Erika Wiggins The Active Explorer hikes Mount Van Cott Salt Lake City (courtesy The Active Explorer on Facebook)

Erika Wiggins, The Active Explorer, hikes Mount Van Cott, Salt Lake City, Utah (courtesy The Active Explorer on Facebook)

Whether we’re speaking with our destination marketing hat, or from our blogger hat, we say pretty much the same thing: connecting with locals who are social media savvy is an important step in growing your online reach, influence, and impact.

Think of it as the stone thrown into the pond – your locals who have extensive social media networks can ripple your news outward. They can help you find and connect with other online media experts, and through their blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Flickr, etc. they have audiences that might not discover you any other way.

That strong relationship with locals gives you credibility when you reach out to host non-local bloggers for an event or familiarization tour, because one of the first things such visitors want to know (besides where to find WiFi) is, “Who are your local bloggers? Instagrammers? Twitter folks?”

Hey, it’s social media!

Rather than always thinking about bringing outsiders into town, set out to find, meet, and get to know your online locals. It’s very similar to the offline local ambassador programs you’ve spent years building for your destination, but instead of one-to-one, it will be one-to-many.

Since the TBEX travel blogging conference is kicking off in Toronto May 31 – as event Media Partners we’re thrilled to see over 1000 attendees registered and the #TBEX Twitter hashtag is hopping – we thought we’d share a travel blogger’s perspective on connecting with local tourism organizations, and how it’s been helpful to her.

Please welcome Erika Wiggins who blogs at The Active Explorer; we met her while Leslie and Sheila were in Mexico covering the WTTC (World Travel & Tourism Council) Americas Summit.

How local tourism connections help Erika ….

“I learned a few lessons during my transition from Orlando to Salt Lake City; the primary one was to reach out to local boards and businesses where I live. In Orlando, I depended on my connection to local blogger groups, which were great, but neglected to make my own contacts with local tourism boards and the hospitality industry. I did okay, but never reached my potential.

While visiting Salt Lake before deciding to move here, I arranged a meeting with Visit Salt Lake. They connected me to local resorts and Ski Salt Lake. I also made a point of doing what I had done in the past – reaching out to local blogger groups. The experience has been great and I now realize I could have done so much more to connect in Orlando.

Most individual businesses either reach out to me directly though my website or meet me through local blogger groups and personal introductions; the key to this is to make contact easy by having an easy-to-use form on your website.

I also make a point of attending industry functions related to my topic. For example, I am a member of the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition, which gives me opportunities to learn from industry leaders and network with them as well (not to mention it’s a group of dynamic women and I need to make friends in my new hometown.)

To summarize, I strongly advise bloggers to meet with their local boards and businesses, and not just focus on destinations away from home. Additionally, network, network, network. Get involved in local blogger and industry groups, especially those related to your niche.

Who better to write about your hometown than a local?”

Now, flip Erika’s experiences and think about how you can reach out to your locals, who may not even know you exist (“What does ‘CVB’ stand for, again?”) or they may know very little about what you do to market your destination, attraction, or lodging.

Also consider a possible business relationship with the local blogging community when you develop your budget; and yes, we mean paying them. Someone who is just getting started might be willing to work for free or for “exposure,” but an online publisher with established expertise will expect to be paid to create quality content for you.

Bloggers can work as an extension of the DMO staff, contributing to your DMO blog, newsletters, media releases, and covering events. Bonus – there’s no real training time to get good bloggers up and publishing because they already know what to do and how to do it. They provide a unique perspective, they know what their audience/your audience is looking for, and they can make sure their posts and updates focus on what the audience wants to know.

It’s a win for both entities as the DMO ends up with quality stories and access to new networks, and the blogger makes some money for his or her efforts, extends reach by connecting with a new audience via the DMO, and by working with the DMO they can build relationships throughout their community that will help them earn referrals and branch out to other areas.

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