What’s the key for hosting a successful travel blogger FAM trip? Expectations with a capital E. Bloggers are a hot commodity and DMOs (destination marketing organizations or tourism offices) are working with these online influencers to share their message to their followers.
With a foot in the travel blogging sphere and the other in the tourism public relations field, I oftentimes feel out of place in the tourism industry and have decided to call myself a Hybrid PR Pro and Travel Blogger. As a Hybrid, the public relations side of me has planned group and individual familiarization (FAM in tourism industry lingo) trips for both traditional media and bloggers while the blogger side of me has participated on them.
Many components come together to create a productive trip – working in Florida, having Mother Nature on your side is a big one – but it all comes down to expectations. Of course, plenty of good food helps, too.
As a PR pro, I’ve learned it’s my responsibility to share what I expect from the bloggers in terms of what I want accomplished during the trip. I’ll never tell a blogger they need to post X number of blog posts or X number of Tweets but throughout the trip I’ll guide them through the experiences. Some bloggers are completely new to blogging game, others are just thinking about it, to those I saw, what are you waiting for, if you are interested in taking up blogging go for it! If you aren’t sure where you start you can read about what web hosting service is best for you, you can read in-depth comparison between Siteground and Hostgator or use WordPress and start writing about your interests.
In coordinating and hosting blogger trips, I’ve learned:
Don’t limit yourself to travel bloggers – Hey, I’m the first to admit we travel bloggers rock but don’t limit the invitation list to just travel bloggers. Find culinary, outdoor, lifestyle, family or maybe even technology bloggers to invite on the trip.
There will be young guns – Blogging is still a relatively new medium and new bloggers are born every minute. You may have a blogger on your trip who has never participated on a FAM trip so terminology and how a trip works may be new to them. This is an opportunity to “wow” them so when they take that next trip, they’ll say, “Well, so-and-so did it this way” or “I got to do that in Anytown, U.S.A.”
Share the itinerary – When inviting bloggers on a group trip a general itinerary is provided followed by a final one prior to arrival. If the blogger is visiting on an individual trip I’ll discuss what they’re interested in then try to customize an itinerary.
Plan downtime in the itinerary – While on itinerary topic, it’s important to build in some blogging and social media time. The bloggers will want to post content to their social media channels as well as reply to feedback generated on those posts. Some may also want to get a blog post uploaded each night.
Discuss what’s covered – For me, there’s nothing more awkward than telling a blogger they need to pay for that drink which is why when sending out the itinerary, it’s made clear what’s included – which typically includes drinks along with accommodations, activities, and meals listed on the itinerary. My philosophy is if I’m inviting someone to my destination, I’m going to take care of them, but, if they want to severely deviate from the set itinerary, additional costs may be involved.
The code – When planning a group blogger trip I’ve learned to create a specific hashtag to share with participants so they can include it when they post to their social networking channels. I use TweetReach to determine the reach and impressions of Twitter posts (Tweets). In the itinerary, I also include Twitter handles for those tourism businesses the group will visit.
If I had a spare body in the office, I would have that person follow the conversation (the hashtag) and Retweet posts but since it’s typically me, I do my best in reposting Tweets. Lately I’ve been curating content with Storify which allows me to gather social media posts and blog posts into one story.
Communicate with stakeholders – Let’s face it. A blogger trip’s success relies on the cooperation and experience with your stakeholders such as the host hotel, restaurants and attractions. Be sure to tell them, tell them again then tell them again about the trip. Communicate the itinerary with them through email and a phone call.
Also be sure the venues you’ll be visiting with the bloggers is “blogger-friendly” meaning, is flash photography acceptable? Is the restaurant okay with smartphones on the table and cameras snapping photos of food? Do they have thick skin and realize when all the bloggers are hunched over in the Blackberry prayer they’re most likely sharing the experience immediately on their social networking channels or taking notes?
