Greater understanding and clarity between travel organisations and bloggers is the key to both groups working better together.
That was the overwhelming conclusion of the Big Bloggers Brainstorm hosted by Travelbloggers Unite (TBU) at Four bgb, in advance of the next TBU conference which runs this week in Austria. To find out more, book a ticket and head off to TTBU11 to meet bloggers and industry together this weekend.
The idea for the event in London fell out of the first TBU conference which was held in Manchester this year when bloggers discussed the idea of having more opportunities to sit with travel companies and to discuss opportunities and problems.
Everyone at our event recognised the power and influence of an independent voice online, but there was concern from clients about the risks and rewards of working with bloggers, while bloggers were frustrated about the lack of understanding of their needs.
The sense from the evening was that bloggers are already being approached by digital agencies to buy links, but PR has been slower to connect. Travel organisations talked about not being clear where responsibility for engaging with social media and bloggers lay in their own organisations.
Faced with adding blogger outreach to a PR function can be overwhelming for some organisations. Each blogger is unique and, in traditional media terms, effectively his or her own publishing company. That, of course, therefore requires time and consideration to understand and work with each blogger effectively.
The new world has caused confusion. We've had discussions with one blogger on behalf of a client who was separately being sent similar but less tailored materials by the client's SEO agency.
So the travel blogger is typically being approached by digital agencies, but has had some travel PRs approaching them as they would traditional journalists - providing press releases and broad press trip invites. Bloggers talked about being confused by such approaches, and badly targeted ideas - one luxury blogger gave the example of being invited on a budget trip.
The answer quickly boiled down to the need for better research and communication on both sides. Bloggers to create clear media packs to demonstrate not only the volume of reach, but the relevance of their community. As Janet of Seafrance said - you may have 100,000 followers, but are they likely to be my customers?
Heatheronhertravels.com explained she has published several sections on her site to explain how she works - check out Heatheronhertravels
Heather's great summary of the evening debate can be read here Heatheronhertravels mybloggingjourney
We also had a lively debate with Planetd's Deb and Dave, Canada's travelling couple who happened to be in London before heading off on the Mongol Rally.
Deb made a rallying call for companies and bloggers to work effectively together. When Alastair McKenzie of Travel Lists suggested that travel bloggers don't want to work with tour operators she strongly disagreed - as adventure travellers, small tour operator groups of like minded people are exactly who she and Dave want to travel with. You can read Alastair's response here Travel-Lists
Three top tips for travel companies
1. Not all bloggers are the same. Many aren't journalists, but publishers. So consider each one individually. Some will accept hosted trips, others will look for commercial support.
- There are Professional Bloggers for whom blogging is their career choice - they monetise their site and sell adverts and sponsored blogs. (Update 24 August - Andy Jarosz has just published a post suggesting we need a definition of travel blogger and has recommended: 'a travel blogger is a person whose main income-generating activity is derived from site, or sites, that they own or manage')
- However there are also what I call Life Bloggers- people who started blogging for the love of it and the commercial side has come, or is building up, after the creative side. .
- Confusingly for some PRs there are journalists who are bloggers- but often are often freelance using blogs as a self-promotion tool to promote other services. Or bloggers, like our panellist Andy Jarosz of 501 places (http://www.501places.com/about-me/) who uses his site to promote his service writing professional blogs to be posted on other companies' sites such as Sunvil. Andy's own site says: 'I've deliberately made this a non-commercial site. That means as a reader you won't be faced with links to cheap car parking, bargain hotels or fish spas. Similarly if you want me to advertise any of the above or link to your site then you will be wasting your time in writing to me. I don't reply to unsolicited enquiries (except maybe if you have a fish spa).'
- And, in the world where you can broadcast yourself, an increasing number of travel organisations also have their own blog which are also important platforms for PRs with relevant and complementary news
2. Be transparent about what you are asking or offering the blogger. Some bloggers reported being confused by PRs who call to ask if they would be interested in attending a bloggers trip, but the trip then doesn't materialise. Be clear what you expect in return for any support.
3. Make sure trips are set up to suit bloggers - feed them information and ideas in advance to help them anticipate and discuss the forthcoming trip. Always allow time for the blogger to write on the trip itself. Don't pack the itinerary too tightly. Always, always, always provide free Wifi if you can.
Top three tips for travel bloggers
1. Promote your own publishing platform. Have sections on your blog with clear explanations of your volume and reach. Create a media pack which can be tailored to suit different companies eg SeaFrance would need to know how many of your readers live within the South East of England (and so are potential cross channel ferry travellers)
Deb and Daves' Planetd blog is a very good example of how to summarise the information that potential partners and advertisers may need The Planetd
2. Do your research on companies you're interested in partnering with. Find out about their marketing objectives and priorities to establish if there is synergy between you. Many airlines will only support 'priority routes' rather than every route on their networks. Does the company have a blog or could you suggest writing one for it? Many companies account for media travel at standard internal rates, so trips can take chunks from a set travel budget, or they have strict limits on how many media/blogger places can be allocated.
3. Be transparent about what you are offering in return for any partnership arrangement Be clear how the arrangement will work for you. Andy Jarosz summarised his view of the debate from a bloggers perspective here - The blogger's dilemma
A lot of this is quite straight-forward and self-evident, but because of the inevitably individual nature of the blogging community it's sometimes hard for travel companies to understand the wave of change.
One guest at our event told a blogger; 'I've never actually met a real travel blogger before'. It's time to change that.
The second Travelbloggers Unite conference is at the of this week in Innsbruck.
It's only a hop away by plane and for a 199 GBP registration fee to find out more, to meet bloggers and to understand their changing needs and issues it's worth every penny. If you can't make this weekend, then do get on board for the next conference.
And join in the debate #TBUIBK @tbloggersunite