A BOURNEMOUTH University graduate whose YouTube cookery channel has almost two million subscribers returned to talk about the crucial importance of online ‘influencers’.

Jamie Spafford, who co-founded SORTEDfood, was among the speakers at the annual Mike Warne Event, held by final-year marketing students to discuss key topics in the industry.

Mr Spafford told how ‘influencer marketing’ didn’t exist before he graduated in 2009, in the days when “everyone was on MySpace”.

He said of the YouTube channel: “It’s the journey of myself and my three old school friends and our kind of journey around food.

“We all knew each other from school, which is now 20 years ago, and Sorted started 10 years ago after we all left and went to university and started studying different things across the country and got chatting back in the holidays in the pub about the silly stuff we were getting up to. Food was one of the conversations that kept coming up and we were terrible at it.”

A chef among the friends would give the others “simple tips, tricks and recipes” and the channel started as a way of including more people in the conversation, he said.

“YouTube at the time seemed like a really good place to upload some videos as a bit of fun and it grew from there very naturally and organically. The YouTube channel started eight years ago and now we’ve got coming up close to two million subscribers and a total social reach of 2.5m people, 350million views in total and there’s a ridiculous stat – 20,000 hours per day of sorted content is watched around the world.”

One of the keys to the channel’s popularity was audience involvement, he said.

“I think today we now make incredibly engaging content. I think people want to be a part of that content and we’ll always keep the audience involved, so even before we pick up a camera we’re talking to people about ‘We’re going to cook this and we want to go and explore food over here. What should we be eating? Where should we be going?’

“Before we’ve even picked up the camera, the audience are involved in everything we do, and by the time it gets round to the video going live, people know their involvement is going to be celebrated,” he added.

Rather than endorsing products, the channel has partnerships with brands – for example, joining with US tourism industries to promote the ‘flyover states’ by going there to document things to see, do and eat.

“I can honestly say I don’t think we’ve ever endorsed anything, any brand, in the last 10 years. For us it’s not about endorsing, it’s about partnering with them to help do something really great and so because of that we’re incredibly selective of the brands that we work with and I’d be surprised if we turned away less than 95 per cent,” he said.

The event also heard from Philip Brown, head of influencer marketing and brand advocacy at Come Round.

“You don’t have to be Kim Kardashian and don’t need a million followers to make an impact,” he said.

“Think about normal people, think about everyday influencers, as we like to call them. How often are you having dinner with friends and family or a colleague and I’m sure that you’ll talk about brands that you use or movies that you like or something you’ve seen on Netflix.

“Brands are very much part of everyday conversation and it goes beyond just the kind of influencers and content creators.”

He said influencers were under increasing pressure to disclose their relationships with brands.

“An audience needs to know whether an influencer is being compensated to create content because they need to be able to trust the content that’s being pushed out,” he said.

“It also puts more emphasis on the relationship between the brand and the influencer because it means that they can’t just peddle any random given product but as long as there’s an authentic match then their audience will trust that more.”

The event also heard form Louie Gatas, digital marketing manager at Warner Bros, and James Delves, head of PR and engagement at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Mr Delves said a knowledge of influence marketing would be hugely valuable to students.

“I was lucky enough previously to work on the agency side so I’ve worked with Microsoft, Samsung, Intel, Motorola. They’re all desperately trying to do influencer marketing and really small, innovative SMEs are as well. They’ve all realised that by reaching influencers, they can reach a huge number of people by not having to invest in trying to contact every single person,” he said.