If you haven’t seen day-time talk-show host Ellen flirting with a giraffe or meeting mountain gorillas in Rwanda this past week, you’ve been hiding under a rock or you have a serious case of ‘Ludditis’.

Millions of people around the globe have viewed, liked, commented on and shared Ellen’s recent trip to Kenya and Rwanda, which saw her visit Giraffe Manor, a Nairobi boutique hotel owned by The Safari Collection, and trek through the forests of Rwanda, courtesy of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

I’m sure neither Ellen, Portia, or Giraffe Manor for that matter, could have anticipated the outpouring of social media interest and engagement their holiday to East Africa would elicit.  

The Hollywood couple had a more altruistic aim in mind: the development of a gorilla conservation centre being built and funded by The Ellen DeGeneres Wildlife Fund, in partnership with Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund.

But there you have it folks – the power of Influencer Marketing.

Portia feeding the giraffes at Giraffe Manor under the watchful eye of Ellen. Almost 515 000 Instagram likes and 2 680 comments, including a helpful “Did you know they have the cutest eye lashes that are envied by most ladies?” and (great for African tourism) “I've always wanted to go to Africa! Let's go!”

Ellen’s Instagram post “Landing in Rwanda #ThisisIt” on May 27 got thousands of high fives and one (oh dear) “gonna stalk her now”, not to mention 378 500 likes.

And finally, a “We found them” which inspired 2.29m Instagram likes, over 17 000 comments and a “We know that gorilla” post (I seriously doubt it).

Point is, millions of people who may not necessarily have considered Africa, for their next holiday – especially @morganrenae91 who believes Ellen is “literally the soul mate” that she’ll “never get to meet” – now have the continent, or at least East Africa, on their radar, if they hadn’t before.

Why would a TV ad, poster in the London tube or blinking banner on a website be less effective? Well, it comes down to trust. Trust is a huge factor in advertising success.

If you don’t trust someone, you don’t take their advice. But, as we know, if your “trusted” friend, colleague or family member recommends something, you’re far more likely to trust their views.

That’s what an influencer is – a person you trust and/or admire, a person whose opinion you value and whose advice you follow.

While Giraffe Manor’s website reveals that the native group of Rothschild’s giraffes are “quite friendly with visitors”, here we have the “trusted” Portia and Ellen leaving us in no doubt that this four-legged bunch are their new BFFs.

It doesn’t hurt that Ellen’s platform of choice is Instagram, whose users are characteristically more likely to engage with content than followers of Facebook and Twitter, especially the much-maligned millennials who are driving Influencer Marketing.

It also helps that both Ellen and Portia are very well known in their own right and have among them millions of social media followers. But that doesn’t mean to get your travel brand out there, you have to hunt down a willing celeb.

There are several very capable, well-trusted and talented micro-influencers in South Africa, who specialise in bringing their followers meaningful travel advice and inspiring travel destinations through a number of social media platforms, not only Instagram.

What’s great about these is that their audience, following or community are normally segmented by niche interests, so if your experience appeals to them, it’s going to appeal to the people who “trust” them. Birds of a feather and all that…

However, it’s important to assess whether their following is bona fide and you can do this by checking, among others, whether they have a high number of followers, but very low engagement, spam comments or using tools like SocialBlade which picks up fake Instagram accounts and shady behaviour.

A good place to start would be to look at the number of followers, posts and topics your chosen influencer focuses on. You can use tools like Deep Social or Buzzsumo, or work with an agency that specialises in influencer marketing for travel.

It’s also quite good to remember that, like any form of marketing, influencer marketing is generally not free. While some influencers will be happy to give your travel brand coverage on their platforms if you host them on a free trip, some will charge you a per diem, for each post or even for a content package which may include images and posts. They need to pay the bills too and you’re paying for the exposure – their influence and engaged audience.

Of course, if the stars are shining on you like they were for Giraffe Manor and you’ve attracted a snap-happy celeb who’s in the giving mood and wants to share their incredible experience with the world, take advantage of the opportunity and engage with that content.

You never know when the likes of an Ellen is going to tag #giraffemanor and #discoverthesafaricollection in their selfie again.