Tips for travel PR professionals and destinations for finding and working with travel bloggers.

Go Media CanadaAnother month, another panel. This time, I’ll be at the GoMedia conference in Whitehorse, Yukon.

While the conference is mostly a marketplace for PR representatives to connect with journalists, there will be a day of professional development – which is where I come in. I’ll be on a panel called “Working with Bloggers,” moderated by Evelyn Hannon of Journeywoman. The other speakers include Keith Jenkins of Velvet Escape and Annie Scott of Pure Happy Travel.

As I did for my post on How to Pitch Bloggers, I figured that I’d post the questions here, along with my answers so that those who can’t make the conference can get some insight into the topic.

1. How is blogging information online different from telling a story in a newspaper or magazine? What can a blog contain that a hard copy can’t?

There’s a few ways to answer that question. First, blogging requires a different writing style than a print piece. Your post can be more personal, more chatty in tone. I also tend to write my stories in chunks, accompanied by plenty of photos.  It’s also a more interactive medium, where you’re encouraging comments and participation from your readers.

I also tend to “break up” a destination into several posts. For example, I was just in Prince Rupert. I’ll be doing one print story, but I’ll also do several blog posts that can get very specific. The one I’m working on now is solely about an excursion I took to see grizzly bears. I’ll probably do another one just about eagles, if only to show off the YouTube video I shot.

Before I post, I also research keywords on Google and do everything I can to make sure that the piece perform well in search.  That’s something that a print piece can’t do. I also disseminate my posts widely through social media, which expands the potential reach.

2. When I write an article for a magazine there is always a fact-checker working to see if my facts are correct before they are presented to the public. How does the blogging world monitor their possible mistakes and misinterpretations?

I have my husband read my posts before they go up, mostly for typos. If there’s a factual error and I’m made aware of it, I change the copy so it’s immediately corrected on the blog. It will also be corrected on USA TODAY through the RSS feed updates that take place several times a day. Readers are also usually quick to jump in with corrections.

As a freelancer, though, I will say that fact-checking varies, depending on the publication. I have several outlets where pieces are only given a light read, with no substantial changes or editing.

3. I have $10,000 to spend on a campaign. Tell me why or how blog sites should be considered for that campaign. In which ways do you bring something different to the table?

Bloggers – or travel writers who blog or my preferred term, digital journalist – start coverage before the trip begins. If photos are available (and I have time), I often do a Pinterest board about a destination before I go. Once I’m there, I’m using social media – Facebook, Twitter and YouTube – to post regular content. When I go home, I think about what content will go on the blog and what I can pitch for future freelance stories. And then once those posts or articles go up online, I promote them through social media – and I actively encourage the destinations to do so as well. So you’re getting exposure at multiple points.

4. What makes a blog trip different from a press trip?

I’ve only done a few specific “blog trips,” where all the participants were bloggers. The ones that worked the best for me were ones where we either went to the destination at different times, united by a single hashtag (#VisitLanai) or  where we were all at different destinations at the same time (#BloggersInParadise).

The one thing I’d say that bloggers need to be effective is good wi-fi access. If you want to get the most of a social media component, then wi-fi needs to be complimentary or you need to give bloggers “mi-fi” devices so they can constantly post online.

Otherwise, I don’t see much difference between a regular press trip and a blogger trip, honestly. I’ve encountered one or two negative situations where print reporters reacted poorly to online writers. That can be annoying. But I would say that most of the groups trips I take are made up primarily of traditional travel writers and editors.  I like the interaction between mediums. Although like most writers, I’d rather do an individual trip. That way, I know that I’ll be able to get what I need.

5. In order to create a great blog trip, which elements  do you hope your hosts provide?

Wi-Fi is a must. I also like to have a little bit of down time. I don’t go on trips anymore where every minute is over-planned. I don’t have time to get anything done and my work suffers. I also like it when the hosts know my audience, and help me figure out what activities and restaurants will provide the best options for coverage. And at this point, I do like it when my hosts seem social-media savvy. I want them to retweet and repost my photos. Otherwise, they are missing an opportunity. And while I’m happy to give a host a few pointers, I want them to realize that this is my livelihood. I do social media consulting, so if you want more than the basics, you’re going to have to hire me.

6. There are different types of blogging trips. Can you tell us how Tourist Boards and Public Relations firms around the world are working with bloggers? And, what has the impact been?

I can speak to #VisitLanai New Media Artist in Residence program. In that campaign, the island brought in bloggers for five days each time. All of our expenses were paid, plus we received a per diem. We were also allowed to bring a guest. While we had a few scheduled activities, we were free to find our own stories, for the most part (and we had no “minder” with us on site). We all signed a contract specifying a certain number of posts and tweets within a particular time period, with a statistics reporting requirement 60 days after our trip.

Looking for ROI? Organizer Roxanne Darling has put together a case study presentation for the program. She found that content about Lana’i in Google went up substantially, with many posts from participating bloggers appearing on the first page of important search terms related to Lana’i travel.

7. Any ideas on how a tourism board can help maximize the impact of a blog trip? 

If you’re looking into doing a blog trip, I’d talk to others who have gone before you. What methods did they use for preparation and selection? Were they satisfied with the results? I’d also make sure that the person who is putting it together understands social media, analytics and search. What are your goals – and what will you measure?

