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Setting clear rules and expectations streamlines the process of working with influencers, and speakers at the 2019 HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference share five tips for getting the most out of the relationship.

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NEW YORK—In order to get the most out of working with influencers, hoteliers need to know what they’re hoping to accomplish and how to measure it, according to sources.

Speaking at the 2019 HSMAI Digital Marketing Strategy Conference, Aimee Cheek, director of ecommerce for OTO Development, and Robert Cole, founder of Rock Cheetah, both stressed that research and prep work ahead of forging influencer relationships can help make working with them a more fruitful marketing vehicle.

Here are some of the tips they shared during their presentation.

1. Prepare a contract with clear expectations
Cheek said it’s not uncommon to see influencers fail to carry forward marketing messages in the way hoteliers would hope, often making simple mistakes by misspelling the name of a hotel or not including the right social media handles.

But that can be easily avoided by setting out a simple contract, as short as one page depending on the level of expectations and the influencer, which lays out exactly what hoteliers expect. She noted this also has the added benefit of weeding out fake influencers who are simply trying to grab a free night’s stay.

“You can have calls to action included in the contract ahead of time,” she said. “Spell that out, provide links and lay out the exact way you want it mentioned.”

2. Know the audience
An influencer with 1 million followers on Instagram isn’t necessarily a better fit for promoting a hotel than one with a fraction of that audience, Cole said, because one with a smaller audience might have a greater degree of engagement or do a better job at reaching the types of people hoteliers want to reach.

Cole walked through tools that show how some influencers with massive following can have few comments or likes on their posts and often construct their posts more around glorifying themselves then the hotels or locations they’re visiting. He stressed looking at the engagement rate as opposed to just follow counts.

“It’s not about the influencer; it’s about the people who follow them,” he said.

Cheek said it’s also important to talk to influencers about their followers before striking a deal.

“Always ask an influencer who is in their audience, and if they can’t answer, get out,” she said.

3. Set benchmarks
Hoteliers won’t know if an influencer campaign is a success unless they know how to measure it, Cheek said, so she stressed setting out clear metrics at the front end. That can even mean including escalators in contracts if influencers can deliver specific, demonstrable results.

“You need to spell out literally what the business objective is and what the expectations are, whether that’s related to traffic, engagement, lead generation or conversion,” she said. “If you spell those all out in the contract, it’s easier to not be surprised in the end.”

4. All guests can be influencers
Cole and Cheek noted that often user-generated content from typical guests can be more valuable as a marketing tool than working with professional influencers, both because it requires little to no front-end investment and because consumers tend to view it as more credible.

“All guest experiences are advocacy opportunities,” Cole said.

5. Influencer marketing is still marketing
While working with influencers can seem novel or new to many hoteliers, Cheek stressed that it’s still a marketing campaign like any other. That means even if the investment is as little as a free roomnight, hoteliers need to think critically about what the return on that investment will be and be willing to turn down requests.

“It’s OK to say ‘no,’” she said. “Influencers can be very convincing, but it’s OK to say, ‘This doesn’t work for us right now.’ Knowing who you’re going after makes it easier to make sure (an influencer campaign) aligns with your goals.”

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