What first comes to mind when you hear the word influencer? Is it a blogger, someone with a big following on Instagram or a celebrity with a major influence on fans and followers?

No matter what first comes to mind, it’s clear that we are living in the age of influence. We as consumers are strongly influenced by what we see in the media – in books, magazines, TV, movies, online, and most of all, social media.

In the food and beverage space, the idea of influence has taken on a life of its own. There are hundreds of thousands of food blogs out there – some that focus on the best restaurants in a given city, and some that publish original recipes. And believe me, there is a niche food blog for every topic. Food travel guides for cities in Asia, recipes from Texas, gluten free baking – the list goes on and on.

Bigger than blogs, though, is Instagram. Do a quick Google search of any city + food + Instagram and see the results populate – even in smaller markets like Chicago, Denver and Miami. Influencers. Are. Everywhere. Like bloggers, there are some Instagrammers who post food photos strictly from local restaurants and happenings in the local food scene, and there are some who create their own recipes, filling their feed with professional photos of their homemade creations. These Instagram accounts are usually associated with blogs, too.

And perhaps the most influential of all – celebrities. What is it about someone “famous” eating at restaurants that makes us want to visit those same restaurants? Or someone “famous” being photographed with food/beverage products that makes us want to purchase those same products?

The answer: It creates powerful and positive associations in our mind.

Do I think of Jennifer Aniston drinking Smartwater when I see it in the water case of a Duane Reade? Sometimes.

But do I believe, for example, that Blake Shelton is really choosing Pizza Hut as his go-to pizza? Not so much. And this is where authenticity comes into play.

From a public relations standpoint, how do you decide which influencers to work with and how to work with them?

Identify Your Audience

Who is your target audience – what media do they consume, and what do they care about?

Choose Your Platform

Depending on the age of our audience, we might consider working with influencers who have blogs and are on Instagram. Depending on our goal and our budget, this might mean working with a local blogger, encouraging them to create and share a new recipe featuring a client or paying a major celebrity to post about a client on their Instagram.

Check On Authenticity

Before reaching out or signing on to work with influencers of any kind, do a scan of their feed, their blog and their online presence. Make sure that they work with brands they seem to really believe in and use in their everyday life, and that their feed or blog is not filled with #ad and #spon. This will ensure that the influencer is selective about who they work with, and it will make it more authentic when you decide to work together.