When Katie Hession first started posting photos related to her “favourite F-words” – family, food, fashion, fitness and fun times – on her Instagram account a couple of years back, she never expected her hobby to turn into a cottage industry.
Today, the Ottawa mom’s account, yowcitystyle, has more than 19,000 followers, and Hession has become one of the city’s best-known Instagrammers. She’s one of a growing number of social media “influencers” who partner with hotels and restaurants across the region and beyond to promote those businesses on platforms such as Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.
“When I first came on the scene, there weren’t too many people doing what I do, and there definitely weren’t too many people doing it with a focus on Ottawa,” the former special education teacher says.
“Now, I’m really seeing a rise in the food Instagramming community in Ottawa. Restaurants are really seeing the results of working with Instagrammers.”
The hotel industry has been quick to jump on board the influencer bandwagon as well. Locally, Hession has been tapped to promote properties such as the Alt Hotel, Andaz Byward Market, Brookstreet and Metcalfe hotels and the Wakefield Mill.
Typically, she receives one or two nights’ free accommodation in exchange for taking photos and writing blog posts about her stay. Hotels will often throw in free meals and other perks as part of the deal.
“I definitely love it when a hotel has a special treat waiting for you in your room,” she says with a chuckle, noting chocolate is one of her favourites.
Hotels agree influencers’ growing ability to target coveted social media-savvy demographics can’t be ignored.
Brookstreet manager Nyle Kelly says the Kanata resort gets requests virtually every day to partner with “influencers, bloggers, radio hosts – anybody with some kind of online or media presence.”
Kelly says his property’s marketing team evaluates a number of factors to determine if an influencer is a good fit, including how many followers they have, the quality of their photos and posts and their target audience.
He says the hotel has worked with everyone from golfers who blog about their rounds at Brookstreet’s course, the Marshes, to moms such as Hession who bring their families for a weekend stay.
The longtime hospitality industry executive says he believes influencers can be effective marketing partners for hotels, although he concedes “it’s really hard to put tangible numbers” on how much additional business they actually bring in.
“It’s a lot of anecdotal feedback,” he says.
Deneen Perrin, the director of public relations at the Château Laurier, says her team uses special software to analyze whether a particular influencer is likely to be a strong partner.
“It’s not just the number of followers,” she notes. “It’s how are they engaged. We look at all of those metrics.”
ROI tough to measure
She says the hotel receives an average of about 30 requests a month from bloggers and Instagrammers looking to stay at the historic property for free in exchange for providing social media content. Typically, she’ll accept just one or two.
“If it’s only a fashion blog, it isn’t my market,” she explains. “It really has to be a fit with our brand. It just depends on what it is that we need as a hotel and then see if that matches with the influencer who’s connecting with us.”
“It’s very hard to put dollars and cents to it.”
Like Kelly, Perrin agrees it’s not easy to calculate the return on investment an influencer provides. Her team looks at metrics such as whether the hotel’s Instagram account gets a bump in followers after a particular influencer’s stay as one way of measuring their impact.
“It’s very hard to put dollars and cents to it,” she says. “We want people who want to know about us, and an influencer who is the right fit can help us build those engaged followers.”
Rachel Kerr, the marketing manager at the Andaz Ottawa Byward Market hotel, says she typically teams up with influencers who target women between the ages of 25 and 45. Hotels are always looking to feed their own social media accounts, she adds, and bloggers and Instagrammers such as Hession and others can provide useful material to bolster the property’s own marketing efforts.
“Often influencers are the best content creators,” Kerr says, adding the hotel sometimes asks its partners to attach special offer codes to their posts as a way to track the return on their investment.
Chantal Sarkisian, who boasts nearly 13,000 Instagram followers and blogs about her experiences at Ottawa hotels under the name Chantsy, agrees.
“We’re almost like a mini tourist hub,” she says. “People are looking at tourism content through us.”
Hotels and influencers say it’s important for both sides to do their homework before entering into an agreement.
Hession has created a detailed media kit that includes key analytics such as a breakdown of her followers based on age, gender and location. She says influencers owe it to hotels to be accurate and truthful when it comes to their reach.
“If you know that your audience is not right for whoever is contacting you to partner with, then you really should not be accepting that collaboration or seeking them out,” she says. “As Instagrammers, we definitely hold that responsibility to make sure that we know what our audience is and that it fits right with whoever’s contacting us.”