Influencer marketing. You see it all the time – the Instagram models with #ad in their caption, pushing the cute jeans they’re wearing or the blue gummy hair vitamins. If you’re unfamiliar with this trend, you need to crawl out from under your rock, hop on any of the major social media platforms, and take a gander at the advertising age of branded content. It makes sense – YouTube or Instagram influencers have a lot of market power, as they are more relatable than traditional celebrities and have very loyal fan bases. And, most importantly, many reach most brand’s ideal market: the elusive millennial.
Why Influencers and Content Creators Matter (Even to Bug Companies)
These influencers are, well, quite influential. And it’s not just products they are promoting – it’s a restaurant, an experience, a vacation destination, a way of living, and more. I’m particularly interested in the trend of influencers promoting ideas. Sometimes they start trends, and other times they are the spark that catalyzes a movement into the limelight. Whereas we are accustomed to tuning out traditional advertising, influencer campaigns have not just the “views” or “impressions” required to make an impact, but they also command the genuine attention of their fans.
I read an article on Aeon the other day that put it perfectly: We are “experiencing a fundamental paradigm shift in our relationship to knowledge. From the ‘information age,’ we are moving towards the ‘reputation age’, in which information will have value only if it is already filtered, evaluated and commented upon by others.”
This is why I’m so excited that a few thoughtful content creators have agreed to help spread the word about topics with social impact. Specifically – eating bugs.
Even though Culture Crash is not a “food influencer,” per say, the channel did educate its 157,000 followers about the benefits of eating bugs. And we saw an engaged audience emerge with comments like:
How Influencers Impact Foodie Audiences
Social media has changed the way we eat, shop, travel, and dress. Whether viewers are looking for a new recipe, seeking entertainment by watching a punk metal band eat scorpions, or watching their favorite “muckbang,” food is a thriving topic on platforms like YouTube.
The impact is palpable. According to Millward Brown Digital, food channel subscriptions grew over 280% in 2015 and social engagement on food channels rose by 118%. Most viewers tune into food videos on YouTube for four main reasons: entertainment, exploration, expertise, or relaxation/ease. Videos span the spectrum from inspiration to creation to flat out voyeurism: we watch the chefs, the teachers, and the “watch me eat 3 pizzas in under an hour” daredevils.
The foodie audiences are one of the most highly engaged online – full of people dedicated to all things delicious. These are the folks that are more than happy to devote portions of their paychecks towards food – a passion that translates to huge opportunities for brands. According to a study, 92% of consumers trust recommendations from others, even individuals they don’t know, over heavily branded content.
This is nothing new. Restaurants have long opened their doors to food critics and sites like Yelp are large factors in where we decide to dine out. While these trusted sources are sought out by customers ready to make a purchase decision, working with influencers delivers messages to broader audiences. Also, the content creators lend their creativity and thought leadership to engaging new audiences as well.
One such influencer, Rukshana Kapadia of The Culinary Commentator, explains, “Eating food is an experience. We eat with many senses and the visuals are very important. Instagram has had an enormous impact on the food industry. It’s also been a great tool to entice people to try new cuisines, to become adventurous with their taste buds, to inform people and educate them about the enormous variety of food available…”
Considering Both Macro and Micro Influencers
It’s not just the content creators that have the power of mind-control. 81% of people are influenced by their friends’ social media posts. Let’s admit it – it’s now commonplace to capture and post a beautifully edited photograph of our dinners before we dive in. Reportedly, 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth (WOM) as a key determinant in their purchasing decision. Forbes suggests 64% of marketing executives believed WOM is still the most effective form of marketing to improve customer engagement and get the word out.
It’s important to note that audiences are highly influenced by the comment sections of the content they are consuming.
Pro tip: make sure you work with influencers that have compassionate and curious communities. It is important to note that the power of influencers does not lie in the follower count. It lies in the tone and engagement of their communities:
How to Communicate Through Influencers
As the wise man once said, “It’s not WHAT you say, but HOW you say it.” Audiences might not remember the details of all the content they consume, but they do remember how content makes them feel. I suggest working with influencers to focus on one of three “thematic messages” when crafting content for audiences.
Most food audiences are looking for one of three things: inspiration, education, or curation:
- Inspiration: Imagine a mom with a fridge full of leftovers wondering what to do with them. Or a young professional wondering how to make a healthier version of her favorite dish. The new generation turns to content creators to break away from routine, learn about a new cuisine, or find a creative way to serve appetizers at the next “Wine Wednesday.” Brands can create aspirational content to persuade audiences to try new things.
- Education: YouTube and Pinterest are encyclopedias of knowledge for the aspiring chef or twenty-something searching for “How to Boil an Egg.” Brands can work with influencers to teach their audiences how to metaphorically fish – creating new habits or hobbies (aka customers) in the process. Mental Floss is a great example of how an educational community can impact the foodies out there.
- Curation: The social media generation is always looking for trusted sources to help them filter through the myriad of options available to modern consumers. Audiences trust the recommendations of influencers. Find influencers who authentically love your product and provide the proper incentives for them to evangelize.
Consider all types of content, from small, quick videos of cooking and plating techniques to announcements of new restaurant or product launches (or Bugible dinners!)
You can even partner with non-traditional “influencers” like UCLA to create great content.
Feeding Hungry Fans the Right Messages
Don’t get me wrong – I love an Epic Meal Time episode where I can watch big dudes make a 10,000 calorie waffle breakfast with Jack Daniel’s – loaded syrup. But as a past food policy student, I’m here to sing the praises of the influencers that use their powers of persuasion to encourage positive lifestyle changes. The content creators who open up the mind of a picky eater to a new culture’s cuisine. Or the video that shows how small dietary changes can have a huge environmental impact.
Not all content has to be serious to have an impact. We reached Good Mythical Morning’s 13,000,000 followers with videos titled Bug and Wine Pairing Taste Test and Eating A Bug Burrito – Bug War Challenge #2.
Content creators are changing the food industry, and one needs to look out for creators with integrity. Increasingly, food influencers play a key role in the widespread awareness of culinary trends. We share a deep, personal relationship with food. In the age of social media, it’s not just what we eat that is impacted by our peers, but also when, where, how, and why. Yes, this presents huge opportunities for businesses to impact food-purchasing decisions. More important, perhaps, is the opportunity to impact the dialogue that occurs around how what we eat impacts our bodies and the environment.
According to Bloomberg, $255 million is spent on influencer marketing every month. You don’t need to spend the big bucks to get your message out to the masses. You might even get lucky and land a spot on Netflix’s Bill Nye Saves the World if you persist!
Childhood dream accomplished. Huge thanks to all my family and friends that supported my idiosyncratic passion of spreading the word about eating bugs. @billnye & @margaret_cho were wonderful advocates and helped us reach a huge new audience. Watch the episode on season 3 of Bill Nye Saves the World on @netflix ❤️💛❤️
Brand development is not just about marketing. It’s about creating a deep, memorable bond with your customers. While advertising tells people about your brand, stellar content shows them. I’m passionate about crafting stories that resonate with audiences. If you’d like help in the space, consider reaching out at firstname.lastname@example.org or learning more here.
I’ll end with a giant THANK YOU to the folks creating companies that are changing the world – or even just one person’s life. We need more of you. We need more people to know about you. I hope this article helped just a tick.