Scrolling through questions in online vacation rental marketing and management forums will quickly tell the story of what many professional owners and property managers think of influencers – freebie seekers and scam artists wanting a free stay.
And while 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 they will – get eyeballs on your listing, add bookings to your calendar, give you thousands of interested social media followers and email subscribers and provide excellent lifestyle images and videos for you to use forever.
In other words, if you are receiving multiple partnership requests on Instagram from influencers, it is definitely worth your time to investigate this as a marketing option for your business – it means these influencers see photo opportunities and value for their own brand using your vacation experience as a backdrop and it could be a win-win for both of you.
Influencers are people who have an authentic social media following of fans who like and trust them and see them as an expert. 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 and you have never heard of them.
One common mistake people make when thinking about an influencer partnership is thinking the influencer they choose has to have millions of followers for it to work, but that’s not true at all. Many influencers in different markets have less than 10,000 followers, these are called micro-influencers. 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 if 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,” a property that is in the right destination and price range for their followers and it needs to be part of a unique experience they cannot get right down the street. If you can’t provide this, you may think about working with other local travel brands to provide a full experience, with your property as the home base.
Using influencers is 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. You should also think outside of the box when choosing influencers and most importantly be sure and find an influencer who has a following made up of your target audience.
One important note to remember when choosing an influencer is diversity. Finding influencers with diverse ethnicities, people of color, members of the LGBTQ Community, Deaf Community, etc. could show the experience to a completely new following and will provide lifestyle images and videos that appeal to a wider audience.
When an influencer reaches out to you, or you start searching for one on your own, you should first look at the number of followers and how much engagement they have. Typically, I wouldn’t choose an influencer with an audience of less than 10,000; although there are exceptions.
Look for influencers who specialize in your area, type of property, type of experience, or 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 – beaches, family travel, historical travel, foodie travel, etc. You may also want to look for influencers that can speak to the experience you provide or the target market you are trying to attract. If your Alaskan Cabin is perfect for fishermen, find a fishing or outdoorsman 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 of “Happy In The Keys,” worked with a mommy blogger to highlight the social distancing, remote work, and homeschooling opportunities 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, homeschooling lessons, remote work, and lots of family fun in her amazing luxury properties.
The influencer you choose should have an engagement rate of at least 3-5% on most of their posts – this means likes and comments. Follows and even 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, look for comments and replies as well as total subscribers, for Tik-Tok you should look at likes and comments on their videos as well as the follower count.
If they are travel influencers, 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 want to look to see if they have worked with the same type of experience. If their feed is made up of beach houses or ski condos, you wouldn’t be the best fit.
Next, inspect the photo and video quality. Do they have great photos of the places they are traveling to? 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 for the visuals they can provide you, so you want to look at what they are producing and make sure 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 back to their inquiry and ask for a media kit. Most influencers can provide something to you that details their monetary expectations, has a few reviews from other businesses, provides a follower count and engagement rate, and a few of their 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 as they are trying to build their own influencer brand.
Working With An Influencer
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. But, they will be providing you with access to their following with a seal of approval.
First, you should 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 of your 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. But, 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 that is part of your negotiation. You want and 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. You will want 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 solid numbers of how they have booked other similar properties and has references you can verify, then yes! You need to work together on how you will know the value they provided. Give them a special link from bit.ly or the WordPress Plugin, Pretty Link, or give them a discount code and be sure you always ask guests when they book how they heard about you.
Once you’ve worked with one influencer, you may be hooked! Anne-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.
Influencing is a growing industry and vacation rental owners and property managers should definitely 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 experience needed, 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 or tourism boards, CVB’s to get your vacation rental in front of new eyes!