Take 1: In 2015, lifestyle, food and travel vblogger Doug Armstrong went to McDonald’s beef farm, meat-processing factory and kitchen in the UK. He took the viewers on an invigorating journey on how McDonald produces its burgers. It was a paid marketing campaign. Today, the reach of the video is more than 3.9 million.
Take 2: Atreya Paul, Public Relations Consultant of The Irish House, a popular restro-pub in Kolkata, relied on social media platforms to promote the outlet’s special offerings on St Patrick’s Day (March 17). He looped in Kolkata-based influencers, who shared food-related content on their social media channels. “The outreach was huge and we were very happy with the response,” says Paul.
Blogging has emerged as a robust online content marketing and branding tool. Blogs have been rated as the 5th most trusted source for accurate online information. Study demonstrates that 77% of Internet users read blogs and 346 million people read blogs across the world.
Today, blogs are one of the foremost online media platforms, impact individuals in their buying and eating choices. Among all other industries, it’s the lifestyle, travel and food sectors which have taken the bloggers’ opinion seriously.
According to a study, 92 % of consumers trust recommendations from others, even individuals they don’t know, over branded content. As food bloggers are becoming the new influencers of the industry, numerous eatery administrations are taking advantage of their online presence and are welcoming bloggers to review their restaurant. Army of influencers is rapidly changing the way F&B industry functions.
Hence, food blogging, which many started off as a mere hobby, have now become a full-time profession.
Kolkata-based food bloggers and influencers — Rukshana Kapadia (The Culinary Commentator) and Poorna Banerjee (Presented By P) — have a strong following and their opinions matter. Hence top restaurant management invites them and other influencers such as Astha Modi and Payel Rakshit to review their properties and write on culinary activities.
So, when a food blogger become an influencer
Not all bloggers are or can be influencers. In the era of fake news and information-saturation, it’s important to identify bloggers who have depth insight on the subject because blogs are meant to be trusted source of information for the consumers. According to a study, 70% inform that online reviews are their second-most-trusted source. Also, 47 % of US readers consult blogs to keep tabs on trends and ideas.
Supreeta Singh, who runs her own PR, events and communication agency in Kolkata, and regularly holds “bloggers meet” at various restaurants such as The Astor, The Grid and The Palms, informs that not all influencers are required to write blogs. She/he should be a socially active person. “A blogger can be a “very good writer” but an influencer moulds opinions. In Kolkata, there are a few important bloggers and influencers and their attendance is very crucial in every food event that I do,” she says.
Food critic and influencer Rukshana Kapadia of The Culinary Commentator loves anything remotely related to food. A renowned influencer in Kolkata’s F&B industry, Rukshana clearly mentions that everyone who owns a blog “is not an influencer.” “Once you have a certain number of followers across various social media formats then your opinion does carry weight. Your reputation is built on the quality of your content,” says Rukshana, whose food blog is ranked 18 by Zomato.
Rana Basu Thakur, who’s the PR consultants for reputed food properties such as Yauatcha, Club Boudoir, Keventers, and Gokuls, echoes similar sentiments and informs that an influencers’ qualitative depth resonate with a wider audience.
“Influencer marketing is the fastest growing channel of marketing spends today. The more people talk about your brand or product experience, the more the virtual chatter will aid in your SEO ranking ramp ups,” he says.
S Ramani, managing partner, 6 Ballygunge Place, one of the most-sought after food destinations in Kolkata, also admits that food bloggers are gaining momentum and helping in attracting business. However, he is quick to mention that not every blogger is to be trusted. “I agree blogging is changing the food industry, but one needs to look out for bloggers with integrity,” he says.
How an influencer help a food brand
Planning to take out your close ones for dinner? Well, we don’t search for the newest restaurant on Google but instantly check out the reviews and the rating of the restaurant on Zomato. Reviews on other social media channels such as Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook also influence the decisions of the hardcore foodies.
F&B businesses across the world are turning to influential bloggers to reach out to the target audience and for better customer engagement. Also, the food influencers with their creativity and thought leadership bring in the new audience too.
Dineout, a popular table reservation platform, organised India’s first ever nationwide restaurant festival, The Great Indian Restaurant Festival 2017 in February. And interestingly, food influencers and bloggers played a key role in the widespread awareness of the culinary event.
Sweety Dutta, Assistant Marketing Manager – Dineout, Chennai, who is an influencer herself, admits that a brand cannot always reach everyone but an influencer plays a vital part in digital marketing space to spread the word.
“Our GIRF was the biggest restaurant festival in India that ran for 10 days. Influential bloggers played a very important role in making GIRF a big hit. They spread the word on a large scale with their posts on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter and of course their blogs,” she says.
Rana, who handles Yauatcha, a Michelin star Chinese eatery providing city’s best dim sums, has pioneered the concept of ‘Evening of Eminence’, where Kolkata’s eminent people and top influencers (read food bloggers such as Rukshana, Poorna, Payel Rakshit who blogs for Dine Dazzle Dive and Astha Modi of blabbercat.com) meet and discuss various topics including food. “In most cases, food influencers are genuinely helpful and resourceful in finding any lacunae in service quality. Their degree of virtual proliferation is good and the brand touch point gets a good immersive impact with a hitherto untapped horizon,” says Rana, also the chief mentor at Just Lateral Thinkink.
Bloggers and influencers meet at Yauatcha, Kolkata. IC: Rana Basu Thakur
Celebrity marketing vs influencer marketing
When your favourite celebrity endorses your favourite brand, you also like to use that brand. Celebrities play a key role in consumer buying behaviour. However, with the rapid advancement of technology and the growth of digital marketing, “wellness influencers” are also becoming important for a brand. Today, brands are willing to partner more with influencers because it increases the brand’s credibility.
