January 2010 – Find Your Online Champions

Get your online champions talking! (Texas A&M yell practice courtesy the University's Cushing Memorial Library at Flickr CC)Social media, networking, Web, Internet blah blah blah….

Let’s talk about the really fun stuff….connecting with your local bloggers and even meeting with them offline.  One of the most powerful ways to interest visitors in your destination or attraction is to enlist the help of those who already love it and live it, right under your nose.

It’s no mistake that the Hutchinson, Kansas blogger fam tour/press trip included local Kansas bloggers like Patsy Terrell, Bill Genereux and Naomi Shapiro, among others.  Just like charity begins at home, so does good tourism marketing.

How often have you heard a local say, “I’ve lived here X years and never visited Fill-In-Your-Attraction’s-Name?”  Their money is green, too, and they have added incentive to talk up your town with their networks – it’s their town, too.

Why do some cities like Austin, Boulder and Seattle have such buzz?  Their enthusiastic locals never stop talking (and tweeting and Facebooking) about how great it is to live there, so everyone wants to go visit and check it out.

Do you know where to find your local bloggers and wired communicators? Do they know who you are, or do they even understand the job of a CVB?  Let’s talk about connecting with them and building your own online champions network….

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Where can you find good bloggers?

It’s not that hard, but let’s get one thing straight before we start:  there can certainly be a mutually beneficial relationship here, but don’t view local bloggers as another broadcast funnel for your marketing (like buying a TV spot or newspaper advertorial blow-in.)  Bloggers are not interested in being anyone’s mouthpiece….and we say that as fiercely independent bloggers ourselves.

You need to look for locals in three places:

  1. Among people in your local town and immediate surrounding area/region.
  2. Among those who perhaps used to live there and/or grew up there, but are now scattered in an expat “diaspora” across the globe.
  3. Among those who are regular returning visitors, like snowbirds or those who visit family in your town every Thanksgiving.

Notice that two of your three prospective outreach “local” subjects may not be located anywhere near you; they may be across the International Date Line or in an opposite hemisphere.

No, we haven’t forgotten how to read a map, but we know that the social Web lets you leap geographic boundaries.  Through past history or family ties, your most effective online champion may live halfway across the globe.  If they have an Internet connection, it does not matter.

One more thing….

Don’t just look for travel bloggers. We know it’s a tough habit to break from the old days of trying to get attention from travel magazines/newspaper sections and travel writers, but the Web is a lot bigger than that. You simply want people who love what you offer and know how to network and connect, and that may be food bloggers (maybe your equivalent of Austin’s Taco Journalism) wired history buffs, crafting or quilting fanatics or a fans of microbreweries.

Where do you find these people?

Here are three online assets we recommend:

  1. Alltop – an “online magazine rack” of headlines from sites across a gazillion topics. Becky has a blog post about their service, which includes channels for food, travel and sports of every description.
  2. Google Blog Search – when you only want to search blogs, and blogs alone.
  3. Twitter Search or Twitter’s Find People – this depends on using the right search terms and on how thoroughly people have filled out their Twitter bio and location, but it can usually get you started.  Other Twitter directories to search include WeFollow and Twellow.

Bonus search opportunities:

  1. Travel Blog Exchange – a network of travel bloggers.
  2. Twitter Moms – network of Moms on Twitter (usually also bloggers.)
  3. Ning Networks – both 1) and 2) directly above are Ning networks, which is a service that lets people of like interests instantly form networks with subgroups, blogs, etc. Go to Google and search for specific expertise by using “XYZ Ning” – for example, a “quilter Ning” search gets you a ton of results, including ManQuilters, a group for men who quilt.
  4. Flickr – search the photo-sharing site for your town’s photographers, or those people who have taken pictures while visiting your town and labeled/tagged them.
  5. Forums – they’ve been around for a long time and many are still going strong.  Try a search in Google Groups or Yahoo Groups.

Once you find people of interest, especially if they are nearby, invite them over to your office or brick-and-mortar Visitor’s Center to say hello, have a cup of coffee and meet your staff.

Even better, think about hosting a casual “tweetup” social event with your local Twitter followers. Get to know them and enjoy their company in person (or IRL – in real life.)

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Is Blogger Outreach Different?

If you already know how to build warm, mutually helpful relationships with journalists and communications people, then there is nothing much we can add to that.  The only difference in the blogging world is that it is even more important to make contact and build rapport before you pitch something, but it can be easier to do than with print media.

