Internet, leadership, Management, Marketing, Travel & Tourism

Building the social destination brand

By William Bakker | 09.16.13 | Permalink | 3 Comments


The Iamsterdam sign is an invitation to take a picture and share it

Building a destination brand is done primarily through the stories people tell each other. And social media has only accelerated that process. Getting more of the right stories told is a massive opportunity but how do you go about it?

Here’s a 5 step strategy for this.


A destination is the stage where memories are made and stories are created. People ignore or forget the ordinary and remember and share what’s remarkable. These remarkable experiences often turn into the primary motivators for others to visit a place. In order to get more stories told in social media, you need to make sure things are worth talking about. The IAmsterdam sign in Amsterdam (above) is always surrounded by tourists taking photos. Not only is it a cool piece of art, it’s also the perfect way to tell your (Facebook/Instagram/etc) friends where you are.

For a tourism business it’s important to build in moments that motivate people to share in the overall experience. For a DMO it’s important to increase the number of things worth talking about overall.  Educating your operators about this principle is the low hanging fruit. Every tourism business should have at least one reason for people to talk about them. Often it’s just a matter of making a few tweaks to get people talking. Getting involved in city planning might be more difficult but can pay-off with massive dividend.


When there’s something worth sharing, people need to be able to share it right away. For international visitors, data roaming is often an obstacle and the availability of free Wifi will increase social sharing. It’s not just the responsibility of operators. Viewpoints, beaches, mountaintops, buildings of great architecture typically don’t have a tourism operator associated and Wifi is nowhere to be found. This is where the DMO can step in. Taiwan gets it, they offer free nationwide Wifi to tourists.

But there are other obstacles. Some businesses don’t allow pictures to be taken while others don’t have the proper lighting to make photos or to make them look good. It’s a missed opportunity, you have to give people the opportunity to share, even if it’s in a limited capacity.


People will share an experience when they find it remarkable. For people on the fence it’s easy to pull them over the line by encouraging them. This can be achieved by things from signage to incentives. Disney identifies places in their theme parks with photo opp signs. Some DMO’s are starting to do the same. We worked with a ski resort last year to do put signage up to encourage sharing combined with and a contest for the best photos shared.

At an operator level it’s often a matter of reminding and asking people. Remind people on checkout to give a review on Tripadvisor for example, or follow up with an email. Others take it a step further. When I was in Wollongong, Australia, the Skydiving operator filmed and photographed the experience and gave me a link where I could download the images with an easy way to share them through my social channels.


When people share stories, it’s important to find them. Social Media is like a world-wide, real-time, always-on focus group. You’re crazy if you don’t take advantage of it. You need to find them the relevant stories about your destination, good or bad.

A lot of other opportunities and insights can be gained from the massive amount of stories out there. Brands like KLM, Gatorade, Nascar and many others have dedicated social media team that monitor social media for a variety of purposes. These programs separates signal from noise by curating the content and processing it for specific purposes. Some data might need to actioned on while other data serves specific research purposes.


Some of the best stories told in social media are worth incorporating in your own marketing. People share stories with great emotional appeal and the quality, creativity and authenticity often rivals what a DMO and their agencies produce. Use the best content you find to enhance your own activities of amplify them through your own channels.

Visit Britain started sourcing the majority of the photos on its website from Flickr back in 2009. Tourism Australia only posts photos on Facebook submitted to them by their community. Many DMOs find the best photos on Instagram and reshare them while Pinterest is probably the best example of content curation with the best photos people find online.

But why stop there? You might want to give some quality content even more exposure. You can use some SEM budget to amplify a great blog post from an influencer for example. Some amplification can go even further. The Canadian Tourism Commission turned some of the best YouTube videos they found about Canada into TV commercials and recently crowd-sourced another. It doesn’t matter who created the story or where it’s located. What matters is that it moves a person down the funnel.


Social Media will identify customer service challenges and opportunities. DMOs are already in the customer service business but have often limited themselves to a box called a visitor centre. Step outside the box and start assisting visitors in real time by responding to people in social media. Customer service challenges can be resolved quickly before they turn into negative stories.

In the meantime, the overall visitor experience will benefit from assisting travellers through social media. KLM will respond to any social media question within an hour. Most tourism operators don’t have the luxury to set-up these kind of services but the DMO can fulfill that role on behalf of their industry.


