I often get asked about how I became an Instagram food influencer so I thought I’d share my story here on the blog. I went from starting a new Instagram account (@newdenizen) with no followers, after moving to a brand new city where I didn’t know anyone to getting invited to restaurant previews and openings and special food events several times a week alongside a familiar crew of local foodie friends.
It may look like a dream “job” to chow down on free food and get invited to restaurant previews and openings, but don’t be fooled – becoming an Instagram food influencer is hard work and takes time. But with the right amount of dedication and talent, you can become a notable food influencer in your city! Here are some of the things I did to build my Instagram account and become a food influencer here in Denver, Colorado.
Have a unique point of view about food
This may seem obvious, but it’s important. Because so many people producing spectacular content are on Instagram you need to have a good understanding of what makes your account special and why people should follow you. The reason people are following you is that you have a unique perspective and you are helping them discover things that they would never know about otherwise.
Maybe you’re a New Mexico-based vegan or someone who loves a specific type of food or someone who is passionate about exploring restaurants in a particular neighborhood. You should absolutely embrace what makes you different than everyone else!
Don’t worry if getting clarity on what makes your account unique takes time. When I started my Instagram account, @newdenizen, I wasn’t aiming to become an Instagram food influencer. I’m not even sure I knew such a thing existed! However, after a couple months of posting, I decided I should focus my blog and Instagram on being known as a Denver-based foodie who recently moved from NYC. I know this may sound like a crazy specific, but people respond really positively to understanding your backstory and being able to connect (or at least understand) your specific point-of-view.
Once you figure out what makes your account different, make sure that’s represented in your bio. In my case that means making sure people know I mainly post about food, I live in Denver, and I’m originally from New York. Easy peasy!
I also make reference to living in New York in my Instagram captions when appropriate, stringing together my backstory and sharing my personal story with my users.
Practice your food photography skills
Sorry, but no one was ever inspired to run out to a restaurant by looking at a grainy, badly-lit photo of a half-eaten hamburger. To be a top food influencer you’ll want to practice your food photography skills. Don’t know where to start or how to get better? DO YOUR HOMEWORK! Do research on photography blogs and watch YouTube videos on how to take great Instagram photos (like this great one from Zagat).
Pretty much sittin’ on top of the world with Denver’s #happyhour offerings. I was recently invited to try out a number of HH items from the vendors of @avantifandb // #sponsored⠀ ⠀ You know I’m down for some carbs, so the total score of the night was the $5 Rigatoni with Bolognese pasta from @chow_morso . ⠀ ⠀ You can also get a $6 Fried Chicken Sandwich from @theregionalfood and $1 off Fried Plantains at @quieroarepas among other great deals on drinks and food.⠀ ⠀ The discounted prices are available every weekday (that’s Mon – Fri) 2-6pm.⠀
It also helps to study the pictures of other food Instagram or is that you admire. Note the different angles and styles that they are using in their shots to build visual interest and take what you’ve learned and put your own spin to it.
Focus on doing good work, but also promote yourself
Here’s a piece of information that should be encouraging to those of you who don’t live in food meccas like New York or San Francisco. In smaller (but still cool!) cities like Denver you don’t need to collect hundreds of thousands of followers before you are seen as an influencer within your local market. These days, marketers are placing a higher value on the quality of an influencer’s following over sheer volume.
My Instagram account is filled with photos of food from restaurants that I had visited and liked. Even though I started out with no followers, I worked hard on taking the best food photos I could, writing good captions, and highlighting food I loved and slowly started building a small, but loyal and active audience.
After I had gained a small (but loyal) number of followers I started reaching out to the restaurants I featured and/or the marketing/PR agency managing the restaurant’s publicity to let them know I had covered them on my blog or Instagram account. In the emails, I would also ask if they would consider adding me to their influencer lists going forward. I also made sure to tag the restaurants and the marketing/PR agency of record in my Instagram post as well.
