At its core, influencer marketing is a type of marketing that takes place primarily on social media. It uses the aforementioned social proof to leverage positive reviews, product mentions, and other endorsements to your advantage - something that is particularly important in terms of restaurants.
Restaurants depend on word-of-mouth, and influencer marketing is just the next-generation version of it. It’s true in different ways, all of which are worth exploring.
What is Influencer Marketing, and Why Should Restaurants Use It?
If someone with a large following comes to your restaurant and has a great meal, they're likely to post about it on their social media accounts. That is then seen by an enormous audience, not all of whom may have been aware that your restaurant existed.
If even a fraction of them come into your establishment for a meal and have a similar positive experience, they're likely to post about it. That creates a ripple effect in the best possible way - especially if yours is a restaurant with an eye toward growth.
Top Tips on Mastering Influencer Marketing for Your Restaurant
It's important to note that none of these tips is a "silver bullet" in getting your restaurant recognized on a larger scale.
Instead, you should be experimenting and seeing which ones work and applying them to develop a larger strategy that makes sense within the context of the establishment you're trying to build.
All told, there are many steps that you can take to leverage influencer marketing for your restaurant, including but not limited to the following.
Get in touch with influencers
If you want to use influencer marketing to make a more significant impression for your restaurant, it stands to reason that you need to get in touch with those influencers in the first place. Research local food blogs and food-based social media accounts to see which ones people are noticing.
Read the local newspaper to see who the most vocal and passionate food critics are. Make a list of people with the general public's attention and reach out to see if you can connect.
Once you’ve done your research, you should be able to identify the right influencers for your brand. You might want to consider creating a brand ambassador program with clear guidelines and all the information influencers want.
Send merch to influencers
If yours is the type of restaurant with its own branded merchandise, send some to influencers with whom you're trying to establish a relationship.
However, remember that you can't do so under the assumption that sending a branded hat, chopping board, t-shirt, or other restaurant-themed products will automatically generate a good review.
Doing so would be unethical and could harm your reputation in the long run.
Instead, send them some merchandise and let them know that you've noticed their work, enjoyed it and would be very open to collaboration.
If they host a YouTube show, they might just wear or use it on their channel - thus generating a significant amount of exposure.
Host tasting events
Tasting events are a time-honored tradition in the world of restaurants, and they're a great way to attract the attention of influencers as well.
Consider setting aside an evening (likely during the week) to create a specialized tasting menu. Then, invite all of the influencers on your list to come and give their honest opinions.
Yes, some people may not like what you offer because nothing will satisfy everyone. But if specific influencers enjoy what you've prepared for them, encourage them to post about it on their channels.
They get a delicious, free meal, and you get additional exposure - after all, collaborating with influencers is one of the most efficient ways of PR for restaurants.
Choose the right influencer marketing channel
An essential step that many people overlook is marketing channel selection. By now, you already know what your ideal customer looks like, so consider which channel they are likely to use.
You've undoubtedly done the research and know what they like and don't. The same must be true of where they spend their time online. Otherwise, you will put forth tremendous effort with something to show.
Case in point: social media. If yours is the type of audience that spends the majority of its time on Facebook, it doesn't make sense to partner with influencers who operate exclusively on TikTok.
Therefore, you need to think not just about which influencers you partner with but where they primarily operate to see the best results moving forward.
Think about your target audience
Along the same lines, you must consider your target audience when partnering with influencers online. Everyone has a unique approach to their actions - some influencers are polite, and others are more aggressive.
They all have certain personalities, which attract people to them in the first place.
However, you must ensure that you're partnering with an influencer your audience wants to listen to and take advice. Just because someone has a large audience doesn't mean that audience is a perfect match for your restaurant.
Similarly, when considering a partnership with a ghost kitchen, it's crucial to align with one that complements your brand and has the same target market to maximize the benefits of this business model.
Be sure to vet as much of their content as possible before reaching out to them to save time in the future.
Choose a local influencer
Unless you run a restaurant that can reliably ship anywhere in the country, you always want to choose an influencer local to the area you're actually operating in.
It’s true for a few different reasons. For starters, they'll live in the same area you serve - meaning they'll understand the local culture and what makes it unique.
Then, especially if they have something like a YouTube show or a viral local Instagram account, they'll be able to visit your location in person. They'll take pictures and shoot videos and will be able to show, not tell, the exceptional experience you were able to offer.