Read the blogs of those you want to connect with, and leave comments when appropriate.  Interact on Twitter with the people who interest you. Be helpful and be available before asking for something.

Be there before the sale,” as Chris Brogan says in his post on how to reach out to bloggers.

Really, we’re not any different than anyone else; we’re probably just more impatient with crummy pitching and we have a powerful online megaphone that we alone control.  We know that as bloggers we’ve become social media Flavor of the Month among some PR and marketing people, and we still remember when our blogs were ignored and dismissed because they weren’t mainstream media.

Some back story on the Hutchinson blogger fam tour that we mentioned above….

Becky (and eventually Sheila) were asked to go because of the friendship between tour organizer Cody Heitschmidt and Becky – a friendship that was started and nurtured on each of their blogs and on Twitter, without any quid pro quo, well before Cody decided to try a blogger fam.   Hutch was a perfect fit for Becky in particular because of her rural/small town business focus, and also for Sheila who likes quirky travel and finding treasures in unexpected places.

The upshot is that both of us fell in love with Hutchinson and now can’t shut up about it.   We “get” what Cody is trying to do – keep his town vibrant and alive – and we like the fact that he got to know us as people before pitching anything.

Hutch and Kansas are top of mind for us – earned media that can’t be bought.

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How can bloggers work for you?

Two examples of tourism organizations employing bloggers in an advertorial, yet fresh way:

***  The state of  Florida uses bloggers on its Visit Florida site, each one promoting a different travel niche.

***  The Canadian city of Montréal promotes detailed information about the city (food, arts and culture, girl’s getaway, etc.) with their Insider’s blogs.

***  See also a blog post about the Florida blogger initiative on travel writer/editor Jeremy Head’s blog: A new breed of travel writer? Plenty of impassioned discussion in the comments.

How could you use bloggers in your content production?

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Bonus: Still kicking – Blog Carnivals

Those who have been around blogging for awhile know about blog carnivals.

One blog “owns,” hosts and administers a carnival focused on a particular topic, and at some interval (every week, biweekly, etc.) the host blog gathers up submitted blog posts from other blogs about the Carnival topic, and collates them into a carnival edition.  Here is the central site for blog carnival information and listings.

Some carnivals stay on the owner site, and others “travel” around and editions are posted on a variety of different blogs.

Carnivals are great for building awareness about blogs in a niche, and also for building links between blogs (important for blog rank and authority.) Unfortunately they are also a bit of work to keep alive, and annoying spammy blogs submit off-topic posts that can really degrade a carnival’s quality.

There’s still a place for them, since links still have a lot of value.  Sheila happens to “own” a blog carnival that runs every other week and features posts about any aspect of one, single city, anywhere in the world. She’d welcome your participation.

It’s called the Carnival of Cities and and the base blog for it is her Bootsnall Family Travel Guide, but it will be hosted next week (13 January) by Jack Norell on his travel blog Eyeflare.  The previous edition was hosted on Roaming Tales, if you’d like to see how it works.

If you have either a personal blog or a tourism organization blog with a fairly recent post about any aspect of a city (or fair-sized town,) submit the post here before noon GMT on Tuesday, January 12.

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A quick congratulations to Abilene, Texas, who just launched a “Twisitor Center” similar to the one we mentioned in our December newsletter, in Portland, Oregon.

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New: Tourism Industry News on Alltop

Just launched today on Alltop.com – a channel for tourism industry news!

More sites will probably be added in the future, but we enjoyed helping pull it together and thought you’d like to see it right away:

Alltop Tourism Industry page

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Comments

  1. Billie Yahne says:

    What a great newsletter- enjoyed all of it and will check out the various sites-

    • Thanks, Billie….

      We wanted to start the New Year with a bang, and we’ve also thought up two bonus newsletters to deliver later this month and Feb/Mar (plus of course Lesson Four coming out this week.)

      Go, team, go! :)

Trackbacks

  1. [...] our workshop in addition to food bloggers, sports bloggers and more.) These are your potential online champions; the people who are fans and supporters of your destination or attraction and who can help spread the word about you [...]

  2. [...] too easy to focus on blogger outreach to travel-related online publishers, and forget that the social Web has some incredibly active [...]

  3. [...] [Note to CVBs, DMOs, Tourist Boards and other tourism organizations: you really ought to be considering this with some of your best local bloggers and online champions.] [...]

  4. [...] Worth remembering from the last time we talked extensively about online champions, in our Jan 2010 newsletter: [...]

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