My business helps the hospitality industry to engage with customers by creating incredible experiences. Part of what I do is help these small businesses tell their stories online, often through social media. However, I also happen to run a local food blog as a hobby, and I get invited to my fair share of food blogger events by both agencies and businesses themselves.
A few years ago, I started an Instagram account where I took myself off to local independent food retailers, found stuff I liked the look of, did a bit of research, and told the story behind the products I’d found. Then I started visiting markets where I met some of the lovely people behind these brands, and I wanted to tell their stories too… Next thing you know, I’m getting invited along to restaurants as a food blogger!
In all seriousness, I now take that title pretty seriously. Whilst I don’t have a large platform, I do get reasonable engagement on my posts. I’m passionate about supporting and championing local independents. I started my page to showcase unique products and local food businesses, which is still my focus today.
I hear mixed reviews from businesses working with ‘influencers’ and I’m starting to think that the tide is turning in some respects… We are now more aware of bloggers being walking advertisements, and some will promote almost anything they’re getting paid for. I’m personally predicting a new era of B2B influencing – imagine your favourite pizza place recommending a great sauce for you to try, or your local Italian deli giving a shout-out to a new Greek restaurant that’s just opened down the road… You’d try it, wouldn’t you? Burger King used their platform to promote over 200 local independents during the last lockdown, and this kind of network validation has the potential to be far more powerful than individuals’ opinions.
However, there’s no reason that working with individual influencers shouldn’t be beneficial for all involved. I’ve set out my golden rules below for businesses, agencies, and bloggers… And I might have had a bit of a rant along the way too!
If you’re a business…
Make a list of bloggers you’d like to work with. Do your research on their page, on their blog, and on Google – after all, these people will be representing YOUR brand and you want to be sure that they’re a good fit.
You’re looking for quality engagement. Just because a blogger has a significant following doesn’t mean their followers are engaged with their regular content. Don’t just assume that a high number of followers or likes will get you results – both of these can be bought. Instead, check the quality of the comments on recent posts. Are people leaving genuine comments, and tagging others? That’s a good indicator that the blogger has engaged followers.
If you’re going to approach a blogger, start by following their page. Sounds logical right, but you’d be surprised how many requests I get to showcase products on my page from people who don’t actually follow me. On Instagram that also means your message ends up in the requests folder and is less likely to be seen.
Don’t just dive straight in with a request. If you’re looking to work with a blogger, check out their page, like a few photos, leave a comment. You’re much more likely to get a positive response if you’re engaging with their feed first.
Be prepared to pay. I’ve personally never charged for a post, but a lot of bloggers do. Don’t underestimate the time it takes a good blogger to create great content on your behalf – editing photos, writing copy, not to mention reaching an audience you currently can’t. A small fee will still be cheaper than paying for advertising, especially if you’re certain that they can reach your target market.
Some bloggers only showcase photos they have taken themselves, and that’s totally fine. Some (like me) are particular about the format of their photos. Wherever you can, let the blogger create their own content with your products. Not only will they get a result they are happy with, but these images tend to perform better, and you get bonus content that you can reuse in the future too!
Sometimes it’s a no. I’ve been approached by a few businesses who just wouldn’t be a great fit for my page (I tend to stay away from anything diet or fitness but I’ve recently been approached by numerous watch companies which is nothing short of bizarre for a food page…) Whenever that happens I do my best to refer them on to someone who may be a better fit, but if a blogger says no to your product don’t be offended – just move on to the next person on your list.
If you’re giving away free products, make sure you get the best bang for your buck. I’ve turned down free products in the past, especially during times when I know I haven’t given my page the attention required for decent engagement. It would be wrong of me to take a free product from you to “advertise” it to a few hundred people – in this case, I’ll always refer that business on to a blogger who has better engagement than me at that point (and yes, we all talk…!)
If you’re an agency…
For God’s sake, if you’re engaging bloggers on behalf of a business – give them a brief. You’re the professionals in this scenario! It doesn’t have to be War & Peace, but as a minimum let the blogger know what is expected of them, and what you are offering in return. For example, I personally take “We’d like to invite you along for a free meal” to mean one meal, and I’m eating on my own. If you’re happy for them to take a plus-one, say so. If drinks aren’t included, let them know. If there’s a particular date or week you’d like them to attend… You get the idea.
