How Fine/Craft Chocolate Is Missing Out On Influencer Marketing

There is an elephant in the room that those who regularly post about fine/craft chocolate on various social media prefer not to talk. Discussing this painful topic would be like admitting to denying one’s authenticity at the expense of a passion cultivated over time and on which the best energies have been invested. Anyway, it’s time to face the music: while neither the fascinating niche of specialty chocolate nor the magical world of social networks is new for at least 10 years, something between them seems wrong.

The “good” world of fine/craft chocolate does not love back (or well enough) the very people who endorse it and educate on it with commendable consistency and passion.

Bloggers, educators, and ambassadors in the “bean-to-bar chocolate” thing are all stuck on one-way abusive relationships. They speak with a religious credo of fine chocolate, tag every chocolate maker and brand possible in their posts and updates daily, but chocolate makers and brands could not care less about it! Rare are the times that the fine/craft chocolate advocates receive a meaningful comment, a thank you note, or get rewarded with a repost/share on the social pages of their beloved names.
How is it possible? The equation is easy to discern if you see these relationships between a niche and its endorsers in the same guise you would regard them as love affairs. It happens that most of the concerned endorsers are female and—we know it—we ladies have an innate Red Cross syndrome that unconsciously leads us to believe that since the first one did not repay our love, the next one yes, he will be the one. The reality, however, teaches us that it is necessary to trust only one pointer: “Pay attention not to what he says, but to what he does.” If this disinterested but truthful advice were adopted by those who work hard with their blog and Instagram feed to influence as many people as possible to switch to great-tasting, high-quality, and ethical chocolate, finally the disengaged, inattentive, and ungrateful chocolate makers and brands out there would realize the high-speed train they are missing about influencer marketing.

Although the expression may sound intimidating and technical, it is likely that you have already heard of this phenomenon, which is not so new and has seen a substantial revaluation in recent times through an increasingly mindful use of social media and blogs.


Definition, origin, and future of influencer marketing

Influencer marketing is merely the action of endorsing, promoting, and selling products or services through people (influencers) who can affect the character of a brand.

Influencer marketing may be trendy right now, but it is:

  • not new at all, it has been happening for a long time—think of influential decision-driving personalities such as royal counselors and courtesans in the past centuries,
  • destined to grow further for the next years—as more and more people are shuffling off from traditional 9-5 working lifestyles and better understanding how to redeploy their skills with the smarter use of digital technologies and redefining their work-life balances.

What has made influencer marketing unique in the present is how social media communication has leveled the playing field and given anyone and everyone the opportunity to share their voice. Anyone with internet access can share their opinion and content, and if they do it well enough, become an influencer. The most intriguing people will rise above the rest. These individuals that rise way above the rest in being followed, creating engagement and content are a new breed of social media, internet, and real-life influencers which has rapidly changed the marketing landscape. These are the individuals that smart and informed brands are scrambling to work with.

Recent studies tell that consumers trust influencers 94% more than friends or family when making shopping decisions!
But where do influencers dwell and what means do they use to distinguish their voices from the crowd?

The best influencers know every trick in the book about how to communicate on social media and boost awareness on the internet, so they are in step with the social platform that offers them the highest visibility and engagement possible to each post they publish. At the moment (and probably even for the next few years), the preferred channel for spreading news, sharing experiences, and inspiring others is Instagram. Based on the recent changes in Facebook’s algorithm and the decreasing notoriety of Twitter, Instagram is the platform that guarantees the best engagement ratio per post:

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Average social media engagement rates in the Food & Beverage industry (April 2017). Source: Rival IQ.

But are all the influencers the same? Is the number of followers the absolute indicator of influencers’ reliability?
Currently, the best influencers are not only those who are highly specialized in a well-defined niche but those focused on the engagement/post ratio rather than concentrated on the obsessive-compulsive increase in the number of their followers. This emerging and new reference generation of influencers is documented as “micro-influencers”.