Listening can also help to find information about a destination on the internet that’s incorrect (yes, there is incorrect information on the interwebs). This information could be viewed by many potential visitors who could make the wrong decision as a result. Often it’s just a matter of contacting the owner of the source to correct the error. Start by asking nicely!

If something slips through the cracks and negative stories start to emerge it’s important to mitigate these as soon as possible. There are also specific events that could cause a social media crisis. Think about a natural disaster, a call for a boycott or an influencer will a horrible experience. Being prepared and having a social media response plan in place will streamline communication before things escalate far and wide and cause considerable damage. Don’t rely on old corporate communication strategies, they don’t apply to social media. Just ask United.


People will take pictures of things they find remarkable. And when they put themselves in the photo it’s even more remarkable. The things people find remarkable might surprise you. Insights gained from a curation program can provide you with all kinds of new marketing ideas or even identify potential target audiences. You will also identify the challenges visitors might have with the destination experience overall, sometimes in places you might not expect. Addressing these challenges in a fundamental way through service design will allow you to create a more favourable perception of the destination overall. You can measure these things over time, segment them by audience, experience and other parameters. It’s a massive opportunity and part of the future of destination marketing.



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Marketing, social media, Travel & Tourism

Why Social Media outside your own channels is more important

By William Bakker | 08.04.13 | Permalink | 1 Comment




Destination Marketing is storytelling. And by now every DMO is generating content and distributing it through their own channels. Content is shared, people engaged, fans, followers and engagement is measured and reported. Social Media is firmly established as an important channel.

But if you want to start thinking like a level 4 DMO, one of the first things to do is look beyond storytelling through your own channels. The stories people share with each other in their own networks (often private and invisible to marketers) is more credible and trusted than any story a DMO creates.


Screen Shot 2013-07-31 at 11.33.24 PM

At #SoMeT13AU, Carl McCarthy from Facebook shared that over 70% of travellers update their status and/or share photos while on holiday. Let’s look at the Capilano Suspension Bridge, a populair tourism attraction in Vancouver. The public stats for their Facebook page show a respectable 12,401 fans with 1,275 people talking. But look at an often overlooked little statistic; 449,930 photos have been tagged with this tourism experience.

Let’s look at ten of the more populair attractions in Vancouver (selected by myself from memory).

attraction likes photos tagged
Capilano Suspension Bridge Park 12,404 449,930
Vancouver Aquarium  30,777 694,427
Grouse Mountain Resort  22,597 148,824
Vancouver Art Gallery  20,631 64,857
Cypress Mountain  18,270 161,182
Granville Island  15,445 265,967
Science World  14,480 87,268
Museum of Anthropology  6,766 26,146
The Vancouver Lookout  3,003 17,747
Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden 2,446 29,980
Total 146,819 1,946,328

Collectively, these pages have 146,819 fans. More than 3x the fans of Tourism Vancouver’s page. The total number of photos shared is almost 2 Million! If we consider that the average Facebook user has 150+ friends it means that those 2 million photos probably reached tens of millions of people. And those are just photos of attractions where people geotagged the photo. The true number of tourism related photos shared online for Vancouver is exponentially larger. That’s the real Facebook marketing.

There’s also plenty of research that demonstrates the effect of somebody posting a Facebook picture has on their network for example. Anywhere from 20% to 52% of consumers have taken a trip to a destination as a direct result of seeing a photo posted by a friend.

And that’s just Facebook.

Implications for DMOs

The implication is that a DMO marketer needs to look beyond their own channels. Most of the conversation is happening elsewhere and often invisible. But as you can see in my examples above, that doesn’t mean you can’t measure it. The success of growing tourism in your destination goes beyond the activity the DMO manages. It’s a collective effort.

  • First thing to do is collaborate with your operators to make sure they make the most out of their own social channels.
  • Second is to actively grow the number of visitors sharing their experiences through their social channels. Through encouragement but also by enabling sharing.
  • Third, and this is where we get into the future of destination marketing, by actively managing your destination to give visitors more reasons to share their experiences and mitigate any negative stories.


