(Gastbeitrag von Irina Graf) Last November, I gave a keynote presentation at the mbt Meetingplace in Frankfurt and Munich about influencer marketing in the MICE industry. I chose to do it in a Q & A format and Bernd Fritzges, CEO of VDVO moderated the session. I wanted to give the talk interactively because event planners have various experiences and knowledge about this topic, and by offering a format such as this, we could address the most relevant and interesting aspects to attendees.
In this article, I will share with you my responses to audience questions submitted via Slido (Q & A platform); these are also the most common questions that I am being asked.
But before getting to the questions, I want to give you a brief introduction to how I started in this industry and what brought me to influencer marketing.
I was born in Russia and grew up in Israel. After my studies, I aimed to take on a topic encompassing both languages and cultures, and therefore chose to study hotel management and tourism in Switzerland. After five years' studying and working in the hotel industry, I did an internship at a small events agency in Munich. I was very enthusiastic about the projects that we worked on, and that inspired me to start The MICE Blog and share my experience with other event planners around the world. That was in 2011.
This year during my internship, I came across an opportunity to apply for a scholarship competition at Regent's University London to study for a BA in International Events Management. I applied by submitting an essay about the 'future of events', came to London to give the presentation and won the scholarship; I then began a new 3.5-year-long degree in London.
For the course 'International Destination Management', our lecturer had advised us to attend the World Travel Market, a world-leading travel exhibition in London. I went to that event, and spontaneously decided to attend the travel blogger conference. Top travel bloggers spoke about how they collaborate with brands and monetise their blogs, working full time on them. The year 2011 was the beginning of influencer marketing, although it was not referred to as such at the time, but a few destinations had begun working with bloggers. From the very beginning, I learned that you can run your blog as a business if you take it seriously. To do so, you need to present yourself professionally, for example having a media kit, and research the destinations before you approach them for any collaboration.
In the beginning, blogger relations were allocated to the media departments; I therefore began contacting media representatives from the destinations and pitched for familiarisation or media trips. That meant unpaid trips, but all travel costs were covered. Most destinations welcomed my initiative because I was the first MICE blogger out there.
From 2011-2015, I carried out this work alongside my studies without the pressure to make a living out of it. I enjoyed sharing my passion for events, learning about various destinations, networking and sharing my journey online.
Over these years, I grew my audience and built a community. The first major collaboration was an event sponsoring of my Event Planners Talk event, which I hosted with the Switzerland Convention & Incentive Bureau in London. The Event Planners Talk is a sub-social media account of my blog where I hosted a weekly Twitter chat about various event topics (since 2019, the chat has taken place on a monthly basis instead of weekly).
This was the first time that I came to realise that influencer marketing in the MICE industry is not only about digital aspects, but also needs the face-to-face element. Digital coverage back then was more of a 'nice-to-have' feature.
After this event, in 2015 I organised more of such events and offered my clients from convention bureaux and venues the opportunity to meet new potential buyers, but also full event coverage online, and this offering was a strong business case for international destinations to work with me.
Subsequently, in 2016 I registered the business and decided to work on it full time, concentrating on content marketing and live events. In 2016, I also moved with my family from London to Heidelberg.
In 2017, I had my first large projects and campaigns with convention bureaux, where I worked with business development teams and senior management on digital campaigns.
Looking at the landscape of influencer marketing in the MICE industry, 2017 was the most significant year when it really picked up and saw a shift in marketing budgets.
At the moment, hoteliers in particular, are talking about how influencers are overestimated. What do you think?
I consider that a collaboration with influencers - whether on a barter basis or paid partnership - is not overrated, and on the contrary hotels can leverage influencer marketing to their advantage if they get it right.
I can totally understand the negative experience of hoteliers who receive many generic messages for free hotel stays, but if they can find a gem among the sea of these requests, they have a strong business case for promoting their property to their target audience.
Every business needs to invest in sales and marketing, so why not try influencer marketing instead of the traditional channels? It is not easy to get the right influencers immediately and it involves 'learning by doing', so be patient.
The hotel (or their PR agency) needs to tap into the influencer community to understand its dynamics and what the best way to collaborate can be. There are extremely professional and talented influencers who can produce high-quality content that will yield results months and years down the line; such results may not be immediate.
