Everyone is buzzing about how to get so-called influencers, the bloggers and Instagrammers that everyone looks to for news and recommendations, to talk about their food.

But this process, while similar to PR in some respects, is much more casual and non-traditional. Influencers can create some exceptional content on your behalf, and their audiences (which can number in the thousands) are usually much more niche (and likely to follow up on recommendations) than the audience of a newspaper or magazine, which may have a wider appeal.

Know the Players

Spend a few hours looking for the types of influencers that align best with your brand. You want to look for people who are in your area and whose focus is somehow related to what you do. A dining blogger in your city is an obvious fit, but also take a look at people who may be in your region, travel bloggers, and anyone who creates content that feels like ‘you.’

In many cases, these influencers want to be contacted with offers, so their contact info is easy to find either in their IG profile or blog’s about page. Keep accounts organized in a spreadsheet with the name of the account, what platforms they use (that are relevant to you), their focus, their contact information, and any history you may have with them.

Establish a Relationship

Before you can get an influencer to talk about your food, you’ve got to connect with them! The first way to do that is by following them on social media or subscribing to their blog. This has two benefits: First, it shows the influencer that you are paying attention and that you know who they are. Second, it allows you to identify the type of content they’re interested in creating.

If you’re following a lifestyle blogger who is all about clean eating and healthy choices, inviting them to your all-you-can-eat ice cream sundae buffet might not be a good fit! It’s important to understand your audience and show that you are genuinely interested in their voice and perspective before you begin soliciting them for your business.

Give Them Fuel

No matter what their focus (healthy food, baking, fine dining, etc), all influencers have a similar set of values. They want in on the next big thing, and they want to be among the very first people to document it. Once something feels ‘played out,’ it loses appeal for many Instagram influencers and bloggers. So, when connecting with this audience, lead with what is new and unique to your menu.

Influencers are also in pursuit of food that has a captivating visual appeal. It has to photo well to be relevant for this audience, and that impacts both the menu item itself—does it have height, color, texture, etc—as well as the space in which it is photographed—lighting, tapletops, background. For that reason, hosting influencer tasting events during the daytime in a beautiful, well-lit (but not overly bright) area is the key to setting up this crowd for success.

Keep It Interesting

Once you have established a relationship and offered a little bit of fuel to your influencers, it can be a challenge to keep them interested. They’re onto the next new thing! That’s why introducing new, seasonal menu items regularly is so important. Whether they’re verbal specials or new items on your printed menu, these are the bait that will keep influencers engaged.

I’ve seen great success with this at a local gourmet hot dog shop that changed their menu every three months. Prior to each menu change, the restaurant would announce the new flavors, one by one, on social media, stirring up interest for the big day of the menu drop. Inevitably, every menu change day, there would be a line out the door of people who just had to have that new flavor! And the day before the menu change, the place would be packed with guests who were saying goodbye-until-next-time to their favorites!

Let Them Feel "Seen"

If someone takes the time to create content around your business, let them know how much that means to you. At the very least, like and comment on those posts. You can also share the posts once you’ve gotten permission from the creator. One way to do this without disrupting your own Instagram feed is to share content in your Instagram Stories. This way, you keep your grid aligned with your own branding vision, but you have a space to acknowledge content that guests have created on your behalf. You might even want to create an IG Stories Highlight where you can keep some of your favorites, since otherwise they will disappear after 24 hours.

Another way to acknowledge and thank these content creators is to share gift cards and invitations to special events with them. It’s worth the expense to offer these guests some freebies and perks because you know they’ll be sharing them with their audience!

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