Katie Gear is the Area E-Commerce Marketing Manager for Hyatt hotels in Chicago, Indianapolis and Cincinnati. She is an experienced e-commerce and social media manager with innovative problem-solving, management, leadership and communication skills.

Katie recently spoke with Bambu about how the travel and hospitality industry can tap into influencers and employees to advocate for their brand and spread awareness on social.

How do you usually partner with bloggers?

It has shifted, especially in this past year. Before we reached out to someone who had a blog so they could link back to us, or promote our special rates or special offer codes, and in exchange for the blog we would give them a complimentary stay or a free meal.

Now it’s extended to Instagram influencers. If they don’t have a blog, we check out what channels they’re social on. If that works for the brand, then we’re still open to hosting them in exchange for Instagram posts, mentioning us and using our hashtags.

Tell us about some of the bloggers or local (micro) influencers you’ve worked with.

A lot of influencers come to us. I do reach out to them if we have a new restaurant or a new offering, but we do have a lot who reach out to us. We hosted BlogHer last year and we met a ton of influencers through that program.

Do you ever host exclusive events for them?

We haven’t in a while, but last year we did host a dinner at the Park Hyatt as a thank you. It was a great way to show our appreciation and build community. It was also a nice way the attendees to get to meet and network with one another.

When is it best to reach out?

They usually like new renovations or unique hotel offerings. Any time anything new or fun comes up, we reach out to them first to show our appreciation for their continued support. It keeps them engaged and interested in working with us.

Are there any regulations on what influencers can publish?

Obviously we don’t force them to say anything specific and we haven’t ever run into an issue with a blogger stating they had a bad experience.

In addition to influencer relationships, part of your role includes encouraging employees to share content on social. Why is it important for a global brand to pursue employee advocacy?

There are a lot of employees already creating and crafting unique and authentic content that’s maybe better than what your marketing department could do. You want to make talking about your company online a good thing so it’s beneficial that you identify those employees. Harness them to create a more meaningful conversation with their employer and keep the dialogue they’re already participating in more open-ended.

How do the employees at the Hyatt hotels you’re responsible for provide social content? Are they given any training?

I have little 101 classes for Instagram, Facebook and Twitter—even though they’re usually just sending content my way. The courses help them understand what I’m doing with the content and what I look for—and what content works best on what channel.

How do you identify which employees are best to share social content with you?

I approached a lot of the directors in sales and marketing because they knew their team best and could also figure out which employees in other departments would be a good fit. I also noticed over the years that some employees will tag content to our Instagram or post on Facebook about us. So I reached out to them because they were already advocates on their own. I wanted to hone in and help them create better content—and then get them to help me!

How can a company scale an employee advocacy program?

I think having one person whose job is really to focus on employee advocacy is huge. It’s hard to keep everyone motivated to continue sharing if you can’t always give them feedback. Someone who is able to focus on creating a program and is charged with getting everyone excited about it helps.

What challenges do you think a formal advocacy platform can help solve?

I think it makes it easier for the brand to not necessarily steer the conversation, but spark the conversation. Like, “Here’s what you can talk about this week,” if someone might not know that you recently won an award, or something like that.

It’s really nice to have a hub of content, just so employees can figure out what they want to share. Features like crafting each network’s social message so people don’t have to copy and paste messaging from an email—that’s great. And if employees want to rewrite copy they can. But at least they know what your organization is going for and what you’d like them to be sharing.