guided by her own intuitive way of doing things," said Schutz.

She'll answer anything during the broadcast, from the best types of butter (she prefers French), to the difference between grade A and B maple syrups (she finds the rumor that grade B syrup has a stronger flavor "debatable"), and even to whom she's voting for come Election Day.

"Both Snoop [Dogg] and I are voting for Hillary Clinton," she said. And when Zakarian said he doesn't discuss politics, or religion, Stewart replied: "This year, I think you have to."

(Let's not forget she and Snoop Dogg will co-host a dinner party TV series for VH1 which premieres Nov. 7.)

Her live videos run the gamut. Some of the most popular are simple How To's, like how to iron a shirt or plant a garden. Most importantly, she always wants to be the first to adopt these new technologies. She was one of the first to start using Facebook's live video option, and her fans were quick to respond with bright enthusiasm.

It takes a village to produce the controlled chaos of these segments, mostly led by segment producer Judy Morris. Days or weeks go into planning them, as sometimes a celebrity guest will be assisting Stewart in the kitchen. Occasionally the weather will interfere with their plans and a different video will end up happening on the spot.

Stewart once had to scrap a video idea due to strong winds and answered viewer questions for an hour instead.

"We have had times where we have had to change the subject or recipe within hours before we went live," said Greenfield. "That's the nature of these segments and what makes it so exciting."


        Some live videos filmed during the summit involved a live audience of dedicated Martha Stewart fans.

Perhaps she's secretly a master improviser underneath all of the many other hats she wears: mother, grandmother, entrepreneur, presenter, speaker, host, avid Twitter user.

Live videos are always a gamble, in the best kind of way.

"Watching Martha react directly with the fans and seeing what she does best, teaching her audience and demonstrating her vast knowledge, is thrilling," said Greenfield.

"Facebook Live reaches everyone, no matter where they live or what time it is, they can watch it by just logging on," said Schutz. "It make me feel like we're all connected and appreciative of this creative process." 

@samimain Sami Main is social editor for Adweek, where she posts Adweek content onto social platforms and looks for creative ways to communicate what's new.