By Tim Morgan
When blogger and photographer, Linda Nguyen started posting pictures of food as a hobby at the age of 15, she had no idea that someday, it would become her full-time job.
Now 37, Nguyen is an influencer for many things around the Triangle area and has a loyal fan base who eagerly awaits her updates on new events, hotels, and local restaurant openings. During the pandemic, both her followers and local restaurants relied on her more than ever.
Changing how we dine
At the height of the pandemic, many restaurants were quick to come up with unconventional methods of changing how they do business. Restaurants began to offer curbside pickup, delivery options, and socially distanced seating arrangements in an attempt to reduce the spread of COVID-19 while staying in business.
Some restaurants had never offered services like this before. Advertising these changes was key and some restaurants turned to influencers for help.
One of the most obvious ways restaurants were able to engage in social distancing, was through contactless delivery. Nguyen quickly realized the urgency in sharing these new methods and created a directory of restaurants in the Triangle area that were doing takeout. Soon, she posted it on her blog and the website gained so much traction that the local channel, CBS 17, ran a story about it.
Her motives for creating the directory were simple.
“I feel protective of small business owners in general! And because I cover mostly food, I’ve gotten to know more business owners in the food space. They’re all hard working,” Nguyen said.
While influencer marketing is nothing new, food influencers played an important role in connecting restaurants with customers in a time of confusion and fear.
“Most restaurants that reached out to me wanted me to emphasize their curbside and delivery services, but some restaurants turned into a market for goods during the shutdown and wanted me to advertise their grocery offerings,” said Beck Warrick, who has over eight thousand followers on her influencer account.
Advertising in a new era
Food influencers, sometimes called, “Foodies,” use digital media to create content and advertise local restaurants. Like Nguyen, many of them simply started by posting pictures of food online as a hobby, others blog about their experiences at local restaurants. Overtime, some influencers gain substantial followings, ranging from a few hundred to hundreds of thousands of people.
Influencers can post and deliver direct messages to their followers immediately without any obstacles. Those with many followers may charge a nominal fee while the others are compensated with food from the restaurant. There are no marketing fees, no red tape, and no advertising pitches. Foodies give restaurants the ability to bypass a bureaucratic middleman and reach thousands of people, usually only at the cost of a free meal.
Because this information is coming from a person and not a marketing agency, it creates a more personal experience between the influencer and their followers. There is a level of trust that accompanies this method of advertising and restaurants are seeing the results.
“We worked quite a bit with Rose, another food blogger, over the past year. We are a food truck company, so having people know exactly where we were was very helpful. Usually, after Rose posts about us, we would get a lot of customers coming in. She has a lot of followers,” said Hannia Jara, the owner of Arepa Culture Food Truck. Jara’s food business is expanding as they have opened a new restaurant in Raleigh.
As many restaurants continued to do curbside pickup and food delivery, some people still didn’t feel comfortable ordering food, fearing the potential of contracting COVID-19. Erin Williams is a nurse and Raleigh food influencer with approximately eight thousand followers. During the pandemic, Williams found a way to use her public health background to advertise foods on her Instagram page.
“Because I’m a nurse, I felt like I needed to include safety measures used at each restaurant to promote public health,” Williams said.
Her followers loved her contents, and she became an example to many other influencers who began informing their own followers about their experience at local restaurants, particularly ones that were following CDC guidelines.
Williams simply wants to help out without expecting anything in return.
“I feel good about garnering support for local businesses during a tough financial time! So many businesses are struggling, and I want to help them by sharing them with my audience,” said Williams.
Her sentiment is shared by many other influencers who were not financially motivated to lend a hand during the pandemic.
The year 2020 will likely be remembered for many failures. But the major highlight of the year is people working hard to keep communities afloat and lending a hand during a time of need- something these influencers did for restaurants at a time when they needed them the most.
Edited by Modupe Fabilola