A guide for hotels battling influencer influenza – an illness brought on by overexposure to requests for ‘hosted stays’

With more than 500 million people using Instagram each day, and 2.38 billion active users on Facebook per month, it’s little wonder modern marketing strategies include a heavy focus on social media.

As these platforms have evolved, so too has the way marketers use them to reach consumers, and one of the outcomes is the divisive strategy known as ‘influencer marketing’. Essentially, this is the practice of using people with influence (aka ‘influencers’ – gag!) to promote a product to their audience, which is usually quite niche and engaged.

Alongside fashion and beauty, the world of hospitality has been one of the industries that has most effectively embraced – and depending how you look at it, been besieged by – influencer marketing.

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As a marketing agency for some of the world’s most luxurious and unique resorts, we’ve seen the pros and cons, the benefits and fallbacks, the success and failures of influencer marketing firsthand; and to be completely honest, we are still perched precariously on the fence about the concept.

Our opinion on the matter frequently oscillates between excitement about the possibilities some (professional) influencer partnerships afford our clients and disbelief over the audacity and self-righteousness of some self-proclaimed influencers.

On behalf of the properties we represent, we’re inundated on a daily basis with requests from influencers – both legit and not – who want a free stay in exchange for exposure on their channels. Between Instagram direct messages, emails, website enquiries and even comments on our personal social media channels, we’re perpetually hounded and can often be heard (respectfully) groaning as yet another entitled message pops up on our screen.

We can definitely confirm that there are a lot of faux-influencers floating around who are trying to get a free ride, and unfortunately, they do tarnish the whole game. However, they’re usually easy to spot and differentiate from the pros. Their proposals (if you can call sliding into your DMs with a waving emoji a proposal) lack substance, are poorly written and have clearly been constructed for mass distribution (the Instagram version of cold calling).

For this reason, some properties have opted out of the debacle entirely, enforcing strict ‘no influencer’ policies. We totally respect and understand this decision – especially for those hotels and resorts that run at such a high occupancy rate they don’t need any extra exposure.

On the other hand, there’s no denying that Instagram is a powerful platform and with the right strategy, influencer marketing can be a powerful tool, so let’s take a quick look at the benefits:
What are the advantages of influencer marketing? According to a recent survey, more than 40% of travellers under 33 prioritise ‘Instagrammability’ when choosing their next holiday spot, so if millennials make up a large portion of your core demographic, marketing within the platform is a no-brainer.

Good influencers (and we’ll chat about how to tell the good from the bad shortly) know how to take beautiful photos. They know when the lighting is right, which angles are most flattering, which palm fronds will cast favourable silhouettes, which cocktails will make their followers squeal and which experiences will inspire the highest amount of wanderlust.

This helps build the guest dream, especially because influencers’ followers trust them. When an influencer spruiks a destination, it holds more water than if a tourism board or you, the resort, were to do the same.

Additionally, it generates quality content and considering Instagram is a highly visual platform, stand-out content is key. Not only will the influencers’ followers see amazing shots of your property (and hopefully be inspired to book their own stay), you will also have access to great content for your own channels and marketing materials.

A great example of a partnership between a resort and an influencer is when world-leading barefoot luxury brand, Soneva, hosted Australian influencer, at their luxury resort in the Maldives. Soneva Fushi was exposed to a dedicated following of two million and the resort gained a sweep of new lifestyle content – win-win!

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How to choose the right influencer? First and foremost, you need to be convicted in your understanding of who your core client is. What’s your core demographic? What’s their disposable income? What’s their style? The better you know your own client, the more targeted your influencer marketing strategy can be. Secondly, it’s important you ensure your own social media game is up to scratch before you engage with influencers. Scrub up your Instagram account by posting consistently high-quality, engaging and informative content so that when your influencer’s followers click through, they’re equally impressed by what they see on your page and hit the old ‘follow’ button (followed ideally by the book button!)

While you’re at it, ensure your sales funnels are in place so you can capitalise on new traffic to your Instagram account. Make sure you have your website and contact details in your bio so that people can ask questions, find out more, and find themselves easily at your booking engine.

When it comes to actually choosing the right influencer for your property, there are a few things to consider. Firstly, as we’ve already established, Instagram is a hyper-visual channel so obviously their aesthetic needs to align with yours. If you’re an industrial-chic, inner city hotel, an influencer with a page full of dramatic landscape images isn’t going to be the best fit

Hand-in-hand with this concept is the need for your influencer’s audience to align with your core demographic (as discussed earlier). If we use the example above, we can safely assume that the audience of an influencer specialising in nature travel is interested in similar outdoorsy experiences, so they might be less inclined to book your urban establishment than the followers of an influencer who regularly frequents the hottest hotel openings around the world.

Secondly, it’s important they share the same values and ethos as your brand. What makes a great influencer is how authentic their content is and how well-positioned they are to connect with their audience on the message you want to convey, so you need to ask yourself would they be a natural fit? For example, if you’re a sustainable hotel, are they already discussing things related to sustainability or are they rocking a plastic water bottle in every second shot?

Once you’ve found an influencer who fits your criteria, it’s a good idea to assess their engagement and reach. You’ve probably heard the terms ‘bots’ and ‘bought followers’ and unfortunately we’re here to confirm that both of these nasty rumours are true – some people genuinely do pay for their followers, so it’s wise to check the influencer you want to work with is actually marketing your property to real people.

There are plenty of tools online that help you to do this so we recommend spending some time searching for the ones that work best for you, or else ask us, we’re more than happy to flick you some resources.

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How to logistically manage the partnership? Our biggest tip is to treat every relationship with an influencer like you would any business partnership. Keep it professional, agree on the deliverables beforehand and ensure both parties sign a contract.

You’re in a position to outline what you want in return for hosting influencers, so be clear and upfront about your expectations from the beginning. If you want to see two page posts and two stories per day of the stay, plus have access to 20 high-resolution images after the fact, be confident to say so.

This also allows you to have more creative control of the process. For example, if you need more content of the activities on offer at your resort, make sure you include that in the agreement so the influencers know they’re expected to provide images of your diving, stand-up paddle boarding and glass-blowing offerings.

On that note, we’ve always found it works best if there’s a team member onsite (whether it’s the GM or guest relations manager) who can host the influencers for the duration of their stay, answer any questions they may have, show them the highlights of the property, and ensure every nook and cranny is looking polished for photographs.

Part 1 – Research – Identify your core demographic so you can choose the most relevant influencers. – Give your own Instagram some TLC. – use high-quality images. – Write engaging and informative captions. – Ensure your sales funnels are in place. – Include a link to your website in your Instagram bio. – Make sure your website is user-friendly and easy to navigate. – Analyse potential influencers’ aesthetic to ensure it matches your. – Consider their audience and make sure it aligns well with your core. – Confirm they share your brand’s values and ethos. – Assess their engagement and reach

Part 2 – Execution – Keep it professional and ensure both parties sign a contract. – Agree on deliverables beforehand. – Outline exactly what you want/expect from the partnership. – Brief someone onsite to host the influencer and ensure the process runs smoothly.

If you ever have any questions about working with influencers or get stuck, we’ve been doing this longer than the term ‘influencer’ has even been around, so we’re happy to provide you with a personalised strategy. We’re just a phone call – or DM – away!

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