Industry Update
Opinion Article21 August 2019

Are Social Influencers A Hotel Marketing Sham?

By Larry Mogelonsky, Managing Director Hotel Mogel Consulting Limited

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Miss Jane Doe has a hundred thousand followers on Instagram. She approaches your public relations or marketing manager looking for a full comp – a suite for three nights with her hubby/photographer in addition to all meals, some serious spa vouchers and transportation from the nearest airport.

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Boasting about her following, do you acquiesce and authorize this straightforward yet expensive, request?

Sure, someone may argue that the room caused no displacement because it may have been midweek while the meal was merely food cost and so on. But there is a lot of staff time involved in making sure this individual gets a proper VIP treatment. Increasingly, such social media personalities are known to be highly demanding to get the shots they want.

Will you ever see any return? What is the true monetary value of a single Instagram photo or Facebook post? Can anyone honestly say that there is any return here for the hotel?

Frankly, I’m skeptical at best and feeling that, at worst, it’s a pure scam!

Before the rise of social influencers, the standard practice was that media sent requests that could be categorized by the publications that they represented. Your PR team could then easily look up any individual on the magazine or newspaper masthead, confirm the assignment and plan accordingly. Comp a room and get an article. Simple and very effective when you had a top-flight PR firm or solid in-house team.

But in the digital era, eyeballs no longer have the patience for an 800-word editorial to melodically describe the true beauty of a destination. But just as print circulation has dropped, the digital editions have yet to pick up the slack. And consumers have not directly converted; they have gone elsewhere.

The traveling customer is still looking for information with Google searches as the typical starting point on this journey. After the prerequisite searches on TripAdvisor, the OTAs and other travel blogs, potential guests can drill down into brand or property websites to aid in their decision-making process. Often, traditional media articles or ads create some awareness that drives a specific property inquiry. One can only hope.

The metrics on this digital approach have been well-documented. Revenue managers are versed in the efficacy of various promotional activities designed to convert looks into books. But where does social media come into this equation? Does Miss Jane Doe having a hundred thousand followers mean that they all see her post? Knowing how quickly viewers scroll through their Instagram feeds, how long does each person actually interact with this post?

You can dwell on it, but unless it is exactly what you were already primed to look for at that particular point in time, such posts are merely digital noise. Digging deeper, why does this social influencer have a following? Is it because they are into fashion, food or travel? If so, what percentage of her followers overlap with your destination in terms of target demographic, geography and interests? Chances are this intersection is quite small, to say the least.

I’m open to anyone disputing this with some real, hard facts on an influencer campaign that showed a solid return on investment when compared to a traditional press trip of similar proportions and costs. Until then my recommendation is a polite, no thank you, and I would advise all hoteliers to adopt a similar policy.

A noteworthy caveat to this opinion is that there are a few exceptions, particularly for ancillary business functions. For spa, weddings and dining, influencers can be quite useful in generating critical awareness. Just make sure you select influencers that are directly targeted at these segments.

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