by Nancy Huang
Influencer marketing has received quite a lot of buzz in recent years and was even rated the fastest-growing online customer acquisition method. Hotel brands are lavishing freebies to Instagram and YouTube stars in return for posts or videos. And this year, nearly 50% of US marketers will increase their influencer marketing budgets this year.
Essentially the digital age’s version of a celebrity endorsement, influencer marketing is a powerful way to connect with larger audiences. Producing a successful campaign is easier said than done, however, as hotels need to take influencer selection, compensation, and ROI into account.
Influencer marketing for hotels has the potential to be an effective channel, but as long as it’s built on a solid multi-channel marketing and conversion-optimized foundation. That said, influencer marketing is especially valuable for lifestyle and boutique hotels aiming to define and build their identity, all while casting a wider net across their target guest segments.
Identifying Influencers: Who to choose
There are multiple social media tools that you can use to discover influencers and their key metrics, including their social platform of choice, number of followers, level of engagement, and more. Tools vary in price and complexity, but if you are just starting out, you can dabble in one of these seven free influencer marketing tools.
In recent times, a wave of new startups have started offering travel brands an opportunity to discover a world of potential influencers, from social media celebrities to adventurous everyday travelers who showcase a high degree of creative talent.
For instance, Crowdriff enables travel brands to source inspiring visuals from user-generated content, providing a potential opening to connect with content creators. Meanwhile, Tinflur helps travel and tourism marketers find influential bloggers while seeing their number of social followers by different platforms.
In addition, specialist agencies such as Media Kix help brands connect with major influencers on channels such as Instagram, YouTube, and Vine. In a recent example, Media Kix helped Fairmont Hotels and Resorts find four influencers who visited and promoted Fairmont properties around the world.
When selecting your influencers, consider some of the following factors:
Followers vs. Engagement
The first step, and one which is often under emphasized, is identifying which influencers are best to target. While follower counts might be an obvious criteria, sheer numbers alone are not enough, as actual engagement needs to be analyzed as well.
A smaller but more buzzing audience can potentially be more useful than a larger inactive one, since the latter will drive awareness, but not necessarily action. As such, its influence might only be short term and potentially unsustainable. These influencers have substantial audiences but may not be as passionate as actual brand advocates, merely producing social media coverage for the sake of garnering freebies.
“Niche” social influencers
Finding a social media influencer who’s an especially close fit with your brand is beneficial for a couple of reasons. First, they’ll be more likely to want to partner with you in the first place. Second, when they do promote your brand, their whole message will feel far more authentic.
So how do you find a niche influencer? Start by using hashtags that are specific to your brand as possible. For instance on Instagram, a luxury hotel could search for a term such as “#luxurytravelblogger” to find the most suitable prospects, then check their popularity by likes and followers. The same hashtag approach can also be used on Facebook and Twitter.
Alternatively, look for existing followers on your hotel’s social media platforms who have significant followings of their own. If you find a potential candidate, scour their posts to see if they’re publishing travel-related content that feels in step with your brand.
Google is another great place to start your search. Again, to carry out a niche search, you could use a term like “family friendly travel bloggers,” or a combination of “travel blogger + your destination” to find local influencers in your area.
If you find a popular blogger posting content aligned with your brand, you’ll have a great starting point to get in touch.
The best platforms for influencers
Connecting with the right influencer on the right social media platform can help your hotel accomplish a range of goals, from building brand exposure and credibility to driving direct bookings. Depending on your marketing goals and target audience, the following three platforms their own unique set of benefits.
Facebook With close to nearly 2 billion monthly users, Facebook reigns supreme when it comes to global reach. A huge 1.28 billion use the platform every day, so connecting with the right kind of influencer can be a great way of reaching audiences throughout the travel journey.
It’s also a platform with a highly diverse demographic. While commonly assumed to be dominated by younger audiences, Facebook is used by 79% of 30 to 49-year-olds, and 56% of those aged 65 and over.
And with the ability to add a “Book Now” button on a Facebook Page, partnering with an influencer means that their followers can be more easily encouraged to book with your hotel through the same platform rather than being directed to your hotel website.