[By the way, I only used Vancouver as an example because I live there, no other reason]

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Internet, Marketing, Travel & Tourism

8 lessons learned for DMOs when working with bloggers

By William Bakker | 06.21.13 | Permalink | 5 Comments

Packed room for my TBEX preso

Packed room for my TBEX preso

This is the second post about the key takeaways from my #TEBX presentation a few weeks ago. Yesterday, lessons for bloggers, today lessons for destinations:

 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.

TBEX Day 1 – Lessons Learned: Working with Bloggers & Destinations from William Bakker
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Marketing, social media, Travel & Tourism

5 Lessons learned for bloggers when working with destinations

By William Bakker | 06.20.13 | Permalink | 4 Comments

Speaking in front of a packed room

Speaking at TBEX (photo: @jaimehorwitz)

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


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.


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.


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.


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.


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

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leadership, Management

Strategy vs. Tactics

By William Bakker | 03.07.13 | Permalink | 3 Comments


“Strategy without tactics is the slowest route to victory. Tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat.”
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War

One major topic of discussion at Think! is whether a client who ask for strategy really wants a strategy or wants a list of tactics.

Here’s a guide to strategy and tactics.


A strategy is a long term approach to achieve a big goal. It spans a longer period of time and describes an approach to achieve that goal. It’s often complex and muli-layered. A strategy allows you to set priorities and focus your resources. It should also define what success looks like.

Tactics are smaller, short term actions to deliver on the strategy. Tactics need to be evaluated and adjusted constantly based on what is learned along the way. But a strategy needs time and typically stays in place for a longer time unless the goal or other macro variables changes.


Some people are focussed on doing. Strategy to them looks nebulous and intangible. It doesn’t contain specific tasks. But random tactics without a strategy leads short term actions with unpredictable long term results. It’s like driving a car around without knowing how to reach your destination. And everybody on your team is driving their cars around in all directions hoping to eventually get there.

That’s why every tactic needs to deliver on a strategy. “Running ads to grow a Facebook page” is a tactic. But why are we doing it? What purpose does it serve? Why is it more important than anything else? And once we have more fans then what? And how does Facebook fit in with everything else?


  • Do you need idea for things to do for the next few months based on your existing strategy? You need a tactical plan.
  • Do you an approach to reach a long term goal with starting points to go about it. You need a strategy with tactical starting points.
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Experience Design, social media, Travel & Tourism

Service design: interaction design for the offline world

By William Bakker | 03.06.13 | Permalink | 1 Comment

Customer journey

Customer Journey Map (source:


We’re in the business of making memories and a tourism brand is largely build via the stories people share through word of mouth and in social media. The implication is that the tourism industry needs to stop believing they’re selling products and start understanding they need to sell experiences.

A stay in a hotel is more than a room to sleep in. A visit to a restaurant is more than a meal. A visit to a museum is more than looking at art. It’s the same reason why Apple has turned unpacking their products into an experience. It’s why Starbucks can charge way more for coffee than McDonalds.

Selling products is a race to the bottom, selling experiences a race to the top. Just read the Experience Economy again. Experiences aren’t just the way customers interact with your staff. It includes every touchpoint from the moment somebody books to moment they’ve left.


I’ve been designing online experiences for more than a decade. Interaction design and Information Architecture are well established methodologies and processes. They’re user centred and based on bringing relevant content and services to target audiences in an easy and useful way. The processes are based on keeping a relentless focus on the end user, prototyping, testing, measuring and iterating. Personas, paper prototyping, usability tests and web analytics are all tools in the toolbox to make a good interactive experience.

Why wouldn’t you use the same methodologies and processes in the offline world?


Designing offline experiences isn’t something new. Just look at any of the Disney theme-parks  The experience is managed completely from the moment you walk in until you leave. There’s a whole Imagineering department responsible for this and the results show. Disney is recognized as the gold standard in theme parks and are the most visited tourism attractions around the world.

DMOs should take Disney’s example and view their DMO through the same lens. Transportation, safety, cleanliness, friendliness of locals and signage all play part in the destination experience. Even though a DMO has nowhere near the control of a Disney theme park, it makes sense to strive to make the destination experience best it can be. By Nett Promotor Score (NPS) as a measure you can predict growth.