More bloggers are also being hired as consultants. If the tourism board wants an extremely thorough campaign – one where the blogger is a partner and is doing more than simply providing content for their own site, something similar to what I do with  the Value Luxury Network – then I do think that they should be paid.

The difference comes when you’re asking a blogger to do more complex and complicated work than you’d ask a freelance writer. Believe me, the blogger will do everything they can to maximize views to their own site, for example. But if a destination wants me to come up with targeted keywords, or take a leading role in putting the social media element of the trip together, or wants me to give them exclusive original content to their site, then I do want to be compensated for that. You wouldn’t get that kind of service from a regular freelance writer. So you shouldn’t expect it for free.

8. We all know that all bloggers are not created equal. So how and where would a Tourist Board or PR firm find the right candidate for the job. 

“Where do you want your destination to live?” That’s the advice that I tell PR people when they are evaluating online publications. Is the blog well-written, helpful, factually accurate, engaging? Does the blogger seem professional in their tone and voice? Are they forthcoming with their analytics when you contact them? Just as you want to steer clear of freelance travel writers who overpromise and under-deliver, the same is true of bloggers.

You can find bloggers on Twitter or at conferences such as TBEX and TBU. You can ask other PR people. Some firms, such as Diamond PR or Turner PR, have been out front with blogger relationships. We all know that you talk about us. So ask around!

9.  And just because a blogger has 20,000 Twitter followers is that reason enough to hire them? What specific personal qualities should we be looking for in their online presence?

It could be. It depends on what your goal is. Social media platforms are a tool, not an end to themselves. Do you want to reach online influencers and create a buzz in the social sphere? Then Twitter is a good bet. Are you more interested in engagement and an audience composed of “regular people?” Then look at Facebook. Pinterest has come on strong in the past year, and that reaches a completely different audience (mostly female, mostly center of the country). It’s also popular with women, who make travel decisions.

If you’re looking for content that will do well in search, you might want to look at their Domain Authority. It’s easy to check by installing the MozBar add-on to your browser. Google PR is fairly worthless on a daily basis, but it can give you an idea of how long a site has been around.

I would look at the same things that you see with freelance travel writers – engagement, professionalism, voice. The latter, in particularly, can come across in social media. I’d also ask if the blogger has a media kit. We’re really online publishers, so those of us who are in it for the long haul treat it as a business. A media kit is a sign that they take themselves and their publication seriously.

10. We also know that the right qualities are only half the story. Which tools and measures can be used to approximate the bloggers’ influence?

So many tools can be gamed or aren’t all that valuable. I wouldn’t put much stock in Klout or Alexa. And again, it all depends on what kind of influence you want to measure. If you’re only interested in raising your profile on Twitter, then those tools would be important to you.

But I would be cautious of the “echo chamber” effect. Does a lot of chatter on Twitter equal bookings? I haven’t seen that. Great content that rises in search, and can be easily found by potential travelers probably does. I’d also look at how the bloggers perform in other mediums. Some bloggers – Deb and Dave of the Planet D, JohnnyJet or any of the VacationGals – are regularly interviewed on TV, radio and outside media. That expands their influence in a tangible way.

11. While the campaign is going on and then once it has been completed, what can the Tourist Board or PRs expect from the blogger and vice versa.

I don’t think it’s much different than what you’d expect from a freelance writer. It’s a relationship. Some campaigns ask for a publication schedule right away, others trust in the writer’s professionalism. I send links after I publish, whether it’s on the blog or in one of my outlets. I’ve experimented in sending TweetReach reports, particularly if a destination has expressed an interest in that kind of exposure to influencers.

I like it when destinations take an active role in retweeting posts or putting them on Google Plus or Facebook. It’s good manners, and exposes my work to a larger audience. This has only happened in a few instances, but I also like it if the PR agency or destination gives me some of their ROI data. That helps me understand what’s working, and what’s not.

12. How can the impact of the collaboration be measured. Which tools should be used and which stats should be requested from the blogger.

In the VisitLanai campaign, we gave pageview statistics after the 60 day mark. That told some of the story. Several of us also gave interviews and wrote about Lana’i in other outlets. Gary Arndt did a spread on The Atlantic, my work went on USAT. I also post in TripAdvisor. I sent all that material to Roxanne.

I’ve experimented with Tweetreach and have sent some reports to destinations after the story. I don’t do that with every trip, however. It depends on what expectations have been set ahead of time.

I don’t mind giving page view statistics. But I can’t get them from the outlets that I contribute to. I have no idea how many people see my content on USAT, for example. They own that information and don’t give it out. Same with my outlets such as Cruise Critic or Frommer’s.

13. Finally, look into your crystal ball. Are there any travel blogging trends that you can see or wish that you could see?

I see a continuation of brands working with bloggers in consulting relationships. It makes sense in many ways, mainly because it’s a bloggers’  job to explore and exploit the web. We’ve cultivated skills that go far beyond what a freelance writer used to have, including SEO and keyword strategy, some measure of Analytic measuring, social reach, etc.  I’ve written and edited appsI go on the radio to promote my posts, I’ve entered into syndication agreements. I think publicists and destinations haven’t even begun to recognize and take advantage of that.