Sometimes there will be nothing – The purpose in bringing in a blogger and online influencer is to have content generated about the destination. For whatever reasons, sometimes a blogger won’t produce any content so when speaking to your stakeholders, don’t over promise coverage. Or, the influencer may write about one specific aspect of the trip while not mentioning all the stakeholders involved. Think of this as content that’s good for the community by raising awareness.
Treat bloggers as journalists – Whether you have a pre-conference meeting with stakeholders or in your email communications or phone calls, emphasize a blogger trip is a working trip and your guests, the bloggers, are professionals there to work and they are not on vacation. During a recent visit to popular tourist destination in Central Florida one of the managers said to me I “must be having a nice vacation.” True, some bloggers blog during their vacations, I do, but that trip was strictly business because I could have been doing at least 100 other things that weekend other than covering that event.
Be patient – If WiFi isn’t available during the trip, I can’t expect Tweets, Instagram, Facebook or anything else to be posted during the trip. I know blog posts will usually follow. If not, it’s a good excuse to touch base a month or so following the trip. Even better is following up within a week of their visit.
Expect the unexpected – Things will happen and you just need to be flexible when you. I’ve been coordinating and running media trips for almost 20 years and just when I think I’ve thought of every single “what if” situation, I get thrown a new curve ball.
As a travel blogger I’ve learned:
Ask about expectations – If it’s not clear to me what my host is hoping to accomplish from my visit, I ask. I attempt to Tweet to my followers about my upcoming trip and post to my social media channels as much as possible during the trip. It will take me at least a week or two to get my first blog post uploaded and who knows for how long I’ll retain that information for future posts. Following a trip to Mount Dora, Fla., I was re-purposing content for a guest post almost two years later.
Share! Share your content with your social media channels not just during the trip but months maybe years after your visit. Something I admit to doing a poor job at is sending blog links to my hosts. They typically need to file monthly reports on their accomplishments and when they can show a blogger produced X amount of content, the powers that be will see the value in hosting future bloggers.
Be gracious – No one is all that and a bag of chips and it’s not necessary to be cocky especially around other travel bloggers. Be appreciative of your hosts and if things aren’t 100 percent, discuss it with them before firing off a heated Tweet.
Be professional – I recently had a discussion with a traditional print journalist in the business for more than 40 years and she told me bloggers are not professional. It does the entire blogging community good when all bloggers act professional even if traditional journalist counterparts are not doing the same. What does being professional mean? Well, I suppose that definition is in the eye of the beholder but to me it means being punctual, and sober, for designated meeting times. Be present and engaged during the program, even if the specific activity isn’t something you’d blog about.
If visiting on an individual trip and not a group trip, the PR person may want to meet up with you to provide an overview of the destination. Meet with them because they’ve invested time and money into your trip and can probably offer tips to make your visit more productive. Post to your social media channels and get a blog post uploaded within a reasonable amount of time.
It’s okay to say no – If you’re invited on a trip and it doesn’t fit your niche and you won’t blog about the experience, don’t accept the trip. Or, what I’ve had to do is turn down blogger trip invitations because I need to catch up on trips I’ve taken as far back as June. I don’t want to overextend myself and knowing how much money and planning goes into a trip I want to ensure I can devote the proper amount of time into each post.
Every trip will be different – I’ve participated on travel blogger trips with up to 20 participants and have been on individual visits and every other trip in between has been different. DMOs are funded differently and have different regulations in what they can pay for. For example, the organization I work for will pay for a blogger’s visit but not their spouse or significant other, while another DMO may be able to pick up the tab. Or, a trip funded by a resort management company may be able to pick up the entire tab and then some. You’re loved just as much whether you receive a warm welcome at check in or lavished with gifts, a bottle of bubbly and a plate of chocolate-covered strawberries in your room.
As outlined, many components come together to create a productive but it all comes down to expectations.
If you’re a PR pro, what are your tips? If you’re blogger, what advice do you offer to PR pros and your fellow bloggers?