Remember Micheal Jordan hawking Hanes underwear? While companies with deep pockets might still use movie stars and professional athletes to sell their products and services during the Super Bowl halftime show, it’s not 1997 anymore.
Social media has completely and permanently upended the way businesses advertise to their customers, allowing savvier and smaller companies to stick it to their bigger competitors with smart digital marketing strategies.
One of the methods of maximizing advertising dollars is through influencer marketing. Instead of paying millions for Beyoncé, what if you could trade a product or service for a shoutout by someone with 50,000 loyal followers? Of course, these aren’t just any followers. These are 50,000 people in your area that match your business’s customer profiles. This is influencer marketing. And any restaurant, no matter the budget, can do it. Here’s what you need to know.
In the restaurant industry, most foodie influencers aren’t famous in the traditional sense. They are regular people. What makes them different is their skill at social media, their love for food, and their loyal online following.
Well, some food influencers might be famous in the traditional sense. People like Jamie Oliver, otherwise known as “The Naked Chef,” or serial entrepreneur David Chang. These famous foodies have 9.2 million and 1.7 million followers respectively. They are called “macro influencers.” They are the Kylie Jenners and Leo Messis of our world.
But you aren’t after macro-influencers with millions of followers all over the world. What you want are “micro-influencers” with more than 10,000 followers that likely live in your area and could visit your restaurant after a social media post.
Fans follow food influencers for a variety of reasons. Maybe they love foodie content. Maybe they are looking for new restaurants, cuisines, or dishes to try. Whatever the reason, people follow food influencers because they want the inside scoop on what’s best, and they trust their influencer to give it to them.
One of the great things about food influencers is that there are a lot of them. Finding one isn’t difficult, but finding the best one for your business might take a little time and research.
You can find influencers one of two ways. First, you can go through an agency. Believe it or not, there are many influencer agencies out there, and many food influencer agencies specifically. If you live in a bigger city and are new to the influencer game, an agency could be a good place to start for a number of reasons.
First, agencies can take the guesswork out of finding an influencer on your own, and they can help match an influencer’s followers with your ideal customer, ensuring that you are marketing to a following likely to enjoy your business and brand. Secondly, agencies can offer an experienced hand to guide you through the process—helping you understand what to expect, how to maximize your influencer content, and how to measure its success.
On the other hand, working with agencies can be expensive. And if you aren’t located in Los Angeles, New York, or another foodie capital, it may be less effective. If you aren’t afraid of rolling up your sleeves and doing a bit of research, a DIY approach could be your best bet.
There are a lot of ways to find influencers on your own. First, you can try a simple Google search. Search your cities name plus food influencer, or your cities name plus foodie, or your cities name plus food blogger. More than likely, you’ll come up with a list, maybe even a long list, of food influencers and bloggers in your area.
You can also search popular foodie hashtags on Instagram. Search your city plus #food, or #foodie, or #foodinfluencer, or #foodporn. You can also search the accounts of restaurants you admire or even the accounts of your competitors. If they’ve partnered with an influencer, you’ll be able to find the influencer’s account via their posts. Finally, ask your staff if they follow any foodies, and ask others in your local restaurant scene.
All of your research should give you a good-sized list. Choosing one to contact shouldn’t be too difficult.
First, you’ll want to make sure your influencer is legitimate. Don’t just look at the number of followers. Scroll through their posts and click around a bit. You’ll want an influencer who has a high level of engagement, meaning they not only have followers but also have followers that like their posts and comment on them. If someone has a lot of followers but not many likes and comments, either they have a bunch of fake followers, or the content they are making isn’t relevant.
You’ll also want to find an influencer whose followers match your customer profiles. You can scroll through their followers and click around to get an idea, and you can check with followers who comment on posts. If someone comments on a post, more than likely it’s because they love what they are seeing. If the commenter is similar to one of your customer profiles, then they will probably love what you have to offer.
Working with Influencers
After you’ve found an influencer, now you’ll have to reach out. If they have their email posted in their bio, they are currently open to partnering with restaurants. Even if they don’t have their email in their bio, it doesn’t hurt to shoot them a DM. If they don’t get back to you, don’t take it personally. They likely receive many DMs from followers and other businesses. Wait a while and try again.
