24 July 2018
8 young people out of 10 claim they’ve already discovered a product via an influencer. These days, influencers increasingly shape young people’s consumption habits. If the first few made their name in the realm of beauty and fashion, a number of them share their daily food intake, whether it was cooked at home or enjoyed at a restaurant they liked and now recommend.
The power of persuasion that influencers wield, as well as the value they bring to a restaurant’s communications strategy seem evident. More accessible than food critics, more authentic than ads broadcast by the media—have influencers become the new kings of culinary press relations? Or are they the fruit of a fleeting and fragile trend? How can restaurant owners separate real from fake influencers? How do they collaborate with them? What are the limits of these collaborations? Read our analysis to find answers to all these questions.
1. Who are influencers?
Someone with an audience that trusts them
An influencer is first and foremost an individual who’s gathered an audience of a few thousand people on one or more social media platforms and shares with their followers their a slice of their everyday life.
Some influencers focus on a specific theme (beauty, fashion, travel, food, sport…), while others branch out to become “lifestyle” influencers. Margot from the Youmakefashion blog began by talking about her first love, fashion (with almost 250,000 followers on Instagram). She then launched a second account, this time documenting her nutritional rebalancing, in which she shares her recipes, dishes, fitness routines, but also talks about her travels and the latest restaurants she’s visited.
Images, videos, articles, and even podcasts: influencers have many different platforms of expression. Food influencers favor photos and videos to highlight “foodporn” content,” and tend to prefer Instagram to publish their content.
The difference between an “influencer” and someone who’s simply active on social media is that the influencer has build a real audience that follows them and listens to them for content or advice, with whom they’ve cultivated a sense of trust and use their power of persuasion.
Three categories of influencers
Celebrities: they’re influencers who’ve already gathered several hundreds of thousands, sometimes millions of followers. Exhibiting their lives on social media is their full-time job; they make a living out of it, and are in general managed by agencies. Contacting them is difficult, and they typically only accept offers if they’re paid for their posts.
Mid-tier influencers: they have between dozens or hundreds of thousands of followers. In general, their engagement rate per post amounts to 3 to 10 percent. They’re more accessible than the first category of influencers, and can eventually ask for financial compensation for a collaboration.
Micro-influencers: with an audience of between thousands and dozens of thousands of followers, they can generate strong engagement rates, but mostly enjoy a strong audience growth rate. They tend not to ask for pay but for other advantages in kind. Spotting the most promising micro-influencers can often guarantee the best return on investment.
2. What point is there for a restaurant to collaborate with influencers?
Having influencers come to your restaurant is a way to gain traction on social media and to make it known to more people. Today, some users see an influencer as 92 percent more credible than a brand. Their posts are 24 times more likely to generate engagement on social media. By sharing their experience in a restaurant in “stories”—short and short-lived videos or photos where they give their followers a glimpse of a restaurant’s decoration, products, menu, and even backstage in the kitchen—influencers can offer restaurants a consequential platform to be seen, but most importantly allow them to win over their audience’s trust more easily.
Recently, Instagram added a feature called “Highlights” which made it possible to add permanent links to stories to your profile. Content that was previously short-lived can now be preserved, filtered, and pinned to an Instagram profile. Some influencers allot a “highlight” to a single restaurant, while others sort their highlights by category or location.
Widening a restaurant’s audience
Stories and posts published by influencers can increase a restaurant’s reach on social media. In the wake of an influencer event we organized for the one-month anniversary of Pizzou, Paris’s new 100 percent Made in France pizzeria, the restaurant tripled its weekly audience:
Influencers wield a real power of recommendation. If they liked a restaurant, they will promote it to their audience. Pizzou organized an event for influencers to discover the restaurant, learn about its history, and taste its products and one-of-a-kind pizzas. The event took place on a Tuesday, one month after the official opening. The day after, Pizzou registered its biggest revenue since it opened (Fridays and weekends included), whereas “Wednesday evening is usually a calm shift,” as Vivien, one of the co-founders, tells us.
Creating content for a low price
Influencers are usually good at photography and taking videos. They’re capable of producing high-quality content that they share on social media and that the restaurant can then re-share on their own accounts.
3. When is a good time to collaborate with influencers?
The opening of a restaurant
To announce the opening of a restaurant, press relations are essential (article to come), but today, they’re worthwhile only if when combined with “influencer relations.”. La Felicità, the latest giant from the people behind Big Mamma, opened its doors to the public on May 26, but dedicated the preceding two days to welcoming journalists and influencers.
A change or new offer
Influencers can communicate about the launch of a new offer. The Westminster Hotel spread the news about its new pastries and tea-time service with the help of Instagram influencers. The burger chain PNY, which is quite communication-savvy, regularly collaborates with influencers to talk about the new things happening at their restaurants (often with an offbeat sense of humor, much as their stunt for the 50-year anniversary of McDonald’s Big Mac).