Instagram Instagram recently exceeded 600 million global users and its most popular influencers often have a celebrity-like status, lending incredible weight to their opinions and brand-sponsored endorsements.
It’s also driven by visuals more than any other social media platform, which is especially beneficial to hotels looking to promote their property, experiences, and destination.
But Instagram isn’t just about building exposure. Last year, Starwood Hotels & Resorts partnered with five Instagram influencers and featured a booking feature within their photos, posted while staying at two of Starwood’s new Parisian hotels.
Used creatively, Instagram influencers now offer the possibility of driving direct bookings.
Snapchat Instead of building commercial relationships with influencers, Snapchat prefers to encourage its social media icons to spontaneously share content like an everyday user.
Not that it isn’t effective for influencer marketing. A huge 85% of its audience are aged between 18 and 34, making it a great platform to reach younger audiences.
To reach this demographic, Marriott partnered with four social media influencers as part of their “6 days 7 nights” campaign, shot in various global destinations. The first three-minute long video showed fussy food eater, Jen Levinson, sampling new dishes in Berlin before heading back to the comfort of her Moxy hotel.
By understanding its conventions and the right creative treatment, Marriott’s campaign demonstrates the potential of partnering with Snapchat’s younger social media starlets.
Audiences and Brand Alignment
Additional factors that need to be considered are the influencer’s type of audience and brand alignment. The audience should match both the hotel’s distinct personality and its target market.
Starwood has recognized the importance of taking into account whether influencers can help tell the brand’s story, as they can provide an inside look at the property and the little details that build its brand.
The influencer’s audience then notices these unique, eye-catching elements, ultimately driving bookings and not merely providing free publicity for the hotel.
It should be noted that influencers don’t necessarily need to be social media celebs, but simply users with significant followings who are representative of a target market, like a social-savvy corporate traveler for a business hotel. Followers will more likely be able to relate to these down-to-earth personalities.
Addressing Compensation: Free or not too free
How should hotels compensate social media influencers for their posts and content? This is often a tricky system to navigate, as oftentimes agreements between hotel and influencer are ambiguous.
In many cases, hotels provide social influencers with complimentary stays and services, with the expectation that they will post at least a few times from the property. However, because no payment exchanges hands, the hotel has no control over the content or the number of posts received. In such cases, using an intermediary such as a PR agency can be a great help in establishing implicit and explicit expectations.
Hotels that want greater control of the messaging, content, and quantity of influencer posts can consider paying for it. In such cases, a proper contract between the influencer and hotel is necessary and should outline specific terms. Social media agencies such as Laundry Service can help hotels navigate these types of agreements.
Whether your hotel decides on paid or unpaid compensation, one thing is for sure: editorial style should always be left up to the influencer. These social media gurus have an established voice and style that has made them popular, so attempting to change this will make their posts and content seem much less organic and authentic.
Take for example, the Refinery Hotel in New York, which offered up a free night and complimentary meals to the writers of Taste the Style. The team developed a full editorial piece of Refinery Hotel that shows a different side of what typical hotel photos are like (see featured photo on the post, photography by Daniela Spector for Spherical Communications).
Measuring Success: Looking beyond the booking
Numbers-driven hotel managers often have trouble quantifying the success of influencer marketing. After all, how many likes equals a booking? How much revenue is generated per social influencer?
It seems sensible to be cautious about the amount spent on influencer marketing. That said, studies have shown influencer marketing helps with brand building. A recent study by Rhythm One found that for every $1 spent on influencer marketing, $2.26 in earned media value was returned.
This study offers a useful reference point for hotels to compare their own ROI to this industry’s average as well as others. Factors to consider include engagement (number of likes, comments, replies), virality (how often the content is re-posted or shared), and reach (how many people saw the post).
Other factors to consider include traffic to your hotel website, number of new followers on your social media page, and your hotel’s occupancy rates and ADR over time.
Ultimately you’ll want to see a positive relationship between the success of your influencer marketing and the long-term trends in your hotel’s performance.
Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in August 2015 and has been revamped and updated to include recent developments.