This post was originally written for Hawthorn Creative and published here.
For a hot second, “influencer marketing” was a win for hospitality content marketing - until the influencer backlash. Are micro-influencers the answer?
As usage of social media boomed over the past several years, so did the herd of marketers following their target demographic onto the various platforms, scrambling to find ways to leverage the power of an engaged audience to drive conversions. As areas of interest - like travel, weddings, and lifestyle - grew in popularity on platforms like Instagram, many destination marketers turned to a group of early adopters and celebrities with large followings who were willing to hawk goods and services to their followers. Thus, the dawn of the age of the “influencer” emerged.
Influencer Marketing: What Went Wrong
For a brief moment, it seemed like influencer marketing was the golden ticket to hospitality marketing. It seemed straightforward – Hotel A pays Influencer X to post a few well-edited photos promoting Hotel A to his or her feed, and Hotel A gains access to Influencer X’s cadre of followers. However, missteps in those early days led to a lot of noisy chatter on social media, but not a lot of ROI – that is, unless you define “ROI” as a bunch of “likes” and not much more.
In the wild west days of influencer marketing, partnerships weren’t transparently disclosed, leaving suspicious followers feeling duped by a formerly trusted personality. Even worse were the cringe-worthy instances where celebrities included brand instruction in the caption, an accidental (and, OK, hilarious) layer of transparency. Audiences were turned off by insincere endorsements and inauthentic partnerships, and both Influencer X and Hotel A suffered. In short order, there were rumblings that the death of influencer marketing was imminent. In a nutshell, that’s the fine line any brand must always walk in their content marketing strategy: You don’t want your audience to feel duped or slimy; instead, you want them to value your brand and what you produce by knowingly recognizing it comes from you.
Why Influencers Are Still a Valuable Hospitality Marketing Tool
Despite the gleeful cackles of those eager for influencer marketing to die, hold the phone. Studies show that 48 percent of users utilize Instagram to make vacation destination choices. How? By watching the feeds of their friends, family members, and the “influencers” they follow.
But – there’s a catch. These same users are no longer drinking the Kool-Aid those mega influencers and celebrities are doling out. Once a social media influencer has too many followers, they begin to lose audience engagement and the ability to drive conversions. A study by Collective Bias backs that up, revealing that consumers trust non-celebrity influencers far more than celebrities with millions of followers. Of course, you don’t want to hire a nobody with few followers, so where’s the sweet spot? An influencer with between 10,000 and 100,000 followers, recently dubbed the “micro-influencer.”
Micro-Influencer 101 For Content Marketing
Now that you know the magic number of followers, what’s the key to working with a micro-influencer to produce authentic campaigns that will resonate with his or her follower audience? We have a few tips for the new era of influencer marketing:
· Find the right micro-influencers. Use social listening to identify influencers who are authentically passionate about your hotel or destination. There’s a micro-influencer focused on travel who would jump at the chance to talk about your beach/spa/rooftop pool – trust us.
· Strategy first and foremost. We don’t want your influencer marketing to fall flat, and neither do you. Make sure your campaign strategy is rock solid to stand up to the scrutiny of social media. If crafting a strategy for an authentic, effective influencer campaign feels daunting, enlist a hospitality marketing agency to work with you.
· Determine the goals of the campaign early. Are you looking for engagement, reach, conversion, or a mixture of all three? Nail down exactly what you want to get out of the campaign, because this will dictate your execution.
· Focus on long-term, meaningful relationships with your micro-influencer. This undoubtedly requires more work than a short term, one-off transaction, but the partnership will feel more transparent to followers – and that’s critical. If you have multiple properties, create a campaign that allows your micro-influencer to showcase your entire collection over a six or twelve-month period.
· Release the death grip on brand voice. Whether your micro-influencer is doing an Instagram takeover of your feed or a campaign on their own feed, it’s critical that you allow him or her to be authentic and natural in the messaging. If you’ve done your homework and found the right micro-influencer, you shouldn’t have trouble trusting the content and voice he or she will use to engage followers.