Social influencers who fake sponsorship deals sound like great free advertising, but hoteliers should discourage dishonesty toward their guests.
There are a number of ways to measure the credibility of a journalist, but the biggest among them is whether a journalist is truthful. That means being transparent and honest in all aspects of reporting, including interviewing sources, gathering data and reporting the news. If a journalist is dishonest in any of his or her reporting, everything that journalist has reported is suspect.
When a newspaper discovers one of its reporters or editors has fabricated any part of their reporting, it begins a review process to discover how often it occurred. You can find well-known examples of this in Stephen Glass at The New Republic, Jayson Blair at The New York Times and, most recently, with Claas Relotius at Der Spiegel in Germany. After the review, the newspaper publicly reports on the findings to explain what happened and how, to apologize and to explain what steps it will take to prevent it from happening again.
For journalists, telling the truth is a big deal.
That’s why a recent story in The Atlantic blew our minds a little. As journalists for a publication that covers the hotel industry, we’ve all become aware of, and in some cases worked alongside, social influencers. If you don’t know what social influencers are, they are people who have built (or are trying to build) a large following on social media (usually Instagram). They take pictures of the different locations, hotels and restaurants they visit and write about the experience in the post, which is sometimes followed by more than a handful of hashtags.
The more followers a social influencer has, the more influential they appear to the public. They use this appeal to gain sponsorships from various lifestyle brands (which is how they get paid for their posts outside of any other writing/photography they do). They also offer up this clout in exchange for free trips, hotel stays and meals, arguing that the exposure through their posts will bring in new business.
As the article notes, the social influencer segment has become overcrowded, filled with people hoping to gain enough followers to start receiving sponsorships and free products, trips, etc., in exchange for posts. It has become so competitive that some are now faking sponsored posts. They frame their photographs and write their posts in such a way that it appears a brand is sponsoring them without coming right out and saying it. They are counting on their followers to fill in the gap with an incorrect assumption. The appearance of sponsorships can make them seem more legitimate in the eyes of followers and (they hope) demonstrate to brands they can handle such deals so they can actually get paid to post about the products or services.
It’s a completely different mindset, so, like I said before, it completely blew all of our minds. Posting what seems to be editorial content that is actually sponsored without disclosing that detail would cross the line for any journalist who cares about ethics, so the idea of faking a sponsorship and giving the impression is real is dishonest. It’s not a full-blown lie to give that false impression (unless they unequivocally say it’s sponsored when it’s not), but it is deception by withholding information.
Why should this matter to hoteliers? After all, it sounds like free advertising, right? If someone wants to share a picture or video about one of your properties alongside a positive story for their hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of followers without you having to pay a dime, what’s wrong with that?
A couple of things, actually.
Without a sponsorship deal in place, there’s no way to ensure the social influencer is aware of any sort of brand standard, so they could unintentionally hurt the hotel or have followers view it in the wrong light. If you already have a deal in place with other social influencers, you have to consider whether this creates any conflict.
Authenticity has been a buzzword for years in the hotel industry. Everyone wants to achieve it because that’s what everyone thinks guests want. You know what’s not authentic? Deceptive posts that market a hotel. Even though you had no part in the creation of the post, they are including you in their lies.
I’m not arguing you should reach out to social influencers who share posts that look like they have a sponsorship deal with your company when they really don’t and ask them to take down their posts. I mean, you can if you want, and I would applaud you for doing so.
What you should not do, however, is reward this practice. If a social influencer shares a deceptive post about your hotel or brand, don’t make a deal with them and encourage lying to potential guests. If they’re willing to lie to their followers, how do you know they won’t lie to you?
If you want to sponsor a social influencer, great, go for it. There are tons of established and up-and-coming influencers who don’t feel the need to deceive their followers. Just make sure to check their references.
The opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the opinions of Hotel News Now or its parent company, STR and its affiliated companies. Bloggers published on this site are given the freedom to express views that may be controversial, but our goal is to provoke thought and constructive discussion within our reader community. Please feel free to comment or contact and editor with any questions or concerns.