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It’s no secret: Influencer marketing is no longer limited to niche brands. It’s become fully integrated into the mainstream. And because of this, brand ambassadors have morphed from spokespeople in highly produced ads to influencers on social media. Put simply, those who hold the purchasing power and used to trust brand-produced messaging now prefer authentic reactions from trusted people. At a recent conference held by WOMMA, the leader of ethical word of mouth marketing practices, the topic on everyone’s mind was influencer marketing.
The travel and hospitality industry has long kept pace with the biggest social media marketing trends — including influencer marketing. The industry has benefited greatly from including influencers in their campaigns, as “84% of millennials and 73% of non-millennials are likely or very likely to plan a trip based on someone else’s vacation photos or social media updates,” writes Lonely Planet, adding that Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are now beating out traditional tourism advertising sources for younger travelers.
To demonstrate, we present three shining examples of travel industry influencer marketing in action — and one cautionary tale — that can help brands of all types improve their influencer strategies. More on this topic can be found in our Social Media Pocket Guide.
When Airbnb first entered the hospitality scene in 2008, it was seen as a quirky alternative to a hotel stay. While Airbnb was something that young, carefree, and adventurous folks might enjoy, it certainly was not a rival to traditional hospitality brands. Fast forward eight years, and Airbnb is seen by some as a threat to the entire hotel industry. Social media has driven their success, and influencers are now a big part of their social media advertising strategy.
“Influencers are used in marketing generally to endorse and legitimize a brand,” Airbnb’s CMO Jonathan Mildenhall said. Mildenhall says their influencer strategy began organically in 2015 when Mariah Carey stayed at an Airbnb property. She was the first major celebrity to do so, says Mildenhall, and Airbnb’s marketing team collaborated with her management team. The brand’s latest major influencer campaign came via Lady Gaga, who stayed at an Airbnb property during the 2017 Super Bowl — and shared a single post about it with her more than 24 million followers which garnered over 500,000 likes and 4,000 comments. “The impact is phenomenal, because people are interested in the lifestyle of these influencers. If that lifestyle can be authentically associated with staying in interesting Airbnb properties, that is a no-brainer for us,” says Mildenhall.
But all brands considering influencer marketing need to understand that they are not exempt from the Federal Trade Commission’s advertising disclosure rules. Though other influencers might not take the rules seriously, Airbnb does: They make sure every influencer explicitly says that Airbnb has picked up the tab.
That Airbnb is succeeding wildly is not lost on traditional hotel chains, and many have aimed to meet younger generations where they are. Half of Airbnb’s users in 2016 were millennials, while just 28% of people who booked through Marriott.com in 2016 were millennials. To reach the younger generations, Marriott launched a new Snapchat influencer campaign in March. The brand hired four popular social influencers to take over their Snapchat account about once every month, writes Adweek. The influencers boost Marriott’s Reward program using Snapchat’s Spectacles, which captures video, and will reach an audience in the tens of millions.
“We want to give you that first person point of view from the members’ vantage point, so we are incorporating a lot of shots from that perspective,” Amanda Moore, senior director of social and digital marketing of loyalty at Marriott Rewards, told Adweek. The built-in audiences of influencers, as well as their camera-ready presence, also appeals to Marriott, Moore added.
In December of last year, Southwest Airlines began an influencer-led contest on Instagram called #SouthwestPassport. Southwest sent 12 influencers known for their travels to 12 locations. The influencers appeal to a wide range of followers and include mom bloggers, foodies, avid outdoors-people, and more.
The brilliance of Southwest’s campaign is that it not only reaches the influencers’ more than 2 million followers, but each person entering the contest (to win a $500 Southwest gift certificate) also boosts the reach of the campaign (and shares it with all of their followers) by tagging their entries with campaign-specific hashtags.
By now we’ve all heard of the music festival that wasn’t. Fyre Festival was meant to occur on two consecutive weekends in April and May, but was cancelled before it even began (but not before hundreds of would-be attendees traveled to the Bahamas).
There is a lot to be learned from this train-wreck, but the role of influencers in the promotion of the festival is a particularly useful “watch out.” Festival organizers traded on the reputations of several highly influential figures. But when everything came crashing down, those influencers were nowhere to be found (and their social media accounts were scrubbed of any reference to the event). Both brands and influencers have a responsibility to do their due diligence before partnering, or risk facing a fan backlash (and even lawsuits). Fortune says the festival is a “moment of truth” for influencers. Not only are festival organizers the subject of several class-action lawsuits, but some influencers themselves might also being sued for “fraud, negligent misrepresentation, and unfair trade practices.”
All brands and social media personalities participating in influencer marketing would do well to remember the words of Josh Peck, a social media influencer with more than 10 million followers: ”The greatest commodity today is honesty. Showing your true voice and allowing the audience into your daily life is the ultimate way to do that.”
In the end, authenticity and honesty will prevail. And those that try to trick the consumer? They’ll get called out. It’s just a matter of time.