Ultimately, your audience will be more engaged with a proper Instagram feed aesthetic, appealing visuals, and engaging content. The importance of this is something that cannot be overstated.
Analyze your target influencer
Another critical step involves analyzing the target influencer that you have in mind before having them create content for you.
Go back through their social media posts and check to see if there is anything that needs to be clarified - meaning anything that might not line up with the impression you're trying to create for your brand.
Even if they have a large target audience, there's always the potential that they may be the type of liability that you’d prefer not to entertain.
Find an influencer already interested in your kind of cuisine
See if you can find influencers that have already expressed some type of interest in the kind of food that you're making.
If an influencer has expressed on their blog that they don't like Italian food and yours is an Italian restaurant, it doesn't necessarily make sense to try to win them over.
But if you find someone online with a large audience who likes the type of food you prepare, you should reach out to them and see if they'd like to collaborate.
Just remember, targeting is key in influencer marketing. Collaborating with someone promoting fitness or weight loss if you offer healthy, low-calorie options can be effective. For instance, a partnership with influencers who support guilt-free meal delivery services like Green Chef could yield promising results.
At the very least, this will put you one step closer to the type of positive social proof and exposure you need.
Invite traveling influencers to reach tourists
Many people need to realize that some influencers are travelers - meaning they tour the country, eat at certain establishments, and report back on the experience to their followers.
It’s an opportunity just waiting to be taken advantage of, especially if your restaurant operates in a larger city.
Try to find some of the more popular food bloggers and critics online and reach out to them, asking about what their schedules are.
If someone happens to be in your city in the coming weeks, let them know that you'd love to host a tasting event so they can post about it online.
Will it immediately impact you if their audience differs from your local one? No. But you can be sure that if any of their followers are in your city, you've just increased the chances that their next meal will be at your restaurant.
Discussing the compensation for influencer marketing is crucial before the process begins in earnest. Some people early on in their careers will do it for the free meal, while others will need financial compensation.
Regardless - never, under any circumstances, promise compensation for positive reviews.
For starters, it's an unethical action that questions the whole process. Also, if it ever came out that you did this, it could harm your reputation beyond repair.
Let them know what you want them to do (give an honest review of your cuisine) and how you'll compensate them for it, and then let fate take its course.
Find out what type of promotions they do
When researching influencers, it's also essential to look into what type of promotions they do. You may read online that "Person A" is a very popular local food influencer - the kind of person people are paying attention to and engaging with.
But by digging, you may learn that they only do food videos. Based on what you already know about your audience, you might see that they don't watch videos but read blogs.
Therefore, it makes sense to partner with this person if their audience is likely to cross over with your own.
Again, you must ensure that you know as much about your audience as possible.
That way, you can narrow your list of potential influencers to those who make the most sense for your brand and what you're trying to build.
Give enough time for the influencer to reach their audience
The old saying goes, "Rome wasn't built in a day." A successful influencer marketing campaign won't be, either.
If you partner with a single influencer for a one-off video or blog post, the chances are high that you will generate far from the results you were expecting.
In the fast-paced digital world, consistency is king. Yet, your content volume is just as important as the quality.
Therefore, instead of having a local influencer come in and record a single video or live stream, see if they're willing to come in for a few weeks in a row. They could review one dish and dedicate a video to it, then come back a week later and review another dish.
Creating such a video marketing campaign can generate more content and create the consistency you need to capture the attention of a wider audience.
Measure your influencer marketing effectiveness
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, you always need to measure the return on investment from your influencer marketing campaign.
The chances are high that you'll be working with more than one influencer at a time. They all have different audiences, and they all operate on various channels. But after about six months or so, you should know which ones are paying off for you based on the compensation and which ones aren't.
You could use customer surveys or similar techniques to learn where your customers are coming from. If a particular influencer is underperforming in that they're not generating any new business at all, it only makes sense to cut them loose.
On the other hand, if there is an influencer who generates a treasure trove of new customers every time they post, you would want to continue that relationship.
In the end, influencer marketing can boost restaurants, in particular, due to the unique nature of the business.
You must ensure that you're approaching things from the proper perspective - and with the right mentality - to enjoy the benefits with as few potential downsides as possible.
If you'd like to find out more about how to use influencer marketing for your restaurant, or if you'd like to discuss your own needs with someone in a bit more detail, please don't delay - contact us today.