The Next Gen Influencers for Travel

With 76 percent of travellers posting vacation photos to social networks, and 50 percent of people confirming that travel content on their social feeds influenced their travel plans, it’s clear that social media has had an impact on the travel path to purchase.

If we know this to be true, then the obvious conclusion is that travel marketers must not look just to Bloggers and YouTuber’s with followers in the thousands to help build reach and engagement with “influencer marketing campaigns”, but also look to the army of influencers who don’t all have followers in the thousands, but are already sharing their brand stories today.

Search for destination specific Hashtags on Instagram and see for yourself.  144, 579 tagged and posted images in Instagram for #Cannonbeach – a popular tourist destination near Portland Oregon.

CannonBeach_Instagram

A search in Instagram for #Cannonbeach presents 144,579 results

 

Travel as a category has the most potential to leverage specific content being tagged with Hashtags, and shared across social media channels – with or without the official prompting from a DMO or tourism operator.

In preparing for a discussion I will lead at the upcoming DigMe16 Summit in Philadelphia, on “The State of Influencer Marketing,” I reached out to some of my travel industry colleagues to discuss how influencer marketing has evolved, and what makes a campaign a success for them.  I have learned that even since 2015, “influencer marketing” has shifted to become more expensive, and harder to track return on investment – even with a big win in engaging with a well known Instagrammer or Blogger.

Engaging a high profile Instagrammer, who will also contribute a travel blog, some extra video and Snapchat content to a highly targeted audience is certainly providing valuable content and lift for destination marketers, but this type of influencer is becoming more difficult to get to, and more expensive to secure, even over the same time last year.

 

Influencer marketing can be extremely effective, but the compensation expectations of influencers means travel marketers are going to have to get more creative if they want results.

 

What I can conclude is that it is becoming harder for brands with small to medium sized budgets to achieve impactful campaign reach through traditional influencer marketing programs that worked in the past.  It is also a slippery slope when engaging “transactionally” with influencers as social media is a medium that demands transparency and authenticity, both to consumers – and to advertisers.

The state of Florida recently announced that they would be reviewing marketing spending because of unclear ROI, and a lack of transparency in engaging high profile personalities to visit or endorse the state. (Source: Skift)

So what does next generation influencer marketing look like?

Few travel brands are leveraging the power of social stories that are being created day in and day out by brand ambassadors that already on mass follow, engage and share content on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, YouTube and many other social channels.

 

Perhaps the user-generated content shared by existing and future brand influencers, those who may not have millions of followers, but who’s content tells a good story, is relevant and trusted, and is generally shared with positive sentiment is the silver bullet in Next Gen influencer marketing? 

 

Consider that in mass, these stories become part of a larger story that a brand can tell leveraging their army of influencers – instead of focussing on one or two heavy hitters.  When content is good – it is re-shared no matter how large the original follower base is.  Here lies the next generation of influencers. Your social media army.

The opportunity that travel marketers should be looking at next is how to showcase powerful stories shared by brand champions, how to reward and engage creatively with every day Instagrammers and Snapchatter’s – and how encourage more sharing of content using Hashtags that are already organically being used.

Travel marketers that will win with the next generation of Influencers are already planning strategies to creatively engage and reward their social media army’s – in addition to securing quick wins with super star social personalities of the moment.

social media strategist vs social media enthusiast

I am an enthusiast of many things. Although I can appreciate a fine wine, and perhaps even describe the ‘nose’ of a good chardonnay – I dare say that I could lead a wine tasting session, or describe the process of oak aging or barrel fermenting.

I would say however that I am both an “enthusiast” and a “strategist” of Social Media. (and perhaps an evangelist and even a connoisseur of a good tweet).

Social media is as most would agree the new ‘medium’ in digital marketing. There are many out there trying to decipher how to…how much…and where to start in creating a social media “strategy” to attract a target consumer to engage and transact.

There lies the difference between a social media ‘Enthusiast” and a social media “Strategist” – it’s in the strategy (not just in the enthusiasm!) Wow – so that’s not rocket science!

Allow me to explain.

We must begin with what constitutes a good Social Media strategy.

1. Develop a good plan.
Sounds simple enough right? Start with who you are trying to reach and what social media channels they are likely frequenting. Decide what you are trying to achieve (ie. traffic back to a website, building an email database, an increase in brand awareness etc), chose the correct channels to populate (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Flickr or all of the above), populate with content and build a community of followers.

Once you have decided on what social channels to include in your campaign, develop a plan to build a community – with an editorial or content strategy to support your goals.

For example: If you are primarily going to use viral video’s with the goal of driving traffic to a transaction – make sure that the YouTube channel you create has many points of reference and links back to your website.

Make sure that you have optimized your video’s properly to be found in search engines – and have populated other places with the video (like your website and Facebook page) and that you have added social media sharing tools to encourage more pass along distribution.

Also – ensure that all of your campaign elements are integrated and talk to each other.

2. Ensure that you have enough of a budget and resources (time, expertise, dollars) to not only plan, but execute the strategy.

This is the tricky part. How do I know what resources I will need after the campaign ‘shelf life’ is up?

Social Media channels like a Twitter account for example typically do not exist in isolation. Typically, a Tweeter is representing a brand voice, or has a Blog associated with it – or a transactional website in which to drive traffic to.

If you are going to engage in social media marketing, you should plan for it to be part of your long term marketing strategy.

4. Measure and assign key performance measurables

Use social monitoring tools (there are many) as well as website tracking tools like Google Analytics to see how the campaign has impacted your campaign goals. Is Facebook now a top referrer of traffic to your website after launching an aggressive Facebook brand page?

How has the time and resources spent on Twitter affected the traffic increases in traffic to your company Blog?

5. Learn and Continue Building
This is a key point as many social media ‘enthusiasts’ may not pay enough attention to the fact that the foundation built in the beginning stages has a big impact on future social media successes. An isolated brand Twitter page with no integration into any other parts of a company’s marketing mix – no matter how many followers it has – will not result in long term success.

In addition, those who live in the social communities such as Facebook, Twiiter and beyond expect transparency, commitment, and for you to add value to the social media ecosystem.

A one off viral video campaign will most likely not work to create any spectacular results without a long-term plan about how to leverage the traffic it has generated, or to engage that audience enough to act.

Social media enthusiasts are passionate about what social media can do – and they make excellent community manager’s and community developers. Just because an enthusiast has a large list of followers on Twitter does not necessarily mean that they can map out a good long-term strategy and help guide the set up and execution of a successful social media marketing campaign.

Always engage with a true Social Media Strategist – one that has proven case studies and speaks to the points above if you are looking for a long term or even short term results…it will pay off in achieving brand ‘mavens’ and not just ‘followers’ who you may never see again.

If you are a connoisseur of a good discussion about social media marketing…I invite you to RT (Re-Tweet) this blog post and share your idea’s of what it takes to be a true strategist.

Toronto, Ontario, Canada
alicia.whalen@gmail.com
905-401-2249

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