Scrolling through online vacation rental marketing and management forums will quickly reveal the story of what many professional owners and property managers think of influencers—freebie seekers and scam artists who want a free stay.
Although there are thousands of freebie seekers who have no motivation in mind except to stay at a vacation rental and post a few photos, there are also plenty of influencers out there who will do exactly what they say—get eyeballs for your rentals, add bookings to the calendar, give you thousands of interested social media followers and email subscribers, and provide excellent lifestyle images and videos to use in your marketing.
In other words, if you are receiving multiple partnership requests on Instagram from influencers, it is worth the time to investigate this marketing option for your rental business. These requests mean these influencers see photo opportunities and a chance to increase the value for their own brands by using your vacation experience as a backdrop. It could be a win-win for both of you.
Influencers are people who have authentic social media followings of fans who like and trust them and see them as experts. The relationship they have with their followers is so powerful that they can “influence” their buying decisions. You can compare it to celebrity endorsements, but in today’s world, influencers are celebrities to their audience, even if their audience is small.
Yvette Strange, of Spoon Mountain Glamping, recently used an Instagram influencer who solicited her through her direct messages (DMs). She worked with the influencer, who specialized in food and unique stays, to help launch her three glamping tents in the Texas Hill Country. In less than a week, the 10-percent discount code given to the influencer had been used more than 45 times— nearly twice as often as Yvette’s own email waitlist. The influencer was able to use the content for a TikTok video that would help her build a TikTok following. When the TikTok went viral, the influencer and Spoon Mountain Glamping received even more followers and attention on both platforms. At last count, Spoon Mountain Glamping had increased their social media following from around 1,800 to more than 17,000, and their email list expanded by nearly 1,000 subscribers. More important, they booked more than 150 nights, including every weekend for two months.
One common mistake people make when thinking about an influencer partnership is assuming the influencer must have millions of followers for it to work, but that’s not true at all. Many influencers, called micro-influencers, have fewer than 10,000 followers in specialized markets. What’s important is not the number of followers, but the relationship they have with their following and what they can persuade them to buy—or book!
There are definitely some strategies for choosing the right influencer and knowing what to offer, how to pitch your property, and what to ask for in return. But first it’s important to understand what types of properties influencers are looking for and whether yours fits the bill.
In my experience, most travel influencers are looking to work with properties that provide great visuals for their photo and video “stream.” They prefer a property that is in the right destination and price range for their followers and that is part of a unique experience they cannot get right down the street. You may consider working with other local travel brands to provide a full experience with your property as the home base.
Using influencers requires a partnership, and a good influencer will only partner with a business that is right for their audience. Remember, they have an image to uphold with their followers.
Choosing an Influencer
There are influencers in all niches, and travel and food are two of the biggest, so you shouldn’t have any problem finding an influencer to work with. Think outside the box when choosing influencers, and most important, be sure to find an influencer who has a following consistent with your target audience.
When an influencer reaches out, or you start searching for one on your own, first look at the number of followers and assess how much engagement they have. Typically, I wouldn’t choose an influencer with an audience of fewer than 10,000, though there are exceptions.
Look for influencers who specialize in your region, type of property, or type of experience or those who have followers made up of people likely to book your home. There are travel bloggers, YouTubers, and influencers for almost every region of the world. Some specialize in certain locations; some specialize in the type of experience, like Glamping; and some specialize in the type of travel—such as beach travel, family travel, historical travel, and foodie travel. You may also want to look for influencers who can speak to the experience you provide or the target market you are trying to attract. For example, if your Alaskan cabin is perfect for fishing, find a fishing or outdoors influencer on YouTube who will appreciate and share your experience—you may even want to partner with a local fishing guide.
Last fall, Martie Jobe, cofounder at Happy in The Keys, worked with a mommy blogger to highlight opportunities for social distancing, remote work, and homeschooling in her rentals. The goal of the partnership was less about bookings and more about the content she would get from the influencer—videos and still images of a family of five enjoying time in the water, taking lessons, and having lots of family fun in her amazing luxury properties.
