When it comes to marketing, few tools are as powerful as
social media. Thanks to their sizable caches of personal data, platforms like
Facebook and Instagram have made it easier than ever for brands to target
specific markets based on age, location, gender and interests.
What can vary widely, however, is how marketers choose to
target audiences. One of the fastest-growing methods is Instagram influencer
marketing, which focuses on using prominent individuals, typically with large
numbers of followers, to promote goods and services.
"The impact of social media has completely changed the
way travelers are making their decisions," said Dorothy Dowling, senior
vice president and chief marketing officer for Best Western Hotels &
Resorts, which has grown its Instagram following to more than 30,000. "In
the age of people posting and sharing their lives online, users are more
inclined to make travel decisions based on what their friends or followers are
Hotels in particular have proven themselves adept at
harnessing influencer partnerships, offering discounts, complimentary stays or
monetary compensation in exchange for promotional Instagram posts and other
Rachel Kaplan, director of digital marketing at Dream
Hotels, which has more than 55,000 followers on Instagram, said, "Our
Instagram influencers are essentially brand ambassadors, and they can be
Kaplan pointed to a recent Instagram partnership with
lifestyle influencer @gigigorgeous, who has more than 2 million followers and
worked with Dream Hotels to successfully promote the brand's Pride campaign in
June. But while @gigigorgeous' following is certainly sizable, Kaplan said an
influencer's effectiveness is more dependent on the quality of his or her
following than on the number of followers.
"The influencer market is getting oversaturated,"
Kaplan said. "So we want to make sure we're vetting our influencers and
working with people who make sense for us. Having a large following is great,
but the biggest thing for us is engagement."
According to Kaplan, Dream Hotels has also gotten traction
from influencers within the 5,000- to 50,000-follower range.
Likewise, Dan Schacter, director of social engagement and
public relations for Red Lion Hotels Corp., agreed that more isn't always
better when it comes to influencer marketing.
"We've found the most success with some of the smaller
influencers, because we can be more targeted," Schacter said. "They're
also generally cheaper to work with."
Red Lion, which is currently ramping up social media efforts
for its Hotel RL and Signature brands and its Hello Rewards loyalty program,
has forged recent partnerships with family-oriented lifestyle influencers like
@chanteamcintyre, who has close to 23,000 followers, and @lanadmitruks, who has just over 41,000.
Emphasis on authenticity
Schacter said it's important to ensure that an influencer's
following is authentic, as some Instagrammers attempt to pad their numbers by
purchasing fake followers. Tools like Fohr provide detailed information on an
influencer's audience, helping marketers winnow the wheat from the chaff.
Once an influencer has been fully vetted, it's time to
hammer out details of an agreement. New York-based lifestyle blogger Sunita
Ramnarine, who often works with hotel brands and has nearly 170,000 Instagram
followers under @sunitav_, said that when it comes to negotiating marketing
partnerships, it's important that it be mutually beneficial.
"There has to be a balance in terms of the amount of
work that's being asked of me and how I'm being compensated," she said. "Being
an influencer isn't about doing favors. It's a business, and both parties need
to equally benefit."
She is represented by a management company that sets and
negotiates rates for her Instagram posts, videos and stories.
Red Lion's Schacter said every influencer approaches
"There's no set rule on how much a post is worth,"
he said. "So it's about having the conversation with each influencer and
figuring out what works best for them and your brand. Sometimes we're paying
them directly. Sometimes we look at giving them free stays."
And sometimes, he said, influencers simply "want to
receive a discount."
In addition to the traditional influencer model, Red Lion
Hotels is also exploring an affiliate program that would enable individuals to
share promo codes via social media and receive a commission based on how many
people book using an influencer's code.
Many established hotel accounts continue to leverage
influencer relationships, among them Jumeirah. Located in Dubai, the Burj Al
Arab claims to be the hotel with the most Instagram followers, 784,000.
As for what kind of influencer the brand is seeking,
Florence Dubois, Jumeirah's chief brand and communications officer, said, "We
look to work with those who complement our brand vision and support us in
creating alternative content from a different perspective."
Regardless of whether an influencer has 5 million followers
or 5,000, however, the key to a successful social media strategy is
"I make sure to only partner with brands and people
that I really like and that are a good fit," Ramnarine said. "When
creating content, it's really about ... making sure it doesn't look forced."
Erina Pindar, managing director of the SmartFlyer agency,
whose @thesmartflyer Instagram account has grown to nearly 23,000 followers,
"It's important to understand all the available
channels and identify how those relate to your industry, your business model
and what your clients want to see, and figure out what makes the most sense for
your brand," she said. "Instagram gives us the opportunity to allow
followers to feel immersed in the experience as if they were there themselves."
Meanwhile, though social media trends are always shifting,
most marketers see Instagram as having major staying power.
Christine Espinoza, director of digital and social marketing
for W Hotels, said, "The visual nature of Instagram is such a perfect
match for travel. It's also increasingly where travelers are turning to
discover new destinations, restaurants and hotels, and [they're] planning their
vacations with those 'instaworthy' moments in mind. It's more and more
important that we maintain a strong Instagram presence as a brand."