How You Can Use Influencer Marketing on Instagram in 2018

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Just as fast as influencer marketing became “a thing,” it’s now oversaturated or misleading in the Instagram world. Unless you look at the hard facts of how it has evolved and why the attention is turning to micro-influencers, you might run into trouble going into 2018. 

My business, a social media outlet and food and beverage marketing company, has experimented a lot with micro-influencers. These are the only kind of influencers with whom restaurants can afford to work, and they also happen to be the most effective. We define micro-influencers as food hobbyists with between 1,000 to 25,000 hyperlocal Instagram followers, an engagement rate of 2-10 percent (with 1.66 percent being the average across all industries), an eye for photography and at the cusp between shooting food as a lifestyle choice rather than a financial one. Influencers, on the other hand, have anywhere from 25,000 to 25 million followers, an engagement rate typically well under 2 percent and a diminishing level of trust with their followers. When an influencer is on a micro-level, they have less opportunity to lose authenticity with sponsored posts, more incentive to capture unique editorial content that makes them stand out and a more core follower base that has followed them from day one.

Having run over 50 micro-influencer campaigns with a roster of 150 at restaurants of all shapes and sizes in 2017, we experienced first-hand which campaigns tend to lead to ROI in sales or brand awareness.

The hard number across our 50 campaigns was a 7.38 percent engagement rate (50,522 likes and 2,932 comments) across 794,710 followers. This is almost five times the industry average. Proving sales was a bigger challenge, as e-commerce is limited at restaurants and most influencers like to “warm up” their audience with a brand awareness campaign to gauge how their audiences react to the brand.

We managed to achieve results like these by mostly working with intrinsic motivators and understanding the psychology of an influencer. Most micro-influencers tend to fit into the university student or mom range, as they are people who are not depending on influencer marketing as steady income and have free time to eat out and create content around it. Therefore, things that inherently motivate them beyond a free meal are recognition, exclusive product launches, networking opportunities, food-styling competitions and ownership.

Recognition Is the Name of the Game

Micro-influencers’ primary objective is to grow their brand influence for social proof or cross a threshold where they can easily demand payment. After all, who doesn’t like to get paid? In order to give them this recognition, we repost their content on our brand page, interview them on our blog and give them thought leadership opportunities on panel events that we host within our restaurant community.

For micro-influencers, getting exclusive content and learning from new people usually happens at live-tasting events such as new menu releases and openings. Like any journalist, being the first to talk about something grows your credibility within your current followers and quickly gets you new ones. It’s also something that inherently lets you network with people who share a common interest.

Providing a Creative Outlet 

The last and most important thing we have observed is that micro-influencers are digital artists and value an outlet to express their creativity and entrepreneurialism. For example, we ran a couple food-styling competitions with relatively insignificant prizes (a $50 gift card) that were large successes, purely because of the fact that they were challenged to express their creativity. We garnered a combined reach of 200,000 from 20 influencers with less than 10,000 followers, so this meant that we had virtually everyone post something, even more than once — both rare feats these days as influencers get increasingly selective. We are also starting to team up with micro-influencers to co-run a charity food festival where they can curate suitable merchants and have input on the judging criteria and how we promote it. This lets them ignite their entrepreneurial fire.

Moving into 2018, it will be important to keep the above tactics in mind. With the pay-to-play algorithms starting to kick in more, you’ll likely need to set aside an ad budget to boost your influencer posts as engagement rates drop significantly. Influencer compensation will also likely become a bigger factor for influencers looking to grow followings. Lastly, influencers are going to have to work much harder to make an impact, so paying them not only to post Instagram images but budgeting them to create video and blog content as well will provide ROI to both sides.