Four Social Media Influencer Marketing Mistakes to Avoid

There’s plenty of opportunity in influencer marketing for both DMOs and hotels…but plenty of pitfalls, too.

If the social media “influencer” is a savvy, niche, more evolved version of “celebrity,” then influencer marketing is the modern-day equivalent of a celebrity endorsement. For those unfamiliar, influencer marketing is the process in which brands pay people with substantial followings on social media (in the tens of thousands to millions) to promote their brand.

Both hotels and destination marketing organizations (DMOs) have rightly seen the natural opportunities this new(ish) form of digital marketing can provide – find the right influencer with a following that fits the kind of travelers you’re trying to reach, invite that influencer to experience the destination, have him or her shout about the experience to said followers and, boom, you’ve just reached a whole segment you would have struggled mightily to reach otherwise.

And yet, for all these natural opportunities for those in the travel industry and hospitality marketing, social influencer marketing is, relatively speaking, still in its Wild West phase. It’s full of money- and perk-grabbing poseurs, brands trying to force-feed their messages through influencer channels, and plenty of other ways all that opportunity can come crashing down. So for those in hotel and destination marketing considering trying their hand at influencer marketing for the first time, we recommend following this quick guide to avoid the biggest potholes.

Mistake #1: Not Picking the Right Influencers

You can’t effectively judge an influencer’s reach and personality by follower counts and bios. The main thing to look for is the level of engagement they have with the audience. Traditionally, the greater the follower count of the influencer, the less engaged the audience is, because the influencer seems a little more famous and distant. A quick rule of thumb to measure engagement is to examine the influencer’s follower-to-like ratio – it should be roughly 15:1 or better. The larger the slice of the audience that’s engaging with the influencer’s content, the better.

Likes and comments don’t tell the whole story, though. To get a sense of whether the followers are mostly real (yes, it’s easy to buy fake followers and likes today), go through the likers and commenters of a given influencer and tap their bios. Do they look real? Are their following/follower numbers in line with those of a real person?

Takeaway: Influencers are important, but they’re only as valuable as their audiences, so take your time to choose the influencers who will represent your hotel or destination best.

Mistake #2: Not Letting Them Be Creative

Companies who use influencers simply as a distribution channel for their content are fundamentally underestimating their talent and only taking advantage of half of an influencer’s value proposition. Influencers build audiences around their creativity and taste. If you give influencers some piece of your hotel’s brand messaging to share, you’re completely wasting an opportunity for them to be creative and run with it in a way that would more effectively resonate with their audience. It’s an opportunity to layer a marketing objective with something that’s truly interesting and engaging.

So, let them have a crack at it. Give influencers a chance to explore the destination and create within the parameters you set up, or at least let them have a say in the creative process. They know their audiences much more intimately than you do.

Takeaway: The key isn’t for you to educate audiences about your product – it’s for you to educate the influencers, so they can choose how to best educate – and entertain – their audiences.

Mistake #3: Not Establishing the Right Goals

It sounds obvious, but you need a goal – and it may not be as simple as the awareness an influencer can bring to your hotel or destination. Likes are only one indicator of success, and may even be mostly irrelevant to your overarching goals. Are you looking to get a certain number of follows? Generate a specific number of bookings? Build a relationship with a particular segment of your audience?

As with all aspects of marketing, if you don’t define the goal, it’s difficult to tell whether a campaign was successful or not. Too often, companies dip their toes in the influencer waters and, because of unclear goals, come away with a wishy-washy impression, and it freezes them from further action in the space. Have a specific target and know exactly what success would look like. Along with that, be aware of all the levers an influencer can pull to create results for you. In terms of Instagram (the main influencer platform) it’s not just posting content. It could also be an influencer commenting on one of your posts, liking one of your posts, changing the link in their bio to drive traffic your way, tagging their location (at your hotel) in a post, tagging you in a photo, tagging you in a caption, or posting content to their Story.

Takeaway: Learn about the mechanics behind all of these different actions on Instagram, understand that each one drives at least a little bit of attention your way, and determine how they align with your goals for the campaign.

Mistake #4: Trying to Hide the Influencer Relationship

The FTC is increasingly cracking down on influencer-brand relationships that aren’t clearly disclosed. Consumers are savvier than ever at sniffing out these relationships, but even then, there are often instances in which the arrangement isn’t clear. The influencer you hire doesn’t have to beat his or her audience over the head with the fact that it’s a sponsored post – in fact, audiences of smaller creators often like to see influencers they love profiting from their creations. But it needs to be disclosed in a transparent way. Until Instagram’s native sponsored content tool fully rolls out, companies will continue to depend on the #ad or #spon hashtags. Perhaps even more damaging to brands than skirting the law is when an influencer’s audience is alienated by the influencer posting a clearly scripted caption, like when Scott Disick botched it and including the marketer’s directions (“Here you go, at 4 p.m. ET, write the caption below.”)

Takeaway: While there’s plenty of space to play and be creative in, you have to work within the boundaries of the rules (and good taste), too.

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