Look beyond big follower figures for the genuine marketing players, says Steve Dunne, chief executive of Digital Drums

A tour operator called the other day seeking my advice on what has become a familiar subject – working with social media influencers.

The operator had been approached by a person who wanted to ‘collaborate’ with his brand. Their credentials seemed very impressive, with dizzying follower numbers on Instagram; YouTube subscribers and views into the thousands; and Facebook, Twitter and Snapchat numbers that gave the impression of huge reach.

The collaboration proposed was for a free seven-night trip in a resort in exchange for postings and a review.
The operator was curious to know what level of business they could deliver, given the investment required.

Beware the bad guys

Lamenting the days of hosting a journalist with a confirmed commission from a popular magazine or newspaper, the operator was uneasy about how to evaluate the ever-increasing approaches from social media influencers.

Social media plays a significant role in marketing a brand or destination and, like PR, sales promotion or
advertising, it is now a key part of the marketing mix, with many influencers delivering powerfully for brands.

But, it has its good guys and its bad guys, and even the good guys may not be as good as they think they are.

Marketers have known for a while about the practice of buying followers. These so-called click farms build your social media following or share your content among false accounts and bots, making you look as if you are exerting influence, when in fact they are shouting into an empty chamber.

Another report quoted that up to 48 million Twitter users, nearly 15%, could be categorised as fake accounts, while an estimated 60 million Facebook accounts are automated.

Even big names like President Trump or Lady Gaga have large percentages of followers who are not real.

Check for endorsements

So what questions should you pose when approached by a social influencer?

Who has the social influencer worked with before from the travel sector? What were the results? And can they be verified by the hotel, tourist board or tour operator quoted?

Big numbers of followers and views are impressive, but the key metric is summed up by shareability – how many people share their post or retweet it? That is real third-party endorsement.

How many platforms are they on? Just one is a warning sign. Are there multiple photographs of the influencer on their platforms or do they use the same photo? Even where the influencer is can be revealing. Quoting an address over a PO Box number is more genuine. What does their personal bio reveal?

Try searching their followers and see what types of people follow them – do the people look genuine or is there more than their fair share of beautiful Russian models? Does the follower profile match your target audience? Do they have genuine comments on their site? If they have few comments, likes or shares, that should be a red flag.

Social media influence, when harnessed properly is a powerful marketing tool, just beware the big numbers. Seek the genuine players and your marketing plan will have a new and powerful promotional tool.