The rise of the social media influencer has changed the hospitality game, whether we like it or not. But good business owners will figure out how to harness new-age PR, while those who don’t will be left in the dark.
Earlier this year the owner of Dublin-based Charleville Lodge received an email from a social media influencer, who promised to promote the business to her social media followers in exchange for a free night’s stay.
Long story short: it didn’t go over well. The business owner ended up banning all bloggers and going public with a diatribe against asking for services for free.
The case highlighted the tension that can be created between a social media influencer and a hospitality owner when it comes to this sort of arrangement.
Hospitality owners can see social media influencers asking for freebies as leeches, and influencers can see hospitality owners as hostile for turning down publicity.
Welcome to the new world
Hospitality consultant Dean Minett told The Pulse that the rise of the social media influencer had caught a few hospitality owners on the hop.
“There are still people that don’t really understand how it works and how quickly it’s moved,” he said.
“The average person who makes a hotel booking now looks in 18 different places before they book, and social media is one of those places.”
Influencers are “mini-critics or mini-reviewers” who have built up their own following through social media – posting blogs or great photos on Instagram to whet peoples’ appetites.
Simon Leong is one such influencer – he has 31,000 followers on Instagram and about 2500 followers on Facebook.
Jerk spatchcock, edamame, black beans, borlotti salad, charred corn, chimichurri — one of my favourite dishes of the night. So tasty. If cut up a bit more would help to make it a bit more easy to share with a few people @panamahouse @pacificbondibeach #BondiBeach / thnx @tonicpraus #INVITE #SFFinvite #medialaunch #bondibeach #bondi #bondieats #panamahouse #SFFpanamahouse #restaurantaustralia #pacificbondibeach #lategram #spatchcock #SFFspatchcock #eeeeeats #simonfavourite / attended with @plus1guest
“A social media influencer is someone who uses their social media profile to share information on their interests to a wider audience that could possibly be persuaded by what they share,” Leong told The Pulse.
“Preferably the social media influencer has gained a level of credibility, authenticity and trust from their readership over time.
“The trust you gain over the years from your followers is one of the most valuable relationships you can achieve.”
But he said he didn’t start out with the intent of becoming a ‘social media influencer’.
“When I first started food blogging, I never expected to be approached by hospitality owners or PR companies,” said Leong.
“One of the main reasons I started blogging was to try to uncover and share any noteworthy dishes or places of interest with my readership.”
Because they have a relationship with their audience, people trust their opinions (as well as gawk at the great photos).
In exchange for a social media post, influencers may receive a freebie of some kind, on which they base their content. Proving that the arrangement works for both parties is key.
These days influencers are more commonly approached through third parties such as PR agencies who specialise in influencer marketing. They have measures in place to make sure the influencers they connect hospitality owners with actually have influence.
Tools like Social Blade have also cropped up to make sure all the people following an influencer are actually people, and not just bots bought by the influencer to pump up their stats.
Minett says the heart of measuring whether you should approach an influencer is figuring out what sort of impact you can expect to see on the bottom line – and asking for proof that it will work.
“Any blogger worth their salt should be able to give you some type of feedback as to what your return on investment is going to be,” said Minett.
“If they’ve done this for other people, they should be able to prove that it led to an increase in bookings.”
Then, it’s simply a matter of getting in touch with previous businesses the influencer has helped to figure out whether they helped or whether they’re spinning a yarn for a free meal.
Minett also said a good approach would be to make the influencer’s audience a unique offer.
For example, the influencer could post a great photo of your restaurant’s food and also say ‘My followers will get 10 percent off their next meal if they book through this URL’.
“You can actually track where the bookings come from,” said Minett. “That way you can actually track how effective it is.”
If you receive more bookings from that URL, you have a fair idea that the person saw the social media post and was influenced to act because of it.
Hospitality owners should view working with influencers in the same way as any other sort of marketing activity.
“Some things have changed, and others haven’t,” said Minett. “It’s open and honest communication. It’s a sale, it’s a negotiation.
“You’ve got to be clear on what it is that you want out of the transaction – and they need to be clear on what they’re offering, and that’s not just ‘I’ll promote your business to X number of followers’.
“If people follow that, then there’s no reason that both sides can’t benefit.”