Taylor Swift is a fun celebrity to follow on Instagram; the dog filter is the best one on Snapchat; a photo of a cute baby will garner a lot of likes on Facebook, but one realm of social media that can seem hard to understand is that of influencer. Brands feel differently, however. Partnerships between hospitality companies and celebrities are changing the way social media is being used, both as an engagement platform and a marketing tool.
Naturally, one family seems to have cornered the market on this: the Kardashian-Jenners, who have partnered with Airbnb to stay at some chic places. Kylie Jenner spent her 19th birthday at a $50 million Turks & Caicos estate, Kourtney retreated to a $6,000-plus per night Nantucket beach house, and Kim is currently renting a $30-million New York City penthouse for free. It’s not just the Kardashians either. Britney Spears, (our queen) Beyonce, and even JoJo Fletcher of The Bachelorette are using their celebrity (no matter how minor or fleeting) to promote vacation rentals for Airbnb and TripAdvisor Vacation Rentals. All stays are shared on their respective Instagram accounts, of course.
Hotel companies are also on board. To promote its Tribute Portfolio, Starwood Hotels & Resorts partnered with shopping platform LiketoKnow.it to let users book a stay by tapping on photos posted by Starwood-paid social media influencers, and the Ritz-Carlton Central Park in New York hosted blogger Amanda Saiontz Gluck, where she posted photos of her stay, reaching her more than 80,000 followers, according to a Fortune article.
To find out how having Beyoncé’s stamp of approval can benefit brands, I reached out to marketing guru and friend (we’ve watched many award shows together) David Solomito of Kayak for some insights into this phenomenon.
Why is using social media as a marketing tool important for brands?
David Solomito: Quite simply, we want to be where our target consumer is spending time and social media is one of those places.
How have social media influencers and celebrities changed the marketing game?
DS: Influencer marketing and leveraging a celebrity is nothing new. The challenge for marketers is ensuring they will deliver ROI, as influencers are commanding bigger paychecks than ever before. Even when money is not an issue, a lot of time and effort may be required to ensure a flawless execution. A powerful endorsement from an influencer can pay off in dividends, but it requires putting forward a believable message, delivered by the right partner, to the right audience for it to be truly effective.
One of the biggest ways influencers have changed the game is that now they can talk directly to their followers without going through the traditional media or publishers. That’s a pretty powerful (and valuable) relationship.
Are there any downsides to this type of marketing?
DS: Consumers are becoming increasingly savvy about sponsored posts. That’s why it’s so important to establish an authentic connection. Even if it’s sponsored, if the connection between the brand and the influencer is genuine, it can still be a successful partnership.
Kylie Jenner, for instance, has 73 million Instagram followers. How does that engagement translate into an effective strategy for brands?
DS: If the measure of success is awareness, creating a partnership with a high-profile celebrity that has 73 million followers and may also help generate press as a result of the collaboration, could be very effective. With most social media channels operating on an algorithm, having 73 million followers doesn’t results in 73 million impressions. And not all followers are going to fall into your target audience or even markets where you operate.
That said, while an association with a celebrity may be good for brand building, you have to weigh both the risk and the reward. Given the high costs and in many cases, a diluted message, it may be hard to get back what you put in. Rather than going the route of a mega-celebrity, there are numbers of travel influencers that have active and loyal followings that can deliver powerful messages for hotel brands at more affordable rates.
What is the most effective use of social media marketing?
DS: The social media engagements we are most proud of are when influencers have organically shared their experiences of how Kayak helped solve their travel problems via social media. When we interact with them, it comes off as authentic because it is authentic. You can’t always bank on those but when they happen, it’s a home run.