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Social Media Influencers Are the New Tastemakers

It’s rare that Instagram fans see the remains of the day of eating by popular Influencer Kim Ly Curry. The once arty, always delicious, pastries are from Rose Street Patisserie in Minneapolis.

A couple of years ago, the name Kim Ly Curry might not ring a dinner bell for many Twin Cities restaurateurs. But now the Instagram foodie sensation is a presence at every table in town. Here’s the short list: She was a celebrity judge at the Taste of the Vikings, a guest at a media dinner for Eastside’s new menu offerings, an invitee at a meeting of food influencers at Lola Red PR and a co-host/main attraction at a special dinner at Firelake’s Mall of America location.

The petite social media phenom has more than 34,000 followers on Instagram, where she posts particularly pretty photos of food—photos often referred to as “food porn.”

“I love beautiful food,” she says, before reconsidering. “It doesn’t (even) have to be beautiful, I just love food.” To that point, she has 20,000 photos on her phone, and it’s not unusual to take 550 pictures a day. “I go through and see what catches my eye,” she says. 

In 2013, she started posting her single-shot close-ups of restaurant food on Facebook, but “no one cared about my food pictures,” she says. Family and friends were only interested in her family pics. And then she found Instagram, a site designed for elegant pictures with little explanation needed. People liked her style and her list of followers soon ballooned.

Lola Red’s Keegan Shoutz.

Curry takes the photos with her iPhone 7. She does move them closer to a natural light source, cocks the plate a bit and then goes in for the close-up. Her style is recognizable now, she says, which is one way to gain a following. To her posts, she adds a bevy of hashtags, the list of ingredients in the dish and why someone else might want to try it.

For someone who is the proverbial “It girl” right now, Curry is remarkably humble. She’s sweet, but not cloying or pretentious. “Curry really is my last name,” she says, laughing at the idea that it was her non-plume. After we consumed the stars of the photo shoot, she bussed the table for us. 

Curry grew up on Vietnamese cooking—her family rarely ate out—and as a young girl she wanted to fit in. “I wanted American food,” she says. She goes for the glamorous American food, such as the colorful pastries at Rose Street Patisserie. “But I love a good Costco hot dog,” she admits. It doesn’t get much more American than that.

The day I met her at Rose Street, Curry was already studying the angles of the two vivid pastries she had purchased. I added a third and two glasses of iced tea. I know this is extremely unfeminist-y, but I had to ask if she ever ate any of the food she photographs with her phone. “I taste everything I photograph,” she says, laughing. Walking from restaurant to restaurant is her exercise—but yes, she’s blessed with a fast metabolism. After she finished shooting her food photos that she'll touch up and post later, and I had wound up my photo shoot of her, we (mostly me) polished off the pastries.

Curry first started posting on Instagram on her own dime, but as her followers grew, restaurants started to pay her to visit them. The payment is in a variety of forms: free food for her and often for her daughter and husband,; gift cards; and/or a sizeable check. Restaurant owners or PR companies call her daily. “It’s a whirlwind for me,” she admits. Part of her routine, however, is not to eat and run. “I like to get to know the people who work there. The owners and chefs are “my heroes,” she says, admitting she’s every bit as star struck by them as they are of her.

It's at a point now where she could make a living as an influencer, but being practical and respectful, she doesn't want to quit her day job as a medical technician monitoring heart rhythms.  

The reason Instagram works so well as a platform for both Curry and restaurants, says Alexis Walsko, founder of Lola Red PR in Minneapolis, is because: “Many of them have personal passions for the space and have traveled the world to feed their passions, which gives them an outsider’s view and perspective on what is happening locally." 

Instagramer Kim Ly Curry joined Hobie Artique from Fox 9 as one of the judges for the Taste of the Vikings fundraiser for Second Harvest Heartland.

In Curry’s favor, says Keegan Shoutz, also with Lola Red, is that she’s perceived as a “normal person” who is Minnesota Nice—and her imagery is unique. 

“Instagram is all about the photos,” he points out, adding that the aesthetics of a page of multiple pictures has to be compelling. Viewers on Instagram want to multi-task by scrolling through pictures while doing other things, without the need to read copy, unless they want to find out more. 

Before restaurateurs jump on the influencer bandwagon, however, Shoutz warns that it needs to be right for their brand. “Influencers want to do their own photos, they want creative control,” Shoutz says.  Most likely, they’re not going to want to repost your photos on their page or do your bidding.

Most influencers don’t operate off a rate card, he says. They look for a brand they like and that resonates with them, and are willing to negotiate on the fee. Payment can run around $500 or more for people with a following of 10,000-plus, he adds. Gift cards for future visits or giveaways for them to post for their followers are also forms of payment.

Not all postings are paid, Shoutz says, since in order to keep their integrity influencers need to do free posts on their own finds, as well as paid ones. Thus the 20,000 photos on Curry’s phone. 

Because Facebook owns Instagram, it’s possible to track the stats on influencers’s post, from number of views to times of day they’re being viewed, etc, in order to time promotions tied to the pictures. 

Influencers are the new version of “word of mouth” marketing. According to Twitter’s own research, 49% of consumers seek purchase guidance from influencers, and 20% were spurred into action after reading a tweet. MedizKix found that brands spend $1 billion on Instagram with influencers. 

There are several free tools for monitoring conversations relevant to your industry such as Hootsuite, but for independent restaurateurs, to influence influencers you may just want to start making pretty food. 

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