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Going social: five keys to successful destination marketing in the age of influencers

Young man taking photo with smartphone, next to boats moored along waterway.

One of the most effective ways to get your destination — from restaurant to resort, community to tourist region — featured on the print and digital pages of media outlets is to host a familiarization trip, also known as a press or “fam” trip. In the past that invariably meant inviting selected journalists to your destination, hosting them for a few days and anxiously awaiting the coverage to appear weeks or months later. Sometimes the coverage did appear. Sometimes it didn’t. And sometimes … you wish it hadn’t.

But as social media has grown in influence, so too have the most popular personalities on those platforms. Twins Cory and Coby Cotton — aka Dude Perfect — run the most popular American YouTube channel, with more than 26 million subscribers and over 155 million views per month. Entertainer Katy Perry has just under 109 million followers on Twitter. And singer Selena Gomez has more than 132 million followers on Instagram.

By comparison, the circulation of the five top print magazines in the United States is approximately 68.5 million — combined.

When it comes to influence, media brands are increasingly interchangeable with social personalities. In this new era, sometimes a tweet is better than a thousand words.

While engaging with a social media influencer may not meet all of the PR goals of a destination marketing organization or other tourism-related business, influencer marketing can meet a lot of the objectives not served by traditional journalists.

It all starts with selecting the right influencer, a topic we explore in our next blog post (look for it May 14). But there’s a lot more to it than that. Here are five key considerations that can be equally important in executing a successful social influencer engagement.

Negotiate the deliverables

When you engage a social influencer for a trip, it’s critical that expectations for deliverables be negotiated right up front. We advise our clients to create a formal contract that clearly outlines all deliverables: the number of blog stories and social posts (and on which channels), photography rights and usage, etc.

The contract also should include the trip dates, payment amount and schedule, and deadlines for deliverables. This keeps both the destination property and the influencer on the same page throughout the relationship.

Consider all the costs

Social influencers covering the travel industry are generally not employed as staff journalists for magazines or newspapers; nor are they paid per story assignment or per word like a freelancer. With some exceptions, most are paid a day rate by the destination property — similar to how a photographer on a photo shoot is paid.

That means you should expect to cover more costs than you would in the course of a traditional press trip. On top of the day rate payment, you’ll also typically cover the influencer’s travel expenses — flight, rental car, lodging and meals as well as activity fees. And, if the influencer prefers to travel with family or a partner you’ll need to consider covering the expenses for those individuals as well.

Script the trip

Some destinations leave it up to the influencer to determine how time and per diem is spent on a familiarization trip; and some influencers prefer it this way as well. We’ve taken both approaches depending on client preferences and needs; but in most cases we prefer to script at least the key elements of the trip.

Fact is, one bad moment on a trip — one rude barista, one bungled hotel reservation — can taint a visitor’s entire experience. Since you know your locale better than anyone, you’re in the perfect position to help ensure a great trip by prearranging certain activities (and perhaps also by suggesting activities or places to avoid). If your contracted influencer is more of a go-with-the-flow type, you can always compromise: include a list of must-dos in the contract but let the influencer decide when and how long those activities fit into the trip.

Create a halo effect

By carefully selecting the right influencers and negotiating strong contracts, we have found the added cost can more than justify the investment. There is less risk of delays or lack of coverage because of the established contractual deliverables.

Moreover, what you get in return may save you money in other parts of your marketing budget. For example, if the influencer is a talented amateur or professional photographer and you have negotiated to receive image files and photography rights as part of the deliverables, you may not need to budget for an additional photo shoot or purchase stock photography. If the person is bringing his/her family or a travel partner, then you likely won’t need to seek out and pay models.

Social media post from blogger Xpat Matt, scene of waterfall in woodland.
On behalf of the Kalispell Convention & Visitor Bureau we engaged Matt Gibson, blogger and social influencer known as Xpat Matt, to discover the outdoor activities in Northwest Montana. Matt’s four-day FAM trip resulted in two blog stories, one of which was picked up by the Huffington Post, and 57 social posts that produced 30,367 interactions across Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. Plus the CVB received several rights-free images from Matt’s beautiful photography.

And whatever you do, don’t forget to engage with the influencer and his/her content as it is being published. Facebook’s algorithm change in early 2018 put a heavy emphasis on highlighting content that inspires conversation. You can and should play a big role in starting and continuing that conversation around the content as it is posted. You may even consider diverting funds from your own paid social media budget to boost or share the social influencer’s social posts if you believe they have good potential to organically grow your own social channels. You can also contractually require the influencer to use your destination’s handles and hashtags to drive traffic to your social networks.


Mind the disclosures

Unlike traditional travel journalists, social influencers are now legally required to disclose their relationship with the destination marketing organization or other sponsors. Social posts are required to include the hashtags #ad or #sponsored. Unfortunately some influencers either don’t know or don’t like to follow these rules, which can result in fines from the Federal Trade Commission. So it’s important that your contract include a requirement for proper disclosures, and that you check to make sure that requirement is being carried out.

On their blogs, many influencers maintain their editorial independence by stating that their opinions are solely their own. Whether or not this is the case, you should not expect the right to review content before it is posted nor the right to ask for edits after it is posted. Part of what you’re “buying” when you work with an influencer is that person’s honest, unfiltered voice and experience.

Bottom line

If your destination is not working with social influencers, you’re missing out on a potentially powerful, versatile tool to grow your reputation and increase your visitors. By carefully selecting the right influencer and by following the tips listed here, you can significantly expand your reach while producing strong return on investment.

In our next post we will explore more carefully the question of exactly who is a social influencer — and how to tell if he or she is right for you.

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.