Micro-influencers: the new marketing tool of the future

Unlike traditional “influencers,” micro-influencers have a more modest number—typically between 1,000 and 100,000—of followers, but they boast hyper-engaged audiences.

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Types of Influencers (August 2016). Source: Blogs Release.

Micro-influencers are smaller-scale personalities who promote brands by sharing posts made in partnership with them, tagging the brands in the photos, and writing compelling content about authentic experiences with the brand products or services. Also, tagging and mentioning brands in photos and videos without necessarily asking for a partnership upfront is a good sign micro-influencers may be willing to promote the very brands they talk highly on their Instagram feed.

What’s more, recent reports showed that micro-influencers are 6.7 more efficient per engagement than influencers with more massive followings and have 22.2 times more conversations than typical users.

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Micro-Influencers on Instagram (February 2017). Source: HelloSociety.

With more relevant authority in a specific industry, micro-influencers are intrinsically more authentic. Their opinions tend to be more trusted and valued by their audiences, meaning they are also able to build loyal relationships with followers. Essentially, this means that brand relationships are more likely to yield longer-term results than a flash in the pan effect generated by a middle- or macro-influencer.

Markerly studied Instagram engagement and found a surprising trend: as an influencer’s number of followers increases, their number of likes and comments from followers decreases.

In its analysis, Markerly determined the following:

  • Instagram users with fewer than 1,000 followers generated likes 8% of the time
  • Users with 1,000-10,000 followers earned likes at a 4% rate
  • Users with 10,000-100,000 followers achieved a 2.4% like rate
  • Users with 1-10 million followers earned likes only 1.7% of the time

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Instagram Like Rate vs. Followership (April 2016). Source: Markerly.

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Instagram Comment Rate vs. Followership (April 2016). Source: Markerly.

Markerly recommends brands pursue micro-influencers with Instagram followings in the 1,000-10,000 range. With micro-influencers, brands can achieve higher engagement rates among a large enough audience.
In layman’s terms, by working with creators who are a better contextual fit, brands may become far more credible to their target demographic, helping to drive long-term loyalty and action from social media users—not just passive awareness.


Influencer marketing in fine/craft chocolate and verticals close to its niche

For food brands, building an audience usually takes time, but working with micro-influencers is a leveraging form of relationship-building—a way to develop a connection with people who can give brands access to an audience they would probably never reach on their own. Why?
People are looking at their phones 24/7, they are reading what influencers in highly-specialized niches say, and then they are telling their friends.

But how is this phenomenon being absorbed and harnessed by the industry of specialty chocolate and by other specialty food verticals similar to it?
To this end, I ran a search on Google Trends to quantify with raw data the popularity of different specialty food trends over the last year and, based on these observations, I would warmly suggest the fine/craft chocolate industry change course quickly.

In the first graph, we see how any possible definition linked to fine or craft chocolate falls steadily flat in popularity compared, instead, to the growing trend of influencer marketing:

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I did the same research with specialty coffee and craft beer and something interesting emerged: the popularity of the craft beer industry is such that it stands above the trend of influencer marketing. This means that most probably this niche, in particular, is the one of the three (chocolate, coffee, and beer) that has better managed to structure the perks deriving from influencer marketing:

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In fact, by delving deeper into Google, different articles about craft beer linked to influencer marketing and names of personalities regarded as influencers in craft beer came out! (Try googling craft beer influencer to get a sense.) The same research did not, however, give similar results for fine/craft/specialty/bean-to-bar chocolate influencer or specialty coffee influencer.

So if influencer marketing isn’t a part of your strategy as a specialty chocolate brand yet, maybe it should be from today. Although this phenomenon for the specialty chocolate industry has not yet taken off, there would be a few creative possibilities geared toward better engagement that I am considering to detail as a specific guideline in the next months.


Did you know this data concerning influencer marketing? Do you think you may want to widen your possibilities by making a more conscious and strategic use of influencer marketing?