Influencer marketing doubled in 2017, according to a recent study from Klear.1 For those new to influencer marketing, influencers can be defined as people with large audiences who post on social media about an organization and are compensated for their efforts. When it comes to marketing your hotel, partnering with influencers is all about building buzz among potential guests to increase transient visits and among planners to increase event leads. In his book The Art of Community, Jono Bacon shares, “Buzz is about excitement and excitement is about dreams.”2 And isn’t travel all about making dreams come true?
With the rapid growth of influencer marketing, particularly in the visually-appealing travel sector, we’re sharing the benefits of partnering with influencers, explaining the types of influencers, how to find and determine the right influencer for your hotel, and how to engage influencers. Armed with the following details, you’ll have all the information you need to consider if influencer marketing is right for your hotel marketing plan this year to increase transient visits and event planning leads.
Why Influencers Matter
Showcasing your property
82% of people indicate that Instagram has an influence on their travel planning.3 That statistic alone signifies that it’s worth thinking about how you can increase your exposure on all social channels by partnering with influencers this year. The benefit of partnering with influencers is that they can authentically showcase your property and the guest experience available on-site while sharing specific areas of the property and experience that are relevant to their audiences.
Driving “likeable” posts
Posts tagged with “#ad” on Instagram received one billion likes with an average of 682 per post, meaning that the influencers’ posts received significant engagement among their followers. In the same study, Klear found Food & Beverage and Travel among the top ten industries partnering with influencers, ranked at three and six respectively. Of the companies that have started partnering with influencers, the top five in the travel industry in 2017 were Airbnb, Delta, Royal Caribbean, Marriott, and Dubai Travel, in that order.1 The Vice President of Global Creative & Content Marketing at Marriott was recently quoted as saying “Influencer marketing is here to stay, and it should play a central role in your strategy to win the hearts, minds and wallets of consumers.”4
Influencers – Know the Lingo
Influencer – A person who has a large follower or fan base and is highly respected among her audience with the power to drive awareness. Influencers are compensated for promotion.5
Vloggers – A type of influencer who shares her influence via video, largely on YouTube. Also compensated for promotion and tend to be more expensive to work with.
Micro-Influencer – Having gained prominence in 2017, micro-influencers tend to be more niche, have smaller audiences, and be less expensive to work with. They are a good for organizations looking to partner with influencers for the first time.6
Advocate – A current customer (guest) committed to a product/service and influential among their network, primarily friends and family. They are commonly rewarded for promotions as opposed to receiving compensation and are highly trusted with a confidence level of 92%.7
If you’re looking for influencers, look no further than Instagram, which has become the dominant platform for influencer communication. According to eMarketer, 78% of influencers use Instagram, distantly followed by 16% using blogs.8 Klear found that nearly 75% of Instagram influencers were aged 18 – 34 (yes, Millennials) and 42% were even younger, aged 18 – 24. The influencers are also overwhelmingly female, accounting for 84% of the group.9
Finding brand alignment
You’ll want to find someone who has the same audience as your brand so that their posts reach an audience that would consider visiting your property. You also want to focus on finding an influencer that has the same voice and values as you do, so the partnership feels authentic. While there are agencies that specialize in influencer marketing, we’ll share some tips for engaging influencers on your own.
Start your search by looking at your advocates, customers who have mentioned you recently on social media, to see if any of them have an influential following. Next, search by keywords related to your location and travel. Once you find some interesting profiles, you can run them through sites like klear.com to check their influence. Both sites don’t exactly disclose how they define “influence,” but it’s largely a combination of audience size, how much engagement their posts receive, how many followers/fans those audience members have, and how much engagement their influential followers have with their posts.
Be sure to take a look through the influencer’s posts. Take note of other companies and properties they have partnered with previously and how those posts performed to gain insight into their work. Also, take note of the influencer’s followers to check for alignment with your target audience and ensure there aren’t an abundance of bots. See Proceed with Eyes Wide Open.
The easiest way to connect is through email, but snail mail is also a great and unexpected way to get an influencer’s attention. Influencers have their own political capital to consider when partnering with any organization or hotel. It’s important for you, as the representative of the hotel, to be genuine and authentic when you contact an influencer. You’ll want your pitch to be targeted and personal. Make sure to review their posts and even reference your favorite when you send a note. If the influencer is local, it’s a good idea to treat them to coffee to meet, gauge their tone, and their interest.
Influencers expect to be compensated and you should have a budget in mind when you reach out to them. Your budget may range from a discount to a couple night’s stay during a time that the rooms won’t be used depending on their level of influence. For well-rounded exposure of their stay, you should consider offering discounted or comped meals and amenities as well. Always be mindful of the value the influencer is getting from this experience. In addition to a nice stay, you can think about providing compensation by featuring them on your website, blog, or social media accounts to increase their visibility.10
Like any other working relationship, it is crucial to set expectations appropriately upfront. You should collaborate on a clear brief that ensures everyone benefits from the engagement. It’s best to be specific about:
- Number of many posts expected
- Timing for delivery/posting
- Topics to be covered
Consider post requirements such as posting within 24 – 48 hours of their stay, two posts per day during the stay, photos of guest rooms and meeting rooms, and meals.
Once the engagement starts, be sure to consistently build that relationship. Share the influencer’s posts. Thank them for their work. And make their job easy. If your engagement is ongoing, equip them with high quality photos and videos when they aren’t on the property. Always be sure to remain transparent and provide them with any support they need. Above all, trust that the influencer knows his or her own audience and what kind of content will work for their group.12
Proceed with eyes wide open
Following the rules
Be mindful that there are legal rules of engagement as well, adding to the required authenticity of any influencer. In late 2017, the FTC issued an updated guide to endorsements, which included clearly disclosing financial relationships with a brand and clear disclosures on the actual message as opposed to on a landing page or an abbreviated hashtag.13
Following the followers
A cautionary tale of working with influencers – you can’t always trust follower counts. As the New York Times exposed in their January 2018 article, The Follower Factory, there is something of a black market for fake accounts or bots with companies that will sell followers or retweets.14 If you’re active on Twitter and Instagram with a public profile, you likely have fake followers yourself… that you didn’t pay to gain. It’s important to ask an influencer about their followers and take a pass through their follower list to see if anything looks suspect.
Enable your potential guests to dream
Influencer marketing grew significantly in 2017, despite being in the marketing and social media toolbox for years. Travel is among the top ten industries partnering with influencers and it is expected to continue to see significant growth. Partnering with influencers who align with your core audience and share your values enables you to reach a new and broader audience of potential guests.
While much of your marketing may already focus on the property experience, the opportunity for your guests to see through the eyes of a storyteller and a respected source can be more impactful to bring the experience to life for a potential transient guest or planner. Having an influencer share their experience real-time provides a more intimate view and builds excitement about the possibilities of a stay or event. As we learned earlier, “excitement is about dreams.” Partnering with influencers helps your potential guests dream of your property experience… and hopefully, they’ll make those dreams a reality.