The creation of an exclusive offer in collaboration with the influencer
Influencers can go beyond simply trying a restaurant and talking about it on social media; they can collaborate with the restaurant to create a dish, a recipe, or a limited offer with their name attached. In January 2018, Roomies, a new gourmet burger place, collaborated with Charlotte from The Food Spy to create “the burger of the month.” She designed the recipe for the burger, but also communicated about the new menu item on social media, which allowed Roomies to widen its audience and have customers come in to try out the “PariswithCharlotte Burger.”
Continual collaborations to keep up a restaurant’s visibility
Paris New York Hamburgers or the Big Mamma restaurants regularly invite influencers throughout the year to share videos or photos of the food and as a result ensure their restaurant’s continued online visibility.
4. How to pick the best influencers
The number of followers is the first (and easiest) criteria to spot. We talk about an influencer starting at a few thousand followers.
The second number to look at is the average engagement rate generated on posts, which takes into account every form of interaction a user can have on published content: likes, comments, shares, clicks, as well as instances of the restaurant being tagged on social media. Not all interactions have the same value: a post being shared is the sign of stronger engagement than a simple “like.”
It’s important to understand with precision which themes the influencer gravitates toward, their editorial policy, and the way in which they communicate with their followers. Inviting a vegan influencer to a restaurant serving meat and cheese, or a gluten-free one to a restaurant with no corresponding item on the menu, are examples of obvious mistakes to avoid.
The location of the influencer’s audience should also be taken into account: an influencer with 200,000 followers living mostly abroad or in the country wouldn’t be of much help for a Parisian restaurant.
Finally, the quality of an influencer’s followers is vital: is an influencer reaching the right audience targeted by the restaurant (age group, socio-economic profile, location, interests…)? One of the criteria to look for is what kind of interactions each post triggers: are they numerous, of good quality? If the majority of comments consists of emojis or short messages (of the “cool pics” or “great feed” variety), it’s likely they were left by robots and the influencer doesn’t have a real audience but resorted to hacks to acquire new followers (article to come).
Another important criteria: are there pictures of food in an influencer’s feed? An influencer may have a real audience that follows and trusts them, but if they’re not used to posting about food, they may only do a story in the best case scenario, and the added value for restaurant owners will be lower. Nina, from the Callmevoyou account, regularly posts food content with recipes she tries or restaurants she tries out.
5. How do restaurants collaborate with them?
Restaurants have to offer real added value to influencers for them to want to collaborate: trying out an original, generous, gourmet type of cooking, discovering a nice place, talking about themes that their audience can relate to, or going even further by suggesting they invite one or more of their followers.
Taking a lot of care when initializing contact
Before thinking of how to collaborate with an influencer, it’s important to have figured out their taste, the last restaurants they tried and liked, as well as what their community seems to appreciate. “Lower-tier” influencers can be contacted via private messages on Instagram, but it is more professional to send an invitation, a press release, or press kit by email.
Having influencers over one-on-one or inviting them to an event
Invitation can be personalized. Usually, they’re (graciously) invited to try a restaurant with a +1. Still, organizing an entire event can have a much more important local and media impact. It’s essential, then, to invite groups of influencers who know each other already and like each other, but also to pick the best format for the event (seating charts can quickly become conundrums and put at risk the entire atmosphere).
To compensate financially or in kind?
When it’s about simply trying a restaurant, most influencers do not ask to be paid. However, if the restaurant owner clearly expects more work from the influencer, like a video montage or an article with edited pictures, an influencer can ask to be compensated financially (after all, all work deserves payment).
Offering added value with contests
An efficient way to collaborate with an influencer is to organize a contest. The influencer invites their audience to come forward in one of their posts, usually by tagging one of their friends to enter a draw (and eventually following the account of the restaurant on social media). The benefit is twofold:: the influencer offers real value to their followers by allowing them to win an invitation to a restaurant, while restaurant owners increase their visibility with the contest.
Using an agency?
The staff, if it’s social media-inclined, can of course take care of inviting influencers from time to time. However, identifying the best influencers, building a relationship with them, organizing entire events, reusing content, analyzing the media impact… all of this demands time which cannot be allocated at the cost of restaurant work and the care taken to serve customers. To carry out a real influencer marketing strategy, expand a restaurant’s visibility, and increase revenue, we recommend restaurants work with agency.
6. What are the limits of influencer marketing?
Authentic or sponsored content?
Passionate influencers will continue to discover new restaurants on their own. Others lose their credibility and only frequent places which invite them or pay them to come. It’s important to identify those who continue to share authentic content and thus preserve the bond of trust they’ve build with their followers.
Beware of “fake” influencers
There are influencers who boast of very high follower counts which turn out to be bogus. Indeed, it’s possible to use different types of softwares or robots (which people often have to pay for) to grow one’s audience with “fake followers.” You can read another article on the subject on Malou’s blog.