Last year, when I hosted a session about Influencer Marketing during ITB Berlin, one of the speakers Nicholas Montemaggi, Chief Marketing Officer at iambassador shared the following example: 'an Italian city wanted to increase awareness in the Dutch market and invited a prominent Dutch blogger. For the first six months, the article didn't have readers but before the summer season the analytics started to improve. Interestingly, during the summer, there was a peak from readers in Italy, so they discovered that Dutch travellers were in this city when searching for information about what to do.' This example demonstrates how bloggers invest time in SEO that can generate targeted traffic, and how hotels and destinations can benefit.
How can event planners use influencers to market their events?
Event organisers need to find out what the 'What's in it for me' is for the influencer and offer it to them. Some influencers would want a free ticket for them and their colleagues or for their online community; others want to speak on a panel or judge an award submission, while others want to be paid. If you determine the best win-win for the brand and influencer, you can develop a sustainable partnership and promote the event over a prolonged period of time.
The second aspect to consider is to have a pre, during and after event promotional activity on social media to increase the event's reach.
How do I find suitable influencers, for example to an own event?
There are two appropriate methods. The quick one is to check on social media and ask your friends and colleagues whom they follow in the events industry on a regular basis and are 'influenced' by. The second possibility is to be part of the influencer's community and engage with them on a regular basis - comment, interact, watch their stories, retweet etc. and build a relationship. If you follow what they do, there are probably more people like yourself who follow and trust this influencer as well.
How many articles do you write per month?
On average, I write 4-6 articles for my blog per month, then also additional newsletters and also for other websites (such as this blog feature for VDVO). My aim is to post at a minimum once per week on my blog, but there are weeks when I manage to post more articles, and other weeks I don't post because of travel. But nevertheless, my social media accounts are updated (almost) on a daily basis.
How do I recognise influencers who have real, demonstrable influence?
You can spot it immediately on their social media feed (Twitter, Instagram etc.). Can they generate conversations around a topic? Do they have a genuine audience of like-minded people, who are also your target audience? Can they mobilise people to attend your event? Can they create chatter around your brand? Can they introduce you to someone? If they meet these criteria, then they have influence.
It is very individual to what your goals are and what you want to achieve with influencer marketing. For myself, I look at these aspects:
- Talent and professionalisation of influencer marketing - can the brand use the content to show to potential clients - for example, destination spotlight videos or case studies.
- The amount of original content they produce is very important. Unless they are a top-tier influencer with over million followers - which none of MICE influencers are - they need to produce content on a daily basis for social media, video, long and short form content etc. I would expect at least ten pieces of content per day during the event, and another 20-30 content pieces post event.
- The influencer's industry involvement is key. Are they out and about at important trade shows, do they speak on panels etc.?
- The Influencer's evolution should be observed over time. Are they innovating and progressing their content marketing, or does it keep stagnant? For example, has the influencer started producing podcasts and videos, in addition to the blog articles? Have they tried any collaborations with other influencers or media outlets?
How do cooperations with destinations come about?
When I started out in 2013/4 pitching to attend familiarisation trips as media, I sent a media kit with all my information: about me, analytics, screen shots with feedback and engagement etc.
For example, with one destination we had established a relationship over multiple encounters and exchanges at trade shows and on social media before they invited me on a media trip. It all took a long time and patience. I believe that both destinations and I were learning in this process.
My first big campaigns and client collaborations occurred in 2015/16, and all were based on relationships I had built over the years and attended unpaid trips or other events for free. My average clients don't find me via SEO searching for 'MICE influencers.' Most probably we have had a 2-3-year relationship beforehand or it came via a recommendation.
What is most important to you to make new contacts? Twitter, Instagram etc.?
I have built my business thanks to Twitter, and still today I consider it the number one channel to build relationships and generate business.
In 2014, I launched a weekly Twitter chat called the Event Planners Talk (#eventprofstalk, @themiceblogHQ) and until the end of 2018, it was a weekly chat. The majority of my network and clients I encountered on Twitter and subsequently met them at industry trade shows.
Now, I can see that event planners' attention is shifting to Instagram. But the challenge with Instagram is that it is prone to sudden algorithm changes that strongly influence what I see on my feed, with engagement among event planners being really low on Instagram, in comparison to Twitter. Twitter, on the other hand, has stayed very reliable over the years and keeps being a great platform for meaningful business discussions and spontaneous engagement.
