Industry Update
Opinion Article15 October 2021

Rethinking influencer relationships post-COVID

By Ismael El-Qudsi, Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer at SocialPubli.com

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After a strange and tumultuous year and a half, people seem to be traveling more, with both business and personal travel on the rise.

And, as hotel and airline bookings go up, influencers are expected to be among the first travelers to start spreading their wings and safely seeking out adventure. With all eyes on social media, influencers can provide a powerful storytelling focal point for hospitality brands looking to drive awareness and re-engagement.

At the same time that the pandemic shifted ideas on social distancing and safe travel, it also changed the way in which people use the internet. It’s not about going back to business as usual but about rethinking the way influencer marketing is done.

To successfully launch or relaunch influencer campaigns, hotel marketers must thoughtfully reassess their strategy and how it fits into the brave new world of post-pandemic travel. Below are five factors hotel marketers should take into account as they rethink their influencer strategies:

1. Long-term, monetized collaborations are here to stay.

The pandemic has shown influencers the need for stability in their income streams and partnerships. Influencers who might have worked for free or for in-kind sponsorship are looking for a long-term financial component in their ongoing strategies.

With travel planning more tenuous in the wake of an ongoing pandemic, brands need the additional loyalty a long-term partnership provides. When a potential traveler books because of an influencer relationship, you want that desire to visit and enjoy your property to remain even amid potential pandemic-related delays or changes in plans.

On the brand side, this partnership shift means fewer one-offs where a bevy of influencers blitz the market for a special event or promotion. Instead, long-term, ongoing collaborations will be used to cement relationships. To succeed in this long-term partnership market, consider developing an ambassador program, where influencers regularly share news, information and updates about your brand and build long-term awareness and interest among your target consumers.

2. The role of influencers as professional content creators solidifies.

COVID meant studios across the country were closed, and often closed more than once.

That meant brands and businesses were scrambling to keep fresh content in front of their audiences.

When brands couldn’t get their glossy, high production value content created in a timely manner, they knew where to turn. Influencers stepped in to produce high-quality and engaging content to help brands maintain a constant flow of posts.

The perception of influencers as amateurish content producers has shifted to that of professional content creators. They have effectively demonstrated their value as a cost-effective marketing option, producing high-quality content that is authentic and engaging because of their experience and their intimate knowledge of the social landscape.

In fact, 73 percent of TikTok influencers surveyed by our team in a 2021 poll, reported dedicating between one and five hours to TikTok each day and 65 percent post content daily.

3. Go local first.

For the U.S., domestic travel has already begun to bounce back, with masses of tourists visiting national parks and other iconic destinations. In fact, the record-setting boom in national park visits led to the implementation of selfie stations in some of the nation’s most scenic settings.

Americans are likely to continue this trend, roadtripping and visiting drivable locations as they get their travel legs back under them.

Partnerships with local influencers will play a key role in raising awareness about these destinations and encouraging followers to visit. As travel reopens, prioritize relationships with influencers in your local communities.

They know the market, the most attractive tourist spots and the hidden gems that make people feel like they’ve discovered something amazing even if they’re just getting out of the house for a weekend staycation in their hometown. Utilizing these local partnerships can be a great way to create ongoing content that attracts potential repeat guests.

4. Size does not matter.

Bigger isn’t always better in the influencer world. The trend towards microinfluencer marketing is likely to accelerate as more brands turn to these small but mighty players to drive engagement within their target audiences.

72 percent of buyers said that an influencer’s follower number has no bearing on how likely they are to trust or engage with them. Instead of going for influencers who are big (and costly!), consider targeting the ones who align most closely with your brand’s audience.

You can search them out using an influencer marketing platform to find the best fits and to evaluate audience, reach and engagement. Using this approach, you can find the diversity you want among your influencers – a variety of audience-size tiers from nano and micro influencers for local campaigns to mid-tier and macro for wider-range branding.

And, as a reminder, diversity can be beneficial to your influencer portfolio. Seek out influencers with different experiences to attract different consumer segments and give you a more inclusive, broader-based appeal.

5. Explore new content formats.

Not surprisingly, the advent of social distancing also brought with it an astounding increase in internet usage. During the first month of the pandemic alone, online browsing and app usage increased by 70 percent.

The increased desire for connection and interaction brought new technologies to the forefront, including social audio like Clubhouse.

New social platforms like TikTok have experienced a surge in downloads and engagement during the pandemic and are top-of-mind with the newest generation of consumers, Gen Z. Hotel marketers will need to reassess their influencer content strategies and think outside the box as they experiment with new approaches and formats that include these new platforms.

Using them creatively, while at the same time, continuing fruitful relationships with Instagrammers and YouTubers will mean some reallocation of marketing budget dollars. However, the social selling star power is definitely there with these new platforms – 67.9 percent of TikTok content creators report purchasing products after seeing them features in TikTok posts.

The pandemic has changed the way people use the internet and the way people travel, which means a big shakeup in the way brands think and marketers market. Finding the right combination of influencer projects, audiences and platforms will require additional experimentation and research to create the most compelling strategy for your hotel brand.

Ismael El-Qudsi

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