Response to “Instagram Influencers Are Driving Luxury Hotels Crazy”

Original post:

This is my response to “Instagram Influencers Are Driving Luxury Hotels Crazy” by of The Atlantic. When my response hit 1,000 words (a 5-minute read — now 6 minutes), I knew that I had to give it its own story. I’ve intended to write about influencer marketing since April when I was publishing to Medium several times a week, but until I read Taylor’s story, the words didn’t come to me. Then I read her story, and they did.

All I’ve added here are photos (necessary for a story), some notes in brackets, one extra paragraph and the intro above.

[Edited to add a bio for context: While my Medium profile bio only mentions my ADHD coaching, I have credibility in marketing and social media. I’ve been involved in online communities and social media since the mid-90s. I consider myself a social media expert. I’ve been managing social media for other people for many years. I created my coaching business while working as a Social Media Manager for a large financial institution and will continue to work as one part-time, full-time, and/or freelance as I continue to build my business. I also have a degree (Bachelor of Arts, Honours) in Mass Communication.]

“Person taking an Instagram photo on an iPhone of their food” by Igor Miske on Unsplash

I have so many thoughts here [to the article mentioned above], from both sides of the influencer relationship. Excuse the length, which is post length itself. I’ll go into more detail on that in the context of the article:

Linh said that while hotels are still trying to figure out the return on working with influencers…

It boggles my mind that people talk about “influencer marketing” as if it’s a new thing and that business “are still trying to figure it out.” Aren’t there several books, articles and guides on the topic by now? Influencer marketing existed before Instagram and yet, “influencer” has become synonymous with “Instagram.” Blogger influencers are still active. The top niches for influencers who blog (in my opinion): Tech, food, mommy bloggers/parenting, business, finance.

The reason I’m putting this comment here at the top of my comment even though the quote appeared deeper into the article is this: Many years ago I was a food blogger and was considered an influencer/ambassador — one side of the influencer relationship. This was before Instagram. I tweeted too and used social media channels as they arose (but not Snapchat). I worked both with PR companies who reached out to me and directly with business owners.

Influencer outreach has never been perfect. My numbers weren’t particularly high, and yet I got invitations to events and offers of free product. I accepted the offers that aligned with my values and declined the rest. Because my numbers were lower than other people’s I made sure that my quality was high and that I took a different perspective to stand out. For example, I once went to a rice milk demonstration and then wrote about the pros and cons of rice from a nutrition standpoint. Eventually, my food blog became nutrition-focused, and my desire to distinguish myself from other food bloggers (so that we weren’t all writing the same thing) is one of the reasons for that. People occasionally still mention my food blog to me, and I retired it a few years ago.

We have quite a strict process,” said Jones. “We look at engagement more than anything else … We have to filter out influencers who have basically bought bots. There’s a lot of those these days.

YES. My spouse is a restaurant owner, which is the other side of the influencer relationship that I’m involved in. An “influencer” with 10,000 followers once trashed him on Instagram, after phoning the restaurant and making that threat because my spouse wouldn’t provide a refund for the food that the displeased customer had ordered from a delivery service. The food always leaves the restaurant in perfect condition — kept hot in a thermal box until it’s picked up, even — but sometimes the driver jostles the food or worse. The kitchen team looked into it. Everything was correct on their end.

When we ran the influencer’s account through a few online tools, they all estimated that at least 63% of the followers weren’t real (indicating “bought bots”).

Instead of a refund, my spouse offered a free meal, an offer which the customer complained about on a review site. This little story also illustrates the sense of entitlement of some people.

That “influencer” account was also a “hashtag to be reposted” account, with very little original content. I’m now wary of those, along with any “influencer” who doesn’t include their name in their profile. Anonymous accounts with large numbers of followers raise red flags. In the decades-old practice of posting on the internet, there have always been people remain anonymous and stir shit up. It always reminds me of the line from Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back, “That’s what the internet’s for; slandering people anonymously.” Sometimes anonymity is used for good, but in those cases where it’s not, it taints the privilege of anonymity for all.

Bedwani said that it’s critical that hotels set explicit terms in their deals with influencers. “I know a major brand that opened up and flew in a plane full of influencers,” he said. “Three-quarters of them didn’t even post. It was a major fail from their team.”

This is where contracts come in handy. Back in my day as an “influencer”, it was considered in bad taste to insist on a post, but now it’s necessary because of the number of people who take advantage.

“If I let you stay here in return for a feature in a video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? … Who is going to pay for the light and heat you use during your stay? Maybe I should tell my staff they will be featured in your video in lieu of receiving payment for work carried out while you’re in residence?”

Absolutely. No one with experience should work for free under the prentense of getting “exposure,” so why should a business? Who is going to cover those costs for the hotel? They might be part of the marketing budget, but generally the costs for staff and utilities aren’t. Everyone should be fairly compensated for the time and effort they dedicate to their work and for associated costs.

My spouse has had one (free) Instagram influencer dinner at his restaurant. It was arranged by someone who vets influencers for engagement. This is great in theory. However,

1. Most of those influencers were from the suburbs. People from the suburbs don’t travel to the city to eat, so they’re unlikely to return. The restaurant is close enough to their home that it’s not considered “travel” and too far to visit just for dinner. Furthermore, they have other restaurants to visit for influencer dinners.

2. I’ve been saying this for years: Just because a person clicks “like” or replies with a comment, doesn’t mean they’re going to buy.

3. Finally, a lot of the likes and comments that these Instagram posts received were from far off places. I responded (from the restaurant Instagram account) to every comment on every influencer post. Locals got a reply along the lines of, “Thanks, come by and see us anytime.”. People in New York got replies such as, “Thanks! Toronto is a one hour flight from New York. Come for a visit!” International commenters got something like, “Thanks! Bookmark this photo for reference so that if you’re ever in Toronto, you remember to visit us.” A vegetarian from out of town positively commented on a photo of meat, and to her, I said something like, “We have vegetarian options and can recommend other restaurants.” I offered to make recommendations to many of the out-of-towners in order to add value and to make them feel welcome.

Only two of the influencers have returned. One brought a group of people and didn’t tip.

Another “influencer” reached out via direct message and said that he’d love to visit for brunch. He didn’t mention “free meal” but I sensed that it was implied. My response was, “We’d love to have you. Our mains are all $20 and a buffet of all-you-can-eat sides is included.” No free food for you, buddy, but you’re welcome to pay to eat, and then share about it, like any other user generated conent.

The best repeat business and influence we get are from people who pay to be there, even if it’s a “private, exclusive, off-menu” event. It’s as if the concept of “free” makes it less valuable.

Digital Marketing Manager | Freelance Writer | ADHD Coach for adults | Available for hire.