Everybody talks about who follows you on Instagram. That dreaded follower number.  But did you know that who YOU follow on Instagram is just as important?

We have a tendency to follow our competitors and other restaurants.  But guess who you should actually be following?  Your potential customers.  It’s a really simple idea:  Follow your customers, engage with their content, increase your brand awareness, and ultimately get them to come into your restaurant.  But so many of us get caught in comparison game by following other restaurants.

I recommend doing an Instagram follow audit.  If you’re running a business on Instagram, then you need to treat it like a business.  Your feed shouldn’t be filled with friends from high school or irrelevant accounts.  And you shouldn’t be following thousands of accounts.  Keep it to 1,000 or less.  Any more than that looks spammy and doesn’t allow you to truly engage with the accounts in your feed.

While it’s okay to follow a few personal friends and a competitor here and there, the majority of who you follow should fall into the following categories:

1. Your ideal customers (55%)

Start following your target customer.  Who is the type of person who goes to your restaurant? Do they enjoy fine dining? Are they a sports fan? Do they live in the same neighborhood as your restaurant?

Find your ideal customer by following local hashtags they might be using, such as #nycfoodie or #edibledc.

Search for recent posts in your geographical area.  Find posts that might have been posted by an ideal client.  For example, did they take a photo of food and post it to Instagram?  Did they go to a local hockey game and you have sports bar?  They might be a great person to follow, regardless of how many followers they have.  They could be a potential customer and Instagram is this incredible place that allows you to communicate directly with a potential customer and where they can communicate directly with you.

Take advantage of it.

2. Local media (25%)

Start following local magazines, newspapers, and other online media, such as blogs and influencers.

Beyond following a magazine or newspaper’s home account, make sure to follow the specific editors that cover your niche.  Take the time to find out an editor’s beat and find their personal Instagram.  Target journalists and editors whose beat is the local restaurant scene.  Most editors these days are using Instagram as a business tool to connect with locals for their stories.  It’s likely that this editor’s account is public and that they are looking to engage with local businesses.

Influencers are increasingly becoming a marketing strategy for local restaurants.  Again, make sure that you’re following influencers in your niche.  Perhaps this means you should be targeting influencers who eat out frequently and whose followers go to them for restaurant recommendations.  If you’re a vegan restaurant, perhaps you should be targeting vegan influencers, regardless of whether or not they frequent restaurants.  Depending on the size of your city, the number of followers that an influencer has will vary, but I’d recommend following influencers with 5,000 or more followers.

3.  Business educators (20%)

Instagram is full of resources for entrepreneurs, businesses, and restaurants.  Whether it’s advice how to hire wait staff, bookkeeping, or marketing, you can find it on Instagram!

Instagram has become an incredible education tool that allows you to learn by reading educators’ posts, but also allows you to communicate with them directly.  If you have a business question, you can DM (direct message) them on Instagram. In my experience, they almost always get back to you.

By following educators, you can also build a community of other like-minded businesses like you and use them as resources.  Most educators have Facebook groups that allow you to pose questions to other businesses in your niche.

There’s a reason why your competitors aren’t on this list.  The problem with following only your competitors is that unintentionally or not, you will all start to post the same things and Instagram will become a sea of uninteresting and uninspiring food pictures. The other issue is that you’re not engaging with your potential customers.  This is the entire point of Instagram:  It’s direct to consumer and allows you to cultivate a relationship.

Instagram should be fun! And it’s okay to follow some awesome accounts out there!  But moral of the story, if following an account doesn’t add value to your business, chuck it.

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