I will never forget this one particular moment at the Social Travel Summit in Leipzig when Melvin Boecher, founder of Traveldudes.org, comes up to Sarah Lee and me, looks us both in the eyes and mentions in a low voice, adding a sense of gravity, “You! I want you both at the tables during the Think Tank session at 2.00 o’clock in the afternoon.” Sarah and I had both fallen silent from our chatty conversation, only to look at each other knowingly: This was going to be a very interesting summit session we were both looking forward to, requiring all our skills, experience and inputs in order to achieve something new and (potentially) grand. “Yes”, we both agreed and smiled. We definitely were on to something here!
Moderator Alastair McKenzie had been harbouring the thought of a Think Tank session at the Social Travel Summit for a while in the lead-up to the summit, quizzing us with a survey among travel bloggers and the tourism & PR industry, to which ultimately 52 people replied (including myself). Out of this survey, five major topics have been developed for the Think Tank session, each led by a subsequent moderator responsible for collecting thoughts and insights across a whole group of bright individuals with a background in the business of blogging, publishing, Social Media, PR and tourism.
Think Tank Topic #1: Bottlenecks.
What are the issues holding us back from good collaboration, and what is our wish list for the future in developing successful blogger & PR/tourism industry relations? Partly presented and discussed in the lead-up to the Think Tank during several other workshop sessions, here is what we came up with during the Think Tank session about “Bottlenecks”:
- Media kits should be professional and commercially-minded.
- (Let’s) end short-term-ism! Bloggers should rather be seen as long-term business partners and brand ambassadors.
- More dialogue over expectations on both sides is required.
- More education for bloggers as well as the industry is needed.
- A database run by PTBA (Professional Travel Bloggers Association) or iAmbassador as a starting point for finding bloggers is to be developed.
- Blogger/industry white papers should be written & given out.
- More marketers and less PRs at conferences in order to help shape the marketing point of view.
Think Tank Topic #2: Transparency, Ethics & Independence.
A hot topic currently undergoing intensive debate in the wider media landscape itself (myself included, being asked to sit on a first-time panel talking about Social Media & PR Ethics from a blogger’s point of view in Vienna), this topic deserves special attention in the Think Tank. Here is what we discussed:
- When having negative experiences on sponsored or co-hosted trips, give useful feedback to your business partner.
- Be consistent about your voice: Write how you would normally write!
- There should be a section in your media pack that covers how you deal with negative experiences.
- Be true to your brand, i.e. pass on spa invitations if you don’t normally write about them.
- Be transparent about what you can do and be honest about passing on marketing messages of brands.
Think Tank Topic #3: Blogger Profiles. Finding & choosing bloggers to work with.
How do you find not only “bloggers” to work with, but the “right blogger” much as the needle in a haystack? Here are some thoughts we gathered during the Think Tank:
- Read the blog! (The obvious, but also the most time-consuming one. 😉 ).
- Consider demographics.
- Think about distribution: What (other) platforms are bloggers working on?
- Qualify engagement: Other than visible comments on a blog, ask bloggers about off-screen communication, such as emails and rate the feedback you get.
- Have a negative review policy.
- Agree on the outcome: What is it you want from the business partnership? Is it (measurable) ROI, is it money, is it exposure?
- Check the limitations and boundaries: Could you agree to speaking in front of a camera when prompted? Do or don’t you do hotel reviews?
- Agree content share / ownership of content beforehand.
- Check for credibility: Do those third party credibility checks through Google, Klout, relationships with other DMOs or PRs the particular blogger in question has already worked with.
- Consider the project: Does the project fit with the overall campaign and strategy? Is it a one-off trip / topic or does the blogger want to write about the experience in some kind of overall series, such as talking about a festival as part of a campaign or a series of food festivals?
Think Tank Topic #4: The Business of Blogging. Tips for better business.
Matt Long is a driven individual who loves “getting right down to business”. Who else better than him, then, in order to moderate the business aspect of blogging during the Social Travel Summit Think Tank session? (Thank you once again for your clear-cut steering process, Matt!). About the business of blogging, we have the following to say:
- Brands and DMOs have different expectations. (It is important that you) learn them!
- Pitch creative campaigns with suitable outcomes, such as for example (additional) video or photo productions!
- Research your business partners beforehand to see what it is they may need, such as features on upcoming anniversaries, etc.
- Treat it as a business relationship.
- Bloggers are small business owners. Keep this in mind.
- “Pro-bloggers” won’t do it for free trips and “exposure”! They often require no huge sums, either, but the money discussion does need to be there during negotiations.
- Create integrated blogger relationships.
- And: Just because you can quantify something doesn’t mean you should!
- An advice to both sides: Build & focus on those long-term relationships.
Think Tank Topic #5: The Future. Trends to look out for. (“What is coming up to bite us in the rear?”).
Moderator Alastair McKenzie does have a point there, as funny as his phrase might seem. What is actually around the corner that still has to potential to surprise us? What are trends to watch out for? Discussing what the future holds was the purpose of this fifth and last Think Tank session at the Social Travel Summit in Leipzig:
- There is a growing importance of video content & broadcasting channels such as YouTube, which are increasingly watched on mobile devices as well as around the house (producing “on-demand content”).
- Notice an ever-increasing focus on visuals.
- There will be more collaboration between bloggers over content creation, and more bloggers building publishing teams.
- Over time, a division between pro-bloggers and non-pro-bloggers will (continue to) evolve.
- Some bloggers may shift to a travel agency role, selling travel products related to their content.
- In the future, we may also see increased competition from traditional journalists who are now being trained and becoming multi-skilled in order to keep up and ahead. (An interesting point, that one!).
- Fam-trips will become more focused, i.e. more tailored to each blogger, as opposed to a group approach
- More emphasis will be placed on hyper-local content, including more geo-located, mobile content & products.
- It will be increasingly important to develop a unique voice in order to be heard in a crowded market. (Yes! With this last one in particular, I feel that we are already there).
“Tourism is the people’s business: Use your skills to contribute to something bigger!” (Daniel Noll & Audrey Scott, of Uncornered Market, at the closing keynote of the Social Travel Summit in Leipzig).
Last but not least, I would like to share with you a few words on a very inspiring speech by expert travel writers, consultants and public speakers Audrey Scott & Daniel Noll, who seem to have perfected the art of “live storytelling delivery“: I recommend everyone to listen to them at least once in their lives. Seriously, I do! They have such a captivating way to speak and present their very own life & travel stories “at the intersection of influence and purpose”, as they call it. A truly bright, heart-warming and inspirational couple who have roamed the globe for many years on end: Find out more about Audrey & Scott on their website & travel blog at http://UncorneredMarket.com/.
“Some of the elements of our best travel memories include: Romance. Landscape. Happiness.”
True that. Daniel and Audrey talk a lot about “finding the magic: What are the untold stories that you can tell? That can make a difference? About otherwise misleading public pre-conceptions about a place, a culture, a society, such as for example Teheran in Iran?”
There is a now a shift on the industry level, as we become leaders in a field actively provoking changes in behaviour, and not just on an individual level (i.e. readers on our blogs and engagement on Social Media), but also overall, as a collective. Services such as Klout (finding and measuring your online influencer score) help to determine this particular level of influence.
Storytelling tools, they mention, are only a means to an end in the blogging / travel writing business, and basically what it comes down to is “connecting people. Use the tools given to you to amplify your message, to raise awareness and to help readers make better decisions – better for the local communities they visit and ultimately also better for themselves.”