"Influencers" Freeloaders or Hotel Ambassadors?
By Lanny Grossman President, EM50 Communications | February 21, 2021
"Influencers" have been dictating social trends since the beginning of time; from tribal leaders to royalty and the aristocracy on to celebrities. It is only in recent years, however, that an "ordinary" person could have such an outsized impact on a business or a brand.
Travel marketing historically - and sensibly - has always been driven by alluring imagery and photography: incredible photos of a destination, a beautiful room or that picture perfect couple getting married. First it was a glossy brochure, then a dynamic website…and now social media. As a picture is worth a thousand words, hotels around the world are trying to sell their property and the promise of an incredible and memorable experience through visuals. As such, hotels have now become a playground for influencers and the backdrop of the majority of social media content leaving each hotel owner and DOSM working to figure out who is an influencer and who is a potential freeloader.
With the proliferation of user generated content, travelers now tend to take brand-led information and images all with a grain of salt knowing the property is just trying to put their best foot forward or potentially only show the perfect corner of an otherwise not so great room. With the rise of social media and review sites, from TripAdvisor and Yelp to Instagram and Facebook, third party content, user generated content has quickly become more "authentic" and trusted by customers.
Seeing guests' "real" experiences is seen as more trustworthy…leading consumers to be more interested in genuine content. According to an Adweek survey, almost half of vacationers are more likely to hear about a new travel company or destination on social media than anywhere else. Instagram is king and it is not going anywhere soon!
Now that we know user generated content is more effective, how does a property maximize the impact? Enter Influencers…
The advantages of "Influencer Marketing" for hotels is quite clear. It is more affordable than traditional "advertising" and it allows targeting of a particular audience. According to Linquia, a leading influencer marketing company, 40% of marketers ran six or more campaigns in 2019, and 57% originally said there were going to increase their budgets in 2020 pre-pandemic.
In a 2018 report by the Association of National Advertisers, 75% of marketers already use influencer marketing for hotels. A quarter of them are planning on using up to half of their marketing budget on influencer marketing.
The use of influencers is a sound strategy for most, but how does a hotel decipher who the right influencer is and sort through the barrage of incoming requests from everybody and anybody with an Instagram account?
Proactive vs Reactive
Most hotels on the planet are inundated by incoming requests for "collaborations" and "partnerships" with "bloggers" and "influencers" looking to exchange free, all expenses paid stays for a series of posts and stories. Some will offer original photography in exchange while others request, rather demand, a free stay in addition to a posting fee. So how does a hotel properly assess whether this person is a freeloader or a brand ambassador that can lead to future bookings? Besides the incoming requests, how does a property strategically recruit the right partners to amplify the hotel's brand messages to the appropriate audience.
More so than not, a proactive approach assures you are working with the influencers that most align with your brand versus the ones that just happen to be traveling to your area. Additionally, use the influencer's experience to your advantage. Engage with them to be creative, to work with the team to design an effective campaign. To become a short-term part of the marketing team. If you approach the relationship correctly, there is more to be gained than just pretty pictures.
Influencer Identity: What do they stand for?
Firstly, you want to evaluate the influencer's "brand." If they were a product, would they be Kenneth Cole or Chanel. How does their brand align with that of the property? Secondly, what sort of followers and engagement do they have. Somebody with 20k followers and super-high engagement (likes and comments) is likely more effective than somebody with 80k followers and less interaction by those followers. What are they offering? How many posts? How many stories? Are they providing all of their photography for the property's use in future social media posts? All of this should be added to the equation.
Size Doesn't Always Matter: Macro vs Micro Influencers
Bigger is not always better when it comes to influencers. Sure, a Kardashian with millions of followers would be a home run but really it is because of how engaged that following is that makes the difference. In Linquia's "The State of Influencer Marketing 2020" report, it was interesting to see that a quarter of those surveyed preferred to work with "nano-influencers" (less than 5k followers) because they were hyper-targeted and had high engagement.
For example, if your property has a health / wellness focus, perhaps working with a popular health expert or yoga teacher with a dedicated following is more effective than a general travel influencer whose audience is across the board.
Amplification: How do you maximize an influencer partnership?
Just because you are hoping to capitalize on an influencer's following and reach doesn't mean you should stop there. That is only half of it. You want to maximize the relationship as best you can. One of the best things about influencer content is that it can be repurposed across other channels. Remember, user generated content is more "authentic" and "reliable. Be sure to repost across the property's channels.
If you have a particular initiative you are pushing, host, multiple influencers at once and have them all post on the same day for a bigger impact. Be sure to negotiate use of their original photography for future social media posts. This is part of what makes influencer marketing so cost-effective. With an influencer marketing campaign, marketers gain access to a vast range of content that can be used throughout the year on other marketing channels to drive an authentic connection with target consumers.
How to Measure Success: Did it Work?
How can you tell if your influencer marketing campaign is driving success? Firstly, how are the person's posts performing? How many likes did they get? How many comments and what kind of comments did they get? How many new followers did the property receive after the series of posts?
In the same Linquia study, 71%, felt that engagement was the first indicator of success, however it was a big decrease from the previous year. Brand awareness and impressions are also very important at around 60% each. Clicks, conversions and sales registered at about 50% of the respondents. However, what's interesting is that the "the quality of the content" influencers create slightly ranked higher than sales themselves. Hotels play the long game compared to a consumer product that is looking to move units. Build brand, create consistent messaging, grow a following and build an aspirational connection between the property and its followers.
Conclusion: Influencer Marketing Its Effective If Done Right
Like with anything, there are pros and cons, honest brokers and self-serving liars, but at the end of the day, Influencer Marketing is a cost efficient way of reaching a targeted customer while further cementing a property's brand identity in the minds of the traveling public.
Some easy tips to keep in mind:
- Analyze the influencer's followers. Not just how many but who they are. Look at previous posts to see the themes and positioning.
- Take a hard look at engagement to analyze whether somebody has fake followers or an inconsistent relationship with their followers.
- Negotiate for more posts and use of content / photography. Engage the influencer to create, invent and ideate!
- Set boundaries for the stay on what is offered, as well as what coverage priorities and messaging are.
- Amplify, amplify, amplify - use the new user generated content for your own purpose to magnify reach and impact.
- Track - experiment with booking codes offering added value to an influencer's followers if they book within a certain window.
HotelExecutive retains the copyright to the articles published in the Hotel Business Review. Articles cannot be republished without prior written consent by HotelExecutive.