Stacked chocolate-chip pancakes oozing Nutella, a fully loaded panini with melted cheese seeping out, a bucket of chicken wings drowning in spicy buffalo sauce — these are a few of the extravagant, overindulgent eats featured on Jessica Hirsch’s popular Instagram account, @CheatDayEats. In just three years, Hirsch’s food-filled Instagram has captured the attention of more than 365,000 loyal followers, who depend on Hirsch for recommendations for top foodie destinations around the world. With the account earning over 3 million weekly impressions and an average of nearly 7,000 “likes” per post, Hirsch is regularly approached by restaurants — both five-star and fast-food — as well as hospitality, lifestyle and travel brands to showcase their culinary offerings.
While many restaurants and culinary brands know how to work effectively with culinary influencers, destinations often miss out on the opportunity to utilize these influencers to promote culinary tourism. The World Food Travel Association defines “culinary tourists” as travelers who visit a destination partly or completely for a culinary experience. In its 2016 report, “2016 Food Travel Monitor,” the association notes that in the past two years, nearly 93 percent of travelers have participated in a unique food or beverage experience, and 83 percent believe participating in a food or beverage experience unique to a destination helps create a long-lasting impression of that destination.
Social media has evolved into a search engine for foodie experiences. Using a geo-tag, a hashtag or even the search bar on a Facebook page, potential visitors can scroll through an infinite library of digital content to add to their vacation itinerary — creating a huge potential for destination marketing organizations (DMOs) looking to promote their destination’s culinary offerings. How can DMOs successfully work with culinary influencers like Hirsch? The founder of Cheat Day Eats divulges on what attracts her to an opportunity to work with a DMO, what type of experiences her audience is interested in, and how to effectively track a return on investment when working with an Instagram influencer.
Tell us about the Cheat Day Eats brand.
Three and a half years ago I started Cheat Day Eats on Instagram as a hobby that allowed me to express my passion over what I was going to eat on my cheat day! Today, my account has evolved to be an extension of my life, and I love sharing it with my audience. I have grown my following by staying true to myself and posting about experiences, destinations, brands and food that I want to share with my followers because I think they would love them too.
How did you get into the business of food “Instagramming,” and what makes it so popular?
I started my Instagram as a passion project — I love eating at the best restaurants and getting the most over-the-top dishes, and I wanted to share that with people. I think people relate to a “cheat day.” The food I post is attainable and fun, and they keep coming back for more.
What are your favorite types of foods to Instagram, and why?
I love the type of food that drives me to book my next trip to get that specific dish. For example, I see an over-the-top churro dish in California, and I can’t wait to go there so I can have it myself. I love to inspire people to do that through my pictures as well. The more ooey-gooey and decadent, the better!
What is the benefit for a DMO to work with a food influencer, instead of just a travel influencer?
One of the benefits for a DMO to work with a food influencer is being able to target an audience that highly factors cuisine and culinary aspects when booking trips. Personally, I choose my destinations based on where I want to eat, and when I choose to visit a particular destination or restaurant, my audience trusts me that I have done my research, and it will be a great experience for them as well.
How do you ensure that the content you create for destinations is aligned with your brand and the expectations of your audience?
Brand alignment is one of the keys to success, and it’s important that all sides involved agree on the content that will be produced. The key is to provide the influencers with creative freedom — they know how best to tap into their audiences.
How do you measure ROI when working with brands?
There are Instagram stats, such as impressions, reach and engagement, as well as the swipe-up feature with Instagram story and the poll. I’m also more than happy to be transparent with brands when it comes to analytics, as I’m confident in my work and the genuine and loyal audience I’ve built over the years.
What has been your favorite destination to work with so far, and why?
I did a press trip to South Carolina that was very successful. I felt that the itinerary was crafted perfectly, and there was a lot of conversation between the tourism board and me about how the itinerary would be built. At the end of the trip, I had so much content I was excited to share, and I would love to return to share even more experiences with my audience.
Fill in the blank: I wish destinations and brands would ___ when working with me as a digital influencer.
Understand that I am passionate about the itinerary-building process and what my audience would be most interested in.
What’s a unique destination that you’ve recently had the opportunity to partner with?
Japan — I feel like the country’s food is so intertwined with its culture and lifestyle, and it’s exciting to share with my audience!
Interested in learning more about how to partner with culinary influencers? Tweet us your questions at @cheatdayeats and @aboutdci.