1) A blog trip IS NOT a press trip
I’ve seen too many blog trips miss the mark because the press trip was taken as the template for a blog trip. Most press trips follow a “standard” format by planning the trip in detail, hosting the writer/photographer/video crew for a certain amount of time and then wait for the piece to be published.
Bloggers have very different motivations than traditional travel writers. They also work with different schedules, deadlines, etc. Some don’t even have a home to go to. They live on the road. Some, maybe a lot, don’t even want to be hosted. They just want to do their own thing. Some publish fast, often in real time, some take longer to publish.
When planning a blog trip, think about your objectives. For example: do you want lots of content in the moment or would it be okay to wait for (better quality) content? This makes a difference. Do you want copy, photos, video? This makes a difference. What niches are you after? There’s a long tail of bloggers for pretty much every criteria. There’s a blogger who travels the world dancing. There’s a blogger who travels the world singing karaoke. You get my point.
2) Invest time to find the right bloggers
A lot of DMOs are passive about bloggers. They wait for a blogger to come to them, and deal with things as they come. There are hundreds of travel bloggers and more are starting new pages every day. Be strategic: it’s better to be pro-active and invite bloggers. Think about your objectives and use them to find bloggers that will best meet them. Even as requests come in from bloggers, have a checklist ready to quickly assess what you’re going to do with them.
We use 9 criteria we use when we select bloggers for blog trips we help clients with. It’s worth taking the time to find the right ones.
3) Don’t just focus on web traffic when selecting
My biggest pet peeve is the obsession with reach. It’s old-school thinking, ie “better to get my message to 10,000 people who don’t care, than 1,000 who do”. Web traffic is not completely irrelevant, of course, but it’s only one criteria out of nine.
Web traffic can also be misleading. For example, a blogger could get 20,000 visitors a month to their blog. But maybe 80% of those visitors are going to three past posts that rank high in Google because of good SEO. They’ll never see the content about your destination. More important is repeat visitation; these are people who are loyal readers.
4) Rethink your measures of success
If the objective isn’t to get a message in front of as many people as possible, what is it then?
A traditional travel writer will produce a piece and the DMO will measure the Ad Equivalency (which is B.S.). Bloggers can do a lot more. A lot of the campaigns we’ve done go way beyond the traditional way of working with travel media. I wrote a whole piece about this recently.
5) Build lasting relationships
This is social media. It’s meant to be social. Most bloggers like to meet people and make friends around the world. A lot of bloggers also like to meet other bloggers. If you or your socially savvy staff build relationships with bloggers, it’s better for everybody. And don’t limit it there. Connect bloggers with local influencers, especially if they operate in niches. Somebody passionate about skiing will probably stay in touch with somebody else who’s passionate about it.
If you have a good relationship with a blogger, they will also likely a) produce more content b) retweet your content when relevant c) come back for another visit d) refer other bloggers e) bring old content back to the front over time.
From personal experience I know Valencia is doing this really well.
6) Think outside the box; bloggers can offer much more value than a few posts
This is related to #4. A lot of bloggers are very talented content professionals. Many are looking for opportunities to fund their travels as well. Need destination photography? Make it social. Hire one of the awesome photography bloggers to do the shoot. They will do great work and share it with their own community as well. Why hire a writer or photographer who produces content in the dark?
In this case, you would pay the blogger – not for posting in their own channels but to produce content for your channels. Be transparent about it, though. And don’t make specific demands or have expectations about the content they post in their own channels.
7) WIFI everywhere, all the time
This one is very tactical and got applause in my session and it pains me this is still not a standard feature of every blog trip: bloggers Tweet, Vine, Instagram and blog in real time. Disconnecting them from the internet means this won’t happen. Such a missed opportunity. Some blog trips don’t even have good Wifi in the hotels.
8) Personalize and build in free time
Every blogger is different and most have a passion for travel and a background in writing. They’re used to being independent and the good ones know what their audience likes. Tailoring the trip to the individual is logical but a lot of DMOs resort to the “destination top 10” for everybody. They don’t spend the time researching each blogger and their interest.
Free time is also very important. Bloggers like to do their own thing or take time to produce content. Some of the best feedback we received from our “Flanders is a Festival” project is the itineraries Flanders created. They were extremely short. Most of the trip was at the blogger’s discretion. They received (personalized) tips and ideas and a person to contact in case they did want a host. They loved it. We also gave them a portable WIFI hotspot.
Robyn wrote a great piece about TBEX on the Think! blog as well and here’s the full deck from my presentation.
