Should Travel Agents Pursue Instagram Influencers to Help Market Their Business?

by Richard D’Ambrosio
Should Travel Agents Pursue Instagram Influencers to Help Market Their Business?

Instagram unveiled a new action button that businesses can add to their profiles to offer the ability to reserve tickets, book a vacation, etc. Photo: Shutterstock.com


Instagram recently revealed it has 1 billion monthly active users, up from 800 million in September 2017, making it the fastest-growing social media network. 

Its visual focus makes it highly popular for those consumers looking for travel inspiration. According to the 2018-19 MMGY Global Portrait of American Travelers survey, 46 percent of respondents active in social media said they have an Instagram account, an increase of 39 percent from 2017, and up 350 percent in five years. 

Instagram is trying to take advantage of its strengths, and this spring unveiled a new action button that businesses can add to their profiles to offer the ability to reserve tickets, book a vacation, etc. 

According to MMGY, one out of four travelers on social media follow at least one influencer, while 41 percent of Millennials do, creating revenue opportunities for brands that leverage both influencers and the new Instagram action button. 

“We see maybe hundreds of ads a day on social media, so people have subconsciously trained themselves to ignore them,” said Rafi Offenbacher, chief customer officer at Klear, a company that helps identify relevant influencers and manage social media marketing campaigns. “Influencer marketing is designed to overcome that.” 

Offenbacher believes Instagram is “so much more effective for influencer marketing” than platforms like Facebook because it’s used more by consumers to connect with people they want to engage with and follow discussions on mutual topics of interest. When done right, the return on investment “is phenomenal,” Offenbacher said. 

But gaining access to these so-called “influencers” can be expensive and difficult to manage, said Elvis Lieban, product marketing manager at Netbase, a firm that helps companies measure and manage social media conversations. Lieban recommends looking for micro-influencers –those with a much smaller, but highly engaged follower list. 

Laura Davidson, president of Laura Davidson Public Relations, New York, once worked with micro-influencer Kim-Marie Evans, to take over the Instagram account of Curtain Bluff, a luxury Antigua resort, during a Tracy Austin tennis week in April 2015. 

Evans is the travel editor of Greenwich magazine, and also is a micro-influencer at @LuxuryTravelMom, with more than 6,300 followers engaging with her regarding family travel content. 

Evans “hits the sweet spot of the Curtain Bluff target market both in terms of demographics, and geographic region -- Fairfield County, Connecticut and Westchester County, New York,” said Davidson.  

The 2015 promotion helped increase traffic to Curtain Bluff’s Instagram and Facebook accounts, as well as the resort’s website. When Davidson was visiting the resort in April 2016, “I met five women from Westchester County who came down together for a tennis/beach getaway,” she said, “all moms who follow Evans on social media and at her own blog/website. They booked directly from her posts.” 

Micro-influencers like Evans may not need payment, Davidson said, and often are willing to barter a trip (hotel, airfare, expenses) in return for promoting your service. 

“Ideally, I don’t like paying people to create content for me. Maybe you could help them get more fans. But the best and favorite way is giving them free stuff, perks,” Offenbacher said. 

If you do find someone you want to work with, and they require payment, “they will usually give you a media kit/background on how they work and what you can expect,” Davidson said. If you enter a formal paid agreement, make sure you have a signed contract with deliverables and a required summary report, she added. 

Define a strategy and goals first
Before engaging with influencers, Offenbacher said, know what it is you want to accomplish, and decide how you will measure success. For someone just starting out, success could simply be expanding your own social media followers or increasing likes per post. 

For someone with a more mature marketing program, you may want to define key performance indicators (KPIs), like a specific increase in comments on your future posts. Having metrics gives you the chance to compare with other marketing efforts and gives you a stronger baseline for future similar campaigns. 

Offenbacher also warned entrepreneurs to utilize a custom hashtag, specific to your brand and the campaign. “Something generic will cloud your results,” he said. 

Your strategy also should include the messaging you are trying to reinforce and how your brand is conveyed. However, Offenbacher said, your brand and content guidelines need to be in sync with your influencer. 

“The influencer needs to deliver your message through their own voice, otherwise it won’t hit home with your target market,” he said. 

How do you find them?
Tools like Klear and Influence.co help businesses find and connect with influencers who might want to work their brand. Influence.co is free if a user is contacting less than 30 influencers per month. A search of travel influencers based in the U.S. with 5-50,000 followers turned up slightly less than 1,100 of them in Influence.co’s database. 

Davidson feels the best way to curate a list is to speak with industry colleagues “who have worked with people and have had good engagement and results.” 

Offenbacher suggested a little competitive research. “Who are your competitors’ strongest fans? Are they fans of yours? Pick off some of their influencers. Everyone does it.” 

Are they legitimate?
When you find a group of influencers, now you need to vet them to ensure they can deliver the goods. The free influencer data reporting tool Social Blade can help you determine if the influencer’s followers are real by displaying follower growth along a curve. Any sudden spikes could indicate they bought followers. 

“Instead of working hard to create a real fan base, some people buy fake fan accounts,” Offenbacher explained. Companies that want to work with influencers can also look for a large number of inactive fan accounts in their follower base, or an overabundance of one-word comments. 

Also, “no comments and tons of likes could be a signal you need to be careful,” Offenbacher added.

Are they relevant to your audience?
But even if an influencer’s followers are real, that doesn’t mean that they fit your target travel audience. “The value of micro-influencers is they target a specific niche or interest, like tennis, the Caribbean, family travel,” Davidson said. It is critical to examine their posts to see what they post most often, and what their followers actually engage with. 

“Analyze their top content from the past couple of months, the posts that get the most engagements. We were looking at a woman for a make-up promotion once,” Offenbacher said. “You could tell looking at her content that, first and foremost, she is a mom and parent influencer. Her cosmetic posts had fewer engagements.” 

How do you reach out?
Once you determine your short list, the best way to contact a micro-influencer is through a direct message through Instagram. Some profiles include email addresses. 

But before you contact them, “imagine the situation is switched,” Offenbacher said. “How do you want to be reached out to by someone who wants to partner with you?” 

You may want to first consider engaging with their content, he suggested, “maybe even write a comment. ‘I love what you are doing. Can we talk?’ That builds the relationship on the right foot. Show them you are a fan of theirs.”

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