Make sure that the blogger knows what the business is looking to promote (for example a new menu or drinks offer) and give them some information and background. Don’t be too prescriptive – the last thing you want is ten bloggers writing the same paragraph – but what are the core values of the business you want them to share? Are they shifting their focus to become more ethical or sustainable, is there an interesting back story, are they sourcing their products locally? What story do you want the blogger to relay to their followers?
Wherever possible make sure that there is a clear brief around the kind of content you’re looking for. Are you happy with one static post on a page, or do you want reels and multiple stories? Are you looking for the bloggers themselves to feature or just the product? Who should be tagged into their posts, and which platforms would you like them to post on?
Give your bloggers some idea of your target market. I personally have a few social platforms and have experimented with posting different content across each. My Facebook is pretty useless, but with the right post I can get more engagement out of my LinkedIn account than I can my Instagram despite having about 25% of the followers – perfect if you’re looking to promote a special offer for a lunchtime business crowd, but not ideal if your target market is under 25’s looking for their next bottomless brunch.
Follow up with your bloggers. Ask them to send you links to their posts and even share performance figures if they can. All of this will help you measure their success, and you’ll get some insight into what’s working and what could be improved for your next campaign.
Finally, ask your bloggers for genuine feedback on their experience. Sure, they may have posted about the “best brunch ever!” but was the service really up to scratch? Was their coffee hot? Did they really enjoy their visit, and would they return as a paying customer? As an agency, they are far more likely to share this with you than they are with a business owner, and it gives you some really valuable feedback for your client.
If you’re a blogger…
The internet is full of wannabee bloggers. As someone who came into this title by accident, I was genuinely shocked the first time someone asked me to feature their product on my Instagram page. It had never even occurred to me to approach a business directly! I now run several accounts for businesses around the city and I see first-hand the messages offering “free promotion on our page” in return for a comp’d meal or product… Just don’t. It’s been a hard enough year for most businesses as it is, so if you’re not 100% certain you can promote them to a wider or more engaged audience that they can promote to themselves, don’t try. Honesty and integrity will get you further in life than a free meal.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t approach businesses to talk about partnerships, but there are more effective ways to do it… And the golden rule is to engage. Follow their page, like their posts, share their content and leave comments. Tag your friends. Become a virtual brand ambassador. Engage them in discussion and if you’re really serious about a partnership, buy some of their product. Then – when you do approach them for a collaboration or partnership – the answer is more likely to be “let’s talk”.
Understand that when you message a business page, you may not be speaking directly to the business owner. You may not even be speaking to an employee. I run social pages for several of my clients, and that includes responding to their DM’s. Yeah, I see you. I answer what I can directly and filter out the important / urgent messages for the owner of the business to respond to. Your free meal request is not one of them.
If you’re invited to a restaurant or asked to try a product… Be kind. That’s not to say that if you have a terrible experience you should tell your followers it’s “the best, amazing, great!”. Just think twice before you write a negative post. It’s far better to engage directly with the business or the agency who approached you and let them know about your experience than publishing it to thousands of people without context.
Surprise and delight. One of my favourite things to do with my blog is order a product from a small start-up or local supplier online, and then showcase it on my page. Nine times out of ten I’ll get a message saying thanks, and we have a little chat about the product and what their plans are. I’ve actually discovered some of my favourite products and businesses this way!
Create consistent content. There are a handful of food and lifestyle bloggers out there who I would recommend based on the fact they produce consistently awesome images, great videos, and truly engaging copy. And they also happen to be really nice people, which helps.
Don’t buy followers. Or likes. It’s way more obvious than you think it is, and a good agency will see it a mile off.
Spellcheck is your friend. I cannot stress this enough.
And finally… Tip your server! Your meal might be free, but most hospitality workers are still on minimum wage. The least you can do is recognise their service. Trust me, they’ll remember it when you return!