Building, Without the Brand
Updated: Jun 22, 2019
How many people do you know that support you every day? 10? 20? 50, if you’re lucky? How do you find over 35,000 supporters? Ask Erika Lorenzo, whose name probably won’t immediately ring a bell, but her Instagram handle, Chewithme, just might. Five years ago, Erika started a small food Instagram, just for family and friends. Today though, she has become a recognizable name among food influencers, and travels all over the world. A glance through her posts from Madrid, Tenerife, or Caracas proves her success, but doesn't explain it. Exactly how does a small Instagram blog grow into the massive presence Chewithme has become? I wanted to find out.
As Erika puts it, a combination of authenticity and timing helped catapult her into the upper echelons of the foodie elite. Five years ago was 2014, remember then? How To Train Your Dragon was only on its second movie, the number of Oreo varieties was in the double, not the triple digits, and Instagram wasn’t the social media giant it is today. Erika made her account for just friends and family at first, trying to both showcase excellent cuisine and get the surplus of food photos off of her phone. Establishing her page before everyone and their mother decided to try their hand at food photography gave Erika the benefits of time to perfect her content. Besides the raw time factor, however, her early timing added a certain element of authenticity to her home-grown page that the dime-a-dozen food Instagrammers of today cannot seem to recreate.
Making a living from Instagram, or any social media platform, requires a baseline level of interaction with advertisers. The talented social media stars know how to use this commercial interest to enhance, rather than warp, the user experience on their platform. Central to the responsible use of advertising is a belief in the product, though: a rule Erika steadfastly keeps to. The humble origins of her blog are reflected in the unaffected, natural style of her more recent posting, part of her policy of only endorsing products and experiences she truly loves. “I only post what I really recommend,” she stresses to me, “The idea is that if you see it on my page, it must be good.” Beyond her resistance to commercial influence, Erika understands her good fortune and how her particular page fits into the larger tapestry of modern food influencers. “There are so many food accounts, and they each target different cities or people,” she confides, and “target” seems to be an appropriate word choice when one considers the hordes of accounts happy enough to push any company who writes checks. “I want them to get to know me better so they can relate to, not only my account, but to me,” Erika muses, sounding almost wistful at her inability to personally connect with each of her subscribers. Having recently passed 35K followers, she might have to use a slightly broader approach to thank her anonymous devotees.
The rise of Chewithme, along with Erika’s background, reflect a reassuring truth about the online world. No matter how many online fads or product publicity stunts overwhelm internet users on a near-daily basis, the combination of honest origins, determined effort, and time still creates the best content. Too many of today’s influencers base their popularity on flash: reeling in lukewarm supporters for ephemeral success, changing the values they began with for a larger payday. The legions of stalwart fans there since her early days attest to the fact that while @Chewithme has experienced sweeping changes, Erika Lorenzo is the same personable foodie from five years ago. She’s still just a girl trying to get some of those excess pictures off her iPhone.