By Ellen Hartman
Restaurants of all sizes – whether popular independents or large franchise systems – have long known the benefit of influencer marketing. In previous generations, this style of marketing was known as a celebrity endorsement and was either carefully crafted and paid for, or happenstance – a local or national celebrity frequented a restaurant and instantly increased the spot’s cool factor. Think Frank Sinatra at Patsy’s or, more recently, President Obama at Five Guys.
Today a celebrity can create buzz without ever setting foot in a restaurant. Through the power of social media, a tweet can have the same effect as an actual visit. Moreover, that tweeter might not be a household name. While celebrities of the past were politicians, entertainers or supermodels familiar to the masses through traditional media, today’s influencers appear on the stages of YouTube, Snapchat and Instagram, and those with the most followers reign supreme.
Though the two approaches are as different as the generation gap, they do share a common goal – adding credibility and cachet. And in today’s message-flooded world, influencer marketing goes a long way to breaking through the clutter with messages that potential customers immediately trust.
So how do restaurateurs attract celebrities of the virtual kind and their followers?
- Know who you are. The first step is easy. Know your product and your core customer. Any good restaurateur understands their unique offering and core customer, but who is most likely to influence them?
- Decide on a social media platform. To find the most likely influencers, simply apply this understanding to social media platforms. For example:
- Instagram: Is your offering picture-worthy, and are your customers younger? Instagram is all about visually appealing content, and the platform caters to non-whites and young adults. According to the Pew Research Center’s 2015 study on mobile messaging and social media, 55 percent of online adults ages 18 to 29 use Instagram, as do 47 percent of African Americans and 38 percent of Hispanics.
- Snapchat: Have a very youthful customer base and a fun, video-friendly story? More than 80 percent of Snapchat users are under 45 and more than 60 percent are between the ages of 13 and 34.
- Twitter: Is your restaurant located in the city center, and does it attract a younger set of customers? Twitter is a good bet, as 30 percent of online adults under 50 use Twitter, and users are more likely to live in urban areas than suburban or rural locales.
- YouTube: Does your restaurant feature an entertaining chef, boast an interesting location and have an older customer? YouTube has its share of vloggers that capture large followings and has a broad demographic reach, reaching millions well past 65 according to an April 2015 study by DigiDay.
- Blogs: Blogger demographics are as unique as their blogs, but they offer multiple opportunities and advantages, including a dedicated website, loyal followers and, more than likely, a strong social media presence.
- Pinpoint influencers. After prioritizing the social media platform most likely used by your customer base, it’s time to start identifying thought leaders that have influence over these customers. Apps and software can help pinpoint influencers within your niche, including FollowerWonk or Klout.
Alternatively, go back to step one and start with what you already know. A simple Twitter, Google or hashtag search using your restaurant’s name may uncover online or social media influencers who already love your brand. Or, if you are frequently in your restaurant and it’s appropriate, ask your customers about their social media habits. Are there certain social media platforms they use? Influencers they follow?
Most importantly, according to CODA Concept’s Angela Stringfellow, influencers:
- Are actively engaged through blogging, social media or other online channels
- Have a large following of your target audience members
- Identify with a topic that’s relevant to your brand
- Consistently generate engagement around related posts
- Have engaged with other companies and/or similar content
- Start the conversation. With a list of influencers to target, it is time to start the conversation. Remember that this isn’t just a pitch, it’s the start of a long-term and mutually beneficial relationship. So start slowly. Familiarize yourself with the person’s interests by reading their content over a reasonable span of time. Then show interest by liking, sharing and commenting on their posts.
- Introduce yourself. Finally, when you are familiar with the influencer’s overall approach, reach out with information about your brand, yourself and your vision of a working relationship. Remember, the influencer can offer a great service to your brand, so approach the introduction with humility and, if possible, what you might offer the influencer as part of the give and take of the relationship. Do you envision a full brand ambassador program? Can you offer free meals or other incentives?
Not all the influencers may want to engage with your brand. That’s fine. Some may be too busy or may not see it as the perfect fit you envisioned. Don’t worry, when it comes to a good influencer campaign, quality is better than quantity.
- Launch your campaign. With that, your influencer marketing program is ready for the final step: launch! As you move forward, it’s important to remember that this isn’t about a single tweet or post. A good influencer campaign is the result of strong relationships between your brand and your partners, and, just like all good relationships, will flourish with ongoing cultivation and care.
Ellen Hartman, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the CEO of Hartman Public Relations, a full-service public relations agency specializing in the foodservice Industry. Hartman has experience working for Coca-Cola, Concessions International, Chili’s, Huddle House, First Watch, Tropical Smoothie, Billy Sims BBQ and Uncle Maddio’s Pizza and many QSR brands including Popeyes, Church’s and Arby’s. An industry leader for more than 25 years, Hartman is active in the Women’s Foodservice Forum, Les Dames d ’Escoffier International and has served on the board Georgia State University School of Hospitality. She earned her APR accreditation from the Public Relations Society of America and is a member of PRSA’s Fellow program for senior accomplished professionals.