When 60 Minutes ran a recent segment on the emergence of social media personalities and their role as influencers, it served as a very public acknowledgment of this phenomena and another reminder of why every travel brand should be playing in this arena. More than ever, influencers have grown to become their own distinct media channels, offering marketers the chance to tap directly into an existing conversation with a highly targeted and engaged audience with very focused interests.
Just how significant influencers have become to our industry was reinforced in a recent conversation I had with the CMO of a global, mid-scale hotel brand. She shared that influencers had become such a vital cog in how people get their ideas and recommendations for where they should consider going and staying next that her company has decided to shift a very significant portion of their 2017 marketing budget from “traditional television and broadcast media” to paid influencer campaigns instead.
It’s a decision that research would seem to support. A study from Twitter shows that 49% of consumers seek purchase guidance from social media influencers and nearly 40% of Twitter users said that they made a purchase as a direct result of an influencer’s tweet. Perhaps most compelling is a study from RhythmOne that attempts to measure the growing value and return on influencer marketing. In 2014, they found an average return of $6.85 in earned media value for every dollar spent on influencer marketing, with those numbers increasing in 2015 to $9.60 for every dollar spent. Isolating the travel and tourism category, those numbers grew to $12.54 for every dollar spent and most predict that these returns will continue to grow for the foreseeable future.
As you consider building your own approach to leveraging and influencing the influencers, here are some things to consider:
Very Little Is Free
While some influencers are still willing to work with you in exchange for product or experiences or for a very small fee, that number is decreasing. In September of last year, 79.4% of influencers reported that their rate was $500 or less, but that number had shrunk to 55.3% in July of this year. So it’s important that you dedicate and likely increase your marketing budget in this area to maximize the effectiveness of influencer marketing. We have also found that it’s been more effective to have multiple posts and activity from a select group of influencers that brands regularly maintain and work with, than lots of one-offs. Look to develop your own “go-to” roster that can be a mix of large and small, free and paid, that you get to know, understand and can rely on.
A Web Celebrity Is Different Than A Traditional Celebrity
Movie, music and television celebrities can often have massive followings and viewership, but you’ll usually find that the relative level of engagement is often a much lower percentage when compared to celebrities who were birthed on the web. A web celebrity has typically mastered the platforms and medium, and they tend to create and manage the flow of content in a way that is consistently more relevant to their followers. This allows your product to be more carefully and authentically integrated into the conversation and message, which will generally lead to much higher engagement levels.
Focus On Quality Over Quantity
The numbers game you want to play is really about relevance and driving engagement, not simply quantity and reach. There’s nothing wrong with getting your brand in front of lots of eyeballs, but the goal is to get consumers engaged with and interacting in some way with your brand, so look for influencers who are driving a lot of shares, posts and other signs of engagement.
Look For Shared Interests, Values And Voice
Obviously, one of the most challenging aspects of influencer marketing is finding the optimal influencers for your brand. There is no shortage of services and tools that can aid in this quest including Buzzsumo, Little Bird, Klout, TrendSpottr, Followerwonk and many more. But no matter which tools you use, your underlying goal should always be to align your strategies, mission and message with those influencers who have a voice that fits your brand. Is their style and approach one that your brand can thrive within and, ultimately, are they someone who truly believes in and enjoys your product?
Work To Develop A True Relationship
Part of the process of identifying the right influencers is to take the time to really get to know and understand them. You are looking to build a strong relationship so follow them, engage with their content, network with them at conferences and always respect their time. The more effort you dedicate to these activities the more certain you can be that they are the right fit. And when you do start to work with them, treat them as a true business partner complete with insider access. Most importantly, give them the creative freedom to tell your story in their distinct style. The influencer’s brand and voice is their secret sauce, so let them take the lead.
Strive For Transparency
The strength of an influencer lies in the relationship and trust that they’ve built with their audience. Beyond the moral obligation, the influencer also has a legal one (mandated by the FCC) to disclose if they are getting paid or receiving any perks or freebies in exchange for their review or potential endorsement. So don’t ask them to compromise that trust by not revealing their relationship to your brand.
Content That Keeps On Giving
It’s important that you structure your arrangement with the influencer so that you have the right to link to, repurpose and repost all the pictures, videos and other content that they’re creating. This can become a very cost-effective way to bolster your own content creation and it can help the influencer expand their reach and visibility. Plus, the reputation of the influencer can often add considerable credibility to your products when featured on your site.
Establish Measurement And Accountability
While measuring specific ROI on influencer campaigns remains a challenge, it’s still essential that you work with your influencers to discuss and establish some metrics from which you can evaluate success. Some of those can include measuring traffic generated to a specific website, shares, comments, contest engagement and sales linked to unique promotional offerings or codes.
There’s no doubt that influencer marketing is vitally important in a world where third-party recommendations and word of mouth informs so many decisions among travelers. More than ever, travel brands need to be sure they’re committing the appropriate resources and effort to truly harness the influence of influencers.