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Food for followers, by Alberto Mingardi

It often happens that restaurants are covered, wall to wall, by pictures of celebrities who have dined there. While one cannot be sure that they didn’t pay their dinner bills, it is often what one suspects. It is  interesting news that a restaurant in Milan is making the process more transparent. A sushi place, starting October 15th, is actually differentiating prices based upon their patrons’ social media following (in particular, Instagram’s).

As la Repubblica reports:

It is quite a simple approach, one that divides patron in different tiers, on the basis of their social network following. Once a course is ordered, having 1,000 to 5,000 followers earns a free course, 5 to 10 thousand followers is worth two free courses, 10 to 50 thousand earns four free courses, 50 to 100 thousands doubles that to eight, while a patron who can boast over 100,000 followers can have an entirely free lunch.

The restaurant owners explained that they have two goals: first, rather obviously, raise their own social media profile. Second, to incentivize people to visit their restaurant in person rather than ordering delivery.

I’m not a big sushi fan so I’m not so sure that I’ll visit the place. Plus, I have a meagre 435 followers on Instagram (I’m amingardi81, by the way!). Yet I found it fascinating. Social media is clearly changing advertising and somehow they transform each and any one of us into advertisers regardless of our own aims. People posting pictures of their holidays are perhaps whetting the appetite of their friends, as are those who post pictures of restaurants and dishes. “If you’re not paying for it, you’re becoming the product,” is a line that works well and points to a rapacious attitude of the platforms towards their customers’ data. But very few, to the best of my understanding, have thought of the other beneficiaries: not social media networks, but the products that are photographed and circulated through them. These guys in Milan are perhaps starting a trend that may allow people with a substantial following to monetize on it, even though they are not necessarily engaged in open advertising activities. The model of giving clothes for free to influencers to photograph themselves while they wear them is somehow getting “democratized”. It’d be interesting to see if something similar emerges elsewhere, and in other trades