The word "authenticity" has reached its pinnacle in the social media space. Of course, consumers and hospitality brands both want content to feel warm, adventurous and welcoming, but with today’s influencer-heavy reliance, defining the term has become more and more difficult.
Furthermore, with the increase of influencer fraud we've seen run rampant in the last year, influencers authenticity has truly begun to erode the term as a value point. Authenticity doesn't really mean anything in influencer marketing anymore.
As social media-focused brands continue to strategize methods to sell their services or products, the hospitality industry must move away from questioning the validity of influencers – stop rolling your eyes at Instagram divas – and begin to talk about social partnerships in a more critical way. Remember, influencer is not a term pigeonholed into Instagram. It’s actually quite a difficult and complex marketing strategy, which can make or break a brand’s image.
Why are social media influencers important?
Estimated to grow to a $10 billion industry by 2020, influencer marketing shows no signs of slowing down. With consumers sixteen times more likely to read a social media post from a friend than from a brand, the value of influencer marketing is undeniable. Influencer content cuts through ad-blockers and resonate on a deeper, more personal level than branded/sponsored content.
However with 2.1 million Instagram posts tagged #ad in 2018 (a 39% increase YoY), marketers must be more savvy when it comes to vetting and selecting influencers to speak on behalf of their brand.
How to choose the right influencer
Selecting the perfect influencer goes beyond simply finding a social media account with the largest number of followers willing to work within a set budget.
First, it’s critical to define what “influence” means to the brand and campaign. Operational objectives should always dictate the type of influencer required to help achieve your program’s goals; Mega, micro, nano. For example, while large celebrity influencers with millions of followers will help generate a big splash of awareness with high impression numbers, they may not be willing (or affordable enough) to also generate brand-owned assets.
Whether this campaign seeks to grow greater awareness, drive sales or increase positive sentiment about the brand, influencers can be an effective solution, but in order to achieve success, you must first clearly define objectives up front and compare an influencer’s résumé to how experienced and effective they are at delivering against the company’s goals.
Once program objectives are set, target audiences must be defined; demographics and psychographics. From age and marital status, to income level and purchasing behavior, your influencer and her followers should be representative of the target consumer.
Once the level of influencer for the brand is established, it’s time to define the criteria to help measure influence, and compare it amongst a diverse group of candidates. This can be achieved by outlining a series of quantitative (i.e. engagement rate) and qualitative (i.e. photography style) metrics that extend far beyond follower count. With the rampant rise of follower fraud, this vetting process is more critical than ever. Red flags such as unusual follower spikes, inconsistent post engagement or an over-abundance of sponsored content are indications that an influencer may have purchased followers or faked engagement.
Process for approaching influencers
The complicated research and vetting process takes more time and effort than ever before. Approaching influencers and building positive relationships from the start is critical to the outreach phase.
Well-established influencers find themselves just as inundated with partnership requests as brands, therefore it’s important to not only make your introduction stand out, but to also outline why you believe the influencer is the best fit for a specific campaign. Adding a layer of personalization to an outreach request goes a long way, as does disclosing upfront if the partnership offers any monetary compensation.
Contracts are essential in all influencer programs. No matter the scope of a campaign, it is imperative to outline and agree to the terms of the working relationship and set specific expectations, as it pertains to content, deliverables and, most importantly, the influencer’s behavior while participating in the program. Although the vetting process is meant to eliminate unpredictable or rogue behavior, the contract provides an added layer of legal protection for the brand.
The best influencer campaigns set clear objectives from the start, leverage influencers who positively and authentically share a brand’s mission and values, and establish guidelines that provide influencers the tools (but also flexibility) to do what they do best – create and share engaging stories. Finding influencers with deep industry expertise, who are also engaging personalities can often be a challenge – a challenge, that when met strategically, can be extremely beneficial to a brand.