While Instagram is somewhere between 'personal' and 'business', I appreciate that Twitter is very business focused and conversational. It helps me stay ahead of the latest news in the MICE industry.
LinkedIn is the second most important because contacts established first on Twitter and Instagram will 'formalise' on LinkedIn.
How much time per day do you spend on Instagram, Twitter etc.?
About five hours per day across my social media channels and the blog.
Have you ever been a (paid) blogger in a hotel / event that you did not like?
Fortunately, not. For us event professionals who are invited on familiarisation trips, the experience is always exceptional and well planned to the smallest details. If I have any problem with a certain aspect of the entire trip/event, first I will report it directly to my contact who invited me because I believe that it is part of influencer marketing in the MICE industry to also provide feedback on the stay and support the destination or event to improve. Before addressing any challenge publicly, I will clarify internally why it wasn't the way I may have expected it to be.
Furthermore, with respect to MICE, in many cases we stay at hotels which we might not stay for leisure, and if I have a construction site outside the window, and it is loud during the day, I don't see it as a major factor to criticise because I barely spend time in the room during the day. Nevertheless, I may say that you can request a room on a different side of the hotel.
What are the costs for organisers and how can the success be proven?
At the moment, there is no standard price for influencer marketing. There are influencers who charge too much, and those who charge too little. It depends on various factors, such as supply and demand as well as the influencer's experience.
Each brand knows how much it pays for other marketing activities and what works for them best. Influencer marketing is the new tool that each brand should try and compare with other marketing activities that they currently use, and compare results. Based on this experience, a brand can allocate its budget for influencer marketing.
On the other hand, there are the influencers who have their prices and know their 'worth'. The more experience and proven case studies an influencer has, the more they can justify their price, particularly if it's high. When the influencer has no or little experience, covering the travel costs and event ticket can be a win-win for both sides.
Another suggestion for finding the right price is to compare influencer marketing with other service providers such as photographers, PR professionals and copywriters. If an influencer has any or several of the above skills and can create high quality content for the brand, then they can be paid the standard industry rate.
It is very important to work with influencers who are passionate about the brand. When they like the brand, they will be always willing to go the extra mile without charging for each and every post. A collaboration with influencers is not to be regarded solely under monetary terms; there must be a brand fit and a long-term vision.
Last year, I attended a blogger conference and the speaker, a well-known UK lifestyle and family blogger, told us that she was once 'grilled' on stage regarding this aspect. In the end she said, and I fully agree with her, that 'a sweet spot for an influencer marketing camping is 5,000 GBP' (Approximately 5,700 EUR).
For me, measuring success is based on the results I get with influencer marketing in comparison with other channels. I have experienced that an influencer speaker on my panel can obtain more exposure for my event and bookings than a press release in a trade magazine; therefore, I would rather invest in building a relationship with this speaker, promoting them and finding other ways to collaborate besides the one event.
When I work with multiple influencers, it also becomes clear which influencer has 'real influence'.
Do you have set times when you post things on social networks? Or is it different from day to day?
I don't and the timings vary. As a rule of thumb, the more you post across your key platforms, the better (of course it has to be high-quality content). When I attend events, I tend to post more, but otherwise I am rather irregular with my postings when it comes to time of day. I allow myself to be flexible, but for clients I do have fixed slots and schedule the content in advance. For one client, I posted ten times per day on Twitter, for example.
Mehr über die Autorin Irina Graf
Irina Graf ist Gründerin von The MICE Blog, einem internationalen Event-Management-Blog für Corporate Event Planer, der 2011 ins Leben gerufen wurde. Sie arbeitet mit globalen Kongressbüros, Veranstaltungsorten, Veranstaltungsplanern und Ausstellungsorganisatoren, um diese bei den Themen soziale Medien, strategische Erstellung von Inhalten, Live-Blogging, FAM-Trips und gesponserten Beiträgen zu unterstützen. Seit Juni 2018 ist Irina Graf auch als International Relations Officer beim Verband der Veranstaltungsorganisatoren eV (VDVO) tätig.
Fotocredits: Thomas Loris, Blitzboxx, Irina Graf
"Influencer" - EliseRiva,pixabay.com