Back home, our experts place their bets on influencer marketing. Atreya totally rides on the influencers when it comes to promotion of a new restaurant in Kolkata. He informs that today consumers are not gullible and rely more on the influencers and bloggers for their expert comments. “People are not bothered about star footfalls. They are more inclined towards authentic statements and reviews,” he says.
For Supreeta, who handles popular F&B outlets such as The Astor, The Palms, The Shack Lounge, What’s Up and The Lalit Great Eastern to name a few in Kolkata, a celebrity might be “paid” to endorse a product but influencers write based on their opinion. At times, a social influencer can also be paid but they mostly use the product and then give their expert comments.
Rana, too, believes that with the proliferation of too many celebs endorsing products blindly, brand empathy is slowly waning. “Influencers are more ‘real’ and appear more credible,” he says.
Social media channels and influencers
Today, even before we gorge on the perfectly spongy red velvet cake, we post a beautifully edited photograph of the cake on Instagram. Let’s admit. More than eating food, today we love to show the world what we are eating.
Social media has changed the way we eat, shop and travel. We visit YouTube for instant recipes, refer to Facebook groups for travel insights or tweet to our favourite chef Sanjeev Kapoor to seek expert advice on food. Personally, I refer to Facebook page Tasty for quick and easy-to-make recipes.
Did you know that 81% of people are influenced by their friends’ social media posts? According to Mint, in 2016, Twitter saw an average of 370,000 tweets a month in India with the mention of “food”. Also, #nomnom has been used on Instagram for food-related photographs nearly 10.3 million times.
Santanu Mukherjee, digital marketing head of Indus Net Technologies and also a self-confessed foodie, admits that genuine food bloggers today operate across various social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, in addition to posting on their blogs. Over time, they gain followers, who trust their opinions. “Influencer marketing is an important part of digital marketing today and bloggers are becoming top-rated influencers,” he says.
Facebook is a vital tool for marketers. In 2015, the channel influenced 52% of online and offline purchasers, a considerable rise from 36% in 2014.
According to Aditya Gupta, co-founder of iGenero, nearly 50% of the brands today utilise micro influencers for the launch of new products either through Facebook Live, YouTube videos or Instagram stories. Influencers forge a relationship with the consumers directly through their content, videos and feedback.
For food influencer Rukshana, Instagram and video blogging are emerging as major social media channels to entice the food connoisseurs. “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,” she says, whose recent blog post on Bengali cuisine is winning hearts.
Rukshana Kapadia of The Culinary Commentator is an important influencer in the F&B industry in Kolkata. IC: Zomato
She also informs that video blogging is a great interactive tool and is soon becoming a trend in F&B industry. Atreya too informs how vlogging is slowly catching up and how people are interested in watching small quick videos of cooking and plating.
Also, social media can be best put to use when launching a new restaurant in town. Atreya recalls how he hosted several blogger’s meets, social influencer’s meets and Instagrammer’s meets for his Kolkata food client Paranthe Wali Galli, which is known for delicious chocolate paratha and chicken chettinad. “The social media handles of the influencers helped the brand to become the talk of the town,” said Atreya, who is the PR strategist of eateries such as Bombay Brasserie and Serafina to name a few in Kolkata.
In the meantime, Mukherjee informs that food lovers are highly influenced by the comment section on Facebook. Also, shares on social media platforms are equally important. “If one of our friend’s share on Facebook about a restaurant, which has got good reviews, we too tend to share it with others. When a blogger posts a review about a restaurant on social media the visibility increases. The moment there’s visibility, it tends to become at the top of our recall value,” he says.
Word-of-mouth publicity still rules
Reportedly, 74% of consumers identify word-of-mouth (WOM) as a key influencer in their purchasing decision. WOM might be the oldest and simplest form of marketing but till date, it remains a pivotal and mother of all marketing strategies. And in this case, too, influencers play a crucial role. According to a study in 2014, millennials are influenced by WOM more than baby boomers.
S Ramani of 6 Ballygunge Place admits that bloggers promote content through their various social media profiles and add to the WOM publicity.
Rana says that influencers and bloggers can be the valuable resource to increase WOM and improve customer engagement to get the word out about the product. As per an article in Forbes, 64% of marketing executives said that they believed WOW is the most effective form of marketing. “Even in the age of rampant social media usage, for any restaurant WOM promotion is the biggest thing,” says Atreya.
People share a deep personal relationship with food. In this digital age, our eating behaviour has changed and so has our interactions with food. In this digital landscape, blogs have emerged as a strong contender for businesses to reach their end users. Yes, Zomato, the go-to-app for all food connoisseurs has surely influenced our eating and food-purchasing decisions. But the bloggers, who are increasingly turning into influencers, are also ruling the eating behaviour of the consumers.
Today, influencers have taken on a more prominent role in the marketing strategies of brands. More and more companies are fostering partnerships between brands and influencers. According to Bloomberg, $255 million is spent on influencer marketing every month. Bloggers, who have expert knowledge on a particular domain, are being increasingly taken seriously by businesses and also become advisors for brands.
As influencer marketing gains momentum in this digital era, it’s important to note that the power of influencers does not lie in the follower count. Santanu Mukherjee, head of digital marketing, Indus Net Technologies, who has planned successful digital marketing strategies for some of the top F&B outlets for better customer engagement and increased ROI, has rightly pointed out that only those food bloggers who are serious about the craft and regularly post blogs on cuisines can eventually become influencers. “It’s all about an influencer’s ability to influence consumers in the right way,” he says.