Last month, I had the honour of speaking to a number of DMOs (Destination Marketing Organizations) about how to work with bloggers. I was asked to attend the conference as the organisers (Think! Social Media) had seen me speak in the past and knew that I had a proactive and positive view of the way bloggers can work with brands – and that I had also put my money where my mouth is by supporting bloggers financially in order to support blogger/brand relationships and activity.

ryan levittSo, imagine my surprise when two slides of my 20-plus slide presentation were jumped on and transformed into a campaign of attack.

It has been a little over a week since it all kicked off, and I have purposely waited until now to respond, as I did not want to turn this guest post into a whiny and defensive column all about me. Because where does that get any of us? And how does that help propel blogger/brand working relationships into the future?

Instead, I’m going to go positive and use the tried and tested link bait method of a top five list to spark a bit more conversation on a platform that allows for more than 140 characters of text. So without further ado, I reveal Ryan Levitt’s Top Five List on How to Work with Brands.

1.  99% of blogs are awful – so stand out from the crowd

I begin with one of the contentious slides that was tweeted about – my belief that 99% of blogs are really sh*t.

I must apologize as I was understating.

It’s really 99.9% of blogs.

In 2013, it was reported that there are over 152 Million blogs around the world (source). I don’t know about you, but I would struggle to find over 10,000 amazing blogs that I would actively want to read let alone the 1.5 Million that make up 1% of what is out there.

Think about it – for every contract, piece of content writing, press trip, and paid possibility, there are potentially thousands of people out there who think they can do the same thing as you. So you need to stand out. You can’t make mistakes. You can’t be lazy and expect the brand or DMO to do all your legwork. You can’t submit copy late. And you certainly can’t bad mouth a brand just because you didn’t get your own way.

You don’t like what they have to say? Educate them – and not just with your Google Analytics or flashy numbers. We know how easy it is to game the system. You may report that you have 500,000 unique viewers a month (but hide the fact that your views are off a single post that happened to go viral). We will find out. We are looking for quality PLUS quantity. Anyone can boast big numbers, but very few people can craft great copy, inspirational photography, and valuable “here only” tips and advice on a consistent basis.

2.  Learn from the newspapers

I know, I know! Traditional media is dying you say. Yes, the numbers aren’t great. But there is something to be said for how they operate. When a PR wants a newspaper on a press trip, they must promise that no other competing publication will be on that trip. Why? Because the newspaper wants an exclusive. They understand the value of being first – and only – to market. Why do you think journalists talk about “the big scoop”? Why do online publications put exclusive features and gossip at the top of a site? Because they generate clicks, readers, and add value.

Newspapers are smart (sometimes). They know that if a consumer reads about the same trip in other publications all at the same time, they get bored. Why read the New York Times if it’s simply printing the same stuff that USA Today is putting on its pages? It’s not fresh or original.

Think I’m the only person who feels this way? Ask Gary Arndt. His April Fools post this year was a masterful piss take on the whole experience. Read it here.

At HouseTrip, we are no longer supporting group press trips where bloggers stay in the same property at the same time. We will continue to offer opportunities for people to travel together in groups when we are sponsoring a large event (such as TBEX Athens, hint, hint), but we will always put bloggers in individual apartments during those periods. Why? Because we want each blogger to have a personal experience that is different from everyone else. We don’t want lots of posts about bloggers talking about other bloggers or identical experiences. And we certainly don’t want everyone talking all at once because it turns into social noise rather than social conversation.

3.  Stop talking to each other

I often feel like social media is a lot like a high school lunch table packed with cool kids. You really want to be at the table, but you don’t know how to get an invitation. Often times, bloggers are a lot like that too. A bunch of cool kids talking about all the fun they are having, while the regular consumer watches unable to find a way into the conversation. We need to be more embracing of what the consumer wants – and they will always want accessibility and engagement.

How many times have you read a blog and seen a lot of bloggers doing love-ins. “I love your blog,” “No I love yours more”. It’s aggravating. I know new bloggers are often finding ways to form relationships and get “in” with the in crowd. I also know that more established bloggers are looking for engagement. If you are compelled to write a comment on another blogger’s work, make sure you are contributing to the conversation. For example, if the blogger is in Thailand and you know a great place to go for sunrise yoga around the corner from a location they mentioned in the post, add that to the list. It’s a better contribution. But the endless love-fests aren’t productive.

4.  Know when you are right for SEO or right for brand building activity

Another contentious slide this one. My presentation prominently said that SEO was the reason why brands should work with bloggers. And that brand engagement is a secondary reason. I stand by this quote because it mirrors the fact that there are a limited number of influential blogs out there to work with. (And frankly you wouldn’t have endless SEO training sessions at blogger events if you didn’t realize the importance of it either).

When you are first starting out, SEO will always be your biggest selling point. At a rough estimate, it will take two years of posting before I, as a brand, believe you have the kind of influence level I need to work with you. Until then, your value to me will be in SEO links. That’s simply the name of the game.

Want to get ahead faster? Then do something that magazine advertisers have done for years. When a magazine launches, their sales team will give away pages to brands that they hope to entice – and so that other brands will see the kind of partners they are working with. If you are a new blogger and you don’t have the track record a brand needs to warrant working with you, then give away a little in the short term and show your value through click throughs, ads, and more. Then, use this case study to get me interested in working with you on bigger projects, or use your success and go to my competitor (who you can charge to work with).

5.  Stop with the begging bowl – at first

I get about five emails a day that say about the same thing. I’m (INSERT NAME) blogger. I’m going to (INSERT DESTINATION). I want free stuff from you. In return you will get a blog post.

Some of the emails include case studies and media kits. Some don’t. In all cases, these pitches go straight to my SEO Director and I rarely take a second look. Why? Because nowhere in those pitches does the blogger say how they can work with my brand, what they like about it, and what they think would benefit both of us if we did an activity together.

I was having lunch with a colleague recently and he told me that he pretty much deletes every single email like the one above that passes into his inbox. But we both agreed that if a blogger did their research and understood our marketing strategy and direction for the year – and then pitched something that fit, we’d sit up and take notice.

So how can a blogger find this out? Easily. Look at the photos on the homepage of the site. Are there big pictures of food? Then chances are food and drink is a big part of the marketing strategy for the year. Are you seeing lots of luxury images and exclusive resorts? Then global nomads and backpacker specialists might want to stay away.

Don’t go straight for the freebie. And don’t try and shoehorn us into your travel desires. Find out what we want and then see if it works with your brand strategy. Because you need to remember that you are a brand too.

If you disagree with anything I have said in this post or in my SoMeT presentation, I welcome your feedback. If you think I have failed to point out other values bloggers deliver, I would greatly appreciate your feedback in the comments. At HouseTrip we are proud to have been supporting bloggers since 2010 and I have been personally involved in that process the entire time. We have been, and are still committed to working with new bloggers, and are continuing to build on our existing relationships.

Author bio:  Ryan Levitt is PR Director of HouseTrip.com, one of the world’s largest holiday rental websites offering over 230,000 rentals in more than 19,000 destinations worldwide. Prior to this time, he spent almost a decade in travel PR representing NYC, Bermuda, Mauritius, Queensland, Malaysia and many other destinations, hotels and cruise lines in Europe. Also a former travel journalist, he has written over 20 travel guides and contributed to The Independent on Sunday (UK), Arena Magazine, Wallpaper, South China Morning Post, Toronto Star – and was a guide writer for VisitBritain and the German National Tourist Office.