The Influence of Instagram on the Restaurant Industry – Part 1

Instagram, Restaurant Industry, CRM, LevelUp, Mobile Ordering, Order Ahead

It isn’t news that social media marketing has been on the rise since the creation of Facebook in the early 2000s.  What was once predominantly a platform for college students to network with young professionals has become the largest social media website with 2.1 billion users worldwide, not including the users from Facebook’s 2012 purchase of photo and video-forward mobile app, Instagram.  

Among these users are restaurants and food/beverage brands that use Facebook to market their business. Due to changes in Facebook’s algorithm, the last few years have been difficult for businesses to reach their audience online. The platform now favors paid advertising and organic video content and will feature those posts in users’ newsfeeds over branded content. Adding to this challenge, last month Facebook announced it will show users fewer publisher and brand posts and more content from family and friends. With a growing challenge to earn impressions and clicks, what is a restaurant marketing team to do? In comes Instagram.

As of September 2017, Instagram, a mobile app founded in 2010 that features a scrolling-feed of strictly pictures and videos, had 800 million monthly users. Whether the user is a friend’s mother with 13 followers or a fashion blogger with 2 million followers and counting, Instagram, like its sister-network Facebook features people from all walks of life.

Most restaurants today have accounts that feature select items from their menu, snapshots of charitable community events, and advertisements for the day’s specials. While some restaurants have gained an incredible following using their own account and professional pictures, more and more restaurants are now relying on Instagram influencers (think: photographers and bloggers) to share fare from their stores on their own accounts, with or without a paid partnership.

The reason? For one, it’s authentic, and micro-influencers (Instagram users with 1,000 to 100,000 followers) are likely to have an audience that trusts their recommendation for a pretty green tea latte from the local spot, especially if it doesn’t look like they were paid to post about it. This is essentially free marketing for restaurants and eliminates the need for content creation on the brand’s part.

In fact, many restaurant brands have Instagram accounts that are made entirely from pictures they borrowed (with permission) from guests that visited their stores. While paid partnerships with influencers shouldn’t be overlooked, restaurants just beginning to dive into influencer marketing should start by generating organic buzz on Instagram. Which leaves us with the question: how do you encourage customers to post pictures of their food or your location without a formal (paid) partnership? First, restauranteurs must decide what audience they want to attract and what group of influencers are best suited for the job.

In the last three years, the use of Instagram for food, fashion, and health bloggers looking to make it big has been on the rise and restaurants are following suit. These influencers tend to spend a great deal of time making their Instagram feed look pristine (a Google search for “perfecting Instagram feed” yields about 940,000 results), which means a gallery of edited, well-lit photos that feature a consistent color palette. Food-based influencers typically want to feature food that is unique, colorful, and enticing, while many fashion and minimalism-forward influencers prefer to feature neat, simple overhead shots (known in the community as “flatlays”) of coffee, croissants, and newspapers on marble tables. The health-food community is a different beast, with influencers focused primarily on beautiful food with health benefits that they can recommend to their followers. While a restaurant may be a mix of two or even all three of these niches, picking a target audience is crucial. The next step? Aesthetics, aesthetics, and more aesthetics.

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Jenna Calderara

Jenna Calderara

Jenna Calderara is the Social Media and Community Manager on the Marketing Team at LevelUp. She is also a big fan of soup. When she’s not at work she enjoys cooking, blogging, and trying new Boston-area restaurants. If you’re interested in seeing pictures of breakfast, follow her on Instagram @jennacalderara or on Twitter @jenrara for daily musings.

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