She built a Miami food community at 21 and now is a so-called “micro-influencer” with 102,000 followers on Instagram.
Valentina Mussi dropped out of the University of Miami to start Sweet Portfolio when she was 19, feeling unengaged with college life. She’s now driven by a passion to showcase the area’s best eats, views and styles.
“I’m so grateful for this job and I treat it with respect so that it allows me to be responsible. I’m lucky to be in this position and stay very grounded,” said Mussi.
It sparked in 2017, when she and her best friend decided to go on a trip to New York. They spent three weeks in the city having fun and enjoying food, posting all the while on social media. “So I eat through New York and [was] posting through my Snapchat just very casually. Then my dad suggested to me to open an Instagram. When I got back to Miami I sat on the idea for a month or two,” said Mussi.
After brainstorming names with the family, looking into other food pages and following food accounts, she finally came up with an idea. In March 2017, she decided to open her Instagram account.
“I didn’t want the word food or foodie on it. Sweet, however, was a must since I have always had such a big sweet tooth,” she said.
A typical day starts at 7 a.m. with a workout and lots of coffee. Then she answers emails and figures out the next steps. She might shoot a video in a restaurant, work on a recipe video, look for new content or study trends on social media.
“We film something that may take one or four hours, then we go back home for editing and look through what we created. Getting your post ready means a lot of things: the caption, engagement, the content, double-checking the edition and making sure everything went OK,” said Mussi.
The day often finishes with an event or two and bedtime is usually after midnight.
“Nothing is written in stone. When you are an influencer you have to put on a lot of hats. You have to be your publicist and accountant. You have to negotiate yourself and create your own content. All in all, you do the job of six people,” said Mussi.
Amber Spiegel was named one of the Top Food Influencers in 2017 by Forbes. She is the head of Sweet Ambs, a blog where she creates cookie decorating tutorials.
She said being an influencer is more than publishing photos or videos on the web.
“Being an influencer can certainly be a viable way for a young person to make a living through ad revenue on their videos or blog, sponsored posts, merchandise or teaching others their craft (cookie decorating, in my case). It might seem like they are just snapping photos and posting them to Instagram, but so much goes on behind the scenes,” Spiegel said in an email.
Mussi said one of the hardest things about being an influencer are the impressions your followers have on you and your posts.
“When you post a story it can be potentially controversial. Anything can be taken out of context,” she said.
Alexandra Klumpp created Beyond South Beach, an Instagram account that talks about restaurants and the local lifestyle.
“We post every day and we always try to do collaborations with other influencers. We make friends in the field and just become social. This is how it works,” said Klumpp.
For Mussi, her influencer peers have become her closest friends.
“We go together and help each other out, we do have a really nice community with no competition,” she said.
During August 2018, the producer of Noticias Telemundo Mediodia invited her to talk about Sweet Portfolio during the segment “How to make money on social media.” Four months later they invited Mussi again to talk about food trends. This year she became a Google Pixel ambassador, a program that is aimed to improve customer experience.
“I talked to myself, ‘I have all these crazy brand partnerships, I should take advantage of this,’” said Mussi.
Still, she said she is very selective about her partnerships.
“For a big brand partnership or a national chain it could be around $2,500 up to $4,000 for a post on Instagram,” said Mussi. “It depends on the scope, work, deliverables, exclusivities, timeline and specific campaign.”
She said working with local businesses pays less, but supporting them is more valuable.
“I understand that some businesses do not have that kind of budget, but at the same time, my community is in Miami, so I want to help shine some light on them,” said Mussi.
Daniel Levine is the owner of Dasher and Crank, an ice cream shop that makes artisan flavors. He believes that influencers are vital for marketing. “Influencers are the best way of marketing for food and beverage. You get access to a specific market. You are reaching people where they are and making an expression. Influencers are creating value and people are paying for their content,” he said.