When it comes to spreading the word about your restaurant, the old days of print advertising and word of mouth recommendations are long gone.

Social media and niche influencers are the ones driving traffic these days, so it’s smart to include them in your marketing plan, including devoting a portion of your marketing budget to engagement. Here’s how to do it.

Know Your Goals

First and foremost, it’s important to get clarity on your marketing goals. Are you interested in driving a certain number of people to your restaurant, increasing your online following, or promoting LTO’s and events? Start with your marketing budget and goals and determine exactly what you need before searching for or reaching out to influencers so that you bring a clear vision to the discussion.

Identify Your Audience

Influencers can be extremely helpful at communicating directly with a niche audience. Unlike print advertising, which lands wherever it lands, influencer marketing targets a specific group — the people who tune into that influencer’s messaging. For that reason, it’s important to know who your target audience is in as specific terms as possible. You want to be able to identify a number of demographics, including age, gender, location, income, shopping preferences, etc. Once you do this, you’ll be able to determine which influencers best serve this audience.

Create a Relationship

Working with an influencer is like any business relationship. Both parties expect certain things. The restaurant wants deliverables that impact their bottom line, and the influencer wants compensation. It’s important to establish a professional relationship with any partners that you work with for marketing, whether they are other brands or influencers. A contract, even a simple one that you create yourself, can be a useful guiding document that spells out the responsibilities of both parties.

Beyond the contract that you create, also consider how you will create an ongoing relationship with influencers. One idea is to host semi-regular tastings and invite several influencers at one time. This creates a nice social media saturation and can be timed to help share new menu items or talk about new locations or even specific events. By creating a community of influencers that you work with, you’re also diversifying your marketing spend so that it doesn’t rest on the shoulders of any one online personality.

Another way to build relationships with influencers is by creating a sense of trust. Ask influencers what kind of tools they use best—Instagram posts, Stories, TikTok—and let them suggest ways that they can use these tools to help you. Their ideas may surprise you and provide benefits you didn’t expect.

Measure Success

Quantifying the success of social media marketing, especially influencer engagement, can be tricky. There is an intangible element at play, wherein an influencer’s audience may not act immediately or in the way you had imagined. It’s important to allow some time to interpret the strengths and weaknesses of each marketing activity.

Most social influencers have access to the stats for any posts they create online. You can certainly ask them to share that information with you, and it may be useful to see how many viewers a post receives and what viewers do from there, including whether or not they click over to your profile or website.

You may also want to build campaigns that are more trackable, including exclusive ordering codes. Maybe you give a code to an influencer that they can share with their followers for 25% off their next online order. By creating a unique code, you can track exactly how many people engage with that promotion. Another option is an Instagram contest. These allow you to see the number of likes, comments, etc., and also help build your own following in a measurable way. Then your influencer’s followers become YOUR followers.

Try Again

Because influencer marketing is relatively new, it can feel like a bit of a gamble, but stick with it and keep trying. Once you’ve identified your goals, budget, and target audience and started relationships with influencers, you owe it to yourself to see it through, and that can take some time, so practice patience with yourself and your partners.

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