Hotel marketers should understand the value of compensated influencers and organically grown advocates in promoting their properties, sources said.
REPORT FROM THE U.S.—The strategic use of influencers and the cultivation of guests as advocates are increasingly important aspects for hotel markets in this day and age, sources said.
Speaking during a recent Reviewpro webinar titled “Advocates and influencers: How to get people to talk about and recommend your hotel online,” Daniel Craig, founder of Reknown, said it’s important to know the value of these more-organic marketing messages.
“The content is different,” he said. “It’s viewed as more earned. It’s posted by consumers or experts instead of marketers, so it’s more trusted and influential.”
Adele Gutman Milne, VP of sales, marketing and revenue for Library Hotel Collection, said during the webinar that both advocates and influencers have grown into important pieces of her company’s strategy. She said it’s important to get influencers on board in a very organic, natural way, and hoteliers need to keep in mind that they’re a vehicle to express what’s great about your hotel, so service is still paramount.
“It has to be real and authentic,” she said. “It has to be all about delivering a fantastic guest experience to every single guest every single time you’re in contact with them.”
The difference between advocates and influencers
In short, influencers are people who wield significantly large followings either through social media or writing on travel websites and blogs. In an interview with Hotel News Now, Sam Trotter, corporate brand strategist for Charlestowne Hotels, said influencers largely live on Instagram. He said he expects that platform to remain the dominant one for travel.
Advocates, on the other hand, are enthusiastic guests or proponents of brands or properties who have been developed by long-term relationships, years of quality service and exceptional experiences, but might not have the audience of influencers.
“Finding advocates is easy because you already have a relationship,” Craig said. “They can be guests or employees.”
Craig said the best-case scenario for any marketer is for the line between the two to be blurred.
“In a perfect world, your advocates will also be influencers who can reach a large audience,” he said.
Gutman Milne said the path to developing advocates is engaging them in real ways both in person and via social media. She said she often opts to reply to people on social media as herself—not the brand or property—to help establish a connection.
“You’re creating a connection that extends through the brand,” she said. “It’s really very helpful. And it shows what makes your hotel unique and what makes it special.”
How to best use influencers
Because influencers ask for some form of compensation, usually in the form of paid rooms or services or even monetary payments, Gutman Milne said it’s important to vet the influencer to ensure you’re getting the most bang for your buck.
For that reason, Gutman Milne said, her company typically deploys a strategy of only paying for rooms—no cash payments—for influencers. Even then, the paid rooms are only offered on nights when those rooms would not be otherwise filled, she said.
She said this gives the hotel the ability to bring in more people, increasing the influencers’ potential audience.
“I’d rather be able to welcome more quality people than to spend all my resources on one person who may or may not be good,” Gutman Milne said.
Trotter said his company is willing to pay influencers, but their audiences first must be vetted to ensure they are people who might stay at the hotels. He said the same influencers don’t make sense for everyone.
“It’s especially useful for something like a cool boutique hotel project,” he said. “Our PR company helps us work (with influencers), and at this point we have a budget for it. And more and more of them require a fee.”
Gutman Milne noted there are various platforms marketers can use to reach out to influencers, but Trotter said it is largely influencers themselves who make first contact. After the vetting process, he said they end up working with around 20% of those who make contact.
Trotter said his company also uses its customer relationship management system to track influencers staying at its hotels, and will go out of its way to do things that surprise and delight those influencers in hopes they will share it with their audiences.
“If we find someone that has 100,000 follows on Instagram, the staff is notified and the marketing team works up a plan,” he said.
Gutman Milne said it’s important to note not just the size of an influencer’s following, but also the makeup. Sometimes followings are deceptively big because of things like bots, and sometimes influencers traffic in overly racy content that you might not want associated with your brand, she said.
“Sometimes we have to say no to bloggers who are too edgy or sexy for us,” she said.
Craig said hoteliers also need to be careful not to micromanage influencers’ stays or messages.
“Give them parameters but be careful that you’re not trying to control them,” he said.
Gutman Milne, Craig and Trotter all acknowledged that one of the most-useful things about influencers and advocates is that they create unique content that can be used on websites, social media and other marketing materials. This largely comes in the form of reviews, photos and videos, but hoteliers need to be careful about planning and negotiating the use of this content when working with influencers.
“We like to ask them to send high-resolution images to use for marketing,” Gutman Milne said.
Trotter said his company regularly uses things like photography from influencers, but it’s important to look for other types of useful content.
“If you get a media mention on a big blog, you can add that quote to your home page,” he said. “It gives you some social validation.”