Influencers in an age of authenticity

At every hotel event I attended over the past two years and during just about every interview I do these days, the word “authenticity” quickly creeps into conversations. It is a timeless concept, and in my best millennial mindset vernacular, I am down with that. Life is supposed to be authentic, and that includes hospitality experiences.

Influencers at the California-based Resort at Pelican Hill, one of HOTELS 2017 SoHo winners.
Influencers at the California-based Resort at Pelican Hill, one of HOTELS 2017 SoHo winners.

However, as I see more marketing practices focus on the new social rage, using influencers to drive brand recognition, I stop and scratch my head because there is very little that I see as authentic about paid, pretty posers posting their beautiful pics on Instagram and Facebook. Call me a cynic, but that particular type of influence peddling, especially if not well vetted, smacks of insincerity. More consumers will see through it and tune it out — and maybe the accompanying brands they represent.

That said, I admit influencers are delivering a certain set of eyeballs (read HOTELS blogger Mark Grenoble’s post on how to vet them) and we are not ignoring the trend (see our October feature on influencers). Next week, in fact, we will begin an online series highlighting the winners of HOTELS annual Social Hotel Awards program. And let me be clear, I am not against the concept of using thoughtful influencers – but they better come off as sincere and honest, and too often, to me, that is not what this grizzled reporter finds.

Since I know my point of view on this subject may not be well received on the worldwide web, and in the name of balance and objectivity, I searched deeper and sat down with one of HOTELS younger editors, Chloe Riley, who also acts as our social media maven. I asked her to explain to a skeptic the upside of this phenomenon. She offered a thoughtful point of view: it’s not just the appearance of authenticity that makes these influencers so in vogue right now — from the hotel’s point of view, they also happen to be relatively cheap marketers who don’t require company benefits.

We’re living in a gig economy, she continued, which favors the Uber driver, the Airbnb host. In some ways that means more flexibility and profitability for those who chose to engage, but security isn’t guaranteed and it’s a lifestyle that, for better or worse, encourages hustling. And, while authenticity is relative to a certain degree, Chloe added that the cookie cutter minimalist hand holding a cute ice cream cone Instagram photos should be boiled in their own oil.

Yes, the broader social media landscape has quickly become a huge marketing tool and will only grow in importance, and even more so as a source of booking revenue. Proper Hospitality President and COO Arash Azarbarzin made a point of saying during a recent interview that social media will very soon become a big driver of bookings at a minimal expense.

No doubt, the road ahead for social media marketing will not be without its missteps and, yes, there are stories about gaining eyeballs by using influencers. As Chloe said, “Social doesn’t do you, you do it.” My only suggestion is to do it more honestly and with integrity because your reputation matters more.