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Influencer Marketing 101

Influencer marketing is a collaboration between brands and social media, and a powerful tool that helps businesses grow. Successfully used by thousands of companies over the last decade, influencer marketing for restaurants is expected to pick up traction across social media in 2023.

Influencers are individuals with specific niches and a significant online following. Viewed and respected by their followers as trustworthy experts in their field, they can have a huge impact on their audience’s purchasing decisions. Their recommendations or endorsements can help restaurants of all sizes expand their reach and generate revenue.

Influencer marketing is not a new term in the digital marketing world. Reaching new heights in the last several years, influencer marketing has soared to become an almost $7 million dollar industry. As the decade progresses, the savviest restaurants are learning that taking advantage of food influencers can help increase their business’s popularity and boost sales for both on and off-premise operations.

With the average Instagram influencer’s conversion rate being at least 2.55%, every dollar spent on influencer marketing can lead to an average earning of $7.65. Social media referrals can have a profound effect on customers’ purchase intentions, so partnering with the right restaurant influencers can make all the difference in the world if you learn to do it efficiently.

The Power of the Everyday Consumer

Gone are the days when only celebrities and athletes effectively promoted brands. Today’s most powerful referrals come from the average person with whom the consumer can relate.

Most influencers on social media are generally everyday folks who have gained a substantial online following by being really good at what they do-–influencing others to buy what they buy, do what they do, and eat where they eat.

The Power of Instagram

The new word-of-mouth advertising, an IG restaurant influencer has a lot of pull. As eateries begin to adapt to new marketing strategies, using influencers for restaurant marketing is a trend that’s skyrocketing, slowly becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

Stats to consider

  • 72% of teenagers use Instagram

  • 38% of Instagram users look at food content

  • 27% of IG users share food content

  • #food appears in more than 250 million posts every month

  • Food enthusiasts look at Instagram 18 times a day

And there’s more. Holding vast potential for business, videos may just be the future of marketing, with current statistics revealing that more than 85% of American internet users watch videos online and 3 in 4 consumers citing video as the medium most convincing for buying, shopping, or downloading.

The Teen Effect

If you think teenagers don’t play a significant role in your restaurant’s success, think again. Not only do they have the power to persuade their parents to patronize certain restaurants, but this demographic can help build a restaurant’s long-term success. Because they will soon graduate from college, get jobs, have families of their own, and have more money to spend, if they already love your restaurant, they will likely become some of your most loyal customers in the not-too-distant future.

Instagram is important for restaurants specifically because it offers benefits that other social media sites don’t. Because food posts on Instagram are one of the most engaged-with types of posts, harnessing IG’s reach can improve brand recognition and boost sales.

The Power of Tech

Improved screens and cameras on today’s smartphones have changed the way that people communicate. And as phones become smarter, people use them for much more than making calls and texting. In fact, as many as 47% of Gen Zers use their phones to take pictures and videos on a regular basis.

Today’s devices are equipped with such advanced technology that professional directors are using them to shoot movies. Better cameras have also influenced the way that people share information on social media. Not only does posting a picture or short video often take less time than creating text, but images can also say so much more than words alone.

And for restaurants, Instagram takes advantage of the power of the visual better than any other social media platform. Instead of describing your daily special, influencers visiting your restaurant can take a picture and post it. Mouthwatering pictures of colorful, well-plated food have the power to tempt more customers to order from your restaurant’s online menu or visit your dining room.

Using Instagram, restaurant influencers can shoot videos directly at your restaurant’s tables, revealing not only the great food, but the ambiance, type of crowd, lighting, and seating. Instagram influencers can go live and show which tables are available, reveal which specials are being featured that day, or “unbox” a delivery order for their followers to see what they can expect from your restaurant’s off-premise offerings.

Known commonly as bloggers, vloggers, and reviewers, influencers are ordinary people who have made social media marketing their business and have developed a fan following. Respected and trusted, consumers look to influencers for guidance before making purchases or dining decisions.

Food and beverage influencers can shape positive perceptions of the audience because they interact with their supporters on a more personal level, give unbiased opinions, and remain authentic.

9 Restaurant Influencer Marketing Steps

1. Choose Your Platform

In the beginning, your influencer marketing needs to be precise. You don’t want to just throw money at the wall and see if it sticks.

