Vetting Social Media Influencers: Q&A with The League Collective

Tara Brose of The League Collective on Clearwater Beach, Florida

Social media influencers are nothing new. But here’s something that is: In the recent months (March, April, and May), Instagram alone saw a massive 40% increase in engagement amongst users and nearly 80% of influencers reported higher engagement rates (according to TechCrunch). Why? Because much of the world had been housebound and were looking for forms of entertainment – social media platforms being a primary source. At the same time, in a recent blog post published by Later, a social media scheduling tool with a special focus on Instagram, it was reported that more than 40% of influencers have reduced their normal rates with reductions averaging around 30%.

If you’re a hotel or travel brand, you’ve likely explored partnering with influencers to help raise brand awareness in the past. But now, it seems as though the time is especially ripe for these kinds of campaigns – yes, because of the stats above, but also because influencers can serve as an extension of your marketing team. And that’s something you might need more than ever right now if you’ve had to cut your marketing budget or your in-house marketing staff on account of this pandemic.

Still, that doesn’t mean you should sign on with just anyone who claims they are an influencer (and it seems like everyone is an influencer these days). “The first thing a hotel needs to do is ask themselves, ‘what do I want to get out of this partnership?’” says Zach Brose, one-half of The League Collective, a lifestyle brand that he curates with his wife, Tara, out of LA, California. “Do they simply want to raise their follower count? Or do they want great storytelling content and imagery? Is it a combination of both, or something entirely different? Once they nail down their marketing goals, only then should a hotel start evaluating influencers.”

It’s something Zach and Tara know plenty about as they have partnered with hundreds of hotels and resorts (54 hotels in 2019 alone!) in more than 47 different countries since starting The League Collective in 2016, including everything from boutique hotels in Paris to global collections like Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts. They also partnered with us here at Hawthorn Creative for a custom shoot for one of our long-time clients, Opal Collection (see the entire case study here) in 2019. Which is why we’ve tapped the duo to give us the lowdown on the types of questions to ask and aspects to be aware of in order to best vet an influencer partnership.

Say a hotel is approached by an influencer promising all these followers if put up for a two-night stay, all expenses paid. What should a hotel do to determine if this is worth their time?

Zach: Well, first, that all depends on if that (more followers) is even what the hotel wants. But, in this case, let’s say it is. The first thing I would do is simply look at the influencer’s social media accounts, blog, and website, and assess their brand from the content they are putting forth: Are they on-brand with your brand, therefore going to be able to even speak to the kind of guests you target?

Tara: They should also be able to answer questions related to their social media insights – i.e. “Can you give me your number of impressions on any single day?” If they have those sorts of stats or examples of ROI from other clients readily available, that’s always a good sign – you know they are more professional. You can also look to platforms like AspireIQ, Social Bluebook, Social Blade, which will show things like an influencer’s follower rate over time. If you see things like that they grew by 10,000 followers in one day that might indicate that they bought followers. And that’s not worth it: Even if all those followers are real people, chances are they are not engaging with the influencer’s content and that’s not going to help get your brand in front of anyone.

Zach: Definitely. Be sure to check out the likes, shares, and kinds of comments on their content. In my opinion, this is all way more important than their follower number because it shows that people are engaging with their content.

So as an influencer, is that – an increase in a certain number of followers – something you can even promise at the outset of a partnership?

Zach: Tara and I will share information like that based on past projects with clients, but it’s really not what we, personally as a brand, like to put the emphasis on. What we view as our number-one priority for our clients is creating high-quality content and telling a story about the hotel/destination experience. We’re the last people to say we’re “influencers” – to us, we’re content creators and that’s the value you’re going to get.

Tara: Yeah, you can get a beautiful girl in a bikini to post a shot of her at your property, but is it really focusing on your property experience or more on her? And it may get a lot of likes or comments – which is good – but again, who are the people liking the shot and what are they saying…are they who you are trying to target?

Why is capturing content that tells a story so important to you and something hotels should value?

Zach: Because that is precisely the stuff that is going to engage, resonate, and be remembered by a client’s target audience. We’re in the age of the experience economy – people want to spend their money on experiences over material items, so the key is showing them the kinds of amazing experiences they can have if they choose to stay with you. Not to mention, people tend to trust other real people (even if they are clearly sponsored) more than they trust the business that is clearly selling something.

Tara: Yeah, we think it’s smart marketing to capture the destination experience, too – so the culture and traditions, local cuisine, landmarks, and locals. You can’t expect guests to stay on your property the entire time, so providing insight into the destination will help make your resort stand out.

