We have noticed that the traditional role of media is slowly fading away in the hospitality industry, replaced by a rise in “influencers”. Many hotels have shown a willingness to host influencers and even to pay them to promote the properties, but how does someone who gets free stays and makes shoutouts to their followers differ from a salesperson or a paid advertisement?

According to Mark Schaefer at {grow}, influencers come in four different types, although one of these is best avoided. The first kind that comes to mind are celebrities, whose influence is linked to the extent of their fame. If your goal is to promote your brand image, you can pay celebrities in order to become associated with their image and lifestyle. Customers don’t usually think any less of a celebrity who takes money to endorse a particular brand.

The second type are thought leaders, whose influence is based on authoritative, original content. These people usually talk to a large and engaged audience, and they can be sponsored to feature your brand. If your goal is to build awareness, thought leaders can quickly spread your message to the target audience. However, their appeal is based an their expertise, and if they are seen to be promoting certain brands for monetary rewards, their opinions may lose credibility, especially among audiences who understand their field.

The third type are known as advocates, and their influence is based on their passion and their emotional connection they have developed with their audience. They tend to talk to a specific demographic, and their advocacy is usually unpaid and hence authentic. They promote brands they truly believe in, so are ideal for driving sales via word of mouth. If they do receive payment, this is often seen by their audience as an indication that the advocate’s expertise has finally gained recognition.

The final type of influencer is what Schaefer refers to as the placeholder. This is simply a person who can lay claim to having influence by virtue of the number of Twitter followers they have, or impressive stats in some similar metric. The problem here is that these influencers don’t actually have genuine expertise, authority, or worthwhile influence of the kind that the other three types possess. This is now becoming more apparent, and the use of placeholders is in decline as Schaefer is quick to point out. “Most companies are moving past that, and I do believe that in the end, true influence and authority will win out,” he states.

The challenge for PR professionals is that above all their goal is to get exposure, and the more the better. As a result they can all too easily end up having placeholders all over social media. If you fall into this trap, do you really think your potential clients wouldn’t notice? That can be an insult to your brand as well as to your audience.

So next time you’re thinking of looking for an influencer for your hotel, take Schaefer’s advice. “The brand relationship must be accurately geared toward the correct type of influencer, and the influencer must accept the responsibility of sponsorship based on how they built their reputation and their fanbase,” he explained. Getting it wrong could give you the wrong image, or seriously damage your hotel’s credibility.