Editor’s note: Social Side Effect is an ongoing profile series that identifies the intersection between social influencing and entrepreneurship
Instagram stories are more than temporary snapshots. They’re a growing vehicle for influencer marketing in Kansas City, Kasim Hardaway explained.
“It was never something I set out to do. It kind of just happened,” Hardaway, a Kansas City social influencer, said of his accidental path to becoming a brand builder for such companies as Nebraska Furniture Mart, Whole Foods, Christopher Elbow, Price Chopper and Kitchen Aid.
“I built an audience specifically on Instagram, and partner specifically with food-specific brands … but getting started was also very complicated,” he said of the struggles in building and creating awareness for a business — which carries a 39,100-follower reach — from behind an iPhone.
“I went to school for environmental science and geographic information systems, found myself very unhappy, quit my job and wanted to do something creative. I’ve always loved storytelling and somehow just started with marketing. And during a job I was asked to reach out to an influencer and create a contract and kind of figure out the terms,” he said in reference to his beginnings, just shy of five years ago.
“Once I got to understand the landscape, I was kind of … I don’t want to say obsessed, but I was very interested in it,” he laughed.
Consumed by entrepreneurial vision, Hardaway set out to post his way into the hearts of Kansas Citians and the billing systems of such iconic local brands as Boulevard and The Roasterie, he said.
“I made a really intentional effort to kind of do my own thing in Kansas City — which started out with recipe development, cooking in my kitchen, sharing those recipes, connecting with other Kansas Citians,” Hardaway said. “And then that eventually turned into what you see today, which is more restaurant focused, big brand focused, food … sometimes in Kansas city, sometimes not in Kansas City.”
A ground floor beginning, he credits much of his success to perfect timing, Hardaway added.
Kasim’s Top Three
Special Occasion: Anton’s, 1610 Main St, Kansas City, MO 64108
“I could eat there every day if I had the pockets to. I usually go there for dry aged steaks, specifically.”
Happy Hour: Gram & Dun, 600 Ward Pkwy, Kansas City, MO 64112
“I think it has one of the prettiest patios in Kansas City and not too shabby of a happy hour”
“I am originally from New Jersey and I grew up fairly close to the water. So seafood is something that I’ve always eaten a lot of. Sushi, poké, all of that stuff is something I could eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It’s a really high quality, sustainable option for fresh seafood in Kansas City.”
“Ultimately I started at a good point in time, especially in Kansas City. There were only a handful of people [locally] talking about food on social media as an influencer,” Hardaway said of luck turned to leverage.
As the social media scene becomes saturated, budding influencers need two things: hustle and a thick skin, he noted.
“[Building a following] took a lot of social networking, going on Instagram, going through the hashtag feeds, connecting with other people, talking about food, following them,” he said. “I knew that I wanted to work for myself. At the time I also had a small business … I came across this influencer, through that job and I found out how much she was getting paid and I was like, I have to make this happen somehow, some way.”
Though his influence is heavy, Hardaway wants to be known as more than a guy who sips rosé or noshes on trending menu items in Kansas City’s finest dining rooms.
“The term, ‘influencer.’ I don’t like to align with it because it’s generic and I think there’s more to the role that I have. … In terms of entrepreneurship, influencers are [entrepreneurs],” he said. “The more work I put in, the better results I get. [I’m] reaching this place where the sky’s the limit and it’s really based on how hard I want to work, how many hours I want to put into what I do.”
Additionally, Hardaway said he leans into the notion his business is a storytelling operation.
“There’s this really investigative journalistic aspect to it,” he said of ways his social presence requires more work than meets the eye.
“There are so many things that I do behind the scenes, from reaching out to the restaurant and getting a better understanding of what they do and how they do it, going to the restaurant, shooting the content or working with a photographer to shoot the content, working on the copy and the narrative, it’s very complicated,” Hardaway said.
With rewards in his DMs, connecting with his followers and helping them curate special moments as been one of the most consistent bright spots in his journey as an entrepreneur, he said.
“I think the coolest thing that has happened, to date, is when visitors come to Kansas City and they say, ‘Hey, I’m following you on Instagram and I’m coming to Kansas City this weekend, where should I go eat? Where should I take my husband,’” Hardaway shared of the small moments that make his career choice even more fulfilling.
“Just realizing that people do see me as a source for good food or someone who is credible in terms of food and beverage knowledge in Kansas City is pretty cool.”
Click here to connect with Hardaway on Instagram.
This story is possible thanks to support from the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, a private, nonpartisan foundation that works together with communities in education and entrepreneurship to create uncommon solutions and empower people to shape their futures and be successful.