A self-proclaimed social media influencer contacted my pizzeria via direct message to “Collab” for her baby shower. I said, “Sure. We can do the appetizers for free.” I was quite surprised when I received the curt response of, “I was under the impression you wanted to do a collab.”
Let me pause for a moment and say I had no idea that the short-form version of collaboration takes on a whole new meaning. A modern meaning where I, as the restaurant owner, are to entirely give my restaurant to the whims of the influencer, with no proof of ROI. I had noooooo idea a “Collab” is the type of thing that means a 20-person party eats at your restaurant for free, with no room fee, free booze and all. All this for a photo of themselves eating for free at your establishment, but I digress.
The pretense of this “Collab” arrangement is pretentious and ostentatious, and that’s why it turns so many people off. This “influencer” had about 3,500 followers. Her followers were mostly female that lived locally. I thought, “let’s see what comes of it” … purely out of curiosity to see if my gut was wrong.
My gut wasn’t wrong. I threw them a nice party, took care of the bill, and nothing happened as a result. I was out that food cost with a lesson learned — a few photos and videos on her feed with a few likes. The lesson I learned that day is a self-proclaimed influencer is less likely to be the influencer I want.
I’m not saying the influencer model can’t work; it totally can. Here’s how it can work: I saw a 45-second clip online of a different girl. She had posted this video titled “My favorite date night spots in Tulsa.” She showed some great locations and restaurants, which included my food hall location.
She had over a thousand comments from people agreeing with her or suggesting other locations that should be added. I messaged her and offered her and her husband dinner at my restaurant on me. No strings attached. I didn’t have to ask her to make a video, I just let her do her thing. She made another video of her and her husband at Andolini’s. The video got over 600 comments. Her audience engaged in thoughtful, natural, unsolicited comments. People were saying they need to try Andolini’s, and others said how much they love Andolini’s. Out-of-state people commented about going to my restaurant.
The self-proclaimed influencer acts like a QVC salesperson who wants to eat for free. They want to be the star of the show, not your restaurant, so the focus never leaves them. A legit influencer is a personality in your area that interacts with people who comment. They post to have fun, not to build a lifestyle brand off it like a wannabe Kardashian. The influencer model is viable when you choose your influencer and not influencers hitting you up for a handout.
Influencer marketing can be significantly cheaper than traditional marketing, pending you do it right. Find people who don’t bill themselves as influencers but who are speaking to your audience. And just be cool to them, offer a free meal, offer whatever. They’ll know what to do. You don’t need to create a contract of what you will give for how many mentions; let them do their thing. Because if they’re excited about your restaurant, they’ll be happy to do it. And they’ll put more into their post, and more people will see it.
I started looking at social media feeds. I found that many local newscasters, weather people, radio personalities have a massive following. I found others who do great on social media with no affiliation to anything in the public eye. These people dig talking about what they like in the food world, and have a lot of interaction with the community. When they post, it comes off as natural, and it resonates. ENGAGE THESE PEOPLE is the lesson I learned. Engage them with open arms and a clear mind to let them do their thing. For $10 in food cost, you could be reaching hundreds with what appears to be unsolicited advertising that shows interesting people checking your place out.
Now when I get hit up for a “Collab,” I typically pass. Their overt sales photos with little to no comments don’t move the needle. It’s not genuine and people can smell it as fake. Instead, choose your influencers, let them have fun with your restaurant, and gain low investment top of mind awareness with new and repeat customers.
MIKE BAUSCH is the owner of Andolini’s Pizzeria in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Instagram: @andopizza