As a property manager, you may not believe that social media can help your business acquire more leads. You may have even tried and spent time posting on Instagram with few results. You are not the only one.
This case study is about how we used Instagram to add over 500 qualified leads to our email marketing system in a very short time. Our primary performance metric was the number of email addresses collected, not how many followers our Instagram account had.
What is a qualified Instagram lead?
We define it as a connection to someone interested in your destination, someone who has shared valuable contact information such as their email address and name, and who has given you permission to send email updates about your business.
The pandemic was an opportunity for us to raise our profile, build trust, and get more leads.
Let me tell you a bit about my double life. I not only write about vacation rental industry trends at Rental Scale-Up, but I also run my own small business, a luxury villa company in St. Barths (also known as St. Barts). The vast majority of the people who visit our French Caribbean island are from the US, and most of them choose to stay in a private villa rather than a hotel.
In 2020, and then again in 2021, restrictions on travel were constantly changing. Under these unpredictable circumstances, it was clear that our villas would suffer from fewer bookings. To complicate things further, we were about to launch an all-new property during the pandemic, with absolutely zero reservations booked when operations commenced.
Knowing how much effort our team had put into staying on top of the ever-changing travel restrictions, we understood that the same task would be difficult for travelers planning a trip to St. Barths. We resolved to build a business identity that visitors could rely on and that would allow us to (1) get new clients, (2) grow our email list, and (3) build authority through cultivating trust.
We then developed a framework to take travelers from the “inspiring” phase to the “booking” phase. Our actions drove Instagram engagement, attracted followers and non-followers alike to our email list, and ultimately created consistent opportunities for booking via email broadcasts.
How we turned Instagram followers into email leads for our CRM system
We were also able to adapt to COVID-19 challenges thanks to our existing Instagram marketing framework, which is fourfold:
1. Know your audience
At first, we positioned ourselves as a trusted travel guide for those planning their first trip to St. Barths. Indeed, when we defined our personas, we presumed that most travelers would be first-timers to St. Barths. However, by looking at the comments left under our posts, we soon realized that many in our audience knew the island reasonably well. Because most guests are from the US, we chose to communicate in English only. In short, we adapted to target English-speaking fans of the island.
2. Define your message
We knew that our target audiences were looking for recent information on how to get to St. Barths, especially in light of the changed circumstances brought on by the pandemic, and they wanted insider tips on what was new, closed, or open. They were familiar with the island but unsure how things would be on the ground. The situation was similar to the one we experienced after Hurricane Irma blasted the island a few years ago.
3. Create a hook
After defining our messaging, we created a PDF guide that gathered all the above information in one place. We offered it free to anyone who signed up for our list. In this way, the guide acted as our lead magnet.
4. Convert your leads
Our end goal is to get direct bookings. Sharing tips, tricks, and insider info helps you engage your existing audience and reach a new one. When planning content or responding to queries, it’s essential to consistently drive this newfound or newly engaged audience deeper into the marketing funnel by creating email offers and directing traffic from Instagram to your website.
What we measure quantitatively and qualitatively to track our performance
1. Performance metrics
The best way to be successful on Instagram is by actively tracking your performance and results. It’s easy because the data can all be found in-app. However, be sure you’re paying attention to metrics that are relevant to what you want.
2. Sentiment analysis
Assessing the tone of the comments, reactions, and private messages you receive is key to understanding how your actions are perceived. Are your followers and non-followers looking to you for information about your area? Do you receive positive feedback for your efforts? One of our goals was to become a trusted authority on traveling to St. Barths. To verify that we were succeeding, we looked for clues as to whether we were on our way to achieving this position and noticed that:
Some travelers who had never booked with us and had been booking with our competitors were now in our sphere of influence and even on our mailing list.
Travelers asked us questions about topics other than travel restrictions, which meant that they had begun to see us as a source of information on all things related to St. Barths.
3. Lead conversion
Define what constitutes a lead for you. Instagram helps create both long- and short-term guest relationships. Any inquiry you get through direct in-app messages counts as a lead, of course. However, email registrations are arguably just as important, if not more so, because they give you more time and opportunities to turn a subscriber into a guest.
Becoming a trusted local authority requires remaining calm, consistent, and responsive
We realized that keeping up with ever-changing travel restrictions concerning St. Barths was tough for us and that it would be even tougher for those planning a trip there. Our knowledge of the restrictions allowed us to demonstrate our expertise with travel to the island and grow our email list simultaneously.
First, we provided assistance. Each month, we would pore over French- and English-language sources containing information pertinent to travel restrictions and include it in a neat wrap-up on the SaintBarth.com blog. We also included a blog post with this information in the monthly SaintBarth.com newsletter.
Second, we built trust. To be considered the go-to guide for the highly competitive luxury vacation rental market in St. Barths, we had to establish ourselves as a trusted source of information. This is how we did it:
We got to know our audience well.
We had already accomplished this while developing our overall strategy, but we refined our approach over the weeks.
We strived for accuracy.
Where you get your information will determine how reliable it is. Using local news guides or global, government-backed tracking tools is a good idea. Hearsay is not. If possible, make sure to verify any information by consulting at least one other source. Think about what you are sharing before you share it. It can be tempting to be the first to break an essential piece of news, but our job is not to be the first; it is to be the most reliable.
We stayed consistent.
Consistency plays a significant role because, by sharing important information regularly, you are signaling that you can be relied upon for any update that may affect your audience’s travel plans. Ask yourself: how often can I afford to dedicate the requisite amount of time to research this information? What is the best possible cadence for sharing this type of information? Then deliver.
We were responsive.
Once you begin sharing any type of information regularly, your audience will come to expect that they can seek your guidance on the subject. In addition, every social network algorithm will reward you for the time you spend interacting, engaging, and sharing. Therefore, it is crucial to set aside time, from 10 to 30 minutes daily depending on the volume of inquiries you get, for engaging on Instagram. In responding to inquiries, you should document what you are doing the most often so that you can delegate these tasks to someone else.
What to watch out for unless you want your strategy to backfire
Know when not to participate.
The most innocuous topic can invite vehement opinions. Sharing news about mask and vaccination mandates certainly does. It is important to know when your contribution is helpful and when it might instigate an off-topic debate. Some people will want to shoot the messenger; just let it go.
As an insider in a given area, you are bound to have access to more information earlier. It is essential, therefore, to realize what is okay to share and when.
Own your mistakes.
When interacting with numerous personalities online, you are bound to encounter some that don’t have the sunniest dispositions. It is easy to be reactive and say the wrong thing when it happens. Instead, be quick to accept fault when you are wrong and work to understand an opposing viewpoint.
Instagram is a way to generate leads without high advertising costs or too large a time commitment. Still, if you don’t have the right Instagram content and strategy in place, you’ll end up burning through your followers without making any meaningful connections or building trust. Conversely, if used properly, Instagram can be successfully connected to your existing marketing machine so that you can turn followers into email subscribers, leads, and ultimately happy guests.