You got them in all sizes, niches and forms. Travel bloggers, hotel vloggers, food photographers and restaurant influencers. But also: podcasts, businesses with big mailing lists, feature platforms, and so on. But what's the most effective way to use influencer marketing for your brand?
As a hospitality brand, you likely have considered working with an influencer before. You hear everybody talking about influencer marketing in the hospitality industry, so why wouldn't you? Some say influencer marketing has been around for ages, but that isn't true. Influencer marketing is not the same as what we had back in the day, where a celebrity would be on the cover of a big magazine, promoting cars or jewelry. Influencer marketing is much, much broader than this and happens in many more spectrums.
Influencers are, essentially, people or brands who have a following that's interested in whatever it is they share with them. An example would be a photographer that posts videos onto YouTube about his work. He has lots of other photographers following him. He then creates a post about his newest camera or gadget, and his following will be likely to go and buy it. Hence influencers are often a part of a sales-funnel.
You may have heard about micro-influencers: the power of people with a small but very engaged audience. Many blogs now will tell you to partner up with these relatively small but powerful accounts. They are right. But before you reach out to them, there are a few things you need to do. Because you want this influencer to communicate the right message, and they can only do so once you've set up clear guidelines for them.
1. Define your influencer marketing objectives
Before you get started with marketing for restaurants or hotels, you need to take a good look at your own brand. Your restaurant, café, hotel, or whatever it is. Who are you, what do you offer and who do you want to reach?
You then also want to decide on the aim of your collaboration. Do you want to increase overall bookings, or sales of a specific product? Do you want to have more followers online? Or do you just want to increase brand awareness?
Make sure you decide your objectives. Once you have these clear, it's time to set a budget. We recommend deciding your total budget before you reach out to influencers. You get to decide the limits here, not them.
2. Define your influencer marketing budget
But how do you set a budget? Maybe you don't even have a budget? This could very well be the case. Lucky for you, there are plenty of micro-influencers happy to feature you on their social media channels and/or blog in exchange for a free meal or a free stay. But are those the micro-influencers you want?
We recommend you to set a budget to start with and see if this will help you to get influencers with a bigger reach. Take a look at the options and decide what's more worthwhile. A free stay can sometimes be worth up to €120 (about $125) whereas a free lunch or breakfast is way cheaper.
For hospitality influencer marketing it can be hard to give your clear guidelines, since these will also depend on where you are located, the competition and your offer. But generally, we recommend spending no more than €100-€200 on your first collaborations. You want to test the waters and see what the return on investment is.
When managing social media for hospitality, going above these price points may be too much. And with the same budget, you can reach a lot of people on Facebook and Instagram via advertising. So make sure that the reach of the influencer is bigger than what general advertising for this budget would give you - AND make sure that the influencer has some authority.
Because that's where the real power comes in. An influencer that talks honestly about how amazing your dishes are, will come off more realistic than a paid advertisement from you yourself.
3. Finding the right influencers for restaurant and hospitality brands
Now, step three is to find the right influencers for your brand. Make sure you put your values onto paper, next to your objectives, and go on a hunt to find people or brands who match those things. They need to cover topics, which are related to your offer, on a regular basis. This is how you know their audience would be interested in your offer, too.
There are two ways we like to tackle this.
And then next, there's categories. You sort of want to combine these two choices to find your perfect match.
An example: let's take the new boutique, plant-based café 'PLANT' (located in s'-Hertogenbosch, the Netherlands). They are a relatively small café with just a few seats. And: they are plant-based. They could work with local influencers to increase brand awareness and let people know they have opened their doors. A good local influencer, for them, would be the local 'hotspots in s'-Hertogenbosch' account - this type of account can be found pretty much anywhere.
Or they could go and take a look at the most popular photos using the hashtag of their city, #denbosch. You will find, if you do this yourself, that the top photos are often from local people who have quite a big following. These could be interesting people for them to work with. Visit their profiles and see if they did collaborations before. Were these collaborations with brand that are also similar to yours or share the same values? How was the engagement on these posts? Did they got lots of likes?
But, let's say they want to attract people who come to their city on the weekends? (Especially now with all the staycations happening..) What they could do, in that case, is go and look for influencers from other cities in their country.