Designing experiences and managing the destination experience is starting to gain traction and the discipline is called Service Design. I’m not crazy about the term because it can easily be confused with customer service but it is what it is. There’s a good book called This is Service Design Thinking that explains service design in detail and provides the tools and processes a service designer needs.Technology tools are becoming available and conferences are being organized.

We’ve started doing service design work with clients. It’s a great fit with our company because it uses a similar approach to designing digital experiences. And because the customer experience is the start of social conversations, there’s a natural alignment with social media.

Management, Marketing, social media

9 criteria for selecting travel bloggers

By William Bakker | 01.29.13 | Permalink | 11 Comments

This post was first published as a guest post on the TBEX blog.

Bloggers at TBEX
Blogger gathering at TBEX in Girona, Spain

At the moment, blog trips and bloggers hosted by a Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) are still a bit of a novelty. DMOs don’t yet completely realize the value bloggers and bring but I expect an explosion  in the near future when DMOs understand the value while travel bloggers realise the benefits a blog trip can offer and new travel bloggers want to join the club.

DMOs need a way to sort through all these requests. We’re not big fans of a one-size-fits-all approach to measure the value of bloggers but instead we like to match bloggers based on a DMO’s specific marketing goals. We also recommend that our clients take a pro-active approach to bloggers by inviting the ones with the best fit instead of a reactive one by waiting for requests to come in.

We have a good relationship with dozens of bloggers and a database with hundreds more. We have 9 criteria to select bloggers for blog trips and other campaigns, which are outlined in detail below. When developing social media strategies we recommend that our DMO clients also use these criteria to manage individual blogger requests.

1) Value to the blogger

I mention this one first, because if there’s no value for the blogger then there’s no use in working together. A blog trip or campaign needs to be a win/win situation. We’ve learned that it’s important that the DMO and blogger know each other’s expectations. Sometimes a blog trip might not work out for a variety of reasons. And that’s okay. But it’s better to set out the realities and expectations on both sides ahead of time.

2) Reach; the size of the audience

This is an important metric, but not as important as you might think – at least, not to us. We would rather work with a blogger who has a smaller audience and a higher influence. A blogger with 2,000 Twitter followers may be of more value than one with 50,000 if those 2,000 people are passionate, engaged and are likely to be influenced by the person they follow.

We use tools like Compete.comQuantcast and Alexa to get an indication, or ask the blogger for data. We will also look at Twitter followers, Facebook likes, and other statistics. For bloggers, it’s a good idea to have this info handy as DMOs will ask for this.

3) Audience demographics

This criteria includes things like what language you blog in and what countries your readers are from, their age, education, income, etc. We’re not that interested in where the blogger comes from because their audience might come from a completely different place.

We will use Quantcast and sometimes other tools for this, although a lot of blogs don’t have enough traffic for these tools to provide valuable metrics. We sometimes ask bloggers, but we have had to make assumptions at times.

4) Influence in a niche

This one is more important to us than reach. We’re looking for people who are an authority in a subject matter. That’s the power of the Internet – there’s a community for every passion. It’s safe to assume that a wine blogger has an audience interested in wine. If we’re working with a destination that is seeking to leverage its wine products or experiences, we will pick a wine blogger with a small audience over a general travel blogger with a larger audience in most cases.

In order to determine influence, we look at things including comments on a blog (volume and types of comments) and how the blogger interacts with her/his audience. Why? It’s that personal connection that makes a blogger unique and influential. And we will also look at repeat visitation to the blog. This is an indicator of how loyal an audience is and therefore the influence the blogger has.

What we sometimes observe is that bloggers with a large audience lose the personal connection with their readers. Their blog becomes more like a traditional publication online. That’s to be expected and not necessarily a bad thing, it just changes the types of initiatives we will invite them for, and the approach we take. They may be better suited for a traditional press trip.

5) Connection to other influencers

This one is closely related to #4. Blogging is social. We believe that a blog trip or a blog campaign’s value doesn’t just come from the value as a result of the produced content, but also from the personal connections created. A blogger with a lot of connections to other influencers is more desirable as that means there’s a better chance that their messages are then amplified or retweeted by other influences. A good relationship with one blogger can also lead to a referral to another. We often ask other bloggers for suggestions about other writers.

