We all know that Facebook has become a minefield of negativity, punctuated with complaints and cries for help amid all the photos of vacations and babies. It’s usually pretty easy to scroll past the squeaky wheels, but a friend’s complaint post recently caught my attention. He was venting about an e-mail he received from someone promising incredible coverage for his pizzeria in exchange for a free meal. I get requests like this all the time and while they can be incredibly infuriating, there is a silver lining. Influencer marketing has become serious business over the past few years now that anyone with a phone and some spare time can build an audience of dedicated followers. Big brands work with marketing agencies to create influencer campaigns, but independent pizzerias have to navigate these murky waters on their own.
The first thing you should do when fielding this kind of request is to check out the requester’s social media accounts. Is their messaging in line with what you do? Do they have an engaged audience? An account with 3,000 followers that gets 800 likes and 50 comments per post is more valuable than an account with 300,000 followers that gets only 20 likes and comments per post. You can also tell a lot by how they write their e-mail. If it’s sloppy or cut and pasted, it’s perfectly acceptable to drag it right to the trash. If they call themselves an influencer, that’s another red flag. But the worst offense is when they offer to do a “collab” (collaboration). To me, that means they want to work together on a project that is mutually beneficial (you know, a collaboration)… except, to them, it likely means posting a picture in exchange for a freebie. Luckily their entire profile is public so it’s pretty easy to do your due diligence.
When I get a request that seems to have little value, I usually play dumb and reply with something like: “Your account looks great! Let me know when you sign up for a tour and I’ll be sure you go to some of my favorite pizzerias!” If someone seems like a dedicated blogger with some real potential, I might offer him or her a discount on a tour. I usually say something along the lines of, “Sounds great! Here’s our promo code for bloggers.” It lets me turn down a request for a freebie while still offering a benefit. If they’re only looking for a freebie, they won’t use the code at all. I think I’ve seen a handful of people use it in 10 years.
There are also plenty of ways to say “YES!” while keeping the relationship in your control. I know a pizzeria owner who holds influencer parties whenever he has a new pizza to launch. It creates a burst of coverage in one night and makes attendees feel like a part of the process in a way that a free meal would not. You can also keep a list of influencer requests and invite them to new product tastings on slow nights. Reply to their initial request by letting them know that you’re adding them to your special guest list. It’s a way of delaying the invite in favor of a time that better suits the needs of your pizzeria.
Influencer marketing is still new and ambiguous, but it’s a powerful tool to have in your marketing mix when used on your own terms.
Scott Wiener is the founder of Scott’s Pizza Tours in New York City and SliceOutHunger.org.