The influencer you choose should have an engagement rate of at least 10 percent on most of their posts—this means likes and comments. Likes can be purchased, so if you see someone with hundreds of likes, but few comments, they aren’t engaging with their followers—they are just providing entertainment. You want to see authentic relationships, which means comments back and forth.
Scroll through their post feed, stories, story highlights, and reels, and look at photos and read captions on Instagram. On YouTube, check the comments and replies as well as the total number subscribers; for TikTok, look at likes and comments on their videos as well as the follower count.
If they are a travel influencer, make sure they are sharing photos of the spaces they are staying in. You want to see images of properties that look like yours—usually this means a special place or experience they can’t find right down the street. For example, if you have a luxury penthouse condo in the downtown area, you should look to see whether they have worked with the same type of experience. If their feed is made up of beach houses or ski condos, yours wouldn’t be the best fit.
Next, inspect the photo and video quality. Do they have great photos of the places they have visited? Do they have lifestyle images of themselves or others enjoying the space? Are there too many photos of themselves and not enough photos of the property? What is their visual aesthetic—does it match or complement yours? One of the best reasons to invest in a top-notch influencer is the visuals they can provide, so look at their product and ensure it captures your brand’s vibe.
Finally, read captions. How are they selling the places they are promoting? Are they providing calls to action? Are they asking questions and inviting people to comment? Are they tagging the property in their photos and mentioning them in the captions?
Once you have decided you like the look and feel of the influencer or influencers you’ve chosen, reach out to them or reply to their inquiry and ask for a media kit. Most influencers will provide something that details their monetary expectations, reviews from other businesses, their follower count and engagement rate, and previous brand partnerships. If they can’t provide this, don’t think it is a deal-breaker. In fact, if they don’t have this in place, they may be an influencer who is willing to do more for less because they are trying to build their own influencer brand.
Working with an Influencer
Remember, an influencer relationship is a partnership. You are giving them great content for their followers. You are the one with the amazing experience that will allow them to grow their following. They will be providing you with access to their following and with a seal of approval.
First, make a list of what you want out of the relationship and what you are willing to give up. A professional travel influencer is not looking for a free weekend getaway. They are looking for partnership opportunities with brands that will appeal to their target market because they want to provide their followers with a great stay.
You should be willing to give up at least one night and day at the rental to give them enough time to photograph and video the property in different lights. If one free night interrupts your normal booking schedule and you have it to give, offer a second night as well. However, a professional influencer will usually want to be paid beyond the free night. Remember, they aren’t on vacation—they are working. You will also want to provide them with all the extras you usually give your guests, so they can share that experience with their followers.
Usually travel influencers are great photographers, so make sure photos and/or videos are part of the negotiation. You need lifestyle images and different shots of your property, and they will provide you with views and angles that you may not have thought about before. Get something in writing stating that they will provide images and videos and that you have the rights to use them commercially.
Should you pay an influencer? If the influencer can provide you with evidence of solid numbers of bookings at similar properties and has references you can verify, then yes! Work together on how you will evaluate the value they provide. Give them a special link from bit.ly, a WordPress Plugin, or a Pretty Link, or give them a discount code, and—as always—be sure to ask guests when they book how they heard about you.
Once you’ve worked with one influencer, you may be hooked! Ann- Tyler Konradi of Yurtopia Wimberley has worked with several influencers on both Instagram and TikTok and sees her bookings go up significantly after each stay. With a waitlist of more than 18,000 subscribers, she may not use an influencer for a while, but she is open to new ideas if approached.
Influence is a growing industry, and vacation rental owners and property managers should think about how they can add this exciting tactic to their arsenal. Although it isn’t right for everyone, and not every vacation rental will provide the requisite experience, if you have something unique and know it provides great visuals, it might be something you want to try this year. If not, think about ways you could partner with other local businesses, tourism boards, or CVBs to get your vacation rental in front of new eyes!