A few weeks ago I presented two sessions at TBEX in Toronto. It was a very flattering experience. The room was packed both days, and I received a lot of great feedback from attendees, bloggers, DMOs and tourism businesses. My day 2 presentation became a featured presentation on Slideshare. It was a good week!
On day 1, I shared the lessons we’ve learned at Think! working with bloggers and destinations. At the end, I gave tips for destinations and bloggers that I will now share in two posts.
I’ll start with tips for bloggers.
(These tips are based on your ability to connect with DMOs and the tourism industry. I would never pretend to know how to be a successful travel blogger – that’s your territory. But I do learn a lot by watching how my 2-year-old daughter runs her travel blog travellingwithparents.com.)
1) FIND YOUR NICHE!
If you are a general travel blogger, it’s hard to stand out and create a group of loyal readers. By serving a niche, you have a better chance of reaching people who find your content relevant and passionately care about it. Somebody who loves to ski is more likely to read a ski travel blog. It’s also going to be valuable to people in the ski industry, since you talk to the people they want to talk to. But in order to be taken seriously, you need to able to speak credibly to the community.
Bonus tip: Your story matters too
During the speed dating sessions at TBEX, we talked with more than a hundred bloggers and very few could describe what the story is that they are telling or what niche they serve. Some bloggers “write for themselves” and that’s ok of course. But think about your angle. Is there a thread that runs through your site? How do your posts connect as a whole? “Looking for off-the-beaten-path experiences” or wanting to “emerge myself in the culture” is simply too standard an explanation. Jürgen and Mike’s for91days blog, however is not. It’s a story that’s easy to understand. So is the 365 days of dining in Richmond campaign blog that we helped out with.
2) BUILD A COMMUNITY
A lot of destinations still focus on web traffic as a their primary metric when it comes to selecting bloggers. It’s definitely important, but for us it’s only one out of nine criteria. Bloggers are influencers, and the degree of influence you have over your audience is what matters more. Why? Because we would like you to inspire people to come visit the place you’re writing about. Bloggers who have built a base of loyal readers and who cultivate an engaged social media community are more likely to have a higher degree of influence.
It’s easier to build a community around a niche, because people who share an interest are more likely to engage with each other (see #1). But you can also build a community based on your personality, skill or other quality you have. Whatever the case, you have to connect. It’s called social media for a reason.
3) BE CLEAR ABOUT YOUR APPROACH AND OBJECTIVES
There’s no right or wrong approach about how you travel or how you publish your content, but most destinations approach a blog trip like a traditional press trip. This often leads to a frustrated experience if you don’t like that format. When you’re approached by (or reach out to) a destination, make sure you’re very clear about your standard approach.
Do you prefer not to be hosted? Make sure the organization contacting you knows this. Is the only reason you want to visit, is because of a specific national park? Make sure they know as well. Otherwise you might be frustrated when your host has an action-packed itinerary filled with zoos, museums, restaurant after restaurant and other things you’re not interested in, while allowing you 30 minutes in park you came for in the first place.
Being clear about what you want and like might affect the outcome of whether you will be invited or not. But in the end, it’s better for both you and the destination to discover early if your expectations don’t align.
4) UNDERSTAND THE DESTINATION’S OBJECTIVES AND EXPECTATIONS
Before you commit to a blog trip, make sure you understand what the destination would like as a result. How do they define success? Do they have specific expectations about publishing? Do they expect you to write about specific things? Don’t forget that it’s an investment for them and it’s important to ask these questions up front so you can decide if you can or want to meet them.
We’re not big fans of defining specific publishing requirements. We’d rather let the destination speak for itself and have the blogger decide what and how much is appropriate for their audience. That’s why it’s important that the destination does its homework and invites the right bloggers. When discussing trips with writers, we’ll give bloggers an idea of what we and the client have in mind, including explaining why we’d like to invite them. For example: “we want a ski blogger to experience this new ski resort because we believe your audience would really like to know about it. We’ll leave it up to the you to decide how to best tell that story.”
But more often than not, we’ll think outside the box. We’ll include bloggers as part of a bigger campaign. Because they’re great content producers, storytellers and often live without too many constraints.
5) STAY HUMBLE
I’ve seen some travel writers working for big publications show up for a media trip with a suitcase and massive egos. They can be demanding, unreasonable and obnoxious. What I like about working with bloggers is that their passion is truly for travel and creating great content. That’s what’s got you started and that’s what motivates most of you. You’re all unique and some/most of you are real characters… but the far majority of you are insanely nice people. Please don’t lose that when you become more successful.
Tomorrow: 8 lessons learned for DMOs when working with bloggers