Of the content generated by social media, travel is responsible for a particularly large slice. It makes sense; social media is used by most people to display a highlights package of their lives. And nothing is more of a highlight than immersing yourself in new cultures and exploring new places.
Whether you’re documenting your adventures on Facebook to form a digital photo album, broadcasting your adventures as a Snapchat story to keep your friends in the loop, or producing videos to share with a YouTube audience, posting your travels to social media is now a key part of the modern traveller’s experience.
But as much as they may generate content, the modern traveller will consume an even larger amount. The aspirational nature of travel content makes it eminently shareable, and the incredible amount of subject matter that comes from travelling means that it is ripe for content creation, be it in the form of image, video or written word.
The Changing Face of Travel Marketing
There are some travellers, in fact, that have managed to make a living out of posting travel content to social media. These social influencers have a knack for finding and producing engaging content, and have a loyal band of followers who hang off their every word. They offer something to their audience, whether it’s aspirational, helpful or spectacular, that no one else on social media can.
The days of finding travel inspiration by flicking through pamphlets at your local travel agency are well and truly gone. Our adventure fires are now stoked by a stunning photo or a mind-blowing video put up by these social influencers. By following them we feel as though we get to know them, which gets us to trust them and their recommendations implicitly.
This is what the travel industry has now recognised. Having a social influencer endorsing your brand is as good as having a follower’s friend or family member endorsing you.
The Rise of Social Influencer Marketing
Over the last few years social influencer marketing has exploded. When done right, sponsored or branded posts by social media celebrities are able to generate a huge amount of interest in a brand. They can be nuanced or blatant (as seen when you search the #spon hashtag on Instagram) and are becoming an ever more common sight as brands look to capitalise on such a new and exciting form of marketing.
The meteoric rise of social influencer marketing is reflected in what brands are now willing to pay the influencers. Recent research conducted by Takumi indicates that an Instagram influencer can currently expect to receive US$20 per post for every 1000 followers they enjoy. When we extrapolate those numbers out, an account with 1 million followers can happily charge US$20,000 per post; not bad for a single photo.
It’s made even more incredible when you realise that just two years ago the most popular social influencers would earn around US$100,000 per year. Now the same people can hit that mark by putting up just a few quick snaps.
So, is social influencer marketing now prohibitively expensive for the travel industry, or does it still make for a worthwhile investment?
Return on Social Influencer Investment
At around the time that a social influencer was earning $100,000 per annum, Burst Media conducted a survey into the value that you get for spending your marketing buck on them. At that point (early 2015), the average earned media value for every actual marketing dollar spent on social influencers was a stunning $6.85. You got over six times the value of your spend by using the services of an influencer.
Burst Media then took it a step further, dividing the data into specific advertiser categories. The ‘tourist destinations & travel’ category performed even better than the average, offering $7.04 worth of earned media for every $1 spent. Even considering that social influencers are getting greater reimbursement for their services these days, that still represents a good investment.
Other studies have found similarly positive results. Tapinfluence found that influencer marketing drives 11x the return on investment when compared to all other forms of digital media. While the ‘word of mouth’ nature of a social influencer post gives the medium a sort of legitimacy, Tapinfluence suggests the extra value comes more from the fact that the post will be on the internet forever, allowing it to continue to offer a return long after a brand has invested in it. When compared to the limited shelf life of something like a banner ad, this is a fact that is easily overlooked but enormously important.
The Added Benefits
On top of these raw numbers there are many other reasons that influencer marketing is a great option for the travel industry.
Using a social influencer makes your marketing instantaneously more authentic. Which would you take more seriously; an ad that was made by a brand themselves, or a recommendation from someone you trust?
Once a trusted source has recommended a brand, the flow-on effect is an element of trust that is formed on the new audience’s behalf. There is no need for the brand to prove that they are trustworthy, the personal recommendation of an influential social media star is more than enough.
Social influencers can provide a travel brand with a large and highly targeted audience. If the social influencer and your brand target the same demographic, then you can gain access to the sort of hyper-targeted campaign that no digital marketing channel can match.
Lastly, your travel brand will be provided with new content when the influencer holds up their end of the bargain. The brand can generally do what they wish with the new content, including using it in different digital channels as part of a larger campaign.
The Success Stories
The Contiki brand is one that seems almost built to capitalise on social influencer marketing. Their market is the young and carefree, and their 18-35 year old group tours sell themselves as trips of a lifetime (i.e. exactly what social content is all about). With this in mind, they teamed up with Devin ‘Supertramp’ Graham, one of the most popular travel influencers on YouTube. The campaign, dubbed Contiki Legends, was incredibly successful, with Devin’s ‘jump’ video alone garnering 3.5 million views.
Marriott hotels has as complete an approach to social influencer marketing as just about any travel brand in the world. Their strategy includes teaming up with JacksGap, a YouTube travel star with 4 million subscribers, and employing the services of influential directors to produce feature films, such as 2015’s French Kiss. One of their finer efforts, however, was their adoption of Snapchat. Marriott used Snapchat influencers to create interactive stories with their followers, creating a ‘choose your own adventure’ style game to get the influencer from one Marriott property to the next. This fresh and creative approach proved incredibly successful.
Social Influencers: A Worthy Travel Industry Investment?
If you look at the hard data, as well as the real-world success that many travel brands have experienced, there’s no doubt that investing a percentage of your marketing budget in social influencer marketing is a solid long-term decision for your travel brand.
It’s now just a matter of finding your perfect influencer fit. But that’s an article for another time!