As classical advertising no longer reaches young people, holiday destinations are focusing on the potential marketing gains from social platforms. They pay top users, so-called influencers, to post holiday photos.
A bridge that is reflected in a circular shape in water or a young man standing on rock outcrop in Saxon Switzerland - these images were photographed by Maximilian Münch, who posted them on his Instagram account. At first glance they look like sophisticated square format holiday photos. But it is actually advertising for which Max Münch was paid by the State of Saxony.
Many travel operators and holiday destinations, like Saxony, have incorporated Instagram users for their marketing - from Finland, to the Tyrolean Alps all the way to Ontario in Canada. In Germany, for instance, travel operators Tui and Neckermann rely on it. Much sought-after advertisers are successful internet users, known as influencers, who have hundreds of followers.
Max Münch, alias "muenchmax," is one of these. He has accumulated some 317,000 online followers. He has been earning money from posting travel pictures since the end of 2014.
For this work he has traveled to some 40 countries - mainly financed by the destinations he visited. For every posted picture, Chemnitz-born Max says he receives three and four digit sums. His specialties are rugged nature photos in muted colors, where humans appear at best on the sidelines. They receive thousands of "likes." Many followers enthusiastically comment that the pictures have helped them to find their next holiday destination.
Social media is the only way to reach young customers
The German National Tourist Board (DZT), which markets Germany internationally as a travel destination on behalf of the government, is aware of the social media potential. According to the DZT, more than 85 percent of foreign visitors to Germany get information before and during their stay online. "Social media is therefore an integral and well established part of DZT's digital strategy," a spokesperson said.
In Saxony, the special access provided by influencers is much valued. Frank Wend, head of public relations for the State of Saxony, tells us that 90 percent of Münch's followers for instance are young people who don't or rarely ever use print media. He goes on to say that "an added advantage is that an influencer has a very far reach." Münch's profile is viewed on average 1.5 million times every week.
Private tip or paid advertising?
Special agencies serve as intermediaries between those commissioning the advertising and the influencers - like, for instance, the Berlin internet platform Brandnew. Their portfolio lists over 31,000 influencers, of which more than 5,000 specialize in travel. The agency says an advantage is that influencers "can post authentic content, which is trusted by followers."
Maximilian Münch describes it as being "less in your face, so less pushy but rather more dignified." His followers care little whether or not he gets paid for his posts. He adds: "my followers have certain expectations, and as long as I fulfill those, they don't notice that it's actually advertising."
In Niels Brüggen's view, that is the crux of the matter: "It is a well known problem that there is no way to tell if those who are posting attractive pictures are being paid by hotel chains or tourism operators," says the researcher at the JFF Institute for Media Research and Education.
Everyone knows that a brochure advertising a location will only show the highlights, but on social media this isn't so clear. "There are no explicit rules on how this kind of advertising is to be made recognizable," Brüggen says.
On the other hand, it's rather unlikely that all tourism marketing will be done this way in the future. Even though the significance of social media has grown over the past few years, Saxony's public relations representative Frank Wend says, there are older target groups who are better reached with traditional advertising like printed media.
As far as the DZT German tourist board is concerned, content created by users is not a cheap replacement for other advertisements, but rather a welcome addition to their range of information.
Violetta Kuhn/sbc (dpa)