Jennifer Mai or as she’s known by her persona @Jeneatschi is the story of a foodinstagrammer who uses her powers for good. If you scroll through her feed you’ll find a woman obsessed with all the amazing food Chicago (her home state) has to offer. Jennifer shares with us the need for more transparency in the influencer industry and her love and knowledge of great food.
Jen, could you introduce yourself and briefly describe your Instagram account — what’s your focus and the reason you started it? Do you see this as a business, a hobby, or something in between?
JM: Hi, I’m Jennifer Mai but usually go by Jen. My Instagram account @JenEatsChi mostly consists of food and drink. My main focus is to show the community and all my followers my favorite places to eat in Chicago, and even when I travel (which reminds me, I am due for a vacation soon! LOL). I actually started this as a hobby, I didn’t even know “food influencing” was a thing. My passion for food began at a very young age, even before I could remember. My parents told me I wouldn’t know when to stop eating to the point I’d get a stomach ache. Fast forward 25 years later and I still have the same problem (haha). I started my Instagram page back when Instagram first launched in 2010. I would just take pictures of food and post them, mostly as a place I could refer back to when dining out and wanting to remember what dish I ordered, or even when I would cook, so I could remember some of my favorite recipes! What started as a hobby is slowly growing into a business, but as I said before, I’m a lover of all things food and it will always be my passion regardless of the outcome.
What is your definition of an “influencer”?
JM: My definition of an “influencer” would be a person who has established credibility in a specific industry and has the power to influence (or persuade) many people. A social media influencer typically has gained access to a large audience or “following” and has the ability to coax others via the authenticity of their social channel.
From your perspective what draws the followers to your photos?
JM: I’ve never been asked this question before so honestly, I’m not totally sure. I’m going to assume my followers love food as much as I do – I think it also helps that I try to post a variety, not all the same food items. Also, I know there are many influencers who like to focus more on their favorite type of food which I think is great because it does show authenticity, however, I generally LOVE EVERYTHING. There isn’t really anything I’ve ever tasted that I did not like, so I think that also aids in my content because there’s always something different.
How has your Instagram feed evolved over time? Any specific turning points?
JM: I can’t think of any specific turning points, but I know my feed has generally evolved due to having a better camera on my phone (LOL). Over time with more networking and experiences I know I have developed better “picture-taking” and editing skills, and I think that really shows if you scroll down to my earlier photos. Obviously, when starting my page as a hobby, my pictures weren’t as tactful or appealing to the eye, but after gaining more followers I know I have definitely spent more time making sure my photos were “pretty.”
What is your stance on influencers being paid to post about brands? Should influencers be transparent regarding payment for posts?
JM: I believe influencers should ALWAYS be transparent in terms of payment for posts. I don’t mean to say “hey! Try this product out, they paid me to tell you that” but more so using the hashtags #ad and/or #sponsored in the post. I usually make sure those are my first hashtags and not buried somewhere in the middle. People have this perception that influencers who are being paid to post content aren’t being authentic. Yeah, that may be true for some, but I know for many including myself, if I don’t like the brand or agree with their purposes or what they offer, I don’t post about it. If I genuinely did not like my meal, I won’t say anything negative – I just choose not to post about it. Before agreeing to any type of compensation, I always know what I am getting myself into. So needless to say, everything you see on my feed I have thoroughly enjoyed.
Let’s talk about photos for posting on Instagram. What goes into the composition, setup and finally actually taking the perfect shot. Do you use your phone, or external light source, or a professional camera? Give us the details.
JM: Whenever I take my friends to a food event for the first time, they are shocked to see how much it actually entails to capture the “perfect” food photo. Currently, I use my phone (iPhone XS Max) and I’d say it’s working out pretty well. I purchased an external light source on Amazon that I can use to capture pictures when inside dark places (i.e. Steakhouses). It’s a mini light that would normally be attached to a professional camera, but I just hold it directing light onto the food/drink and angle my phone to snap a pic. I do use portrait mode on my phone sometimes depending on how large the item is that I am capturing. Once done, I will subtly edit the photo before posting on Instagram, but for me it’s never anything major because I do try to keep it looking more on the “natural” side.
How has your life changed since becoming a food influencer?
JM: I wouldn’t say my life has changed drastically since becoming a foodfluencer – I still eat consistently and love food as much as I always have. I guess the only difference would be that I’m honestly saving money on meals since typically I am being comp’d for meals when dining out, in hopes that I will post in exchange for the meal. As I said previously, if I enjoyed it, of course, I’ll post about it. If I did not enjoy my meal, I won’t post about it no matter how pretty the picture is. I like to keep my authenticity versus just “doing it for the gram.” I will say that being a food influencer has given me the opportunity to explore so many different places that I probably would have never thought once about, and I think a lot of that has to do with exposure. Half of the places I have been at I never even heard of until then. I’ve tried a couple cuisines for the first time and have met so many amazing people in the community. Some of my closest friends I have met through Instagram. It’s been one hell of a journey so far!
How do you think the rise of influencer accounts on Instagram has impacted on the way that people discover restaurants/chefs/bars/food?
JM: From a PR perspective, I think the rise of influencer accounts helps them because they don’t have to dig deep for marketing tools. All they do is invite us in and we take care of the rest. From a person that is just looking for new bars/restaurants to try out, I think influencer accounts are also very beneficial. I’ve had people (who I don’t even know but just meet or randomly run into) tell me that they bookmark certain posts so they can order the same meal when they finally go there. I think they really like the hands-on and convenience of influencer pages – they can just go to their favorite account, scroll through to find what they need or discover something new and head to that establishment; and since it is Instagram, they get a picture along with every caption, so they can see exactly what they would be eating/drinking. I know when I get invited into a new restaurant, I go to their Instagram page to see what the atmosphere is like. I always like to know what I am getting myself into, and their page is always useful! There are always pictures of the bar/restaurant and based those pictures I can always tell what kind of vibe it is.
What’s most important to you when pursuing brand partnerships?
JM: When pursuing brand partnerships, I just want to keep it real. Tell me exactly what you’re looking for and what they are offering, and I will tell you exactly what is feasible to me. Honesty and communication are always key. I also want to be transparent to my followers by using those hashtags I mentioned above. I’ve never been in a partnership that I didn’t know what I was getting myself into – that’s how they have all been successful in my opinion. If I didn’t agree with sponsorship or didn’t like the meal/product, I would never post about it on my Instagram feed. Most partnerships require a contract to be signed, so even if you didn’t like what you were posting about, you had to do it anyways. That’s why I have mentioned several times in this interview, ASK QUESTIONS and find out what you’re getting yourself into. You always want to keep your authenticity and engagement of those who follow you. Nothing worse than having to fake post and pretending you love it when you don’t.
What’s the biggest opportunity for you as an influencer?
JM: I would say that it opens up many doors for me in terms of exposure and getting myself out there even more. I don’t know what lies ahead of me, but I know that with a positive mindset and my passion for what I do, that alone will take me places. I’m very much a “glass is half full” type of girl, and being able to network and meet the people I do regularly has allowed me to enjoy life even more and appreciate the little things.
Anything else you’d like to share with our readers?
JM: For those looking to begin their “blogging” or “influencing” journey, I have no advice other than to follow your passion. Don’t ever lose sight of that, and DO NOT have any expectations – comparing yourself to others is setting yourself up for failure. Expectations lead to disappointment. So do what you love and everything will always fall into place.