Friday 26 March 2021 12:19 pm

Travel influencers get a bad rep – but don't judge too soon

What’s your first thought when you hear the word ‘influencers’? If it’s anything like many members of the general public, it’s not too positive. Just the mere mention of ‘influencer’ evokes eye rolls, tuts and head shakes.  

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Of course, the recent news stories haven’t helped. Hordes of influencers have been flocking to far-flung places like Dubai, the Maldives and Mexico, seemingly flaunting their freedom, all in the name of ‘paid work,’ while most of us stay at home to endure the third lockdown in 12 months. It’s more than enough to create resentment. 

The controversy isn’t new to us. We’ve all seen the reports of restaurants and hotels ‘outing’ influencers that brazenly ask for a free meal or stay, in return for a social media post. But it seemed that breaking lockdown rules was the final straw for consumers – and some brands. 

The Influencing World 

‘Influencing’, as an occupation, is still relatively new. In fact, the word ‘influencer’ was only added to the English dictionary in 2019, even though the concept of using influence to promote a brand or product isn’t new. So how has it got to this? 

Historically, celebrities and sports professionals established their popularity through hard work and a degree of good luck. These influential figures were then approached by brands to promote their products to their fans. Today, social media has opened the influencing game to a mass market, which has quickly grown and flourished. Many want to jump onboard and experience the same success as the popular influencers we see in the news; Joe Sugg, Mrs Hinch, Saffron Barker to name but a few. Many see their success and believe that with a smartphone in hand and a sunny disposition, they can emulate it. This has led to dilution of the benefits of working with influencers.  

The influencer market has become so over-crowded that businesses either avoid them altogether, branding them all as ‘chancers’ or they find it difficult to find the right ones to work with. Often, business leaders in the travel and hospitality industry misunderstand how influencing works, and believe that by hosting a reality star with 800,000 followers, for example, will be enough to bring them customers. In some cases it is – but if you want real results, there’s more to it than that. 

Due Diligence 

The truth of the matter is that brands must do their due diligence and apply scientific data behind any influencer collaboration, rather than gut feeling alone, or judging an influencer by the aesthetic of their feed.  

The first step here is research – into your own customers. Think to yourself, who is your audience? Who are they listening to or following? Who are they truly influenced by?  

Now, delve into those influencers. What kind of content do they create? Do they showcase the destinations/products they’re promoting or only themselves in a grid full of selfies and not much else? Do they really believe in what they’re promoting and are they doing it justice by reviewing it properly – showcasing and discussing its facilities, locations, services, and benefits?  

Now for the big question; do they engage? So often we see influencers churning out content but not answering questions from their followers. Remember that while they’re working with you, they’re an extension of your brand and your team – leaving questions unanswered, from your potential customers, is not a collaboration.  

Next, look at their followers. Not just the number of followers but also who they are. Where are they based? What are their interests? Do they match your target audience? If not, do they truly have the potential to? Any popular influencers worth their weight will have this information in some sort of media kit. If not, you should be asking why. 

Don’t forget to look at niche influencers. Those specialising in areas like sports, solo adventure, LGBTQ+, veganism, and business – remember what you’re trying to promote as part of your destination, hotel, tour operator or airline and leverage those who have a vested interest in it. Although some of these niche influencers may not have the big follower numbers, size isn’t everything – quality and having the right, receptive audience is. Our research has also shown that popular niche influencers can be more cost-effective than mega influencers. 

The Science of Influencer Selection 

A good practice when shortlisting influencers is to use quantifiable metrics. Here are six simple steps to follow: 

1. Create an Excel sheet listing all the influencers you’re interested in working with.  

2. Identify 10 recent posts for each influencer that are relevant to your business, up to five days ago (don’t pick posts from today or yesterday, as their metrics are likely to change). 

3. Create columns for the number of followers, the total number of likes, and total number of comments for those 10 relevant posts.  

4. To get a true comparison, divide the above totals of likes and comments by the number of followers. Use this measurement across the board.  

5. You can now shortlist down to 10-20 (or however many) influencers by looking at normalised level of engagement they get when posting.