Industry Update
Opinion Article 3 October 2017

Should Hotels Embrace Influencers to Help Spread Their Word?

By Babs Harrison, Managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners

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The big new trend in hospitality marketing is influencers, that is, people with sizable followings on key social media outlets such as Facebook or Instagram or Pinterest, possibly also Twitter and maybe more obscure channels. But the big question has become: does this make any sense at all?

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What I will tell you is that using influencers makes superb sense - sometimes.

If you know how to do this.

The key is careful vetting of the influencers, setting clear expectations, and also knowing the property's PR and marketing goals.

Not achieving that kind of clarity is why some properties stumble into murky disappointments.

Understand, too, that there is not much new about influencers, not fundamentally. Years ago I recall destination spas, for instance, paying to have complimentary visits in goodie bags distributed to Oscar and Emmy winners. What's that actor or actress but an influencer?

I've also known of properties that, again years ago, courted celebrity and gossip columnists in the hope of getting very brief mentions in highly read columns. That's influencers again.

Ditto invitations to book authors.

Also royalty.

Hospitality has pretty much always courted influencers.

In the 21st century, the focus has switched to digital media, especially social media and the hoped-for output often is a cellphone photo with a short caption, posted to an account with hundreds of thousands, possibly millions of followers.

I have never recommended working with influencers who charge per post - sometimes as much as $250,000 for a single post. That may be money well spent, or it may not be, but my advice is to work with experts who really know that field and have ready access to the influencers you covet.

What I know about are influencers who, for a comped trip (which may include first-class airfare), will post comments online. No payment per post is involved. In that respect, this is much like a traditional media visit, except the media are untraditional.

Understand at the front end that the Federal Trade Commission is adamant that such relationships - both comped trips and cash - must be disclosed by the influencers. It recently sent out warning letters to a score of influencers. My advice is: don't tempt fate. Always make sure the disclosures are plain.

Handle that, however, and influencers can be a good bet - if the property is clear about what it expects to get in return for its hospitality. What that involves is getting clear on the number of posts, a sense of what the content might look like, and clear agreement on where the posts will appear.

Don't assume the influencers will post on a highly trafficked Facebook account - make sure that's the agreement and that a post on a little known social network isn't part of the deal.

In many ways this is a more clear-cut relationship than we usually have with traditional media. Sometimes a travel writer's story is spiked by an editor. Sometimes the publication is closed before the story runs.

That shouldn't happen with an influencer who, typically, posts when on property or immediately upon departure.

Another must do before making a deal with an influencer is to vet his/her social media friends and followers. There are many online tools that do this, often for small fees. It's money well spent. Many would-be influencers literally buy, for pennies apiece, tens of thousands of friends and followers to goose their numbers. Investigate before making a deal.

Also, spot check some of the friends. Are they your intended demographic? Read their posts. Be sure that this is the market you want before making a deal.

And do follow up to make sure the influencer lives up to the deal. Most do but it's good policy to track results and also to gather data, to be shared with hotel executives, about numbers of likes, shares, etc.

And do know - even Manhattan landlords sometimes swap pricey apartment rentals for influencer posts. That should tell you how valuable this channel can be.

Does all this sound rather easy? It is. That is why it is baffling that so many in hospitality seem stymied about how to use influencers.

Pick the right influencers, agree on the right campaign and - in an era of social media and images - you are adding a powerful tool to the marketing tool belt.

I see influencers supplementing - not replacing - traditional PR tactics such as seeking coverage in print and online media. But there no longer is any denying the powerful impact of social media and their influencers and so these are tools you need to be using.

Babs Harrison

Babs Harrison is managing director of Phoenix based Babs Harrison and Partners, a boutique public relations/marketing consultancy for select luxury resorts, hotels, and spas. Harrison has 25 years of experience in hospitality and has worked with leading brands in the US and internationally .

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