Influencer Fluency
Getting Started with Influencer Marketing
by Jamison Stoike

ISPA members receive requests from influencers about potential partnerships and activations every day. For many, though, working with influencers can be a journey into a new, unfamiliar type of marketing. To demystify the process, Pulse spoke with both spa and resource partner ISPA members who work extensively with influencers, getting their top tips and strategies on how to make the most of what is now an essential part of a good marketing mix.

Why—and When—to Use an Influencer
For everything there is a season; influencer marketing is no different. Just like any marketing activation—from local ads to email communications and social media posts—there are situations for which influencers are particularly well-suited, especially for spas. Daniela Ciocan, founder and CEO of Access Beauty Insiders, suggests using influencers for new location openings. In this case, use local geo-tags and hashtags to find influencers who are local to your new location and have a following in the area. Another great use of influencers, says Ciocan, is to market new treatments or distinctive seasonal offerings. Ultimately, “your decision to hire or use an influencer should boil down to your goals,” says Erin Stremcha, vice president of marketing for Trilogy Spa Holdings. “Do you want to spread brand awareness, or is your goal more about securing bookings or sales?”

In general, though, influencers are a valuable marketing tool across a wide range of contexts because of spa’s experiential nature. Roxana Medina, director of marketing at Carillon Miami Wellness Resort, agrees: “I think that there are a lot of experiences that are easier to show in a video from someone else’s point of view, where they can tell a story. That’s a very valuable thing.”

For resource partners, influencers are similarly a no-brainer: the try-it-out-for-yourself nature of many spa and skin care products lends itself well to influencers’ story-based marketing approach. “They can work in any situation,” says Tim Waller, CEO of BABOR Beauty Group Americas, “as long as the influencer matches the partner and objectives.” Once you’ve established your campaign goals and chosen to engage with an influencer on a marketing activation, there are four steps that ISPA members identified to Pulse as being key to process.

First and foremost: you have to perform due diligence on any influencer with whom you work. Carillon Miami Wellness Resort receives approximately five influencer requests per day and has a thorough vetting process for any influencers. First is identifying what they want to use an influencer for—is it a local push or a national push? Is it a product launch or a service launch? The type of campaign leads them to a particular type of influencer, such as a local micro-influencer with less than 10,000 followers or a macro-influencer of more than 100,000. “We do different layers of research to understand who their audience actually is,” says Medina. “What’s their age range, where are they located, what are their interest levels?” Robin Vega, co-founder of CAUSE+MEDIC, similarly begins her vetting process by looking at the influencers’ feeds. “We have influencers approaching us…I’ll immediately go to their page and look at the followers, then at their profile and see what my first impression is. If it doesn’t look like we would share an audience or I don’t like the tone of their posts, that could be that.”

Lastly, it’s important to check in on the influencer’s followers. Are they engaging with posts? An influencer with 10,000 highly engaged followers will always be better than an influencer with 100,000 disengaged followers, especially for highly local or regional spas. If all of those details check out—the right influencer with the right audience for the right campaign, its worth reaching out to them and gauging their true interest.

Generally, it’s best to reach out to influencers via the platform on which they operate, unless they’ve provided alternative contact information. Ciocan recommends avoiding influencer marketing platforms like Upfluence, especially if you’re a non-national business or just starting out. “Platforms are an easy way to identify influencers, but it’s not organic because you don’t have any connection with them. You’re just pitching in the dark. You want someone who is really passionate.” CAUSE+MEDIC has also previously used Upfluence, but has since decided to take a more bespoke and direct approach.

Once you’ve reached out, it’s vital to establish the terms of the relationship. Typically, this will mean asking for a certain number of posts, Instagram stories, reels, Tik-Tok videos, et cetera. Influencers are often reticent to agree to certain engagement, likes or bookings goals due to activation-to-activation variability and the difficulty of documentation. Some influencers might be interested in affiliate marketing, a system in which the influencer receives a specialized bookings link or referral code. If the influencer is interested in this, they’ll likely recommend a company who will set up and manage the program if you are unfamiliar with managing the process on your own.

Typically, though, these relationships will be straightforward: the influencer receives products and/or services, while you receive a certain number of posts. Ciocan recommends avoiding paying cash when you’re just starting out, and local micro-influencers will likely be open to this arrangement. Vega agrees, noting that, “For cash money, an influencer will post whatever you want, but it could be for naught if it isn’t the right audience.” Because of that—regardless of the remuneration method—ask your influencer partner what works best with their audience. Avoid dictating what types of posts they need to make; the best influencers will tailor everything they do to ensure effectiveness.

Still, if you’re making a national push, it may be necessary to pay cash. In that case, make sure that the terms are well laid-out in a contract. Additionally, work to get an accurate statement of what the influencer typically charges for their services, either by asking them or by reaching out to their other advertising partners. This allows you to put a dollar value on the products and services being exchanged.

Another bonus of working with micro-influencers, according to Medina, is that they often overdeliver. “Cost is definitely a big difference between a local influencer and a national influencer. I find that the micro-influencers tend to overdeliver because they’re trying to grow as well.”

Make no mistake that working with influencers is time-consuming, especially since follow-up is paramount. After the influencer has received the product or the service, you need to check in on them: did they like it? What post(s) did they make? How did the posts do? Ideally, some of this follow-up will happen on the day of any services, says Ciocan. When she worked with a Las Vegas spa on an activation with fourteen regional Las Vegas influencers, Ciocan “made sure that each influencer posted a story on the spa—tagging the spa, tagging the esthetician—and then after the event we made sure that they posted. After that, they sent us a proof of their story and their post, and provided metrics and data to the spa.”

Influencers are busy, working with multiple partners in any given week. They often have well-planned and intricate posting schedules. Checking in will keep them on task and make the relationship a positive and effective one.

After the activation is over, it’s important to evaluate the results. This can occasionally be difficult due to the esoteric nature of brand awareness and engagement. Likes, comments, mentions and phone calls can be tracked, but nothing beats bookings as a measure of success. Ultimately, social media engagement is only as worthwhile as the dollars it adds to the bottom line; every source featured in this story reiterated that it’s important to remember this fact and not lose the forest for the trees by zeroing in on clicks and follower counts. Adds Stremcha, “Your main goal should be to find influencers who work in a space where your target audience is likely to spend their time and money.”

Passion Comes First
Because money matters so much, finding influencers who are passionate about your spa or brand is the number one rule of influencer marketing. Passionate, small-scale influencers will likely be easier to work with, have more engaged followings, know your brand better, work harder, and cost less—a big concern for many spas whose owners or managers are reluctant to spend cash on an inherently trial-and-error strategy. Chasing numbers and followers will likely lead to empty pockets and low ROI, notes Ciocan.

Vega agrees: “A large learning experience early on was paying a celebrity to promote our product. It was a famous person, but her following wasn’t our core, our people. It’s quality over quantity these days. Consumers are very keen and if you want them to pick up what you’re putting down, it’s got to be authentic.”

In summary, start small if you’re just beginning to work with influencers. Find local micro-influencers who are highly engaged. Establish clear terms that allow you to put a hypothetical dollar value on what you are providing to each other. Educate them on your goals. Follow-up with them after the activation. Analyze the results and decide if you’d like to cultivate a long-term partnership. When working with micro-influencers, the financial risks are small but the potential benefits are enormous, especially for local spas and niche resource partners—and in 2021, when consumers are shopping and buying more online than ever before, influencers might just become a keystone of your marketing strategy.