Choose one social media platform that will best convey your brand to people and stick to it. For the most part, you can never go wrong with either Instagram or YouTube in the food space.

If you’re a restaurant with mouthwatering dishes that fall into the category of #foodporn, Instagram is the platform of choice. If your menu requires some explanation or benefits from a demonstration, then YouTube is a more suitable option. It really all depends on your overall branding strategy.

2. Identify Your Goals

Once you’ve chosen a platform, you’ll need to set your goals. If you want to build a social presence, then you may want to focus on social growth.

If you already have a large following on your platform of choice and you’re looking to acquire new customers, your goal should be to attract more visitors to book a reservation or order from your website.

Social growth is the byproduct of influencer marketing, so it’s best to choose quantifiable goals.

3. Find Your Ideal Customer

Once you’ve identified your goals, it’s time to pinpoint your ideal customer. You want to spend some time figuring out which customers will rave about your restaurant and write you a wonderful 5-star review.

Perhaps, it’s a professional woman in her 30s with a love for sushi. Maybe it’s a college student who just loves ordering from your place after football games. Whoever it may be, it’s important to create your customer persona.

Once you’ve determined who your customer is, align your customer persona to their average viewer or follower.

4. Select the Influencers

Once you’ve crafted an ideal customer persona, it’s time to choose the influencers. This can be the trickiest step, especially, if you’re not working with an agency. There are platforms like Famebit or Grapevine that can help make the process faster.

If you’re not working with an agency, follow these tips:

  • Pinpoint influencers with an audience that lives in the same city.

  • Be clear about your brand voice. Do you want to be seen as serious or funny, bold and quirky, or easy-going and reserved?

  • Always consider the preferences of your target market and then find an influencer with the style and personality to match.

  • When choosing an influencer, browse Instagram by using hashtags like #sushilover, #streetfoodie, or #thaiconosseur.

  • Aside from style and personality, there are influencers that lean toward every type of cuisine from vegan to street fare, fine dining to casual.

  • Aim for micro-influencers (up to 10,000 followers) who live in your area as locals reviewing local food appear to be the most trustworthy.

  • Start by going after the food-related accounts.

  • You don’t always have to start with food-related accounts. Finding an influencer who vlogs his daily life around Miami Beach, for example, could be just as effective.

  • Search for local businesses (preferably not your competition) that are killing it on social platforms and see if you can do some type of collaboration.

  • Talk to the kids in your city (they know all), and see if there is a particular person with thousands of followers and try to connect with them.

5. Craft a Proposition

Crafting an enticing proposition is the next big step. It doesn’t matter if you sell fast food or fine French cuisine, you must create a compelling value proposition.

If you’re on a tight influencer marketing budget, offer them free lunch at your restaurant. Approach them through direct messages on Instagram or private messages on Facebook. Remember to see them as your brand partners and treat them with the utmost respect. Your goal is to build a long-term relationship. They will be brand ambassadors of your restaurant that will help you thrive with their influencer marketing tactics and followers.

6. Create Authentic Sponsored Content

Each brand has its own distinguishable and unique style. Use Instagram aesthetics and food influencer marketing tactics to make sure that your content stands out in the crowd. Invest in a partnership with your influencers so that they will post quality content related to your food and customer service.

To market the brand, ambassadorial roles can take on many forms. The sponsored content post strategy is one of the best food influencer campaigns you can try.

Remember, while restaurant influencer marketing has great potential for your restaurant’s growth, be cautious of fake influencers.

8. Launch the Campaign

If you’re not working with an agency, leave the creative process to the influencer. Most influencers, especially the most experienced, are experts in knowing the best ways to integrate your brand into their blog, vlog, or channel because they know their audience better than anyone.

Ask the influencer for their strategic plan and make sure their vision and deliverables align with your goals.

Then, choose a date to have the influencer come and dine in at your restaurant. Be sure your staff is aware that they’re coming, if possible, and deliver an outstanding experience.

9. Measure the Results

Finally, devise a plan to measure the results. Once the campaign is live, you’ll be able to start seeing how it’s performing. Are more people commenting about your restaurant? Are you getting new followers on your social media channels? Is your website seeing an increase in visitors? Are new customers coming in?

