KEY POINTS:
* Once you’ve identified your potential influencers, you need to engage with them and build a relationship
* You can use third-party outreach tools to ‘hire’ influencers to create sponsored content on your behalf or simply communicate with them directly
* Identifying bloggers, reviewers, Facebook users or Instagram account holders who have favourably mentioned your business and its food is a good place to start
* There are a number of ways to encourage influencer participation, such as asking them to share photos or videos of themselves and friends enjoying your food - and a little incentivization can help generate great results

OUR FIRST ARTICLE in this series looked at how to identify and ‘map’ influencers — those individuals and/or organisations who are able to help build your brand through social media posts, feeds, blogs and imagery.
The perceived impartiality of today’s social media influencers is what makes them so valuable in helping to encourage potential customers to try your terrific pizza/pasta/Italian cuisine for themselves. Using online tools such as Google Alerts (which allows you to use keywords to identify influencers writing about relevant topics), Social Mention (finds mentions of your business on social media platforms) is the first step of the process.
Once you’ve identified potential influencers you then need to engage with them and build a relationship. Again, there are useful online tools to assist in this process.
At the lower end of the scale are content creation platforms known as ‘blogger outreach tools’. These can put you in touch with bloggers who are paid to write ‘sponsored content’ promoting your menu, service, restaurant ambience etc to their regular audiences. Think of it as a basic form of PR activity designed to let your potential customers know about what your restaurant, café, pub or club has to offer and how much they’d enjoy your food.
‘Third-party’ write-ups about your business can be more persuasive to readers than those you write yourself and place on your own Facebook page or website. And not only do they help communicate your brand values to potential customers, they also serve to drive traffic back to your own online presence through use of hyperlinks — providing opportunities for you to promote introductory offers and meal deals, and other incentives to encourage that first visit to your business.
Of course there are also far more comprehensive professional services available, including such elements as email tracking, automated followups, link monitoring and conversation tracking. But the associated cost of this level of activity is likely to be prohibitive unless you’re running a large franchise chain or have a relatively high business turnover.
The most cost-effective method is to engage with your potential influencers directly — but while this will save you dollars, it will cost you time. The first step is to try to find bloggers, posters of restaurant reviews, Facebook users or Instagram account owners who have already favourably mentioned your business (through using some of the online tools mentioned in our second paragraph). The benefit of this approach is that they are already potentially on-side: they’ve eaten your food and they liked it enough to say so publicly. You now need to reach out to them and encourage them to do more:
* Ask them to upload photos/videos of themselves/their friends visiting your business and enjoying your food. Sometimes just offering to share their images/posts is encouragement enough. You can also offer a meal discount or other incentive to encourage participation.
* Ask satisfied customers who’ve mentioned your food on social media to participate in a survey or tell the story of their visit so it can then be shared with others, both via their social media accounts and your own (be sure to share their actual posted content so it’s clear that it originates from their social media accounts as opposed to your own business — this adds credibility to the message). You can also ask permission to reproduce their content on your own website in the form of a testimonial or similar.
* Enlist their help in promoting new menu items or specials — for example, you can ask your influencer to be the first to try a new pizza or pasta recipe and give it a ‘thumbs-up’ on social media. The more you are in contact with them, the more you can build up a relationship which may lead to further opportunities for promotion in the future.
* Remember that a little incentivization can generate great results. This doesn’t mean you need to financially compensate influencers but you can offer them discounts or free meals. However, incentivization can often be as simple as sharing their posts on your social media accounts or their photos on your website — or giving them a genuine compliment in response to their positive comments about their food.
The focus of all the above is simply to increase the number of positive online references to your business and its food. The more you have, the better — you might be surprised to find how much extra business it generates through your doors. Asking new customers “how did you hear about us?” can help you gauge the effectiveness of this activity — and if you are able to devote a monthly budget to engaging a third-party outreach platform, they will have analytic tools to assist you in tracking the effectiveness of your influencer engagement activity.
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