Travel providers lure social media stars with special perks, discounts, and freebies nowadays. Check-ins on Foursquare or Facebook, tweets, retweets, and Instagram posts are traded as currency in exchange for loyalty points or discounted rates. In most cases, the more followers you have, the larger your reward. But even an everyday traveler with a less-than-impressive fan base can leverage tweets and likes to save money on travel.
If you’re interested Marriott, Kimpton, and Starwood have established programs, and several airlines offer promotions at one time or another. Read the article here for the details. There’s a lot of action with Instagram, as the NY Times reports.
Treating social media endorsements as currency for rewards is a promotional tactic not very different, in principle, from other reward schemes. However, these programs have the potential to skew what influencers say about a brand and the perception they are fostering of that brand.
Marketing benefits aside, this poses problems from the analytical perspective when we need to distinguish between commercial voices and authentic voices, which we need to do in listening research and in digital metrics. In listening, for example, we would have difficulty evaluating the importance of topics and sentiment – we wouldn’t confidently know which were raised by “stars” benefitting from a special rewards program and which were voiced by the ordinary traveler. On the metrics side, there are implications for earned media trends and analysis.
We can address these and related issues by encouraging the stars to take the lead and voluntarily disclose their participation in these influence for rewards programs. This will let their readers know if they are materially benefiting from the programs or not, which they can then take that into account as they see fit. At the same time, that notification will allow analysts to tag conversations as commercially-influenced or not, and analyze them appropriately.