So just what does social influence mean in travel marketing?

Targeting influencers in marketing is most definitely not new – from sending out samples to social butterflies to Tupperware parties to the much-hyped ‘fam’ trip for press to a particular destination, it has all been done before.

Social media has changed this landscape considerably, as reach can now be measured in ways beyond print runs and pageviews. Marketers are constantly seeking out influencers in the social media landscape, and this is no different in the travel world.

CVBs, destination marketers, hotel brands and all kinds of other travel brands are pushing the thought process behind using influencers as marketing tools. Even though there’s some chatter about certain travelers not even turning to digital influencers for travel advice, there’s no shortage of marketers sharing best practices on identifying and measuring influencers:

But what does influence really mean? Is it truly viewers per month, media citations, engagement, re-tweets and other metrics? Or is there something more complex at work here?


Matt Barker from i & i Travel Media has taken some time to get lost in the available data, and has come up with some conclusions on how to best measure influence in the social travel space.

By using available tools from Followerwonk, included the newly-released ‘social authority’ metric which measures re-tweets and other engagements on Twitter, Matt culled through 740k users to deliver only those with over 1k followers and a social authority score of 50/100.

He then took only the top 10% of those as his travel sample, and broke them down into the following categories:

  • Travel brand
  • Travel publisher/broadcaster
  • DMO/Tourism board
  • Travel blog
  • Travel media professional (including freelancers, travel writers, etc)
  • Social media entity (not connected to a brand or individual, e.g. @earth_pics)
  • Non travel (lifestyle, food, sports, actors, musicians, etc – individuals, brands or blogs who express an interest in travel but aren’t connected to the industry)

The 400 most influential 

The remaining cream-of-the-crop were actually quite influential outside of the travel ecosystem. The research found that 51% of the top influencers were not even related to the travel industry – searching in this way brought up influential folks that simply loved to travel. This definitely lends credence to social campaigns that target influential travel enthusiasts outside of the limited travel blogosphere.

The breakdown of the 10%:

Many of the most influential in that top cadre are not your usual suspects. From actors to singers to TV hosts, it ran the gamut.

In fact, one of the mos vital discoveries that HitRiddle made was that travel bloggers and industry insiders were actually the least influential, on average, than the rest!

LonelyPlanet was the only travel publisher that scored over 80 on the ‘social authority’ score, and only eight travel publishers influenced enough of their networks to merit a score above 70. In fact, there were only 55 publishers represented out of the final 400!

Here’s the final numbers showing the social authority score of the categories mentioned earlier:

Again, the results are skewed away from travel publishers in favor of the more loosely affiliated travel entities. Thankfully for the travel writing freelancers, “travel media pros” were third down the line as far as mean social authority – and yet, the range within that cohort was quite large.

While this data is certainly not without its tradeoffs, HitRiddle did a clever thing with available information. It points to the underlying need for all marketing to serve a purpose – even if it is a fam trip with “influential” travel bloggers. Be sure to consider the audience, identify influencers within said audience, and target with a surgical approach to ensure that the campaign’s identified purpose is being served by the influencers involved.

Finally, it’s also essential to know how to most effectively leverage a travel brand within an unaffiliated community. For example, a brand shouldn’t pursue a relationship just because one of the aforementioned non-travel influencers appear to have gravitas and also happens to enjoy travel.

Be smart, be surgical and approach this mess of information like a traditional marketing campaign by knowing the audience, engaging with the right influencers – and then delivering them a customized experience that they cannot help but wax lyrical about to their engaged followers.

Without this follow through, the influencer marketing campaign may very well fall flat out of the gate.

NB: Hypnotic image courtesy Shutterstock.

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Nick Vivion

About the Writer :: Nick Vivion

Nick helps brands blog better at Ghost Works, a boutique blog management service. Nick was previously the Director of Content for tnooz, where he oversaw the editorial and commercial content as well as producing/hosting tnoozLIVE.



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  1. Hotel Managers Group

    Have all of the experts been taking the wrong approach to travel marketing through social media channels. This article makes one wonder what really motivates people to travel. The article states that about half of the most influential people that affect travelers have nothing or very little to do with the travel industry. A celebrity with a million Twitter followers can say that she loved her vacation in the Florida Keys and hundreds or thousands of people will want to book a hotel in the Keys. Maybe it is more about trust and credibility with the source of the travel information? Maybe people identify with a lifestyle and base their plans on influences that represent that lifestyle?

    • Matthew Barker

      Exactly that. This research has demonstrated that consumer “influence” online is a much more nebulous subject than we might assume.

      You’re absolutely right that trust and credibility are important, but the question is from where that trust and credibility is derived.

      We might assume that credibility comes from professional expertise and connection to the industry itself – which is undoubtedly true – but consumers are influenced elsewhere too and it would be very smart for travel marketers to be aware of the other sources of influence, trust and credibility out there.

      • Nick Vivion

        Nick Vivion

        It’s extremely important for brands to look outside of the traditional “travel influencer” world when considering how to market. By having a strong understanding of your current and ideal customers, a brand can identify influencers of that cohort to co-market with.

        A clear understanding of the desired customer’s habits, influences and hobbies is key – that’s how a brand can get to the heart of the most valuable influencers.



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