“I just found this pool in the middle of the woods.” – Vivian V, Instagram Influencer with 500,000 followers.
We could not have imagined, when we built our pool, how much of an Instagram magnet it would become. People book with us just because they want to take photos at the pool and share them on social media. We are obviously fine with that, since it increases our bookings and our income. Although it does make me sad to see people spending their entire time while they are here taking selfies, rather than simply enjoying the view and each other’s company. The ability to just be present in the moment seems to be becoming a lost art, and it makes me sad for our guests who clearly have an addiction to their phones.
However, we have one rule around photos and that is if a guest takes photos for commercial purposes, they must give us credit by tagging us on their social media platform (usually Instagram, but sometimes facebook or twitter as well). But somehow professional “influencers” as they are known, have a really hard time acknowledging that they didn’t magically create this pool themselves. Their whole brand revolves around their ability to be perceived as “special”, and they don’t want to let anyone else have credit for how special they are.
Last month we received a booking from a guest who said she found out about us from a famous influencer, Vivian V. At that point, we had no idea that our previous guest Vivian (who had stayed in the Sunset Yurt for only one night) was in fact a “famous influencer”, so we immediately went to Vivian’s Instagram page to find out what our guest was referring to. We found that Vivian had posted several photos as well as a video of herself and her boyfriend frolicking in our pool, without giving us credit or tagging us. Vivian wrote in her post “I just found this pool in the middle of the woods” as if she conjured it up out of thin air with her mad instagrammer skills. When her followers pressed her for further information, the most Vivian would divulge is that it was an Airbnb in northern California. Our new guest had found us by painstakingly researching Airbnb to track down exactly where and how she could visit this fabulous pool “in the middle of the woods.”
So we posted on Vivian’s Instagram a link to our Airbnb listing so that other people could find us and book. However, that turned out to be a mistake, and we probably should have realized it. It was a good reminder that it is important to make sure that the marketing you are doing attracts the kind of customers you want to have. We did get at least 4 bookings from Vivian, but they were not the kind of guests we want to attract. Clearly the people that “follow” Vivian should not be “glamping” and had no idea what they were getting themselves into when they booked our yurts. They required way more work than other guests, leaving the units extremely messy and bags of garbage behind. One of these guests, who is trying to become an influencer herself (but she only has 900 followers, not 500,000), posted a similar video to Vivian’s. Not only did she not give us credit, she said the pool was in South Lake Tahoe, nowhere near our actual location. I guess she felt like she had to pretend like she was posting original content and wasn’t just copying Vivian’s earlier post. Why try to come up with original content when it is so much easier to steal from other people?
I’ve spoken to other business owners in our area who are trying to do marketing through various social media channels, and I’m hearing similar stories. The Instagram effect isn’t bringing in the customers we want. At least in our case guests had to pay us to stay here, so we did get some money for the interaction, even though it came with a lot of extra work and expense. Other businesses aren’t so fortunate – people are showing up looking for the exact same “tree with a view” that they saw in someone else’s post so they can take the exact same photo – and then they leave without spending any money, all the while creating extra work and loads of traffic. This is nothing unique to our area – horror stories abound of the hordes of tourists trampling historic sites in cities like Barcelona just to get that selfie they saw on Instagram. Residents of these cities have had enough and they are beginning to fight back, protesting the tourists and even turning violent in some instances.
I think the stream of Vivian-followers has subsided, and we can get back to our regularly scheduled programming. While I still think using Instagram as a marketing tool can be beneficial, we need to figure out how to use it to market to the customers we want, as any good marketing professional will tell you. Another lesson learned, that’s for sure.