The Influence of Instagram on the Restaurant Industry, Part 3: Establishing an Influencer Partnership

In our previous two posts of this Instagram blog series, we discussed the importance of Instagram in the restaurant industry and what you can do to prep your restaurant for food photography that’s shareable on the platform. We learned that making small adjustments in the interiors of your restaurant and adding visually appealing twists to your dishes makes your customers want to share their experience on their social media channels, and encourages their friends and followers to visit your business. While reaching your customers’ followers is a great way to establish “word-of-mouth” marketing in smaller groups, there is a good chance you are also looking to reach a bigger audience through Instagram.

So what are your options? You could create ads, but these often come off as phony, and your audience is more likely to visit your business when they get a personal recommendation.

A personal recommendation that reaches a big audience via Instagram? In comes the “influencer partnership.”

What is an influencer partnership?

In part one of this series, we talked about the rise of influencers, or photographers and bloggers on Instagram who influence over 1,000 people (micro-influencers are those with 1,000 to 100,000 followers). These users typically share products, food, experiences, and more that they personally recommend or use. While some of these recommendations come from genuine, unsponsored use (ie. “Check out my new watch from […]! You can buy it here.”), others come from businesses who pay these influencers to recommend their product or brand.

In other words, as a brand, you can reach out to these influencers and set up an arrangement where they will visit your restaurant and post about it  in exchange for a previously agreed-upon price.

Forming an Influencer Partnership

Fortunately, forming an influencer partnership is not nearly as complicated as partnering with a traditional advertising or marketing firm.  You will first want to decide what your overall goal for the partnership is (e.g., to get more followers, to bring more customers into your business, etc.). Then, to find a partner, you will want to follow these steps:

  1. compile a list of potential influencers,
  2. ask the right questions to narrow the list down to the best option,
  3. establish an agreement and the post content, and
  4. monitor the post when it’s up.

How do I find an influencer to work with?

You can use Instagram to find out who the biggest food bloggers are in your area. There are a few ways in which this can be done:

  • Peruse your existing customer base for Instagram influencers that already love your brand. Some CRM solutions, like LevelUp’s, have data enrichment tools that use a guest’s email address to supplement their individual profile with deeper insights and demographic information — like occupation, hobbies, and most importantly for this process, social network size and influence.
  • Use the search function on Instagram to find popular food hashtags in your area.  Try typing your city name followed by words  such as “foodies” or “eats” (ie. #BostonFoodies) to see what comes up. From there, investigate the images in the “Top” section and review the accounts that posted them. Jot down the users you find with high followers (average 20K-200K), as well as those with decent engagement on their pictures. Here is a mathematical article on measuring engagement, but you can also use your best judgement and review the comments and likes a certain user is getting from their audience per post.
  • Review the accounts of other restaurants in your area by searching for them on Instagram, and see who they’ve partnered with in the past.
  • Do a quick Google search for “food bloggers in [your area].”

Once you’ve come up with a list of 5-10 influencers, you’re ready to reach out to them using their preferred method of contact. A lot of influencers will have their email in the Instagram bio or on their website.

What questions do I ask potential influencers to find my best option?

There are several key questions to ask potential influencers, and the strength of their fit depends on your budget and partnership goals. Some things you will want to ask are:

  • What are your pricing packages for partnerships? (Note: A lot of influencers are willing to negotiate depending on what you are offering their followers. Be sure to ask about being highlighted in their Instagram Stories, too!)
  • (If you’re looking for more followers on your social media) What type of growth have you seen?
  • (If you’re looking for more customers to visit your restaurant) Have the brands you’ve worked with seen an increase in foot traffic?
  • Do you have partnership examples to share?

How do I establish an agreement, as well as content?

You can (and should) work with your chosen influencer to decide what type of partnership you’d like to establish, as well as what type of content they will be posting. A couple of options are:

  • A call to action about a new food item/promotion (e.g., a picture of your food with “Visit [your restaurant] to try their new lobster rolls for half off on Tuesdays and Thursdays!”)
  • A gift card giveaway (e.g., a picture of your food or restaurant with a call to action in the caption such as, “Follow @yourrestaurant to enter to win a $200 gift card!”). Here is a short guide with more information on giveaways.

The influencer you’re partnering with may have some more ideas from past partnerships, so feel free to inquire about them. Following this, you will want to decide what type of picture they are posting, what the caption will say, and when they are posting it, as well as when they can expect to be paid for their post. If you are more comfortable, you can get a contract written up that the influencer will sign agreeing to these terms.

What do I want to monitor after the post goes live?

Congratulations! You’ve formed an Instagram influencer partnership. After your post goes live on the influencer’s account, be sure to repost the contest to your own account. Ask  the influencer to send you the raw photo file, and post about it on your own page so visitors make the connection between the influencer’s account and your own.

You will also want to monitor post engagement. You have the option of turning on post notifications by clicking the three dots in the right-hand corner of the post, so that you are notified whenever someone comments on it. However, this may get overwhelming if you are doing a giveaway, as many people will comment and tag their friends. Instead, check on the post frequently and respond to any comments and questions about your food or business. The influencer will likely take care of any questions related to the contest itself. Finally, track your results and record them for your next partnership. If you were looking for more followers, track how many followers you get. If you were looking for more customers, observe if more people are coming into your store, especially to order the specific food the influencer  posted about. These results are imperative for improving upon future influencer partnerships.

Instagram marketing is a crucial part of the modern-day restaurant industry. We hope this series provided some insight into how you can participate, and why it is important for your business.

Questions? Comments? Let us know in the comments below, and be sure to subscribe to the LevelUp blog for more insights: 

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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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