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The Power List

Former TikTok employee Lena Katz shares tips for restaurant influencer marketing campaigns

How much should you pay? How many followers should influencers have? Get answers to those questions and more.


As social media influencers become more important to restaurant marketing campaigns, many brand leaders are left wondering how to run an effective influencer campaign.

How should they find influencers? How many followers should those influencers have? How much should they be paid for their work?

NRN editor in chief Sam Oches spoke with Lena Katz, principal creative with Variable Content, to get answers to those questions and learn more about how business owners can construct an influencer campaign — plus what kind of ROI they should expect out of it. 

This interview was edited for clarity. Stream the podcast above for more.

What do you think are some first steps a restaurant might take when looking for the right influencer?

Unless you're a national chain on every single corner, maybe influencers that are macro and known at a national level are not the right fit for you. Where a lot of people get tripped up is they're like, “OK, what is the most influencer I can afford for my budget? If I don't have $20,000 to afford this big influencer, should I get one that's half as big because I have half the money or should I get one that's a quarter as big?” You cannot think like that. What you should be thinking of is, who's big in your area? You can literally look it up; a lot of these different third-party tools or the TikTok creator marketplace will tell you, “This person is posting out of Dallas and 70% of their traffic is Texas.” If you're a chain that's operating out of Texas and two other neighboring states, that's exactly what you want to be looking at.

The other thing that you want to be looking at is their average video view count. It doesn't matter if they 100,000 followers; if they're getting 3,000 video views, they might as well have 3,000 followers. You look at the video views to tell you how many people are actually tuning into the content on a regular basis.

Likes can be bought, so a lot of people look at comments. Another thing to look at is who's watching the video three seconds, six seconds, all the way through, and then repeat views. Because the people that are watching past six seconds are probably somewhat committed and are getting the messaging that you're trying to convey to them. People that are watching all the way through are invested. What you want to do is get your message out — “Hey, 20% off on Mondays” — right at the top. So the people that are just there for that first three seconds are going to get that before they scroll on. But then ideally, once they're in there for six seconds, then you've really got them. So you want to be looking for influencers that can do that consistently and that are in your local area and that are aligned with your customer.

What are standard rates for influencers? is it is it all over the map as far as what they charge for posts?

For every influencer that has a million followers and quotes you $25,000, I guarantee you standing right next to them is an influencer that is making almost identical content that isn't repped or that has a smaller rep and is charging a quarter of that. That happens to me every single campaign. Even now to this day, every single campaign I'm finding influencers that might have in the 200,000-300,000 follower range who've never been paid before.

If you're saying, “Oh, we’ll just get micro influencers,” you don't even have to. You just keep digging and the algorithm will keep surfacing people that it thinks you like because you're watching past that six second mark. And you will get to those people that are like posting regionally in their local city, maybe used to be a waitress or a bartender or whatever, and have just been building their followings quietly and have no representation. If you offer them $500 or $1,000 for a post or to come and be your regular content creator — come in a few times a month and you'll pay a retainer — that's their dream. It's all they want.

What kind of restaurant content seems to resonate the most today?

I think certain things that really pull in users and regular customers are like menu modifications and secret menu items, little bits of insider information, or like, “Here's a way you can super quickly doctor your food to make it better. Here's a way that you can order off the menu to feel like you're getting a special experience.” Those types of content usually do well or they can get some momentum behind them without having the potential to go negative or get risky or get weird. We've seen jingles — like there was a girl that got very, very famous doing Starbucks jingles, right? So then there was a trend, everybody going in and singing their Starbucks order or singing it at the drive-thru window. That's great, but you shouldn't copycat that as a brand.

It seems like restaurants do have to be very laser focused on their core demographic and finding the influencer that would connect with that demographic, rather than just shooting for maximum reach.

You don't need to overthink it. A lot of the successful influencer marketing programs being run by restaurant chains, they just take this pretty simple formulaic approach of, OK, we're going to look for people within this range, say 50,000-100,000 followers, and they're getting 25,000 views per video, and they've got a 6% engagement rate. They're in this age demographic and they look like our customer. The next step is they've already posted about us before. The ideal is that this person's already said something complimentary about your restaurant. Make lists of those, reach out to those people and pull them into the program. It's simple and it is effective to a point.

The problem is when audiences start getting that vibe of like, “This person is not relatable. They don't live a regular life. They just get comped and, oh my God, I went into the restaurant when she was there and she was terrible,” once that starts happening, it stops being as effective because then people just start having negative associations, mostly with the influencer not thinking about the restaurant. So I think the solution for that is just look for people that are relatable, that look not necessarily aspirational, but like humans that you would vibe with. It doesn't necessarily need to be the person with the perfect blowout and pedicure and all that stuff like it was like five years ago.

Contact Sam Oches at [email protected].

TAGS: Marketing
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