If you’re going to have the influencer post your restaurant website on their bio or description, make sure you have a tracking link in place. This will help you gauge the interest and response of the campaign. If you’re offering a discount, make sure it’s specific to the campaign, so you can track the results. Using the data from your first campaign will ultimately help you get even better results with your next.

Depending on your goal, the rate at which results come in may differ. Be patient. At the very least, you’ll be introducing your restaurant to hundreds, if not thousands, of new followers who may order from your restaurant in a week, a month, or even a year.

Influencer Marketing Trends for 2023

There are tons of food content creators on social media, so standing out from the crowd can be a challenge. One of the latest foodie trend reports, The End of Foodie Culture (As We Know It), shows that Gen Zers are less likely to consider themselves foodies than Millennials, and are actually less interested in foodie content on social media. Naturally, it’s not just foodies that eat food, so the best restaurant influencers are coming from a wide variety of backgrounds. The most viral food influencers of 2022, who also retain an impressive following, are in fact, managing to tap into multiple interests.

In fact, some of the most influential influencers aren’t even making or eating food these days, with content like lifestyle, diversity, and ASMR (autonomous sensory meridian response) weaving its way into foodie culture.

While many of these content creators haven’t been around for as long as celebrity chefs or popular food YouTubers, these up-and-coming influencers are gaining millions and millions of followers.

Here are a few examples:

Emily Mariko: 11.9M Followers on TikTok

One of TikTok’s most popular food influencers, Emily Mariko is famous for her ASMR-style cooking content. Mariko became well-known on TikTok in 2021 when she posted her salmon-rice bowl recipe, which went viral in a matter of weeks. By creating satisfying videos preferred by Gen Z and making recipes Millennials can follow, Mariko has tapped the intersection of dual-generation influence marketing.

@BlackGirlsInTraderJoes: 245K Followers on Instagram

@BlackGirlsInTraderJoes shares TJ’s products with an alarmingly huge audience. First launched in 2020, her page amassed 50K followers in just two weeks, tapping into a brand new niche that helps the massive food retailer reach a new audience of young black and brown females.

Before Davis, there were no black or brown hands showing TJ products, but her page has inspired others to make content, with #BlackGirlsinTraderJoes gained 6 million views on TikTok.

@Babydumplingg: 1.2M Followers on TikTok

One of Gen Z’s favorite kinds of food content is “what I eat in a day” videos, and that’s why TikToker @Babydumplingg has racked up 1.2 million followers showing what she eats at different restaurants. Her videos, What I eat at all you can eat sushi,” “What I eat at dominos,” and What I eat at Applebee’s show the influencer what she eats in one sitting. Not just entertainment, these tongue-in-cheek style videos helped these restaurants reach millions of target customers.

More Influencer Marketing Tips for Restaurants

  • Invite them to your grand opening. If you’re a brand-new restaurant, one of the most effective ways of creating media buzz is to throw a big grand opening celebration and invite local influencers.

  • Host a tasting event. If you’ve recently changed your menu or introduced a new dish, call on local foodies to taste them first.

  • Give them a special code to offer a discount to their followers. Special offers look good for both you and the influencer. If you provide influencers with a code, you can easily track your return on investment.

  • Offer them a free meal. In exchange for a review, offer influencers a free meal. Make sure they’re aware of the offer, but don’t try to sway them in their review in any way. Let your food and service speak for themselves.

  • Bring them behind the scenes. Take a food influencer on a tour of the kitchen and conduct a meet ‘n greet with your chef and staff.

Take Away

Restaurant influencer marketing can have a dramatic impact on the way consumers choose their dining spots. A trend that seems irreversible, influencer marketing is expected to be one of the top marketing trends for restaurants in 2023. By investing your time and energy in an influencer campaign, you’ll reap the fruits of positive brand recognition and boosted sales.

Coming Soon! Generational Marketing

As restaurants, we know it’s hard to reach so many different demographics at once. After all, a 50-something is going to react very differently to a Facebook ad than a 20-something.

Instead of throwing your marketing dollars into the wind and hoping you reach the audience you desire, it’s better to know how each generation responds to the different marketing media and tactics. For a more in-depth look at how to market by generation, see our upcoming blog post, Talkin’ About My Generation: A Guide to Generational Marketing.

By Eileen Strauss


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