We have doubts about the methods used to measure success here. "Influencers" have gone from social media stars to legitimate taste makers in their respective fields. It's up to smart destinations and brands to provide a valuable experience that builds long-term loyalty and outweighs the pay.
Social media has turned destinations’ marketing strategies on their head and introduced a new player — the social media influencer — into the mix.
These online personalities often have hundreds of thousands of followers across several channels, highly engaged audiences that “Like,” comment and share their posts, and are willing to share photos and stories of a destination for a free trip and, increasingly, cash.
“We’re seeing this as a changing environment right now. Historically we have not paid Instagrammers to attend familiarisations or media visits, but more and more the question is being asked of us of what financial support we will provide,” says Chris Chambers, director of digital marketing for Tourism and Events Queensland.
Some destinations will invite one or a handful of Instagram influencers to explore a certain region or neighborhood. In the case of the Canadian Tourism Commission, social media campaign producer Rishad Daroowala will take one or a handful of photographers through a Canadian province on a 7- to 9-day trip.
Others are increasingly planning larger events called InstaMeets where dozens of Instagram influencers meet to experience a destination together. Queensland is hosting one such event, coined “The Biggest InstaMeet in the World,” on October 4.
In either case, the question of remuneration is coming up more often.
“The gap between ‘professional’ and ‘social media’ photographers has diminished — if it still exists at all — and shutterbugs on Instagram are just as sought-after as established photographers,” says Rob Fishman, co-founder of Niche, a platform that connects social media stars with marketers and advertisers, while explaining why all photographers in his network are compensated for such trips.
This shift is leading tourism boards to question when it is or is not appropriate to pay influencers for their participation. And the compensation topic raises the issue of whether the influencers are using their power with integrity or whether they are being unduly swayed.
Pay for Play
The rate paid, in addition to covered travel costs, often depends on the influencers’ profile and reach.
The Canadian Tourism Commission, for example, may not pay a photographer anything or could pay up to $3,500 for participation in a campaign.
“These people are professional photographers for other brands. We like to keep that in mind and respect the people that we bring out. We get much better results because they treat it like a real gig,” Daroowala says.
“In terms of cost, it varies depending on the influencer. It’s like taking an ad in The New York Times versus a local newspaper.”
During Queensland’s upcoming InstaMeet, for example, one U.S. Instagram photographer will be paid $1,000 a day in addition to having his travel costs covered. Others will, presumably, not be compensated.
“Our preference is to work with Instagrammers who accept our invitation to visit the destination and if any financial support is provided, that support is to purchase additional rights to images the Instagrammers will have captured whilst in destination,” says Chambers.
“The financial support being requested varies greatly depending on the reach of the Instagrammers audience and audience on other social channels.”
As Chambers notes, the issue of pay often comes up in regards to who owns the rights to photographs that are produced during the trip and then used for a destination’s marketing materials. Agencies involved in the management of such Instagram influencers cite getting the rights to the photos and the influencers’ talent as an argument for payment.
“I am of the view that influencers get remunerated for their time, effort and creative curation of their personal voices of the brand messages within their digital spaces. It’s akin to a service fee you pay to engage a designer, architect, or PR professionals,” says Dennis Toh, founder of Singapore-based marketing and management company The Influencer Network.
Experience Before Pay
Others, however, believe a well-crafted and personalized experience that speaks to the influencers’ personal brand is worth more than the pay.
Jason Metz, founder of social marketing company Brand Influencers, believes a valuable experience is worth more than the pay.
“When you pay them they’ll say good things about you and when you stop paying them, they’ll stop saying things about you,” says Metzm of his company’s philosophy.
“The key to not paying is to find influencers that really align with the brand, that find interest in the experience. We build our campaigns so the experience is worth more than the money would have been.”
Although many influencers are asking for payment in return for their participation, many others, including high-profile influencers, are happy to partner with a destination or brand that blends with their personal message.
Of the five high-profile bloggers, only one was paid a nominal fee, and that in response to customary Chinese protocol.
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Photo credit: Instagram influencer Ben Brown on a trip in Alberta, Canada. Instagram