Influencer marketing is dividing opinion in the restaurant industry.
Some operators swear by its effectiveness at driving engagement, building brand identity and ultimately putting more butts on seats.
Others see it as a fad that will eat up a marketing budget quicker than an influencer polishes off a free meal at your restaurant.
Whatever your personal opinion, the trend is hard to ignore.
According to a survey of 800 marketing agencies, influencer marketing is expected to grow to a $6.5 billion dollar market this year.
Source: Influencer Marketing Hub
Meanwhile, Instagram, the restaurant influencer platform of choice, continues its unstoppable rise – growing 10x over the last five years.
Let’s dive into the pros and cons of influencer marketing so you can decide whether it’s worth it for your restaurant. But if you’re reading this thinking, “What’s all this influencer marketing talk?”, here’s a quick refresher.
What is Influencer Marketing?
Influencer marketing involves partnering with a person whose opinion is sought out by your target audience. The idea is to leverage someone else’s audience to promote your restaurant brand. The thinking being: people are more likely to trust the opinion of someone they admire over the brand’s own advertising or marketing.
It’s not all about a large audience though. Size does matter, but the influencer needs to have the right audience for your brand and should be highly engaged.
A focus on quality over quantity has led to brands favoring micro influencers – with an audience of no more than 100,000 – over celebrities or higher profile influencers.
When an audience gets too big, the influencer is unable to engage with individuals as much and as a result, their followers are less engaged with their content. So there is a sweet spot where an audience is large enough to have an impact but still small enough to be highly engaged.
It can cost as little as a free meal to convince a well-connected influencer to post about your restaurant. Even if you are paying the influencer, you can reach the same size of audience for less compared to traditional advertising.
Reach a New Audience
Leveraging an influencer’s audience offers the potential to reach new swathes of the population your other marketing efforts are missing, particularly younger people. A SevenRooms survey found that millennials rely on social media far more than other age groups, so you don’t want to miss out on this important demographic.
Plus, 85% of Gen Z learns about products through social media and 67% of them prefer seeing “real people” in ads. These kids are the future and restaurant operators must adapt their marketing strategies accordingly.
Content is king but it’s time-consuming to produce. Partnering with influencers whose content you love is a way of outsourcing content creation. You can repost and utilize their content for years to come. You can also use it to test which platforms your brand performs best on, without the time investment of creating it in-house.
Build Trust and Credibility
Partnering with a well-respected influencer with a large following is a way to build trust with a larger audience. If you’re a new restaurant and want a boost in credibility, choosing a strategic influencer to partner with can be a fast-track to building a strong reputation and a loyal following.
Hard to Track Results
The success or failure of influencer campaigns can be hard to measure. There are numerous factors at play and many brands are put off by the lack of solid metrics to focus on.
This can be overcome by setting up a strong strategy, in conjunction with using a platform like SevenRooms to help you measure results. For example, if you’re trying to measure the success of a campaign, try assigning specific hashtags to each influencer or running promotions with customized influencer discount codes. These methods can be used to track the results of individual campaigns and assess which influencers provide the best ROI.
Pro Tip: SevenRooms clients have the ability to create custom tracking links that specifically correlate to an assigned booking channel (e.g. a specific influencer). These will show up in your ‘Booked by’ report, so you can see the direct ROI on having that specific influencer at your restaurant or bar.
Risk of Damaging Your Brand
Putting your brand in someone else’s hands is always a risk. There are horror stories out there that will give any restaurant operator the willies.
Social media offers a low barrier for entry. Whether through buying fake followers, or accepting comped meals with no intention of posting about your restaurant, the risk of fraud by an influencer is ever-present.
However, this is easily avoided by properly qualifying influencers before you agree to work with them. It’s also important to set expectations in writing ahead of the visit so all parties are aware of deliverables related to the comped or discounted meal. That way, everyone is on the same page on what is expected day-of and can be easily referenced back to in the case of a dispute.
Takes Time to Set Up
To get the most out of your influencer campaign, you need to do a lot of research and testing. Not all influencers are created equal. What you want is a brand advocate with the ideal audience for your restaurant. Someone you like and trust, who has a large, engaged following.
It can take a while to get all these ducks in a row. Then you have to decide on a pay structure, agree on terms and wait for the content to be created, all of which takes time.
Is it right to give away free meals – or even pay – for positive coverage? This is something you’ll have to grapple with. Again, choosing the right influencer who genuinely cares about your brand and shares your values can solve this problem.
If you have ethical concerns about an influencer, or if they are not providing genuine opinions to their audience, you have to ask yourself: is this the right partner for my brand? The key to any successful marketing campaign is aligning your strategy with your brand values. It’s no different with influencer marketing.
Influencer marketing is at its best when it’s honest and authentic. It may take time to research, plan and execute a campaign with an effective brand advocate, but taking this time is vital to your success.
Effective influencer marketing is about making connections with the right influencers and providing them with the means to promote your restaurant. They should be promoting your restaurant because they want to, not solely because they’re being paid to.
Authentic content will generate far more engagement with your audience and build trust with your brand in the long term.
So, is it worth it?
Given the impressive stats, the answer is yes. But it has to be done in the right way.
The numbers are saying that influencer marketing is continuing to grow. And many restaurants won’t be taking full advantage of the opportunity.
If you can position yourself as one of the brands doing influencer marketing the right way – using influencers responsibly and not taking shortcuts – there’s potential for huge gains.
For more of the hard numbers, check out our infographic exploring influence in the restaurant industry.