How to actually be an influencer

Today, being an influencer is like being a pop star or professional athlete was 10 years ago. Social media influencers not only get paid incredibly well for doing seemingly very little, but are gifted the latest must-have items & flown to exotic locations. On the surface, they get paid to live & document their experiences for the benefit of brands. In my restaurants we've utilised influencer marketing to great effect, but i've also noticed an increase in the volume of inbound messages from would-be influencers, asking for free meals in exchange for not very much at all. There's a huge disparity between who's paid how much for what, the metrics used to gauge how "influential" someone is and what the "going rate" of pay is. So, from a business owners perspective who works with influencers, here's how to actually do it.

I must make clear first of all, i resent the term influencer, and more so people who use it in reference to themselves. By definition, only others can render you influential? I must also put forward that, aside from working with influencers in the capacity of owning restaurants, i've also been paid by brands to produce & post content, owing to my own social media presence i've unintentionally built. This gives me the unique perspective of being able to understand and appreciate both sides of the equation.

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The sentiment that should form the backbone of both sides is "prosperity is formed on a mutual exchange of value." Put simply, the benefit each party receives should be in as equal proportion as possible. This is why, when wannabe food blogger A with 150 followers, grainy photos & a blog that receives no views asks for a complimentary meal for a new article she is writing, i might as a business owner not consider it equal to the value i provide with a free meal. However, when blogger B contacts me with 20,000 relevant followers, polished content and a specific desired outcome, i'd be more inclined to agree to a meal for 2 on a busy lunchtime.

So, what if you're just starting out but aspire to be a big-time influencer? Consider the sentiment i mentioned above and apply it to what you do: give value! Initially, this will likely be at your own expense. Choose a niche you're passionate about, and actively go out to review places. Put effort in to create great content, write detailed reviews, reply to people's questions, be consistent, be authentic and PAY for your food. Create value for your followers & create value for the places you visit. Its not just about followers, it's about adding value. When i curate content creators for a campaign, i'm looking at the shots they take, the reviews they've written, how they interact with their followers and how they deliver their message, carefully choosing those that resonate with my brand.

Its more beneficial for me to work for an influencer who has 5,000 followers that hang on their every word, whilst producing informative & specific restaurant guides, great photos, a multitude of content and come up with creative ways of involving their audience, over someone with 100,000 unengaged followers they gained from a reality TV show 5 years ago. Perception is reality, so even when starting out communicate how you wish to be perceived. Have a media kit, have a website, invest in a decent camera & editing software.

As the influencer marketing sector grows, brands will continue to seek out creators & the industry is by no means saturated. For me, i never set out to work with brands in that way, but i've been fortunate enough in documenting my journey that brands have sought me out & i guess that comes from authenticity. However, i can absolutely see why people would aspire to be paid to post, who wouldn't? My suggestion, however, to anyone wishing to be one of those people, is to be patient and most importantly, lead with value.