Opal Magazine
We teamed up with a travel social media influencer couple, The League Collective, to produce lifestyle images for the cover and an interior road-trip itinerary feature for the 2020 issue of Opal Magazine.

Are there ways for a hotel to determine that an influencer is capable of delivering them great experiential content before embarking on a partnership with them?

Tara: It comes down to research (which you should already be doing anyway to make sure their brand is in line with yours). So that means following them for a bit – not just their feed but watching their stories for a little while. If the person is just posting a lot of pictures of themselves and not of the hotel or destination, that’s probably not what you want from them in terms of content.

Zach: Also pay attention to their level of seriousness. Does it seem more like a fun thing they do on the weekend? Or have they invested more time in honing their skill – i.e., asking you pointed questions about the kind of content you want, have invested in photo gear, etc. Sure an influencer can get a great shot on their iPhone that will get likes, but most worth their salt will actually have professional cameras and some photography knowledge (even if it’s self-taught, like me). For example, we have a drone and that allows us to get great aerial shots and our clients really love that.

You talk a lot about setting up expectations with clients. What kind of things should hotels know to make sure they are getting exactly what they want from an influencer?

Zach: For one, determine the mode of payment for the influencer: Is it a paid project versus a free stay (what we call an “exchange/collaboration”)? When there is some sort of additional monetary budget involved (beyond a stay), that usually tells us the client is very serious about getting specific content, so we make sure to have conversations around that. If it’s simply a “we will put you up for a night as long as you post about us” exchange/collaboration, normally they’re just looking for some exposure – and there’s nothing wrong with that.

Tara: We also like to ask them to send us other content produced for them that they liked or other comparable content that was produced for a like brand – it helps give us a sense of what they want us to capture, the mood, the vibe, and so on.

Zach: And if it’s a paid project, we definitely like to create a shot list – basically an outline of the shots they want, where, what time, with certain props (like a picnic on the beach), and our style of outfits. That way, we know that we are all on the same page to deliver them exactly what they want.

Let’s talk budget. Can you give some cost/trade examples and what hotels can expect to get?

Zach: It won’t be the same for all influencers, but for us, our general rule of thumb is you want to do a simple exchange/collaboration, you can expect one post from us per each night of stay – that’s our baseline. If you’re offering other amenities beyond that, say meals, spa, etc., then more content and exposure would come from that – it’s just a matter of talking it out about how much. If you’re looking to get more than just exposure, but content from us that you then have rights to and can push out on your own social media feeds or on your website, then we would expect additional payment. Because, at that point, you’re not just leveraging the power of an influencer, but looking for a professional shoot.

Going back to content that tells a story, is there something hotels can do to help make sure the influencer can get accomplish that?

Zach: I think one of the best things a hotel can do is give a heads up to all the staff that an influencer is going to be on-site to shoot. In the past, we’ve been out shooting and a pool manager will stop us and say something along the lines of “you can’t shoot here,” when we’re just trying to get the best content we can for the client. Ideally, we even just have the marketing contact’s direct phone number, so we can just text them if we have an idea – like flying the drone over the pool for five minutes – and they can get us the permissions we need. When we have more freedom, it allows us to get our clients the best imagery possible.

Tara: Yeah, and I’d say for bigger paid projects or campaigns, having someone on hand to help facilitate our shoot is great – whether that’s the marketing manager or just another random staff member to help set things up, grab resort props for a particular shot, share shot ideas. Of course, it’s not a must, but it allows us to do our job more efficiently so that we can get the right kind of content for the client and loads of it.

Zach and Tara Brose of The League Collective

About Zach & Tara Brose of The League Collective, @leaguetravels

The first iteration of The League Collective was born in 2016 as a simple Instagram account that shared the travel experiences and insights from husband-and-wife team, Tara and Zach Brose. At first, both continued to hold down day jobs (Zach as a graphic designer and Tara as a model), but, as their passion for travel grew, they decided to go full-time with their travel brand in 2017. Today, as an ideal marriage of their creative backgrounds and sense of wanderlust, The League Collective has evolved into a lifestyle brand for all things travel, fashion, and design.

RELATED READING

Looking for more inspiration and information on how to achieve hotel marketing that stands out from the crowd? Be sure to check out:

Free E-book
The Complete Content Marketing Roadmap for Hotels

Why the days of competing on price are over

Get Free E-book
Feeling Inspired? Let’s Talk