From there I started getting on the lists of local food marketers and publicists and invited to events slowly but surely. I feel strongly that restaurant owners, marketers, and PR folks were willing to give me a shot because I was producing quality content and showed a genuine love of spreading the word about good food in Denver.
But please remember, being the food influencer is NOT about getting free food all the time. Always be true to your unique point of view on food and continue to be adventurous, curious, and a champion for local or unique businesses that deserve attention.
Be courteous to those who invite you to events
Once you start getting invited to events, PLEASE be thoughtful and professional to the people who have invited you. I can’t stress this enough! If you want to keep getting invited to events make yourself stand out from other influencers by going the extra mile.
Always remember to say thank you and follow up with an email thanking them for inviting you and also sending them links to any coverage that you’ve done for their event. This can include sending them screenshots of Instagram stories that you’ve posted and any Instagram or blog post that you’ve done.
Sometimes when I have taken lots of good photos at an event I will send a number of outtake photos to the PR people letting them know that they can share it with their clients to post on social media with a credit or link back to my site. (PLEASE NOTE: I know there is a lot to be said about knowing the value of your content and established influencers would balk at the idea of essentially giving away content for free — however, I do think for people who are starting out, this can be a helpful way to get yourself noticed and establish a relationship with industry gatekeepers.)
You’d be surprised how many influencers never circle back the people who invited them to events. It always pays to be nice and you will get a reputation for being someone who is really great to work with and someone who will be top of mind when bigger opportunities present themselves. It’s a win-win situation you get invited to the event you want to get invited to and the PR folks and the restaurant owners get content and coverage that they’re looking for! This A Drink with James episode is fantastic for understanding more about how influencer marketing works from the brand’s perspective.
Be an active member of your food community
To be an influencer, you need to embed yourself in your local food community. Follow comments and interact with food influencers in your area who you admire. Go out to community food events, social media/blogger get-togethers, and local conferences where there will be interesting speakers or attendees and don’t be too shy to go up and introduce yourself! It’s a great way to meet friends with people who have the same interests as you. I’ve met so many great people here in Denver that I never would’ve known without Instagram or my blog.
Last week I invited a bunch of fellow food lovers to join me for a giant Sunday 🍝 feast at @copertadenver. The meal was spectacular (as always). The menu was so extensive even I got to try out a few dishes I’d never had before, including the delicious Tapparelle alla Pugliese (with spicy sausage, kale) and Pollo allo Diavolo alongside some favorites which re-surfaced in the form of Market Vegetable (used to be called the “Escarole” dish. Perfectly cooked greens along with and cannellini bean). So much ♥ love for these guys!⠀ ⠀ Special thank you to @copertadenver and @baltzco for helping put together such a special night.
Here in Denver, the food influencer community is pretty tightknit we all know each other and we all see each other at the events. The best thing about having foodie friends? They won’t look at you weird when you forbid everyone from touching their food before you snap a few shots and they’re always willing to lend a hand when you need someone to hold a dish for you when you’re out to eat! Who else is going to agree to go to dinner with you at 5 PM because you want to get good daylight for your food pictures?
An added bonus is that top food influencers will be tapped by marketing and PR companies to help put together or recommend people to be invited to events — so if your friends know about your account and like the work you do, they might pass along your name. Also, you never know when your foodie friend might have a plus one for a great event!
Don’t quit your day job just yet
Let’s get real for a moment. Although having the opportunity to eat for free may seem awesome – it doesn’t pay the bills. In my experience, very few local-market food influencers have followings large enough to make blogging or Instagramming their full-time job. In fact, most food influencers I’ve met have a day job (or two!) and do blogging/Instagramming as their side hustle. If you’re aiming to become a food influencer to become rich and famous, this may not be the thing for you. But if you genuinely love food and enjoy sharing your passion with others, then becoming a food influencer will make the process even more exciting and interesting for you!
What’s your story?
Are you a fellow Instagram food influencer? Got any hot tips I should add to this list? Let me know in the comments!
Are you a food influencer-in-training? Don’t forget to me know what tip you found most helpful in this article by leaving a comment!