Influencers’ love for free things or fair deal?

Friday, April 17th, 2020 00:00 |
Travel influencer, consultant and digital marketer Wanjiru Njenga. Photo/COURTESY

Become one and you never need to pay for anything; delicious foods in fancy restaurants,  nights at five-star hotels, make-up kits or even gym membership. Well, only if you’ve got a huge Instagram following. HARRIET JAMES finds out from the horses’ mouth whether this social marketing strategy is worth the dime.

Harriet James @harriet86jim

Six years ago, Wangeci Gitahi began documenting her travel experiences on Instagram and on her travel blog, which has now transformed to a website, wangecigitahitravels. 

She had been passionate about travel for many years, but her first solo backpacking travel experience made her notice a gap in the travel industry that she wanted to fill.

She felt a lot of information lacked in the industry. “I also noted most information shared online was more or less the same thing and seemed to be written for the same demographic.

Some was fake and in other instances unavailable. I decided to expound my passion of discovering unchartered destinations, exploring and engaging with the locals, to provide a platform that would enable the masses to have a one stop “shop” and to get honest, factual travel related information,” explains the 2019 Bloggers Association of Kenya (BAKE) awards winner. 

Nagging influencers

Her website and Instagram page are purely based on her experiences in the various unchartered destinations, thus fresh news for her audience.

Wangeci forms a cluster of lifestyle, fashion, travel and beauty bloggers, who have leveraged social media clout to travel the world and also earn from it.

While some influencers like Wangeci  are invited by hotel brands to have a taste and experience of services they have to offer, many other self-proclaimed social marketers are giving hotels and business owners sleepless nights  with a deluge of requests for all-expense-paid vacations and free products in exchange for online posts for their followers.

Naomi Kamau, a digital and communication consultant who has worked in various luxury hotels in the country says her hotel would receive 50 to 100 requests from self-described local or international influencers every month.

“I don’t like some of them. They feel so entitled. Nowadays, everyone with a social media presence thinks that they are influencers.

Sometimes you find people with less than 600 Facebook friends telling you that they are influencers and that they want to stay in your hotel for seven days.

For us, we strategically look for influencers, who have a niche in the travel and lifestyle world and have a genuine following,” she says

Entitled joyriders

Naomi says some of them are too demanding even choosing which suites they want to stay in, ask for extra pampering and other obnoxious demands. While some add value, it is quite hard to measure it.

Others don’t bring in a cent. She recalls one of the greatest mistakes their hotel ever did was to invite an influencer with a million followers to market their group of hotels.

“She just posted once, yet we had given her the best services,” recalls Naomi 

Jeremiah Porini, product and marketing manager at Gamewatchers Safaris and Porini camps has also noticed the rise of joyriders in the name of influencers.

“Guys with barely any following want to travel for free in return for social media posts. They just dupe businesses,” he quips.

For this reasons, Porini says they carry out their own background checks before accepting an influencer to write or market their story something that has saved them from making marketing mistakes.

“We haven’t had good business with local travel bloggers as we have had with international ones.  We hardly notice a peak after a story by a local influencer,” he intimates.

While this might be true, Wangeci argues that these are some of the misconceptions that genuine travel bloggers like her face.

They have been branded as show offs, wannabes and some don’t understand that its out of passion that they do this.

“For most travel bloggers, we pay for our trips directly out of pocket for most of the trips we post.

We, however, also appreciate partnerships and engagements that brands, individuals and companies provide for us,” she says

Terms and conditions

And when it comes to demands by influencers, Wangeci believes that the term is relative and for her, it connotes terms and conditions of the engagement, which may vary from one client to another, many times, terms are customised. “Honesty is my principle and thus one of the constant items on the  terms and conditions is that, my review will be honest and factual.

I am also a marketer by profession and so when a hotel or other products brands engage us, they get a value add of not only having an industry authority, but also an actual marketer handling their brand.

In a situation where we note  gaps at the facility, we are able to consult and advise accordingly on how best to improve noting that we are an authority in the travel industry,” she says  

Wanjiru Njenga, another travel influencer, consultant and digital marketer notes that one of the challenges they face is that the Kenyan market hasn’t fully embraced travel bloggers and that’s why it’s challenging for them to penetrate the industry.

“It’s a new concept, so finding and convincing hotels and resorts to work with you is a challenge,” she says.

Her Instagram page ‘Wanjiru Njenga’ has over 5,000 likes and her trips are either fully or partially sponsored.

Wanjiru was recently recognised and awarded by the Kenya Tourism Board for her efforts in promoting domestic tourism through photography under the hash tag #meilovetembea.

She has also been lucky to work with major hotels through referrals and also gotten paid for marketing those who ‘understand the meaning of travel blogging business’.

“I hear this a lot, people assume that one is “living the life” and is always travelling.

That’s not the case at all, in fact most times during a trip one is consumed with getting the best pictures of the destination you’re promoting that you barely enjoy the often short holiday,” she notes. 

 Even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, some influencers are still trying to score free food and alcohol from businesses struggling through the pandemic.

Last week, Tuesday, a wine company P & V Wine + Liquor Merchants slammed actor Harry Cook after asking the winery for free alcohol in exchange for social media promotion.

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