The power of Instagram as a social media marketing platform, and that of user-generated, or earned content, is increasingly being harnessed into a tool for e-commerce. Today, Starwood Hotels & Resorts announced that it is enabling booking via earned content on Instagram for two of its newest Tribute Portfolio hotels, both located in Paris — Le Metropolitan and Le Dokhan’s.

Tribute Portfolio partnered with consumer shopping service Liketoknow.it to enable the booking feature on posts from key Instagram influencers, but there’s a catch. To receive links to book at those properties, Instagram users have to register first with Liketoknow.it. Currently, Liketoknow.it has approximately 1.7 million registered Instagram users, many of whom have registered with the site to be able to buy the items pictured in photos from their favorite fashion influencers. When these registered Instagram users double-tap on an Instagram photo tagged with @tributeportfolio, #independentmoments, and a Liketoknow.it-enabled shopping link, they will then receive an email that contains direct links to book a stay at one of the hotels on the Tribute Portfolio website.

The photos equipped with this feature will appear in five Instagram influencers’ feeds. The photos will also have been taken by those influencers during their stays at both Parisian properties. The influencers, all of whom have a distinctively Parisian sense of style, are: Alex’s Closet; La Revue De Kenza; Elles en Parlent; Marie Luv Pink; and J’aime tout Chez toi. Photos from the influencers that appear in Tribute Portfolio’s own Instagram account will not have the linking ability powered by Liketoknow.it.

Tribute Portfolio’s partnership with Liketoknow.it and those five fashion Instagram users is unique in that it’s combining both the fashion and upscale travel worlds into one. Tribute Portfolio is taking the aspirational qualities and style-driven sensibilities of fashion, and using them to promote their design-driven, fashion-forward hotels. This also comes at a time when high-end luxury travel is, in some instances, replacing the role that luxury fashion and accessories have traditionally held in developing countries, as noted by Skift contributor Divia Thani.

Instagram as a Marketing Tool and Revenue Generator

While Starwood’s Tribute Portfolio is the first hospitality brand to partner with Liketoknow.it, it isn’t the first hotel brand to tread in the space of hotel bookings via Instagram. In February 2015, Hilton’s Conrad Hotels & Resorts partnered with Like2Buy to enable booking via Instagram. Starwood was, however, the first hotel company to advertise on the social media platform back in January 2014, and when Tribute Portfolio debuted in April 2015, Instagram was one of its primary channels used to publicize its launch.

Conrad partnered with Curalate to connect Instagram photos with booking technology. Users who end up on Conrad’s Instagram profile via mobile or on a desktop can click on a link that takes them to a microsite that has a gallery of existing Instagram photos. Clicking on one of the photos takes you to another page that includes more information about that particular hotel and through which you can book that hotel.

The main challenge for both strategies employed by Tribute Portfolio and Conrad Hotels is that to get Instagram users to book their properties, they have to take them away from the platform to complete the transaction. That automatically inserts a bit of a disconnect between the photo that the user liked versus his or her ability to then book a stay at the hotel pictured in that photo.

It’s also interesting to note that both Tribute Portfolio and Conrad Hotels’ strategies don’t employ Instagram’s “Shop Now” feature, which would include a booking button below a photo — and seems to be a more direct way of monetizing a particular Instagram post. Whereas the “Shop Now” feature is a direct advertisement tool, using Liketoknow.it enables Tribute Portfolio to leverage an influencer’s particular following and fan base more directly.

Why Instagram?

Instagram is increasingly becoming the social media platform of choice among brands. In September 2015, it surpassed the number of monthly active users on Twitter, with more than 300 million monthly active users, whereas Twitter had 288 million monthly active users. To date, there are an estimated 400 million users a month using Instagram and sharing more than 80 million images a day.

Starwood cited a June 2014 study from Google, “The 2014 Traveler’s Road to Decision,” which showed that 77 percent of affluent travelers used their smartphones for travel inspiration in spare moments, such as when waiting or commuting. This new Instagram booking strategy from Starwood capitalizes on that, as well as the growing marketing trend of user-generated content.

The highly visual nature of Instagram also lends itself naturally to marketing opportunities for travel brands using it to inspire travelers, increase brand awareness, and, like Conrad and Tribute, generate revenue. Instagram has also become an influential way for companies like Beautiful Destinations, which works with travel and hospitality brands to develop and execute comprehensive Instagram strategies.

“With nearly half of all travelers worldwide using smartphones to plan or book their trips, our partnership with Liketoknow.it is yet another way we are helping our guests ‘Stay Independent’ in the City of Lights as more and more consumers turn to Instagram for travel inspiration,” said Dave Marr, global brand leader for Tribute Portfolio. “Now, travelers can turn their spare moments into independent moments at our two new boutique hotels in Paris, demonstrating that we truly are a brand built by and for our SPG [Starwood Preferred Guest] members.”

Notably, however, there are no current promotions or incentives tied to bookings made via this Instagram campaign for SPG members.

Instagram isn’t the only social media platform that brands have tried to use as a source of revenue generation. Loews Hotels & Resorts, in 2013, introduced a reservations feature on Twitter whereby guests who tweeted to @Loews_Hotels with the hashtag #BookLoews could make a reservation. KLM Royal Dutch Airlines also made it possible to book flights via Twitter and Facebook in 2014.

Photo Credit: A booking-enabled photo from one of the selected Instagram influencers chosen by Tribute Portfolio and Liketoknow.it, staying at Le Dokhan's in Paris. Marie Luv Pink / Instagram