I know many people might look at the title of the article and think, “ugh, influencers.”
It’s one of the many terms that have become mainstream in the last decade, thanks to the internet completely rewriting the way we communicate, make decisions and advertise.
Influencer, along with SEO (search engine optimization), MarTech (short for marketing technology), automation, and digital are just a few of the new wave terms making their way into daily marketing conversations.
While they may seem new, confusing, or yes, even silly, to traditionalists, at their core, they are not that different from other long-loved and proven marketing strategies that may not make you say “UGH,” (or other expletives not appropriate for this article!)
Influencers = word of mouth
SEO = research and written word
MarTech = email platforms
Automation = business efficiency
Digital = print
At their core, these “newer” marketing strategies are based on what has historically always worked. And historically, you may hate the word “influencers” but I bet you are familiar with the success word-of-mouth marketing has always had.
It works because people have ALWAYS valued the opinions of the people they know, like, and trust. That used to be limited to those you interacted with in person. Now, it can be anyone, anywhere in the world.
The internet literally expanded people’s advice circles.
Instead of asking the neighbor for a cup of sugar, now people are crowdsourcing their social platforms for the best kind of sugar that they can order for their specific dietary needs. (See 13 Best Digital Marketing Strategies for Resorts and Vacation Rentals That’ll Increase Bookings)
So, if you think your resort would benefit from positive word-of-mouth marketing, I encourage you to consider adding influencers to your marketing strategy or at least be open to working with them. The key is working with the right ones to ensure a bad experience doesn’t cause you to turn your back on the right opportunities.
Resorts and companies who are ready to enthusiastically jump into influencer marketing need to develop a well-planned strategy for finding, working with, and managing their influencer network.
As with any marketing initiative, a strategy is a thread that holds the whole thing and all its pieces together.
The following are items that need to be considered when working with influencers.
The trickiest (and typically most overwhelming) part of influencer marketing is choosing the influencers that are a good fit.
But the exciting thing is just how narrowly you can define that fit!
There are two types of influencers: macro and micro. Macro influencers are the big ones that would be considered celebrities. These influencers have 6-8 figure follower numbers and reserve their social space for major advertisers paying the big bucks. If you are a large developer, macro influencer agreements have a lot of potentials to reach massive groups of people.
But, that’s like a mainstream media buy. The advertising equivalent of Super Bowl ads. I don’t believe that’s where the untapped opportunity of influencers in the timeshare space is. The opportunity is in the micro.
What is a Mirco-Influencer?
Micro-influencers, by definition, have to have less than 1 million followers. However, influencers with 10,000-500,000 followers aren’t mainstream. These numbers suggest they are more of a niche.
What East Coast resort wouldn’t be interested in a direct recommendation to 10,000 moms who all enjoy road trips with their kids and live within driving distance? That’s the level of specificity you can reach when you select the right influencers.
You can utilize what you know about your location to define micro audiences. For example, the Berkshires of Massachusetts is practically a wellness holy land and resorts there would benefit from working with East coast based wellness and yoga influencers.
Because there are so many micro-influencers out there, they are harder to select than traditional media buying. The simplest way to find influencers is to search hashtags you’ve identified as being associated with your target audience, but that’s a labor-intensive undertaking and provides limited data.
There are a variety of tools such as Dovetail, #paid, upfluence, and AspireIQ (just to name a few) that can help search and vet people by breaking down details and data on each influencers engagement, target audience, and more. Plan to spend a large majority of your strategy
I recommend looking at the following when vetting influencers:
- Quality of content – are their online photos and videos eye-catching?
- Post engagement – someone may have 100,000 followers, but only 4 comments and 10 likes on most of their posts which shows that most of the followers do not actively see or interact with them. A successful influencer program will be based off engagement, not follower count.
- Audience – what kind of audience is their content geared towards? Travelers? Moms?
- What’s a fair value for their services? Gone are the days of requesting a spec sheet from a magazine and being held hostage to their rates. Now, it’s a liquid market with trades, stays and money making up the influencer currency.
Setting It All Up
There are two ways to structure an influencer program for a resort; one-time and ongoing.
One-time programs are typically used to generate content, some inbound links, and reviews. They typically involve a free stay and a lump of content created immediately during and after the stay.
Purpose: content + review
Cost: typically exchange for a free stay
There are a variety of ways to structure an ongoing influencer agreement, but the most trackable way is to assign a specific offer code to each person and for every booking, they generate they make a certain percentage or a flat rate.
Agreements structured this way gives the influencer the ongoing reward to continuously create content focused on your property or business. In this type of agreement, an influencer will typically visit the property, maybe multiple times, and become a known and ongoing “ambassador” for the resort.
Purpose: direct bookings, brand awareness, ongoing content
Cost: % of bookings made or flat finders fee per booking
No matter what strategy is right for you to work with influencers, here are some pro tips for getting the most out of your influencer marketing efforts.
- Select a point person to make sure the influencer is creating the right kind of content and delivering it in a format that your resort or company can repurpose.
- Branded freebies. Ensure you set their room up with a few branded freebies. Influencers like to share so if you give them more things to take photos of, they will.
- Set expectations up front. You can’t vaguely say “we’d like some content and reviews.” It needs to be as specific. For example, a minimum of 10 photos, 2 videos, 5 social posts, 1 blog post and a review on these 3 platforms.
How Do You Track This Stuff?
Tracking is where most influencer campaigns leave people with a bad experience. If the advertiser does not proactively set up data points to measure then it might seem like nothing happened from an influencer. Data points I recommend tracking are:
- Social engagement – did your platforms receive higher than average engagement on days when an influencer featured you? Does the content you post from them have higher, lower and equal engagement rates than the rest.
- Web traffic – does your organic web traffic spike on days when influencers posted? (It’s always been important to try and collect emails on your website, with recent changes to Google and Facebook tracking for data privacy it’s even more important to collect 1st party data (simply put – make an effort to collect their email address on your website, your marketing opportunities will be deeply expanded)
- Bookings! Of course, promo codes, hidden field forms and special tracked call numbers can help ensure actual bookings and revenue are properly attributed to every marketing channel that played a part is earning that business.
Additional Ways To Utilize Influencers
There’s no right or wrong way to work with influencers, only best practices, and strategy. The following are a couple of additional ways resorts can see success from influencer marketing.
Host Influencer Events
If you have a bundle of inventory that goes unused, you could set up an influencer event where you invite a select number of content creators to your property, set them up with a VIP experience in exchange for social media and website content, an honest review of your property and shares across their social platforms.
Responding to Influencer Inquires
The travel space is hot for influencers (obviously, it’s visual and brag-worthy) so it’s not uncommon that you might have a micro-influencer reach out and request a free stay in exchange for their services.
Sometimes, this outreach is legitimate and sometimes it isn’t. My advice is to utilize the same vetting parameters you would if you were actively reaching out and determine if they are a good fit that will provide value aligned with the cost of their requested reservation or not.
Writing these off as silly could cost an opportunity and agree without vetting the person may leave you thinking that influencers are scammy. Some are, most aren’t. I recommend taking a serious look at inquiries that may come your way.
I encourage anyone who thinks “ugh” when they hear the word influencers to try thinking of it as “highly-targeted and trackable word of mouth advertising” and see if your openness to trying it expands.
Kelley Ellert is a marketing consultant and strategist who is on a constant search for ways to modernize resort marketing and chat strategy with other travel professionals. Look her up on LinkedIn @kelley-ellert.