When it come to influencer marketing, the world has divided itself into three groups:

  1. Those who think it’s the greatest thing to happen to digital marketing.
  2. Those who think it’s a flash-in-the-pan fad, and sullies the good name of marketing in general.
  3. Those who are at this moment thinking, “Is influencer even a word?”

This post is for you, group number three. Specifically, those of you in group three who own small hospitality businesses. You need better, more effective marketing methods, and you need to do it on the cheap. Influencer marketing just might be the kind of strategy you’re looking for. Before I tell you why, though, it’d probably be helpful if I answered a few questions.

What is influencer marketing?

Image courtesy of Walter Lim (Flickr)

At its core, influencer marketing is the lovechild of a celebrity endorsement and product placement: a noted, presumably trusted personality gives her stamp of approval for some product or brand by working it into a social or blog post. These personalities are called influencers, and there are plenty of celebrities who make hundreds of thousands of dollars for what amounts to maybe 10 minutes of effort. They post a picture on Instagram, for example, posing with a product and mentioning the brand. Through the magic of social media, that image gets seen by their millions of followers all over the world, at a fraction of the cost of a traditional, global marketing campaign.

If that sounds way out of your league, it is. And that’s OK. Because the truth is, influencer marketing with celebrities isn’t that effective. Sure, the campaign can reach millions of people, but how many in that audience actually care? Not many, as it turns out. This is measured by an influencer marketing post’s engagement rate, which is the proportion of people who liked, commented, and/or shared the post, relative to the total number of views. This post over at Digiday shows that as the number of followers increase, the rate of engagement declines.

So now you’re probably thinking, “OK, great. You’ve shown me this tool I can’t afford, and it doesn’t work that well, anyway. Why am I reading this?”

Another great question. You’re reading because influencer marketing doesn’t begin or end with social media superstars commanding an army of millions followers. If you follow the link a few sentences back, you’ll notice that its title references something called a “micro-influencer.” As the “micro” in its name suggests, these are people with much smaller followings than your standard celebrity. Mostly, they’re everyday people with a passion for one thing or another, like foodies who blog or make social posts about pizza, and restaurants, and pizza restaurants.

influencer marketing

Smaller audience, higher engagement.
Photo by Steven Lilly (Flickr)

People like this, with followings between 1,000 and 10,000 people exist in the influencer sweet spot. Their followings are large enough to make an impact, but also small enough that the influencer can still maintain a personal rapport with her audience. Engagement rates at the micro level are often 2 to 3 times higher than with big name celebrities. For large brands, that means they can achieve the same reach, and better engagement, by working with hundreds of these influencers for the same cost as one Kim Kardashian.

For you, the small business restaurateur, working with this many influencers would be overkill. You need one or two. Maybe three. You’re a local business and don’t need global reach. You need to reach the people in your community. But how? Well, I’ve got a couple of pointers for you, but you already knew that was coming.

3 easy ways you can use influence marketing to attract customers

#1 – If you have a social media presence, look to your own followers first.

The best place to look for people who can be genuinely excited about your restaurant are the people you know are already genuinely excited about your restaurant. Do you notice any people who frequently interact with your social accounts? Check out their stats on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and Youtube. Even people with 500 – 1,000 followers can deliver results for you. At least enough results to make it worth giving them a freebie or two in exchange for a check-in.

Another good local resource can be found in food bloggers. They don’t have to be in your exact town; they just need to be a reasonable car’s drive away. Invite them for a meal in exchange for an honest review. Bloggers with large followings, especially food bloggers, can have a tremendous sway over their readers in getting them to try new things.

#2 – Look to collaborate with local artists or musicians.

Photo courtesy of Baker County Tourism (Flickr)

And by “collaborate,” I mean “help each other out.” You offer the walls of your restaurant for the artist to hang his work and sell. Or you offer a musician a nice corner where she can play her guitar, sing for tips, or just promote her music. They’re going to promote these like mad on their feeds, and could generate a good deal of business for you.

Instagram is the probably the best platform for something like this. With the highest reported engagement and conversion rates for marketers, it’s the social channel of choice for any kind of marketing. For influencer marketing specifically, though, it’s growing fast and becoming the place to be. Knowing these two things, you should set aside some time to start searching for artists and musicians who live near your restaurant. You can search by location and keywords easily—”Sydney artist” or “Sydney musician”—and find talented people who’d love to work with you like this.

#3 – Use software to find the perfect influencer.

Manually searching has its merits, but sometimes you just need efficiency. There are SaaS platforms that act as a way for you to find influencers and make deals with them to create content for or with you. Our fellow Aussies over at Tribe host such a service, but there are plenty more that offer something similar. With it, you can search through their network of micro-influencers, filtered by any number of criteria (like location!) and find people who themselves are looking for businesses to work with.

Platforms like this simplify the whole process, and can give you much more data about each influencer’s social accounts and their audience. More often than not, the people looking for opportunities on these marketplaces want money over free stuff, but many of them offer ways to barter with something other than money. It’s worth a shot to look—sign up is often free—because you won’t spend anything till you’ve agreed to terms.

In conclusion

Using these starting points, you should be able to find yourself some people who can benefit your business. Just remember that influencer marketing, as a natural offshoot from social media, is as much a social activity as it is a business endeavor. You may be looking for business deals, but it will need to start with a social connection. And when the deal is done, that connection shouldn’t end. Stay in touch, start paying attention to your influencer’s audience. Do they have engaged followers who themselves have large followings? Influencer marketing works best when businesses develop long, trusting relationships with bloggers and other social spokespeople. Play the long game with it, and you’ll see it grow more effective over time.