One of the hottest social media spots for San Antonio food lovers is the S.A.Foodie Instagram account, which is refreshed daily with gorgeous, mouth-watering photos of every imaginable genre of food from every corner of San Antonio.
Amanda Spencer is the architect behind the popular account, which currently has 110,000 followers on Instagram, another 30,000 fans on Facebook, and also has a more traditional blog incarnation, at eatsandtravels.net.
Spencer, a San Antonio native, is proud of the hard work she’s put in over the last five years to build her following, perfect her photography, and create a magnetic online home for foodies. Her social media recipe has been so successful that in the last few years she has officially joined the ranks of social media influencers, although she might roll her eyes if you call her that.
“I hate that word, just to be honest,” Spencer said. “I know that is what I am, but you’ll never hear me use that word in my life.”
She prefers to describe herself as a digital creator, but whatever the title, Spencer is part of a rapidly growing marketing method in which businesses hire the creators of successful social media accounts to feature and promote their products.
Spencer has worked several times with local restaurant Sangria on the Burg, and owner Ceasar Zepeda testified to the impact of S.A.Foodie.
“It is by far the most effective marketing that you can do,” said Zepeda, whose restaurant is located in Northwest San Antonio near the South Texas Medical Center. “I’ve literally seen people commenting on her stuff and then they walk in. There’s no better marketing than that ever.”
Twenty years ago, when most of today’s Instagram influencers were still in diapers, Spencer was a determined and motivated 17-year-old who was not getting much out of high school. Her father was a high school principal for 30 years and her mother was a teacher, so it took a leap of faith for her to drop out of high school and get her GED.
“I love my parents,” she said. “And even though I might not have been their ideal student in school, they just trusted me so much.”
Spencer moved out of her parent’s house, got her own apartment, and started working three jobs. Striking out on her own didn’t intimidate Spencer, who got her first film camera when she was 15 and used her budding photography skills to make extra money for traveling and concert tickets.
“I’m a very independent person and I just told myself I’m going to somehow make this work for me without having any education and see how it goes,” Spencer said.
Those early entrepreneurial gigs brought in lots of cash and fueled Spencer’s desire to be her own boss and do a job she loved. But the road to accomplishing that dream took some rather lengthy turns, as Spencer became a parent and spent the last 18 years bartending at various places around town.
Slinging drinks was a nice, steady income, but Spencer’s family and friends began noticing her photography talent and love for delicious food and encouraged her to share it with a wider audience.
In 2014, she opened an Instagram account and S.A.Foodie was born. The success wasn’t immediate, and Spencer felt like her following grew at a painfully slow rate at times, even as she worked hard for every new follower.
Without giving away any trade secrets, Spencer said she wanted it to be clear that gaining new followers – the key to making her blog a powerful marketing tool – is just as much a part of the influencing job as the time spent photographing, reviewing, and creating posts.
“There are people who pay for followers, but I’m not about that,” she said.
In the early days of S.A.Foodie, Spencer built her following by driving around town on her own dime trying out food at various new or intriguing restaurants, whether she was invited or not, just because she loved food and photography.
Gradually, restaurants began to invite her and other bloggers to review their food or new menu items, but she was never paid
“I decided when I got to 40,000 followers I would start charging,” Spencer said.
At first the fee was nominal, far less than the cost of traditional advertising services, Spencer said. Even as her following has grown, she said she hasn’t raised her prices much, especially for local restaurants, because she loves working with them.
“I’m very affordable,” she said. “If you put the regular pricing of marketing towards what I do, it’s just a no brainer.”
Spencer’s work has drawn attention and awards from both inside and outside San Antonio. Just this month Spencer was featured on the front cover of San Antonio Magazine after winning Best Influencer for the magazine’s Best of the City 2020 list.
In 2017, BuzzFeed Food included the blog on a list called “24 Instagram accounts that made us hungry.”
“This is my passion, and I feel very lucky,” Spencer said. “I love photography, I love food, I love meeting people. I feel like I’ve just gained so many amazing relationships, and it’s so gratifying to hear them tell me how great my blog has been for their business.”
Spencer said promoting national brands like Sabra hummus and Applebee’s restaurants has been an important source of income for her, but she likes to keep her feed mostly local.
Not only does a mention from Spencer give Sangria on the Burg an almost immediate boost in business, but Zepeda said he appreciates the type of customer that S.A.Foodie brings in.
“She came with a great following already,” he said. “People really understood whenever she was somewhere that it was quality and it was beautiful and that’s why she went there. And the expectations were high, and I didn’t mind that because I feel like you have some real foodies. They’re not just going after a low, inexpensive meal. They’re going for a great experience.”
Zepeda said Spencer also has helped him learn how and what to post on social media to grow his own restaurant’s following.
“I learned that the picture matters. I can post an amazing video, I can put all this stuff up, but if you have a stellar picture and it’s of the right content it just blows up,” he said. “It’s crazy.”
Spencer said she’s aware that some restaurateurs scoff at the idea of paying an influencer to boost their brands. But she brushes it off as just part of San Antonio’s struggle to catch up with other big cities, where social media marketing has dominated for years.
“San Antonio’s so far behind, sadly,” Spencer said, “because we’re old and we’re very historic here and it’s just always been behind on everything.”
Tina Kent, who owns The Bread Box bakery and restaurant with her husband, said she wasn’t familiar with the concept of Instagram influencers until Spencer visited her restaurant, causing excitement among her staff.
“When she started to have 60,000 plus followers and she would come into our restaurant we would just get smacked in the face [with customers] the next few days,” Kent said. “It was nuts. The floodgates opened and we had a line out the door, and we could directly measure her advocacy at that moment. And there was a moment where we were like, hot damn, this is insanity and she did this for us.”
Kent said once she realized the importance of social media followings for restaurants, she knew that she had to learn the game and start playing hard. Five years in, The Bread Box now has about 10,000 followers on Instagram, and Kent knows she has Spencer to thank for most of those followers.
“When she comes in [to the restaurant], within 24 hours we have 500 new followers every single time, without fail,” Kent said. “And then also we’re busy. It’s just instantly the busiest thing in the whole world.”