Since they are plant-based, we would then recommend they look for influencers in more specific hashtag niches: #veganamsterdam for example. As they share the same values with the accounts that pop up under this hashtag, there's a much bigger chance of a collab being possible. Why? Empathy. Shared values. Here you’ll find that the power of influencer in advertising restaurants truly makes a difference.
Let's say you are a vegetarian, you care a lot about sustainability and you have a huge following on social media. Would you go and collab with a steakhouse? No, of course not!
However, would you be interested if it's a brand selling vegetarian burgers? A restaurant with solemnly vegetarian and vegan options? An eco-hotel? Yes, yes you would.
Attracting global influencers is a different ballgame. If you have a huge budget, you could try and work with the most famous influencers and vloggers out there. Just search #luxurytravel and such, and you'll find them. Yes: they will drive massive traffic to your website and they will help you to get more bookings in your restaurant pos system, especially if their regular content fits your offer perfectly.
But... chances are that that's not you. Yet you still want to reach travelers from abroad. Then what we recommend it to take a look at where your travelers and foreign visitors normally come from. Don't have this data yet? Ask other establishments in your area. Don't just ask for countries though: ask regions. You want to be able to define if there are certain regions in a country where there are more people living that would be interested in your offer.
We can tell you, for example, that a safari camp in the Sahara is going to score better when they invite an influencer from a cool and buzzing city, then when they invite an influencer that lives somewhere up North in Sweden and who always shows the beautiful hikes he or she goes on. A province with lots of elderly people is also not your best bet. Be thoughtful.
4. Set up the collaboration
Okay, let's assume you've found your perfect influencer. Now what?
This is where you need to set up the right terms and guidelines for them. We recommend you to put your values and the messages you want people to convey about your brand onto paper. One A4, no more. Don't overload the influencer with information.
Then reach out to them. Don't forget: these people live online. So one of the best ways to get in touch is... online. Our top tip is to send them an e-mail and a direct message (or two). Let them know, via direct message on for example Instagram or Facebook, that you've just reached out to them by mail. Make sure they can contact you back via the platform they prefer most.
Make sure that, in that first e-mail, you provide them with the A4 about your brand. But don't go straight into the deal.
Begin your e-mail with why you'd like to partner up and why you think you make a great match.
Then, next, tell them what's in it for them. If you invite them for a meal or a free stay, then do make sure that you let them take someone with them. This way they can turn it into a more enjoyable experience for themselves and it's not just a "please come, take lots of photos and talk about our food/hotel"-deal. If you are just starting out, then feel free to emphasize this and what it would mean to you if they wanted to collaborate. Be open and honest.
Then move on to the exact deal, and what you expect in return.
5. What to ask in return:
Well, that completely depends on your offer, to be honest. We recommend you to grab a paper or spreadsheet and divide it into two columns. Write down on one side what you offer and how it benefits the influencer, then in the other columns, note down what you expect in return. You will quickly be able to identify if it's a fair deal. Honestly: writing it down will make this so much clearer than going over this in your head.
Make sure you always include the exact amount of posts though, like:
2 posts on their Instagram feed
2 posts in their Instagram Stories
1 post on their Facebook page
Don't expect an influencer to write a complete blog post or make a vlog about their visit to yours in exchange for just a free meal. That's honestly not fair. Writing a blog post or making a video takes a lot of time. They'll have to make images to go along with the content, so they can publish it, and they'll have to distribute it, and then we haven't even mentioned the time that goes into the production of the content. A blog post can easily take an influencer 3 to 4 hours to create - left alone the whole marketing around it and the value that it provides to you.
6. Keep the relationship strong
Something many brands forget: keep the relationship strong!
First of all: make sure you repost everything the influencer creates and thank them. But secondly, keep following them, keep engaging with them. Maybe invite them again when you’ve got a menu update or room update. Ask them how they are doing without any other intent than to build the relationship. This way you can turn them into true brand-ambassadors and they will keep talking about your brand to their friends, family and online following.
Got it? Go for it!
The last tip: just go and experiment. Try different collaborations and don't overthink it too much. As long as you don't put much skin in the game (in terms of money), there's barely any risk. Just make sure that you invite influencers that really fit your brand. Many of them may even give you a 'no', so don't postpone outreach too long.