‘It’s very transactional’: Confessions of a marketer on working with influencers

This article is part of our Confessions series, in which we trade anonymity for candor to get an unvarnished look at the people, processes and problems inside the industry. More from the series →

Luxury hotels are particularly inundated with hundreds of requests from influencers, so much so that one luxury hotel in Dublin has even instituted a ban on all influencers. For the latest in our Confessions series, in which we exchange anonymity for insights into work experiences, a luxury hotel group’s public relations and marketing executive explains why they think the influencer marketing bubble will eventually burst and why, nevertheless, they’re still working with influencers to market their hotels.

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity and flow.

How do you feel about the use of influencer marketing in travel?
Some people think the way to go is to work with travel influencers, but they tend to replicate the content that we as marketers and PR and communications professionals in the travel industry have already created. When we work with influencers outside the travel sphere, they tend to capture things we don’t have the budget or the ability to capture, like if the room service menu changes. Travel influencers tend to capture themselves in images in a very unimaginative way.

Is it effective?
I’ve not yet seen any anecdotal evidence of someone picking my hotel because a travel blogger told them to. But I have seen them do it because a fashion influencer has. I do think a lot of influencers work hard, but there are some where I’m just like, “Nope, I can’t work with you. You’re everything that’s wrong with Instagram. Good for you, you figured out how to make money, game the system or just look pretty.” Their images are self-serving.

Do you think the bubble will burst for influencer marketing soon?
Yes. I don’t know when, but it’s coming. Everyone was really besotted with a perfect life and doing it for the ‘gram and making sure your grid is perfect, and now there’s this pushback against the concept of doing things just to look pretty on social media. Younger people are using social media like TikTok where they don’t use as many filters, and it’s not about being perfect, it’s about creating things that are interesting — and video is more important than static images. The idea of beautiful people on Instagram is now passé. It’s the same way that Facebook is now for your parents and grandparents. In five or 10 years, it might be very passé to work with Instagram influencers.

What about TikTok?
We don’t look at TikTok as a marketing tool. It’s really for a younger audience, but I think it will eventually evolve, too. It’s already gone from 50% of lip-syncing memes to original content. We haven’t figured out how to use it as a marketing tool, but I hope it doesn’t evolve into a marketing tool. I hope it stays entertaining. Instagram used to be a lot more fun.

How have you changed how you do business with influencers?
I didn’t do contracts, but now I do. In the past two years, almost every influencer comes through with this promise: “I will post about your hotel and give you X amount of photos for your own use.” You can repurpose that content for your social media down the road. It’s a very transactional relationship. But you don’t know until it happens if it has any real impact.

We barter with them. While industries like beauty and fashion have figured out pay-for-play, because what we’re giving is worth so much, it’s difficult for us to pay. For the most part, we don’t pay for anything, but we will give that influencer an overnight stay, dining or spa treatments. I also put in the contracts that they can’t hide or delete static images from their grid just because it doesn’t match the style of their grid. Some influencers have asked me to fund a travel fee for a press trip. We definitely don’t pay those.

How has this changed your job over the past 20 years?
Influencer marketing has added a layer to my job that is exhausting. I have to make sure there are Instagrammable moments throughout everything, and that’s not just for influencers: it’s for regular people. It’s interesting to me that it‘s part of the lexicon. We have gotten to a point where we’re not enjoying the world we’re traveling in if we’re just traveling through a world of selfie sticks. I don’t blame influencers. It’s really all of us.


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