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Finding the right travel influencer for your destination marketing brand

Facing a high-mountain lake, hand holding Polaroid photo of woman with outstretched arms in same place.

Yesterday’s celebrity is today’s “influencer.” Or, more cynically, yesterday’s celebrity is forgotten, while today’s influencers — YouTube gamers, Instagram beauty mavens, cheerful mommy bloggers and the like — wield incredible power to sway public opinion about issues, brands, and what to drink (or not).

Today, brands in nearly every industry are paying social influencers to post content that builds awareness, increases sales and improves reputations. Such campaigns can rival or surpass traditional advertising in effectiveness and return on investment. A 2017 report by Collective Bias and Inmar showed that 48 percent of people who were exposed to influencer content visited a particular retailer within four days of seeing an ad for it. Just 29 percent of people from the control group who were not exposed to the content visited the store.

But it’s not always easy to discern true, relevant and appropriate influence. Some aspiring influencers have been caught paying for fake followers. Others have earned followings in part based on content that would not reflect well on your brand. Disney, for example, dumped YouTube superstar PewDiePie over videos that included anti-Semitic content.

Here’s how we go about researching, selecting and inviting the influencers who will effectively boost the profiles of our destination marketing clients.

Identifying influence

The number of social influencers covering the travel industry has grown quickly, and expanded into ever more granular niches — from “mommy bloggers” to extreme adventure travel. This makes the selection / vetting process all the more important.

Naturally we start with our client’s specific goals and target audience:

  • What type of travelers does the destination marketing organization / destination property wish to attract through this influencer engagement? Is it families, young couples, retirees?
  • What are the factors and triggers that mean the most to the target audience? Is it cost? Direct air service? Luxury accommodations and dining options?
  • Where is the target audience looking for travel ideas? — Are they looking on Pinterest or Instagram? Are they reading blogs?
  • What is the total budget for the influencer trip, and what are the most important deliverables? Is it about increasing the destination’s Instagram followers, or is growing the Facebook fan base more important? Does the organization or destination property expect to receive rights to the influencer’s photographs and videos that can be used for other projects?

Armed with these answers, we begin our search for the right influencer. There are plenty of software-as-a-service platforms to help in this process, ranging from free basic search services like BuzzSumo and FollowerWonk to paid cross-platform research tools like Little Bird, Mention, Klout and others. We have used Cision and Meltwater for this research since we were already paying for those services; but those would be far from the most cost-effective platforms if this search was all you needed them for.

It’s also worth considering what resources might already be at your fingertips. For example, for one of our Montana clients we were able to access a list that had been vetted by the Montana Office of Tourism and Business Development. This gave us an excellent starting point to narrow our search.

Unfortunately, as mentioned above, it’s not unheard of for aspiring influencers to pad their accounts with fake followers and fake engagement. Platforms like, TwitterAudit and Scrunch can help you determine if an influencer actually has legitimate influence.

This research usually yields a range of influencers to consider. Then comes the detail work.

From many to one

From your initial research you probably have a decent list of names attached to a bunch of data: each influencer’s number of Twitter and Instagram followers, engagement rate, home city or state, etc. You may have a sense of the general travel niche that each person is interested in, and where he or she has traveled in the past.

All of that is important. But what we believe is most important is understanding the influencer’s personal brand — and how it fits with your own. After all, if you are marketing a quiet beachfront community you may do more harm than good to bring a cheeky Twitter celeb who prefers high heels and nightclubs to sandals and sunsets.

2 bicylists riding down a backroad in SW Montana.
On behalf of Southwest Montana Tourism Region, we engaged influencers Russ Roca and Laura Crawford of the Path Less Pedaled to feature the diversity of cycling opportunities in the region. Their five-day FAM trip resulted in four YouTube videos with 17,000 combined views and growing, 33 Instagram posts with a total of 8,242 likes and 19 Facebook posts with a reach of 66,867. Within a week of their trip, some of their followers were already planning their own cycling tour of Southwest Montana.

In order to determine whether an influencer’s brand is a good fit for your own, there’s no replacement for direct research. Read as much of the person’s work as possible, on every public platform. Assess the photos — not just for quality, but also for content. Is the influencer telling stories about a place, or about him/herself? Look at what other destinations — as well as other goods and services — the person is talking about. Read the comments of followers: do they trust and respect the influencer? Do the commenters look like they’re in your target demographic? All along the way, imagine how all of this content would strike you (and, more importantly, your target audience) if it were about your destination.

Of course you also have to consider your budget. It costs in the neighborhood of half a million dollars to get Kim Kardashian to tout your brand, according to Us Weekly. By comparison, we’ve worked with micro-influencers whose total costs — including travel, per diem and payment for content — were less than $10,000. Those lesser-known social celebrities may not reach millions of people; but that doesn’t matter as long as they reach the right people with the right message.

Pitching your place

When it comes to narrowing your list there’s one last element to consider, and that’s the influencer’s professionalism. How quickly does he or she respond? How transparent is he or she about audience analytics, disclosures and other pending or concurrent contracts?

The only way to find out the answers to these questions is to start a conversation. That conversation will tell you a lot. If you get a bad first impression don’t be afraid to walk away and find another option. You’re ultimately looking for an enthusiastic partner rather than just a vendor. In that sense, the relationship matters.

Very few influencers publish their costs or granular details about their reach for the world to see. So that should be your first request. Don’t be afraid to ask detailed questions and request screenshots of the influencer’s audience analytics.

And, as obvious as it may seem, don’t forget to pitch exactly what you’re looking for in an influencer partner. Talk candidly about what the influencer will experience — including aspects of your destination that might not be appealing. As important as it is to find an influencer you can trust, you need to set accurate expectations and show that you, too, can be trusted. Good relationships go both ways.

By the time you’ve gotten to this point you should have a pretty good idea which influencer is the best fit for you. Now it’s a matter of planning and executing a memorable trip that will inspire viral content from your influencer. But before you do that, see our earlier blog post, which highlights five key factors in building a successful influencer engagement.

If you’d like to learn more about hosting a fam trip for your destination, contact our PR department. We’d be happy to discuss options, help you find the journalist or social influencer who best meets your objectives, and plan and execute a fam trip that really delivers.