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Dining with Data: An Interview with Food Influencer & Economist Weichen Yan

September 25, 2019

Content creator Weichan Yan is a PhD Candidate at NYU, an economist, and the content creator behind the account @Peachonomics. We recently sat down with her to discuss how her background in economics has helped her thrive as a food blogger.

Q: Your handle is quite original! How did you come up with the name “Peachonomics”?

A: I actually started my account 100% as a personal account! I was into the food magazine Lucky Peach at the time so I named my account @lucky__peach. Then it started growing, to my surprise, once I started posting breakfast photos. I then made the decision to change it to something that represents myself, but also wanted to keep the word “peach” in the name because many brands already associated that with me (they didn’t know about the magazine Lucky Peach, on the other hand!). I am an economist so I thought Peachonomics was a nice play of words. I’m also a fan of the book Freakonomics!

Q: Have you found your knack for economics has been helpful as an influencer?

A: Perhaps indirectly (and subconsciously) I do let that influence how I work on Instagram (and perhaps how I conduct my daily activities in general). I find that it helps me think more rationally and strategically. It also helps me price things better - assigning a dollar amount to activities.

Q: What does an average day look like for you?

A: It starts and ends with me checking Instagram!

I like to wake up early (6-7am). Check IG and reply to my emails (ones related to my full-time job and ones related to IG). Then I go into the office and do some work. I’ll post sometime during the day, and spend some time afterwards engaging with my audience and peers on Instagram. I usually eat lunch at my desk. I try to finish work between 6-7pm and either have dinner out with friends or cook at home. Then I relax and browse IG before going to sleep.

Q: What has been your favorite brand partnership so far?

A: It’s hard to name just one! But having worked with many different brands on vastly different engagements, I can summarize my preferred partnership: ongoing collaborations, a more personal relationship with the brand/manager in charge, timely responses, high work ethics and professionalism, sufficient freedom for the creator to do my best in creating content, and of course, a product I am truly passionate about.

Q: Often we hear of influencers struggling to grow their following, but you have seen significant growth in the last few years. Why do you think that is?

A: I’ve definitely gone through periods of fast and slow growth. Part of it is just because of IG’s algorithm changes. At the end of the day, making good content and having something that distinguishes your content from others are important. For example, if a brand or another account reposts your photo, can your followers recognize that it’s your photo without looking at the caption? Engaging with your audience is also important.

Q: What’s one of the biggest challenges you’ve faced when collaborating with brands?

A: Untimely responses (my time and your time are both valuable!), and excessive control over how I create content (happy creators make the best content.)

Q: What are some trends you predict for the future in food blogging? What’s the next big grammable food?

A: I wish I was the one that invented the avocado rose! I feel that these things are as unpredictable as interest rates. Rather than TRYING to come up with unique, viral stuff, I’ve learned to enjoy what I’m doing, and embrace that we live in a time where new, exciting content can be created by ANYONE, and often unexpectedly. Like the latest #mrsandmanchallenge.

Q: What’s the #mrsandmanchallenge?

A: It was initiated, I suspect, like many viral contents, by someone that didn’t post it with the goal of going viral. A teenager posted a 12-second video on Tiktok of her cat to the song “Mr. Sandman” using the app’s nine-camera split filter. It’s now been replicated by pet owners for thousands of times and reposted to Instagram. The cat now, of course, has its own IG account.

Q: Who are some food influencers you’re inspired by?

A: @dennistheprescott - I love beautiful recipes. Partly because of my time constraints and demanding work schedule, I am limited to making mostly easy-to-cook recipes (hello sandwiches and avocado toast.) I enjoy sharing these with my followers though, because I think the majority of us are time poor and appreciate recipes that can be made with simple ingredients and don’t take much time to come together. But if I had all the time and resources in the world, I’d love to cook more elaborate recipes!

Q: What advice would you give to those who are looking to grow their following?

A: Similar to what I discussed in the above question about why I think my account enjoyed some good growth over the years. And most importantly, relax and have fun. You’re likely to be more productive when you are doing something you truly love. If you don’t enjoy taking photos and editing them or interacting with others on social media, then look for something else to do!

Photo by @Peachonomics

Q: You’re studying the connection between paid influencer partnerships and direct sales. In your experience, what is the best way a brand can insure an ROI when choosing influencers?

A: It depends on the brand and their circumstances. I cannot say anything generally that would apply to many brands at once. Just like how Pringles finds advertising during Super Bowl worthwhile, but if another brand did it, it may have been a disaster. What I can say is that just because you don’t see any direct correlation between your influencer activities and sales, doesn’t mean influencer marketing doesn’t work. How do you know how long it may take for the effects to kick in? It’s unlikely to be instantaneous. But is it 1 week? 1 month? 3 months? A simple analyses of basic correlations will not do. More structure needs to be imposed on the analysis of engagement to sales, and it’s something many marketing and economics professionals have been working on for decades. I would love to use my training to help marketing managers to answer such important questions.

Q: What’s an example of a brand that you think is killing it with influencer marketing?

A: @primalkitchenfoods. I think their feed is beautiful and they have a nice mix of content including recipes, informational stuff, and product shots. They make fantastic products, but they are also savvy about working with influencers consistently, so that they’ve grown a loyal community of influencers that they work with, as well as, people who love their products and are happy to post about their products without being sponsored. I really think consistency is key. You cannot achieve something like this by going 120% force on influencer campaigns + sending out free products for a couple of weeks and expect to have an everlasting army of devoted consumers/followers.

Q: What should Influencers consider before partnering with a brand?

A: I think it varies from person to person, and of course, as an economist I understand that people respond to incentives, so it’s pointless to say that “I will not market anything I don’t love”. Realistically, will you still say this if the brand offered you $100,000? If the answer is yes, what if they offered you $1 million? At the end of the day, it’s a tradeoff that influencers need to carefully weigh up: between maintaining your desired feed and authentic voice, to earning an income. Finding a balance (easier said than done) is key. Luckily, I love all foods so it makes it easier :)

Q: Why is it important for brands to choose the RIGHT influencers?

A: At the end of the day, brands need to think about the top and bottom line. It’s important for brands to choose the right influencers who engage the target audience and negotiate appropriate compensation inline with the value provided. This is why data is so important for both the influencer and the brand -- so everyone can make the best possible decisions!

Photo by @Peachonomics

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