6) Quality and style of writing, photography and/or video

This one speaks for itself. We prefer blogs with quality content. And sometimes one blogger’s style fits better with a particular destination brand than another. And it doesn’t mean that we look for moderate bloggers only, by the way. We seek honesty and transparency, otherwise a message won’t be credible. The blogger at TBEX who writes critical posts just to make PR people uncomfortable would probably not be invited, though (see #9). Often, quality trumps reach and influence.

7) Speed of communication

We don’t have a specific preference. It varies from initiative to initiative. Most of the time, a blog trip is designed to create a lot of social content right away, and speed is important. Other times, it won’t matter too much if it takes a few weeks for us to see a post (months is pushing it). The longer it takes, the more the details and energy are lost. Plus, the copy ends up looking more like it belongs in a traditional publication.

8) Use of technology and tools

Does the blogger tweet, Instagram, or post to fan pages during the trip? This is obviously helpful.

And it also varies. If we’re working on a campaign where we want a lot of content in the moment, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are important. In some cases, they’re not.

Sometimes we look for quality, influence, and reach for a specific tool or network. We invited a big Instagrammer to Flanders, for example. The Costa Brava even hosted an Instagram trip.

9) Personality

Is this blogger easy to work with?

We will happily sacrifice reach or influence for a nice person when we’re hosting a group of bloggers. Personality type tells us something about the bloggers’ relationship with their readers, and that’s important in social media. Other factors including professionalism and attentiveness are equally important. If it takes weeks for somebody to reply to an email, or if they don’t follow practical instructions we get worried. We often check references as well by calling another DMO the blogger has worked with.

We have good results using our criteria above. In the future we hope to build out our database so we can be a good matchmaker between bloggers and the tourism industry that delivers benefits for both.


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Marketing, social media, Travel & Tourism

How can destinations measure the value of travel bloggers?

By William Bakker | 01.23.13 | Permalink | 4 Comments

I wrote this post as a guest post on the TBEX blog.



Destination Marketing Organisations (DMOs) have hosted influencers for a long time. It used to be the exclusive territory of travel journalists. They were courted, invited and hosted in order to generate awareness and consideration for a destination.

In order to measure this PR most DMOs used the “Advertising Value Equivalency” (AVE). You take the size of the produced piece, use the equivalent cost of running an ad of the same size in the publication, apply a multiplying factor because editorial is more credible and there’s your equivalent value of “free” advertising.

Most people in the PR industry agree that AVE is significantly flawed. But for years, it’s all we had. It was simple and easy to calculate – and at least it was consistent, something we could monitor over time, and benchmark against the competition. At least that was something.

There’s no such direct measure for blogger-based campaigns at the moment. Keith (Velvet Escape) and Melvin (Traveldudes) presented a first draft of a method calculating the value of a blog at a TBEX session in Girona. It was loosely based on AVE and an attempt to quantify the value of a post in dollars.

I applaud the attempt because at least it will provide DMOs with some guidance and offer benchmarking possibilities. But I’m not a fan of trying to use an old-media method that’s already shaky at best and applying it to a new world model in order find a social media equivalent for it. It assumes a specific blogger will provide equal value to all destinations and that’s simply not true.

There are a multitude of travel blogs out there, and with careful research, we can unearth a blog and a writer who has the best fit with a specific destination and its objectives. Often we end up bringing bloggers who have a specific skill or niche. And when we bring a group of bloggers together, the composition of that group, the mesh of personalities, matters.

It’s not just the size of a blogger’s audience that’s important, but the likelihood of delivering a relevant, credible, and authentic message to their network. Passion speaks volumes. We need to believe that their message will influence a reader’s travel decisions.

At Think! we love working with bloggers because they are, generally speaking, very passionate and excellent creators of content. We work with dozens of DMOs around the world, helping them arrange blog trips, and we involve bloggers in many of our campaigns. We tie the way we measure a campaign involving bloggers to the specific marketing objectives.

We research, identify, and approach the right bloggers for the campaign, assist with the trip planning, and provide consultancy to clients on how to make these travel (or cultural) writers feel most engaged or valued.

