How Influencers Help Cultivate Food Trends
Anyone who has worked in social media marketing has been asked the million-dollar question: “How can we make our content go viral?” But this is a loaded question. The answer depends on so many stars aligning.
While “going viral” isn’t a good social strategy, we have developed a formula that maps out real tactical advice for our social media clients at EvansHardy+Young (EHY). Taking an in-depth look at one campaign from CPG brand Alexia frozen fries and potatoes, you’ll see this formula in action and hopefully take away a few ideas you can apply to your next social campaign.
Choose the Right Influencer as Your Partner
If you haven’t already, it’s time for your food brand to recognize and invest in the power of influencers. With practice, you will know how to sniff out the legitimate ones from the pack. Your selected influencers should be authentic to your brand values, and they need to have an engaged community behind them that does, in fact, drive conversions such as likes and shares.
Though the coronavirus might pop a bit of the influencer bubble, we do think that those with true influence will remain. In fact, these influencers will continue to amass more and more loyal followers, thus driving results for their brand partners.
Although there’s no way to know every influencer out there, you should become an expert in your category. Remember, influencer marketing is all about the relationship. Food influencers are a tight group, so once you develop a few key relationships, these will help vouch for others.
Understand the Influencer’s Winning Formula
To fully understand the essence of an influencer’s personal brand, you have to understand their style, tone and audience. You need to dive deeper than looking at their follower count or skimming their feed.
All true influencers have paved their own way into their niche. I hate to say it, but most are savvier at branding than the brands that sponsor them. It’s their personality and aesthetic that set them apart. They likely have a special way of storytelling that already resonates with their community; you can find clever ways to authentically augment this.
One influencer who really stands out in the food world is The Delicious. I’ve been a follower (and a friend) of hers for more than a decade. I’ve personally seen her roll with the trends, picking up new platforms along the way and now amassing more than 242K Instagram followers. She has a clear voice and posts beautiful food photography, mainly featuring fresh produce and elaborate food platters and boards.
What’s her winning formula, beyond her photos? In my opinion, it’s her captions, which are always comical and relatable. Her precision with food – wearing gloves while cutting avocado and explaining lateral cuts for onions before pickling – makes her a go-to source in the food world. Her community knows her so well, they can easily pick her photos out of a lineup.
How to Naturally Introduce Your Brand
You have to know the influencer’s niche before you can identify if and how your brand can be a part of it. It’s a fine line of wanting your connection to be natural enough that you fit in, but also unique enough that your content stands out on their feed.
In early 2019, I noticed waffle fry nachos on The Delicious’s page and reached out to see if she had used fries from Alexia, one of EHY’s clients, in this post. It turned out my fry eye was right!
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With National French Fry Day (July 13) around the corner, we naturally started talking about how we could partner to make a splash for this special day. Knowing the value of hashtag holidays to move the needle for CPG brands, we decided to host a giveaway for Alexia. In support of the giveaway, The Delicious developed one of her famous food boards featuring Alexia french fries. The world may not have known it needed a french fry board, but it was about to find out!
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Always Have More Than One Touch Point
One key to working with influencers is understanding that their connection with your food brand can’t be a flash in the pan. For every top-tier influencer, you should make certain there are multiple touch points – even when hosting a giveaway. For example, tie Instagram Stories into the giveaway campaign and then promote it on your brand’s social media channels. You want to give it all the support possible to encourage it to flourish.
For Alexia’s National French Fry Day giveaway, The Delicious posted a few days before the holiday. Her content encouraged her fans to enter our giveaway to win a supply of Alexia fries for the year. She followed up her post with a series of Instagram Stories over the next few days. Then the Alexia brand shared this content on its brand channels. Together, The Delicious and Alexia were able to ramp up coverage (and participation) leading into National French Fry Day.
The steps mentioned above were, of course, all within our control, but what happened next was something we could only have hoped for. The initial posts took off! As it turns out, the public had never seen a food board quite like this, made entirely of fries, and they loved it! The Delicious’s photo was picked up and shared by Cosmopolitan, Rachael Ray magazine and countless other foodie sites.
If Your Influencer Partnership Is Working, Double Down
With its perfect blend of the right visuals and messaging that fit into The Delicious’s feed, the french fry board post had hit on something special. It had The Delicious’s style, but it was different and unexpected. At the time, charcuterie boards were having a moment, so a french fry board added an exclamation point on the trend.
As I mentioned, when it comes to influencers, there’s nothing like having multiple touch points. These help deepen the partnership between the influencer and your food brand, making their community more invested over time.
When we knew the Alexia content was resonating, we considered how we could adapt this idea for the fall. Alexia’s impressive fry variety made that easy. This time around, we’d create a sweet potato–only fry board. The connection was natural because fall is sweet potato season, so we doubled down.
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Let the Trend Take on a Life of Its Own
After the initial sponsored posts went live, momentum continued to grow with social sharing – even long after the hashtag holiday giveaway had ended. Then, right at the end of the year, the influencer partnership saw a resurgence with a single tweet:
cheese boards are so 2019 pic.twitter.com/HD2gVGPH6F
— lindsay gelfand (@lindsaygelfand) December 29, 2019
The tweet didn’t give proper photo credit, or even mention the Alexia brand, but because of The Delicious’s strong influence, people recognized the photo. Many began to organically tag her and Alexia in the comments. All of this engagement prompted an article calling fry boards the craze of 2020. From Down Under to across the pond and in U.S. media, including The Washington Post, Good Morning America, Access Hollywood and others, word of french fry food boards continued. Excitement helped further impact some of our key performance metrics, such as Google and Pinterest searches, as well as spikes in social mentions, tweets, hashtags and more.
Of course, not every mention called out the Alexia brand, but when the coverage linked back to the influencer, the brand was always front and center. Even several local news stations created their own fry food boards using Alexia products.
That’s the thing with trends – they take on a life of their own. You don’t actually get to own the narrative, but you can influence it and hold on to the lion’s share of voice. To do this, it’s important to remember consumers want variety, so finding creative ways to stay relevant is imperative – even if you were the one that started the conversation. For Alexia, we showcased their full assortment of products and encouraged visits to the freezer aisle so consumers could get creative.
As food marketers, it’s our job to position our brands so they can help consumers close the loop, share their stories, support what’s trending and make it all as ownable as possible. Once these tasks have been crossed off, it’s time to think about creating the next wave of fresh content.
If It’s Still Working, Triple Down
With momentum for fry boards still growing months later, we decided to extend our partnership with The Delicious for a Galentine’s/Valentine’s board.
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Now with three iterations of content in our tool kits, media outlets were able to select the right content for their unique audiences. By showcasing Alexia products in a variety of ways, we were able to celebrate the brand’s full range of products, thus maximizing our influencer investment.
When the Trend Is Over, Let It Go
As I mentioned, once an idea picks up momentum, at some point your brand is going to lose control of the narrative. However, that doesn’t mean you need to be left behind. When multiple media hits come in every day, having the right social listening tools in place ensures you can capture everything, while continuing to evolve as the conversation evolves. However, as with most social moments, eventually they come to an end. Knowing when and how to wrap up a great run can be just as important as the start…but I’ll save that for another post.
Across Alexia’s own social channels, the french fry board social content garnered more than 500K media impressions and 57K engagements. But excitement went far beyond that, and the brand received more than 91 million earned media impressions across social, digital and broadcast media. Additional coverage was even planned for March 2020, but some publications pulled food-sharing coverage in light of COVID-19. (Like I said, you can’t control everything.)
Food trends come and go, but with a solid social media approach and the right influencer relationships, you can have a winning recipe for your food brand.