Travel marketers are told to embrace influencers: those demi-gods of social media who can wave a magic wand with a single post that instantly puts your hotel on the map or makes your attraction world-famous.
NB: This is a viewpoint by Rajul Chande, founder of Positive Partnerships.
This obsession with a "big bang" means the biggest social media influencers get inundated with proposals. So they can raise prices and offer less.
But maybe this approach is lopsided. Instead of putting heads on beds or bums on seats, it could be time to look at influencer marketing through a different lens.
Here is a three-pronged strategy we've been implementing for a luxury hotel collection for more than a year:
Content curation instead of hype
The true currency of social media is content. And since travel businesses are primarily geared up to offer a great experience to their customers, content creation is not usually their forte.
So why not base your influencer partnerships on joint curation of quality long-term content, to benefit both sides?
This idea was in fact given to us by an influencer and has led to some interesting collaborations.
In our case, it was geared towards creating a "library" of inspiring Instagram content around the local area near each hotel.
The approach wasn't prescriptive. We simply asked each influencer to enjoy an experience with our compliments and do what they always do on Instagram - create great content.
We deliberately put the emphasis on the destination rather than our property.
And we always prioritised the idea of creating a library of content over a long period of time above one-hit exposure.
We didn't even ask for photos of the hotels but they often did anyway: creating content ideal for our own use and aspirational for the influencer's followers.
Important: explicitly include a content sharing agreement in your proposal to the influencer.
Mega long-term collaborations
The second pillar is to build a durable relationship and be explicit about the timeframe.
This is the opposite of the typical transactional approach e.g. "you can stay with us in exchange for an Instagram post, a Facebook update and a tweet".
This was partly a result of measuring how little benefit accrued when our hotel clients had expensively hosted someone with millions of followers, purely based on their follower count (which sadly is how many approach this kind of partnership).
In practice, this means selecting social media influencers on the following criteria:
- Quality of content (especially brand coherence) above all - we ended up choosing several professional photographers instead of IG rockstars.
- Someone with a growing or mid-level following is often more enthusiastic than a big hitter and you will grow as they grow over time.
- The influencer's personal interaction with their audience is one of the best markers of true influence.
- Preference to influencers resident in your destination (including resident expats) rather than the typical globetrotting travel or lifestyle blogger.
The last point is critical because we found them returning to the hotel and giving us "waves" of interaction rather than one-off hits which disappear into the infinite ether of social media.
Also, those living in a city will continue to create relevant content a month later, six months later, two years after your initial contact, which you can continue to share and promote with them. And if you've chosen well, their audience will now be several multiples bigger.
We are in touch with our chosen influencers in each destination almost every day. The time horizon for the partnership is years rather than days or weeks.
Slow burn not quick hit
The above mindset inevitably leads to a steady trickle of benefits over time rather than a one-off spurt.
Ironically, by emphasising joint content curation above short-term publicity, you increase the probability of obtaining the latter.
Result: our client's Instagram following is growing by 10-15% consistently every month since adopting the above strategy. Engagement has nearly doubled.
- Selection of influencers - mid-level audience, local to you, amazing photographers
- Set expectations clearly - make long-term content curation the goal from the outset
- Stay in daily contact on social media - constantly promote their content proactively. Influencers don't expect a brand to give as well as take and will reward you.
- Personal relationship built between the hotel team and the influencer - they come back if you offer a good experience and freedom to do their thing
- Be organised - we curate our content library systematically and track constantly to learn.
Too many compete for influencers with the same short-term pitch, so put the emphasis on content curation and select influencers in synch with this goal.
Measure and reward those who become consistent advocates of your brand over an extended timeframe.
NB: This is a viewpoint by Rajul Chande, founder of Positive Partnerships, a digital marketing agency in the travel sector.
NB2:Travel influencer image via BigStock.