One Day that Changed my Opinion on Influencers

As I slumped onto a rock on the side of a Peruvian mountain, looking out at the valley below, trying to suck in every available molecule of oxygen from the thin air, one question bounced around my pulsating brain: why don’t more social media influencers lounge by pools? This is hard work!

Hiking to Laguna 69, one of the many incredible glacial lakes in Peru’s Huascaran National Park with heavy cameras and lenses strapped to your back is no mean feat. It was here that I found myself chaperoning four amazingly talented social media influencers on a trip through the Andes, an experience that completely changed my understanding and respect of influencers forever.

My travelling companions were Jason Hill, Emilie Ristevski, Matt Cherubino and Annie Tarasova, together with their mountain of gear. These four were intrepid explorers, heading up, down and around mountains, valleys and deserts the world over, capturing images of some of the most awe-inspiring vistas on the planet.

Many people have an impression of influencers reflective of the most obvious but very narrow slice of social media users – that they are on big money, highlighting extravagant free luxury suites or unboxing free sneakers. But influencers come in many shapes and sizes, and it’s the skill of the destination marketer to align goals with an influencer’s strengths, aesthetic, skill in content creation and following.

Far from spoiled brats demanding first class everything, the carefully selected influencers were exceptionally collaborative every step of the planning process, working alongside us to research an itinerary that would appeal to their audience and capture the incredible natural highlights of Peru. They knew their abilities and wanted to push their limits to capture the right shots. They suggested travelling to Laguna 69, one of the more remote lakes in the National Park, due to its incredible turquoise colour and glacial surroundings.

Embarking at 5am from Huaraz, a city high in the Andes, we wound our way up precarious mountain paths until we reached Llanganuco, a lake lower down the range. We were already 4000 metres above sea level and looking out from the lake, we were already sitting high over the clouds above the adjacent range on the other side of the valley. This was where our ascent would begin!

From here, it was a fairly flat first few kilometres, wandering past clear streams that ran through green meadows, punctuated by the odd cow or Incan hut. The air was cool without being cold, and with my heart rate climbing, I could feel only the slightest sniff of altitude sickness. After about 30 minutes the flat meadow turned into a gradual slope and then a switchback-filled mountain climb, as we continued the ascent.

The switchbacks were gruelling and with every step I had to fight the urge to collapse. It was a hard-fought battle between my brain, gravity, growing altitude sickness and my general lack of physical fitness. Through all this pain, the social media influencers pushed on. They too were feeling the pain, and at various times, each would fall back, occasionally joining me at the back of the pack, but all four powered on, dedicated to getting the best content for the project.

Around 4.5 kilometres, or two-ish hours into the hike, I had taken a battering. The influencers, and our insane guide Eddie (who quite believably claimed to be able to run the trek in 45 minutes), were all tiny specs in my blurred vision and I was struggling. I found a spot on the side of a hill to rest. Unfortunately this would be the end of my ascent. I sat for a few minutes, attempting garbled Spanish at passers-by who were handling the altitude far better than I, before I began my slow, long and arduous descent.

The same could not be said of my intrepid photographer friends, who, despite having equally serious altitude sickness and health concerns, fought their way to the peak. These weren’t precious influencers who reviewed first-class flights. These were true adventurers who were driven to share their experiences with their community of like-minded followers. And the results show.

Days later, when we were down around sea-level, the content creators started to share the images they captured on the mountain and the feedback from their followers was immediate and telling. While each photo drew in thousands of likes, the comments pointed to a following that was engaged in the destination, with many people noting these content creators served as inspiration for their next trips. The followers had indeed been tangibly influenced.

Finding the right influencers for any content project is key; those willing to go over and above for their followers, whose core brand values are consistent with the key messages you are wanting to drive home. Finding them takes tenacity and patient analysis, but it all pays off. Let the itinerary be guided and shaped by them and the results from highly engaged followers will come.