If you are working with a smaller budget, send them a message and let them know you love their content and want to offer them a free meal at your restaurant. It’s important to note that this invitation and the free meal doesn’t constitute an obligation to post. Influencers know the deal though. They know what you are asking for, and as long as they have a great experience at your restaurant, an experience they think their followers would appreciate, then it’s very likely they’ll post.
If you want to increase your chances of getting a post on a budget, it would be worth your time, as the owner or manager, to make sure they have the best experience possible and stop by their table.
If you are working with a larger influencer, or if you are paying cash for a post, then you’ll want to be a little more formal, and you’ll want a contract of some kind. Via email, be as specific as possible with what you want from their post, how long the post should stay on the influencer’s Instagram, and how much you are willing to pay. If your influencer has done posts you liked in the past, it would be worth mentioning those, explaining how they might incorporate some of the same ideas.
Maximizing Your Sponsored Content
You have done your research and found an influencer, and they have agreed to visit your restaurant. Now it’s time to let them do what they do best: create content their followers will love.
But there are a variety of things an influencer can do for you, beyond just a post. Here are a few ways you could use their content.
Sure, the first thing that comes to mind is a traditional post. This should generate new followers, traffic to your website, and (hopefully) customers at your door. This kind of content is usually #foodporn: mouthwatering photos of your food. The influencer should describe their experience and tag your account.
An influencer could also post a review via an Instagram story or reel. This usually takes a little more time, so you might need to offer more compensation. Not only does the influencer post photos but also a short video describing their experience to their followers. Push for an Instagram reel over a story, so it doesn’t disappear in 24 hours.
Finally, you could host an influencer event. If you don’t know which influencer to pick, and you have a large enough budget, you could invite a few influencers at once. Seat them all near each other and pitch it as a networking event. They can enjoy your food, make content, and make connections. This could be a win-win for both you and your influencers.
Influencer reviews and get-togethers work best in conjunction with restaurant events. Influencers and seasonal menu launches are a perfect match. There are so many reasons why you should change your menu with the season, but if you can get an influencer excited about your new menu, then you are off to a great start with your seasonal marketing campaign.
Even if you don’t change your entire menu, a seasonal update can still work wonders for your digital marketing. If you don’t have a degree in graphic design, or if redesigning your entire menu sounds overwhelming, you can find menu templates online at companies like MustHaveMenus to help.
Measuring Your Success
After your post has gone live, you’ll want a way to track its results. If your influencers post your website in their bio, make sure you are using a tracking link so you can keep tabs on the number of users they drive to your website.
Another great idea would be to offer promotion via your influencer marketing campaign. This would be the simplest and easiest way to track the impact of your influencer marketing. When customers show up with a specific code from your influencers for a free appetizer or dessert, then it’s easy to know where they heard about your business.
Also, it would be smart to track business for a couple of weeks before your post, which you are already doing, and then measure it with business after your post. While you can’t be certain that your influencer caused all of the visits, if business picks up for a week or two after your influencer marketing campaign, or if your social media following steadily grows after your influencer marketing campaign, chances are that your campaign had something to do with it.
Long-term Social Media Success
Influencers can supercharge your digital marketing in the short term, using social media to increase your brand awareness, increase your following, and drive customers to your restaurant.
But you aren’t after short-term gain. Ultimately, you want to use social media to achieve long-term success. Influencers can help put your business on people’s minds; now it’s your job to stay there.
You know the old cliche–out of sight, out of mind. With so many restaurants and bars competing for your customers and their attention, it’s not enough to serve up delicious food with superb service. You also have to stay on top of your social media.
No amount of influencer marketing can replace the need to post your own content, whether it be shots of delicious food, social media contests, specials, or events. A good rule of thumb is 3 to 4 posts a week.
You should schedule some time each week to brainstorm and create content. You can also use customer-generated content. But if 3 to 4 posts a week still sounds like a lot, that’s because it is. 4 posts a week for one year is 208 posts a year.
Luckily, you can find free social media templates online. If you don’t consider yourself a social media savant, or if running a small business hasn’t left you with much free time, using templates to fill out your Instagram can keep your feed fresh and your food and drinks on your customers’ minds.