Sherry Zhang caught up with food instagrammer Ayaan Shaikh @auckeats, on how reviewing his brunch (with help of a few friends) helped him make a bit of extra $$$ on the side, but more importantly open up a community and job/industry opportunities. Ayaan is currently a 4th year commerce student finishing up his graduate diploma marketing, and works as a social media marketer for a startup.
I met Ayaan Shaikh in my first year at Uni Hall Apartments. He was the flatmate I got to know last. But after a few drunken nights out, and a particularly memorable one when he grabbed a tampon for me to plug up my bleeding nose while I sat on the bathroom floor, we bonded. It was a good time.
So you can’t blame me for laughing when out of the blue one day he said “I’m going to start a food instagram. I’m going to get free shit, you just watch it.”
Three years later, Auckeats has nearly 8 thousand followers, and he’s definitely gotten more than just a bit of free shit. Scrolling to his first few posts was a trip down memory. I’m pretty sure I was hungover at our brunches as he took food at different angles and polished up slick reviews.
Ayaan: “I know, it started off as a bit of a joke. But then I really started enjoying connecting with the community. It’s lovely, the Auckland foodie community. We just go out, eat nice food, enjoy nice company.”
Sherry: “What’s the community like?”
Ayaan: “I’m mainly friends with students. Others are working professionals. So their budget is obviously a lot different. But regardless, everyone is interested in exactly the same thing. It’s very niche. 50 of us foodies in the Auckland food scene. I’m even flatting with one now.” (I guess the pictures I sent Ayaan were never good enough to continue to be his flatmate)
Sherry: How do you find balancing it as a student?”
Ayaan: “It’s difficult… look I’m eating out way more than I am getting free food. I have to maintain the gram, reach out to the followers. And once in a while I get stuff from PR agencies, but it’s always once in a while. It’s a nice little surprise. Like, Fuck I just failed my test, oh I got some free Ben & Jerries… all good. Also with flatting, saving on cooking helps.”
In the middle of our interview, Ayaan pauses and asks if I wanted some free gift tokens: “Oh I got the job through the Gram, the client reached out to me to do social media marketing. I was lucky I got the job because they were recruiting at the time, but also I had a portfolio I could show them of my social media marketing skills with Auckeats. It’s a nice part-time job during uni.”
Sherry: “I remember visiting you at your job a few summers ago… Carl’s JR at 11pm every night?”
Ayaan: “Yeah fuck that.”
Sherry: “Would you be an Influencer?”
Ayaan: “I absolutely would not do influencing as a full time job. I don’t know if I could manage doing it full-time with uni. I still wanna pass my classes. AuckEats isn’t my end goal, I just want the transferable skills… Then get a fuck ton of money.”
Sherry: “Yeah cuz you used to do Finance Economics?”
Ayaan: “I realised that’s not for me. And doing this Food blog, really opened up marketing for me. That’s also why I’m not gunning for a Big 4. It just made me see things a bit different. I’m leaning more towards startups.
Sherry: “How’s your current part-time job going?”
Ayaan: “I find the growth interesting with small companies. Last week we did a giveaway on my work account. In a week we gained 1000 followers. Like 1000 people are taking the time out of their day to listen.”
Sherry: “ So you’re doing social media marketing alongside your food instagram… are you making Bank from Auckeats?”
Ayaan: “Not like a bank, but a side hustle. It’s not something I rely on personally, it’s very competitive. It’s a bit too much sometimes, especially if you think about lifestyle influencers. I’m an expert in food in Auckland, but that’s all I’m qualified for. Don’t ask me about beauty.
Sherry: “How has this shaped your relationship with social media?
Ayaan: “Haha god I hate it. I’m on my phone and computer all the time. But it is interesting, it’s a two way chat. Building a community is so easy. But working in social media is constant. It’s hard to make boundaries. Notifications pop up. I kind of need to answer but I don’t want to.”
Sherry: “What’s your approach with Auckeats?”
Ayaan: “With food reviews, I’m honest but I’m lenient. I’m aware that with small business, it sticks. You have a platform, so use it not to harm others. You can’t destroy people’s business cuz you don’t like one piece of sushi.”
Sherry: “What’s next?”
Ayaan: I’ve been doing Two years of AuckEats. Growing it isn’t my priority anymore. But more about meeting people, trying new things, eating new foods. A side thing to keep me sane. Cuz Uni is a shit show. Life is going to be a shit show when I graduate. I don’t wanna slam it out.
Social media marketing: Schedule posts to optimise audience and time. I’m on three accounts, I spend one hour a week making and scheduling it. Social media is toxic: you don’t want to look at the phone all time.
Networking: but not in the conventional way. If you know them on social media, reach out. Talk to your peers, honestly they are so smart. Have a chat, refer to your friends. I got my first job from LinkedIn. Especially If it’s a small company they’ll most likely reply… But big companies: apply through their portals.