9 Criteria for Getting Invited on Travel Blog Trips

 

In his first guest post for the TBEX blog, William Bakker of Think! Social Media talked about the challenges of measuring the value bloggers bring to DMOs. In the second part of this two-part guest post, William talks about the nine things he and his Think! colleagues look at when evaluating bloggers they’re considering for invitations on press trips.


Creative commons photo by influenZia via Flickr

Creative commons photo by influenZia via Flickr

Right now, blog trips and bloggers hosted by a Destination Marketing Organisation (DMO) are still a bit of a novelty. I expect an explosion of travel bloggers in the near future as existing bloggers realise the benefits a blog trip can offer while 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 measuring the value of bloggers but 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.com, Quantcast 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.


Author bio: William Bakker is chief strategist at Think! Social Media, a global marketing agency focussing exclusively on the tourism industry. He is considered a leader in the world of digital destination marketing and speaks at conferences around the world – including at TBEX in Girona. He blogs about tourism marketing at wilhelmus.ca.

How can destinations measure the value of travel bloggers?

 

One of the most anticipated sessions leading up to TBEX Girona was on measuring blogger ROI – something most of us are pretty interested in figuring out. The session was co-anchored by Melvin Böcher, Keith Jenkins, and the author of today’s guest post, William Bakker of Think! Social Media. William came at the topic from a different angle than Melvin and Keith, and here he offers his perspective on how DMOs measure the value of working with a blogger.

Do you want to reach travel bloggers? Learn more about sponsoring the next TBEX event or hosting TBEX in your city in 2014.


Creative commons photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr

Creative commons photo by Horia Varlan via Flickr

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.

Stay tuned!
In his next guest post, William will talk about the criteria Think! uses to determine which bloggers they’ll invite to work with DMOs.

Travel Destinations: If you’d like to learn more about the value of Travel Bloggers, come to TBEX in Toronto!


Author bio: William Bakker is chief strategist at Think! Social Media, a global marketing agency focussing exclusively on the tourism industry. He is considered a leader in the world of digital destination marketing and speaks at conferences around the world – including at TBEX in Girona. He blogs about tourism marketing at wilhelmus.ca.