For hotel marketers, it’s become an all-too-common e-mail: A self-dubbed social media “influencer” is planning to be in your town and wants a free stay at your hotel, in exchange for some dazzling Instagram posts.
It could garner your property a lot of lucrative eyeballs, or it could be a total waste of time and resources.
How do you know?
The process of vetting requests by social media influencers—people whose social profiles display a large following—and determining if an influencer’s audience is aligned with your hotel’s targeted demographic, is becoming increasingly critical for hotel marketers (especially luxury resort marketers), who are often deluged by these requests.
In most cases, hotels are dealing with influencers on a reactionary basis, usually just responding to incoming queries, rather than turning the tables and seeking out desirable influencers
“A lot of hotels just wait for someone to ask, mostly because they don’t have the bandwidth to go and put a real strategy together and proactively reach out to the right people. They don’t have a sound methodology for finding influencers,” said Tom McDermott, director of content marketing at Tambourine. “Do they start scrolling through feeds? Do they look at other hotels? How do they identify the right folks? That’s a huge hurdle for hotels, so instead, they usually wait for people to come to them.”
An Abundance of Fakes
The situation is exacerbated by the amount of fraudulent so-called influencers currently operating on social media. Even the follower counts of legitimately effective influencers may be overinflated by fake followers, inactive accounts, bought connections and more, making it absolutely imperative to discover an influencer’s true reach before offering them a free bed.
“There is a lot of fraud on these Instagram accounts, so it’s really important that we properly vet because it’s an epidemic of fake followers. On the surface level, you can easily be fooled,” said McDermott. “There are influencers who are fakes, and influencers who don’t deserve to come to your property, because they’re going to provide no value.”
To maximize your returns and avoid falling prey to social media scammers, we want to help you take more control of influencer relationships.
Here are five steps to help you identify which influencers are real and right for your marketing needs:
1. Harness audience insights
Start with amassing and analyzing basic audience insights on various social media channels, pooling insights for each influencer, which is a quick way of identifying influencers who don’t have followings in an area you are targeting. Many influencers are from outside the U.S., for example, and may not have a following who are likely to travel to your location.
“They might have a lot of followers from Indonesia, who will never care about your hotel,” said McDermott. “Do they have a demographic that is your demographic? People say yes to all these influencers and have no idea where their audience actually comes from….”
Some of the ways you can gather the needed intel to make these distinctions include asking the influencer to provide a screenshot of their audience insights, using a third-party influencer tool to gain access to their insights, or partnering with an expert hotel social media agency like Tambourine (sorry, shameless plug ;-). Whatever methods you employ, remember: It’s just one branding initiative; another component of your 360-degree marketing plan.
“Hotels feel like they’re missing out on an opportunity when they see an influencer with a big following,” said McDermott. “They think, ‘We’ve got to jump on this.’ We counsel them to slow down… and do it right. Everyone relax. This person isn’t going to put 400 heads in your beds this weekend.”
2. Study their past content
Once you’ve determined that an influencer has a large, pertinent audience, dig into their content.
Is it any good?
Will this influencer represent your property well? Is their style, aesthetic, focus, etc. in line with the story and voice of your property? These are some of the key things to consider when scrolling through influencer feeds.
“You don’t want to align yourself with an image that’s not your property,” said McDermott. “If you’re a luxury property, you’re not going to let a non-luxury-influencer come to your property and post a bunch of off-brand stuff. There needs to be an alignment with your brand.”
Even if an influencer gets a ton of quality engagement, and their demographic aligns with your hotel, the relationship is worth more if their content is incredible. So be sure to ask a lot of detailed questions about things like their photography skills and process, and who will be physically snapping the pics when the influencer arrives.
“Are you going to be taking the photography, or are you traveling with a partner? I see you’re in the shot in all of these, so who’s taking these photos?” said McDermott. “Ask these granular questions about the photography, because it’s easy to fool somebody. They’re promising to post to their platform; they’re not promising a certain quality of content.”
For those influencers who do seemingly create excellent content, instead of just partnering to access an influencer’s audience, you can ask for some “extras.” This can include concessions like having them shoot 10-12 high-quality photographs of your property, which can later become valuable additions to your marketing materials.
3. Determine if their audience is actually engaged
An influencer may appear to have a massive number of followers, but that audience is nothing more than an illusion if those followers do not regularly engage with the influencer, and/or if some of those supposed followers are really just fake profiles. That’s why it’s critical to also determine the quality of an influencer’s following.
A great method of making such distinctions is to measure an influencer’s Like/Follower Ratio, which compares the amount of followers an influencer has to the volume of likes that influencer gains on their posts. Other things to look for include the volume of user comments on an influencer’s post and periods of massive follower growth in short bursts, which may be an indicator that the influencer is buying followers.
“If they have 2 million followers, but only 1% of their followers actually engage, we know that’s an inflated fan base,” said McDermott. “Find influencers with a healthy like/follower ratio who don’t make you suspicious.”
For more insights along these lines, there are multiple third-party resources like InfluencerDB, which you can use to discover whether an influencer is growing their following through either organic or manipulative means.
4. Choose influencers who give more…
Ask proposed influencer partners if they are willing to provide your hotel with more than just social media posts. Accommodating an influencer may be more valuable to your hotel if the influencer is also willing to provide additional unedited assets, like photos and videos you can reuse for your broader marketing campaigns.
If they’re open to this, have them send you some past samples of similar work they’ve done. Don’t be afraid to ask for more than the influencer is currently offering. It’s a competitive marketplace and a free stay at your property is valuable!
“Are they over-delivering, or are they holding you hostage to one post? You can feel free to negotiate with those influencers. There are no rules,” said McDermott. “If they’re only willing to give you one post, and no unedited photos, and they’re not going to post multiple times, say no. There are ways of going in and finding out how willing they are to over-deliver. That’s a really big differentiator.”
5. Consider their loyalty
Find out if an influencer is interested in offering you an exclusive opportunity in your market, or if they’ll simply be staying (and posting) at your hotel one night, and then moving on the next night to your competitor right down the street.
If the influencer doesn’t seem to have particular knowledge, care and/or affinity for your hotel/brand, it might not be worth it to accommodate their request for a comp stay at your property.
“You see this all the time: They’ll say, ‘I’d like to spend the night at the St. Regis San Francisco, and then I’m going to stay at the W next door for night two.’ They have no attachment to your brand, or love for your brand; they’re just looking for a free stay in exchange for posting,” said McDermott. “The big question is: Is this really of value to you, to have someone who’s literally hopping from one hotel to the next? Are you looking for a brand loyalist, or someone who’s just looking for free stays?”
Tambourine uses technology and creativity to increase revenue for hotels and destinations worldwide. The firm, now in its 34th year, is located in New York City, Carlsbad, and Fort Lauderdale.
Please visit: www.Tambourine.com