How small travel companies can work with bloggers to promote their brands?

by Heather Cowper on November 12, 2011

While at the World Travel Market in London recently, a question I heard from several small travel companies was “How can I engage with Travel Bloggers to promote my business?”. You may be an established niche company that wants to engage with new customers through Social Media, or you may be a new start-up that’s decided to go the online route – but most likely you’ll be operating on a shoestring budget and not have much money for marketing and PR. This article aims give you some ideas on how you might engage with Travel Bloggers to promote your small travel business.

First some things to avoid

  • Most bloggers work extremely hard on their sites and get very little financial return from them, and they don’t want to feel they are being taken for a ride by those who see them as a source of ‘free’ promotion.
  • Don’t send impersonal press releases to a random list of bloggers, your efforts are better spent on targeted individual approaches.
  • Don’t send offers of ‘free’ content which are thinly disguised link building campaigns – most bloggers realise that links from their site have a value and they are sensitive about publishing articles that reduce the trust of their audience.
  • Don’t expect bloggers to write about your travel service unless they have experienced it for themselves – it’s better to make the invitation to ask them to try it out at no cost.

Warning: The ideas that follow may not cost a huge amount of money, but you will still need to be prepared to invest a fair amount of time to make them work;

 Engagement through Social Media

Social Media is a good way to engage with travel bloggers in their own playground

Social Media is a good way to engage with travel bloggers in their own playground

If you want to engage with travel bloggers, you need to meet them in their own playgrounds such as Twitter, Facebook and Google + . The first step is to open an account on one or all of these platforms for your business (if you don’t already have one) and start to use them to engage with travel bloggers. Make time in your schedule to regularly post a mixture of links to your own blog or website e.g. special offers, re-tweets or links to articles written by travel bloggers and links to general news items, always sticking to material that will interest your target customer. Follow or Like the travel bloggers whose articles you enjoy and start to engage them in conversation through comments on their articles.

The purpose of this activity is to not only engage with your target customer but also build relationships with travel bloggers who will then promote your business directly or indirectly in the future. You can use your time most effectively in Social media by using free tools such as Tweet Deck or HootSuite to schedule your Tweets and Facebook posts and Google Reader to monitor the blog posts of Travel Bloggers you are following. You can also be active on Forums such as Travel Blog Exchange  to answer questions that establish you as an expert in your sector, or to answer location based questions about your region such as Gogobot or Lonely Planet Thorntree.

Target Travel Bloggers who are aligned to your market

Donna Hull from MyItchytravelfeet.com targets the active baby boomer niche

Donna Hull from MyItchytravelfeet.com targets the active baby boomer niche - click to visit My Itchy Travel Feet

From a broad presence in Social Media described above, you can move to a more targeted approach, identifying travel bloggers who have an afinity with your travel business. You may want consider things such as;

  • Do they travel a lot in the region where you are based?
  • Are they already writing about the type of activities you can offer, be it food, culture, hiking, city breaks, adventure travel?
  • Do they operate at the level of budget of your target customer? – there are bloggers covering everything from budget to luxury travel
  • Do they represent the demographic of your typical customer – 20-something backpackers or 50+ baby boomers?

Once you have a long list of travel bloggers who are aligned to your business in these ways, you may want to consider;

  • The traffic of each blog – not always obvious but you can make estimates and comparisons through sites like Alexa, blogging directories (look for badges in the sidebar) or sometimes this information will be given on a blogger’s advertising page.
  • The social media reach, as measured by followers and activity on Twitter, Facebook and Google+ pages, Klout scores
  • The media that the blogger works in – are they producing travel podcasts and videos, are they strong in photography, are they also a freelance travel writer?
  • Spend some time on the blogs reading different articles to get a feel for the personality of the blogger, their style of writing and whether they will appeal to your target customer.
  • Do they accept guest posts or sponsored posts on their blogs – do they have any pages with information about this?

Once you have done the research above you may have a list of 10-20 bloggers who you would like to target to work with more closely.

Guest Posts and Sponsored posts

I hosted a Guest Post from a Villa provider in Hawaii about adventurous activities in their local area

I hosted a Guest Post from a Villa provider in Hawaii about adventurous activities in their local area - click to read the article

In order to promote your travel business you may want to offer Guest Posts to your target list of travel bloggers, in order to create interest in your brand or in the types of activities and services that you offer and normally a link back to your website.

Not all bloggers accept Guest posts or Sponsored Posts as they feel that it dilutes the personal ‘voice’ of their blog, so you first need to establish this before approaching a blogger. Normally a Guest post will be from another travel blogger or writer who wants to publish an article in other places in order to promote their own blog and is posted for free, while a Sponsored post is from a commercial website or their agency, who is looking to include keywords and links that help promote their site in the Search engines and the blogger will charge for this as a form of advertising.

If you have a minimal marketing budget, then your preference will be to offer a Guest Post, although if your website is overtly commercial the blogger may wish to charge. The way to get around this is to establish a relationship with the blogger through Social Media and promote their content before you make the request for a Guest Post. You should also spend time crafting a really engaging and well-written article together with great photos that will be really valuable content for the blog’s readers.

Many established bloggers get a steady stream of offers for ‘free’ content that is typically bland and not always well written, so you need to take the time to write a personal e-mail explaining that although you don’t have any budget to pay for sponsored posts, you feel that you can write a guest post that will be engaging to the blog’s audience. Give a short outline for possible guest posts that you might write, which should be of general interest to all travellers, not just a blatant promotion of your business.