For example:

  • In Belgium we worked with Tourism Flanders to identify, contact, and send 100 travel and music bloggers to festivals all summer long, with the objective of generating awareness for Flanders as a prominent festival destination in Europe.
  • In Richmond, British Columbia, we helped find a food blogger who would eat and blog about a different Richmond restaurant every day for a year with the objective to position Richmond in the centre of the foodie community.
  • In New South Wales, Australia, we organised a month-long bus trip of bloggers including a photographer and videographer with the objective of showcasing the destination and creating content in a more social way.

Through our work we know many bloggers and we hope we have developed a good reputation amongst them. Because we have these relationship it makes it easier and easier to find the right bloggers for our projects.

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Internet, Marketing, social media, Travel & Tourism

Graph Search is something people might just love

By William Bakker | 01.16.13 | Permalink | 1 Comment

In 2010 I wrote that Tripadvisor’s integration of Facebook connect offered a glimpse into the future. Well the future is here.

Graph Search, announced yesterday by Facebook, is a new way of searching. It’s using taking your social graph and the content shared on Facebook as the basis of relevancy. Graph Search will allow you to search for things based on your personal network of friends, your ‘friends-of-friends’ or Facebook users in general.

You can soon search on Facebook for “restaurants in San Francisco liked by people who live in San Francisco”.

Or “restaurants in San Francisco my friends like”.

Or “restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends who live in San Francisco.”

Or “Restaurants in San Francisco liked by my friends from India”


The possibilities are endless.

The travel decision process is going to be massively influenced when Facebook users adopt this kind of functionality. Because travel product is a heavy used item on Facebook. People check in, share photos and like places they’ve been all the time.

A whole new world of discovery and travel inspiration might open up. Imagine searching for “Places people check-in who like scuba diving”

Or “Cities people check-in who like art”

Or “festivals people like who like Greenday”

Or “pictures from my friends in Berlin”

Yesterday I also read a nice post by a Techcrunch writer about a recent frustrating trip to the new MySpace. This part caught my attention and made me think.

Wait, how does Myspace know I would like these?Is everyone seeing the same ones? Did Justin pick them out for me? Are my friends listening to these guys? I have no context here. I don’t understand why they’re recommended. I decide to move on.


I mean really, I logged in with Facebook – would it have killed you to look through my “likes” for a bit of personalization here?

A Techcrunch writer is obviously ahead of the curve. But what’s happening here is that people are starting to expect websites to personalize based on their previous behaviour and what they or their friends like on Facebook.

I remember being freaked out when Amazon recommended me books based on my previous purchases. Or when a laptop bag followed me around the internet thanks to remarketing. But that’s a long time ago. I don’t get freaked out anymore. We’ve gotten used to it. We even like it. We get mad when we see ads that aren’t relevant. And Facebook’s Graph Search might just deliver exactly the functionality at the right time. And travel and tourism marketing will never be the same. You better get ready.


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Marketing, social media

Two Facebook pages best practices

By William Bakker | 01.15.13 | Permalink | 1 Comment

North To Alaska


First there’s the ‘North to Alaska’ page. I know this page well because it’s managed by Think!’s Dustin. And he’s killing it!

It’s the only page I know on Facebook where the ‘people talking’ almost always outnumbers the number of ‘likes’ with hardly running any ads. Besides sharing mind blowing photos, Dusty is also doing everything right to engage the community. Drawing engagement from fans, involving them in answering questions and recognizing fans for great contributions. The page has build a community of very passionate people who love the Alaska highway. The almost 5,000 fans reach tens-of-thousands because of the great community management.


Dusty also conducts our populair social media audits. He will review your page, tell you what you do well, where you can improve and how. Just drop us a note for info.



Screen Shot 2013-01-12 at 4.37.22 PM

Applebee’s? The restaurant chain? Yes, that Applebee’s.

Now the postings on the page itself is not bad, but it’s not great either.

It’s the way they handle what people post on their page. A few months ago some teenagers started ‘trolling’ the page. An ‘Applebee’s Reply Guy’ was created and has turned trolls into fans. Click on ‘See All’ where it says ‘Recent Posts by Others on Applebee’s’ and learn from how they respond to good comments, bad comments and how they use wit and humour when appropriate.

I was made aware of this page at #Somet12. Think!’s Mikala wrote a great post about it.

Update Feb 4, 2013. Apparently the Applebee’s Reply Guy lost his way (or did they change agency).

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