Do you whip out your smartphone to freeze the sight of a meal that makes you salivate? Why not make money from it? Neha Mathur does exactly that. She’s part of a small community of social-media influencers who are roped in by companies to promote their brands on Instagram.
And she makes Rs 20,000 for a single post.
It began six years ago with a photo of a lunch she took while accompanying her husband on a work trip. “He had a travel job and I had time on hand. I started learning to cook and put family recipes on the internet,” Mathur told BloombergQuint. It’s grown into what’s now called Whisk Affair and a team of four working 10-12 hours a day. She joined Instagram three years ago and now has 20,000 followers.
While marketing through Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter is well established, so-called food-gramming—or posting photos of food for money—is still nascent. Yet, companies realise the potential of young, connected users in the world’s second-largest mobile market. Digital marketing spends, a KPMG India report said, are expected to nearly quadruple to Rs 29,450 crore in five years to 2021.
Part of that will go to promotion via social media sites like Instagram, which had 33 million of its 700 million monthly active users in India as of April. It has since added 100 million globally. Co-Founder Mike Krieger told the Times of India that the country was a “huge contributor” to that growth.
That means the opportunity for bloggers like Mathur, who earns her income from the likes of Betty Crocker India, ITC Ltd., Tata Cha, Paytm Mall and TTK Prestige, is getting bigger. Yet, it works only after they have a critical mass of followers of about 5,000. That’s when brands start tapping photo-bloggers.
“Initially, it works more as a barter system. They send you a lot of products and food and you review or advertise it for them,” said Krishna Bahirwani, digital editor of food-blogging website Mumbai Foodie. “5,000 followers is generally the point at which bloggers start to charge a fee.”
The Mumbai Foodie Instagram page has more than 2,92,000 followers and charges up to Rs 15,000 for a post. Bahirwani said a photo-blogger can earn anywhere between Rs 3,000 and Rs 15,000 per post.
Though small, it’s a fairly organised market and brands tap marketing agencies to draft in bloggers. Contracts include posts on their websites and social media accounts.
If you compare it to the global industry, it’s in nascent stages in India. But all of this is done very formally with tax invoices, contracts and now even GST.Krishna Bahirwani, Digital Editor, Mumbai Foodie
Among social media influencers, said Payal Sakhuja, founder of online marketer Ripple Links, food bloggers are the most sophisticated. The company has worked with three of the top five brands across e-commerce, mobile, fast-moving consumer goods, food and beverages and more.
Ripple Links started in 2009 as a social media and content marketing services provider and evolved into “influencer marketing”. It now has one of the largest networks in the country and works with influencers, celebrities and brands to build campaigns.
The focus on social media is only increasing. “Initially, influencers were perceived as an ancillary. They are now the focus of online marketing and brand budgets are quadrupling every year,” she said.
ITC, among the companies Mathur has promoted, said in an emailed reply that digital and social media platforms are a “pull media” and important to create engaging content. “Several of our digital brand campaigns including Vivel and Savlon have garnered encouraging traction with millions of views.”
Has To Be Perfect, Just Like Food Porn
Yet, food-gramming requires perseverance, at least to make money. It’s not easy. Instagram can be a very unforgiving platform, said Tushar Kochar, 23, a budding food-grammar. Anything less than perfect will not cut it, he said, while Twitter and Facebook are far more casual.
Blogging on Instagram is swanky. There’s a reason why the term ‘food porn’ came from there. Even the simplest food is made to look like a delicacy... larger than life.Tushar Kochar, Budding Food-Grammar
He works part-time through his Instagram account, The Calcutta Foodie. He is among the bloggers who post pictures and review whatever they happen to eat. Others also share recipes.
Kochar recently crossed 1,200 followers but doesn’t earn anything out of it yet. “A lot more local restaurants and chains are approaching me now.” While ‘The Calcutta Foodie’ also features on Facebook, his focus is Instagram.
Mathur too found crossing the first 5,000 followers difficult. “But once you get the ball rolling, it’s alright.”