It is no secret that social media continues to grow in both popularity and significance each year. Advertising on social media platforms such as Instagram, TikTok, and Twitter has become a strategic marketing tool that many destination marketing organizations (DMOs) are capitalizing on. Reaching prospective clients and customers can be easier than ever before with posts, comments, likes, and above all — influencers.
Our team wanted to learn more about influencing and how it could be utilized by a DMO to boost tourism, so we interviewed three influencers to get their perspective. Before that, let’s go over who an influencer is and what they do.
An influencer is someone who has built a reputation and fan following around a specific theme on social media, specifically on Instagram. Influencers serve as brand ambassadors for businesses, often using sponsorships to create their content and drive brand engagement.
There are several different types of influencers:
- Bloggers have fewer than 10,000 followers
- Micro-influencers have 10,000 to 50,000 followers
- Macro-influencers have 500,000 to 1 million followers
- Mega-influencers and celebrities have more than 1 million followers
According to HypeAuditor’s State of Influencer Marketing 2021 report, the Instagram influencer market is expected to grow 15% this year, with 62% of marketers worldwide intending to increase their influencer marketing budgets.
With many influencers focusing on travel and leisure content, DMOs are now acting as sponsors to promote their locations. A DMO can pay an influencer to travel to its destination, visit unique must-see attractions, and create posts that encourage followers to book a trip. The influencer might also do a “takeover” and get access to the DMO’s account to post stories, pictures, reels, and videos while exploring the location — giving followers a fresh perspective of what it's like to visit.
A DMO could choose to invest in influencers for the benefit of reaching a larger, more diverse audience on social media. Their posts will be seen by more than just the people who already follow the destination’s account, reaching potential travelers, gaining followers, and spreading awareness of the location’s attractions.
The “Reel” Deals
We sat down with food and travel blogger Megan Black, hiking micro-influencer Conely Harris, and destination micro-influencer Natalie Moe to share their thoughts on how being a follower could put your DMO in the lead.
(L) Natalie Moe has about 21,000 followers on her account @happilypinkblog. Her content is focused on food and restaurants, travel, hotels, and experiences. (C) Megan Black has about 2,000 followers on her account @rove.and.relish. Her content is focused on travel tips and exploring destinations through local foods. (R) Conley Harris has about 24,000 followers on her account @harrishikers. Her content is focused on hiking tips, humor, and vlogs of her recent outdoor excursions.
How did you get started with influencing? Did it happen organically, or did you work towards getting noticed by sponsors?
Black: My journey with Rove and Relish has been a bit more organic. I’ve always been an avid traveler, and in the last five years, I noticed that I was using Instagram and blogs more than travel books to plan my trips. I shifted to a creator account and began sharing travel tips and food recommendations in the destinations I featured.
Harris: I got into influencing organically. I initially made a hiking Instagram to show my family and friends my cool adventures! After a year, my account slowly began to grow. As my videos became more popular, I had companies reach out to me for sponsorships and brand deals.
Moe: I originally started Happily Pink after I graduated from college with the goal to help people enjoy the best experiences in food, fashion, and fitness. Although my content shifted towards food and travel-based experiences, my mission remained focusing on providing the best. Through my genuine posts and photography quality, brands started reaching out. But simultaneously, I began pitching on my own. With this combined effort, I secured more partnerships.
How do you gain trust from followers and sponsors?
Black: My engagement rate is pretty high, so I have a good foundation of trust with my Instagram followers. I build this by responding to comments and DM’s, being “real” in my stories, and being thoughtful about the recommendations I make. I also spend time each week engaging with other people’s content.
Harris: Being personable. Sharing the good and the bad. Being honest about how you feel when sharing about products! I am open to the audience about how I don’t promote products or services I don’t like.
Moe: I gain trust from my followers by only showcasing things that I absolutely love! Whether it’s restaurants, an experience, or a product, I will only share it if I believe it’s worth the money. I hyperfocus on partnerships through specific branding and creating concepts that resonate with my audience. I have turned down large deals if the product wasn’t something that provided value to me, my audience, or even the brand.
What do most sponsors offer, and in exchange for what?
Black: It is a mix of paid opportunities and posts in exchange for products. Most brands want a combination of either a static post or reel and stories.
Harris: I have a few sponsors that send me gear every month in exchange for tagging them in the photos and videos that I’m wearing their product in. I have other partnerships and brand deals that pay me to make them ads or post their brand on my own page.
Moe: Most partners offer paid partnerships in exchange for a set number of deliverables, exclusivity, and usage.
Do you think destinations could benefit from using influencers to promote travel to their location?
Black: Absolutely! I have been influenced to visit new destinations through Instagram and TikTok, and I’ve seen folks do the same with information from my account. I think that this is a huge opportunity for destinations, especially places that are less touristy. Working with influencers gives people more of an inside look at hotels, restaurants, and experiences.
Harris: Absolutely. I think influencers are one of the greatest marketing tools for travel! They have built a loyal following of people who trust what they have to say.
Moe: All tourism boards and travel brands should be utilizing influencers to promote their business, but it’s extremely important to make sure it’s a good fit. Personally, I know my strengths and weaknesses, so I will only work with destinations that are a great fit for myself and my audience.
What would a destination need to offer you as a sponsor to say YES to traveling to their location?
Black: I want to have some flexibility on the itinerary. Destinations need to trust that influencers know their audience best, and they will get the best results if the itinerary is tailored to the followers. There should also be fair compensation for the influencer’s work; because it is just that, work. Sometimes a trade for hotel, flights, and meals is ok, but if a destination wants full rights to photos or other media, they should be willing to pay, just as they would for other marketing.
Harris: For me to partner with a destination, I would need free travel, free stay, and depending on the content, I would need anywhere from $400-800 a day.
Moe: To work with a destination, I would need to research the destination to see if it's a place I would legitimately pay to visit. From there, I analyze if it’s a good fit for my audience. Moving forward, everything would need to be comped, and payment would be required.