Rachel Holtin, the founder Austin Foodstagram, shares how a crepe became a company.

Story and photos by Nicholas Barancyk

Marketing to millennials is tough. Under a constant sea of advertisements, commercials and branding, they’ve developed an almost unconscious defense mechanism: They tune out. This can make it difficult for brands to connect with individuals, and necessitates a more creative approach. In steps the social-media influencer.

An influencer is not your typical blogger. They’ve cast off long-form narratives and blogging platforms and instead, build their audience directly on social media. Their posts are brisk, themed and catered to a specific audience. Austin Foodstagram Founder Rachel Holtin likens it to, “short-form social commentary.”

When Holtin started Austin Foodstagram four years ago, there wasn’t any money in it. There weren’t any partnered brands or promo codes.

“I had a passion for food and a lot of time on my hands,” she says.

When she started noticing other food-focused accounts cropping up, she saw an opportunity. She followed food bloggers and chefs. She commented and engaged with other people’s photos for exposure. She curated her own posts. Her following didn’t skyrocket overnight, but it grew quickly.

“I think that these people, like myself, who started these Instagram accounts just kind of had this voice all of a sudden,” she says, “and this audience that was captivated by everything [we]were saying. It became a marketing channel.”

Brands were slow to realize the potential. It wasn’t until three years ago that they started utilizing these voices. (Holtin herself pioneered the idea for Favor in Austin.) But that time is gone. Especially in the food industry, influencers have become very important for brands.

“I’d say it’s become a big part of marketing. It’s one of the top channels a lot of people look to, depending on what company you are,” Holtin says.

The combination of authenticity and person-to-person connection through social media is a slam dunk for companies. Now 25 to 50 percent of marketing for some companies is conducted through influencers. But Holtin says as people have caught on, they are now hyperaware this has become a marketing channel. She says the key to staying successful is to be authentic and not overly pushy when it comes to selling.

Holtin has taken her powers of connection a step further. With her latest venture, verb.me, she’s evolved from a connector of brands and consumers to a connector of brands and the influencers themselves. With more than 50 companies and 500 influencers in tow, verb.me is a testament to a career that began with a single picture of a crepe.


Rachel Holtin’s Tips for Becoming a Social-media Influencer

Being an influencer isn’t all fun and games.

“I think it can be misunderstood,” Holtin says. “Some people are like, ‘Oh, these are just people that got lucky…and now they’re just posting random stuff and being successful.’ But there’s a lot of work that goes into it and a lot of time.”

To maximize that time online, Holtin shares some quick tips for elevating your Instagram presence.

No. 1: Have a theme.

“There’s a plethora of categories to pick, from food to fashion. So, choose something you’re passionate about and don’t post randomly.”

No. 2: Figure out what it is that inspires you.

“People can tell when someone loves what they do. By finding out what inspires you about that subject, you can begin to connect with people on a deeper level.”

No. 3: Know your demographic.

“Find your audience and zero in on what they like. Geotagging on Instagram helps, especially during that research process.”

No. 4: Create your voice.

“What are you bringing to the table that’s different? In creating a unique voice, you add value to your content and make it inimitable.”

No. 5: Find and follow like-minded influencers.

“Create a conversation with influencers in your theme area. They likely have solid advice for you on growing a presence on your specific subject.”

No. 6: Consider your content quality.

“Consistently curated content assures that your audience can rely on you for quality work. A little time and effort can go a long way.”

No. 7: Buy a nice camera.

“This is more of a suggestion than a necessity. With smartphone cameras getting increasingly better every year, even your iPhone should be enough to snap a beautiful picture.”


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