Influencing what? The problem of poor targeting in influencer marketing.

“We need to work with influencers more!”

I’m sure that most people in travel marketing have heard this, or something like this, in the last week, if not in the last month. It can come as a directive as a result of an article a superior has read or as a result of a collective ‘brainstorming’. It’s not necessarily a poor suggestion at all, however in terms of marketing it’s about as untargeted a suggestion as you could possibly get. It’s effectively the equivalent of “we need to do some PR,” or “we need to be recognized more as a top of the mind brand.” Yes, of course we do.

Problems with the word influencer

The issue I have with the term ‘influencer’ is it seems to be treated as an altogether separate domain to celebrity endorsement or sponsorship. The mechanics are not inherently different. The celebrity has an audience, which they appeal to. In most cases, the audience will aspire to be like the celebrity in some way.

A brand will look to either attribute some of the fame and qualities of the celebrity onto their own product or service, for example the positioning of Heineken Light using Neil Patrick Harris as an ‘alpha male adjacent’ or will look to capture the attention of the audience which admires the celebrity. If this is done in a targeted way using good product/service-audience fit and with the correct demographics then it can be extremely successful such as the recent pairing of Gary Lineker with T.M. Lewin shirts.

The only particular differences I see between influencer marketing and celebrity endorsement is that (successful and savvy) influencers have often got a far more intimate relationship with their audiences and, therefore, have much better idea of what their demographics and psychographics are than most celebrities and have more direct contact with them through communities which live on places like Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat.

Until recently, influencers did have the advantage of being significantly cheaper than a traditional endorsement, however, as influencers become more acutely aware of the value of their audience this is ceasing to be the case, especially in the travel industry.

Brands with their ear to the ground such as Hostelworld have actually had astounding success from chasing alternatives — using traditional celebrities who aren’t as ‘current’. Their advert was well targeted to their demographic was extremely successful and picked up national media coverage moved the dials for the organization according to Global Head of Brand Marek Mossakowski.

Influencers and ‘millenials’

The other issue with the term ‘influencer’ is that it seems inseparably tied to the term ‘millenial’ — a word I absolutely detest. There seems to be an assumption that all people who are aged between 20–35 are part of a homogenous group of chai latte swilling, eggs royale munching, spend-2-months-wage-a-year-travelling tertiary sector workers who dwell either exclusively in zone 2–3 of London … or at Mum and Dad’s house. However, that rant is for another article.

Many brands are trying to appeal to this demographic, which arguably, has the one of the lowest levels of disposable income of any adult demographic out there — again a rant for another article.

Travel brands seem to be no different and, I believe, influencer marketing, is used partially as a ‘catch all’ for this particular demographic.

Implementation issues

I am absolutely convinced that here is no industry as full of ‘aspiring influencers’ as the travel industry — and for good reason. Some influencers are enormous brands in themselves and have managed to forge a very public career travelling the world in style, they are an astounding advert for the lifestyle and the job and certainly have learned to pull at the emotional and psychological strings of their — highly engaged — audience. As such, they are also a shining example of how powerful influencer marketing can be in the travel industry and part of the marketing mix of travel brands.

Examples include:

This is why successful influencers can demand such high fees …

The problem of the aspiring influencer …

I’m sure that if you have you have also received contact from someone saying something along the lines of “I’m an influencer in the adventure travel space, let’s work together!” This is usually as part of a relatively transparent mass email that someone has sent out to ‘travel brands’ whose contact information they have found online. Again, this is about as broad as a proposition as you could possibly receive. Equivalent to “I want something from you? You could gain something from me. Shall we do it?”

Again, anyone doing this should take stock of the exact proposition that they are making and the value in that proposition. At the end of the day top of the funnel exposure and a quick hit on social media are fine, but, as alluded to previously brands should be looking to foster long term relationships with influencers to mutually benefit and influence their audiences and, ultimately, use it to sell more products and services at the bottom of the funnel.

What should I do when I’m approached by an influencer?

As a marketer a good way to start the assessment of an influencer is to assess their activity in line with your strategic goals. There may be many reasons that the relationship with the influencer may be beneficial but I would begin by assessing the value of their online assets.

Assessing SEO benefits

This would consist of looking at their website to determine if it is authoritative enough to benefit your site from an SEO perspective. To do this, run their site URL through Majestic SEO or any similar tool. You may also want to ask for an example URL of a piece they have recently done to assess the quality of the type of URL you may be featured on to test how well structured and interlinked their site is.

As a general rule their ‘trust flow’ metric should be no less than half their ‘citation flow’ metric and their primary category should be related to your business. What classifies a ‘good’ trust flow score will be relative based on your own domain.

If you do go ahead with this kind of activity you want to make sure that you get a ‘dofollow’ link, so that link equity is transferred to your domain. And don’t be afraid of asking them to link to the exact URL that you would like to gain authority.

Assessing community benefits

This is where things become a bit more ‘murky’ — I have used the word community, as it is a bit broader than social media. However this is, most usually, where an influencer’s community will be found.

It is most important at this point, that you do not get overawed by the size of the community. Assess the quality of the community in terms of the engagement. ‘Likes’ are an ok start but are really a vanity metric and very easy to manipulate.

It is also a good idea to get examples of work that the influencer has done for other brands. The best influencers will use examples of ways in which they have moved the dials for the particular company, be it subscriptions or sales or some other metric. Unless your overall objective is a top-of-the-funnel branding piece don’t be fooled by the amount of impressions (people who have seen the content) or engagement (in terms of likes, shares etc). You want action at the end of the day.

Even if the aim is more of an awareness/branding piece I would make sure that you have longer term access to a retargeting audience based on those who have engaged with the content, this will be useful for your future in-house advertising campaigns.

How do I evaluate a campaign

Campaign success will be highly personalized based on your strategic goals. However, I would always start with assessing the influencer campaign in comparison to in-house or other campaigns.

It sounds very obvious but the first step assess the how much it would have cost to produce the creative in-house or using other means. Influencers are often adept at producing inspiring creative (it’s usually a key reason why they have large audiences in the first place).

Once this is taken into account then assess key metrics such as CPM (cost per thousand people reached) if brand awareness is the strategic objective. Assess the CPE (cost per enquiry) if the key metric is generating leads. Assess CPC (if the key metric is sales). If these metrics are lower than the advertising that was run in house, happy days. If not, then you may want to reevaluate activities with this influencer, or influencers in general.

Ultimately, like almost any marketing campaign, ROI is the key metric and this is how success will be measured in the eyes of external assessors.

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I’m a professional working in digital travel marketing, here to learn and discuss all things online in relation to travel and tourism.