You can find more information on my Guest post page and Sponsored post page about the type of articles that I accept.

Invite the blogger to try out your travel service or product for free

Here I am riding the Schafburgbahn Steam railway when I visited Lake Wolfgang as a guest of Austrian Tourism

Riding the Schafburgbahn Steam railway when I visited Lake Wolfgang as a guest of Austrian Tourism UK - click to read the article

Most travel bloggers work hard on their sites with little financial return and fund their own travel costs. If you are able to offer them either sponsored accommodation or a travel experience that you provide, which will reduce their own travel costs and enable them to write interesting material for their blog, they should be interested. It’s worth working out your proposition before your approach a travel blogger.

If your website is a booking engine for holiday accommodation, such as B&Bs, apartments or villas, you could approach some of your accommodation owners in advance to check if they will offer free nights or much reduced media rates that you can use to offer bloggers. If you offer activities, you can decide to offer a free day’s experience to any blogger visiting your region. Once you have worked out what you can offer a blogger, then send them an individual e-mail to see if they would be interested.

Although your budget may not be able to stretch to fund a whole blogger’s trip, you may be able to provide elements of a trip that a blogger already has planned or will consider making in the future. You could contact other small travel providers in your area to provide a bundle of free or discounted travel offers for bloggers visiting your area. It’s worth keeping an eye on the social media sites for travel bloggers who often announce that they will be visiting you city or region and ask for help or tips. You could set up a search for your city or region in Twitter and follow up on anyone who is planning to visit, or keep an eye on the sidebar where some bloggers mentioning where they are travelling next. If someone is already planning to visit your area, then they will normally be interested in trying what you have to offer if there is no charge.

In exchange you hope the blogger will write an article about your travel product or service or mention you in other media such as videos and podcasts, as well as social media. Most bloggers take pride in their independent voice and the trust of their audience, so there is no guarantee that all the comments will be glowing, but if you are confident in the service you provide and have researched the blogger to ensure they are aligned with your target market this is not likely to be too much of an issue. Although you can’t ask for guaranteed positive coverage, it is reasonable to try and establish what the blogger will commit to publish in return. The more established and professional bloggers will normally have no problem with this and will be transparent about what they are able to offer e.g. an article on their blog, a guest post on other blogs, a video, social media coverage etc.

During or after the blogger has visited, make sure you measure the results as far as possible – save or screenshot any mentions on social media and keep the link to any articles or other media that are published. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t ask the blogger for the number of views for any articles, say 3 months after the post was published, which they should be able to give you if they have Google Analytics installed. You should also use your social media channels to magnify the impact by tweeting and retweeting or giving Facebook mentions to anything that is written from a blogger’s visit and by linking back to any relevant articles from your own website.

Link up with your local tourism board

Malaga Tourism made a presentation to Travel Bloggers at World Travel Market 2011 to inform them about the things there are to see and do in Malaga and to invite them to a travel blog trip they are planning for 2012

Malaga Tourism make a presentation to Travel Bloggers at World Travel Market 2011 to inform them about the things there are to see and do in Malaga and to invite them to a travel blog trip they are planning for 2012

Your local tourism board may already working with bloggers – if not they are probably considering doing so and you can encourage them in that direction. You can make your tourism board aware of what your small travel business can offer, that they could incorporate into any group blogger trips they are offering. Most group blogger trips offer a number of activities to showcase the destination, such as cookery and food experiences, hiking, cycling, tours, restaurant visits and if your company provides these you can offer to host a group of bloggers at no charge. If you do, make sure that wherever possible you offer free and fast wifi, to enable live blogging about the experience, and be sure to maximise the benefit by giving information packs and business cards which the blogger may refer to later when writing their articles. If you offer other services such as accommodation, you could offer the tourism board free nights or media rates to pass on to any bloggers that approach them for help, especially at certain times of year that are off peak season.

Face to Face meetings with bloggers

As travel bloggers are geographically dispersed, it’s good to use blogging meet-ups or travel conferences such as the World Travel Market to make face to face connections with bloggers. This is an  opportunity to have an informal chat about their travel plans and to invite them to come and try whatever travel experience you can offer. Travel Blogging Conferences to check out are TBEX and Travel Bloggers Unite that take place a couple of times a year and there are often local meet-ups or Tweet-ups such as the London Bloggers meet-up and Travel Massive which may be holding a travel meeting near you. If you’re attending a big travel conference such as World Travel Market, there are often events and seminars that travel bloggers will attend such as Travel Blog Camp and Socal Travel Market and it’s worth making appointments to meet bloggers during these events, so that you have time for a proper chat about how you might work together.

I’d love to hear from any small travel companies who are using social media to engage with bloggers and to hear how things have worked from your perspective, so please do leave your thoughts in the comments.

Do take a look at my related articles:

Are Travel bloggers finally being taken seriously at the World Travel Market?
What can Travel Bloggers and Travel PRs learn from each other?

Photos Credits: Social media by AslanMedia, Donna Hull by Alan Hull Photography

This article is published at My Blogging Journey, where you’ll find information on how to build a better travel blog.

You’ll also find lots of great travel stories, videos and podcasts at my travel blog at Heather on her travels .

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