My Value Luxury colleagues and I often discuss what would make an ideal blog trip. I think we agree that the best visits to a destination occupy the space somewhere between being blindfolded and dropped out of an airplane into the middle of a foreign country with a few days’ supply of bread and water, and an aggressively scheduled press junket.
With the Flanders is a Festival campaign, Visit Flanders working with Think! Social Media’s Amsterdam office, took a unique approach to working with bloggers. Travel and music bloggers were hosted for week long visits to Belgium throughout the summer to attend and cover 280 plus music festivals held throughout the region.
The vast size of the task in attempting to match each unique blogger with the right festival, based on demographics, geography and schedules, was undoubtedly not easy. I was invited to attend July’s Gent Jazz Festival, but as a travel blogger, my agenda was more “travel” focused, with me visiting four different cities during my week long stay.
In my mind, there are three distinct types of coverage that can be generated from any blogger campaign. Here I will discuss each, and how the approach of Flanders is a Festival, a campaign designed for a wide demographic of bloggers, got it right.
On the spot coverage via social media. (such as Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, FourSquare, etc.)
When I arrived at my hotel in Antwerp I was greeted not by a tourism representative (it was a Sunday), but with a bag that contained a mother lode of brochures. The real gem was at the bottom of the bag:
A Michelin dining experience couldn’t have pleased me more. Why? Because a mifi device made it easy for me to do my job well. Also I didn’t have to worry about coming home to a cellphone bill that resembled a mortgage statement.
With my personal wifi close by, I gleefully tweeted from train platforms. I “Twit-picked” and “Instagrammed” pictures of my meals in Gent and my bed at the Plaza Hotel in Brussels (instead of jumping on it.) I did several FourSquare checkins each day – all for the simple reason that I could.
When the internet at one of my hotels wasn’t working, it wasn’t a problem to get online and upload a few pictures and answer some emails. (Word of warning – I did have to get my device reloaded mid-week – uploading pictures takes a lot of broadband.) Given the investment of resources on everyone’s part, the last thing a destination or hotel wants is to be the named culprit in any blogger’s story or Tweet about “the time the hotel wifi didn’t work.”
Blog posts that are written and posted before, during or soon after a trip.
Hammered out on hotel beds and airplanes, or in the middle of the night while recovering from jet lag, these are the kind of posts people most associate with travel blogging. They may have a travel journal feel to them, or may be more of a traditional travel article. The exact content and style can (and should) vary from one writer to the next.
In order to get the best results from this second kind of coverage, it’s important for the host to be clear with the blogger about their expectations. Equally as crucial, the host needs to do what they can to ensure the blogger can maximize their time at a given location. Micromanaging the heck out of the blogger’s arrival and first impression will serve both parties well.
For a trip where the blogger will be expected to deliver somewhat independently, assistance would include the host providing the blogger with a pocket map and one relevant brochure. Even better, would be a list of five or so ideas of things to do specifically curated for an individual blogger and their niche. A fact sheet about things like traditional dining hours, transportation, not so safe neighborhoods, and days that museums are closed would be incredibly useful and appreciated. Less is more in this case (ahem – easy on the brochures), so important and relevant information can easily be found.
In the instance of more organized group trips, where blogging on the spot and beyond is part of host expectations, I would suggest that “maximizing a blogger’s time” means being sure to schedule plenty of free time. One thing I really appreciated about being able to schedule my own downtime during my Flanders is a Festival tour, was I spent it in places like this:
Blog posts, stories for other online and/or print outlets that come months to two years or so later.
I always come home with enough to write about, but rarely with so many formed ideas that were well suited for The Travel Belles’ niche. Pictures and mentions of the four cities I visited in Flanders (Antwerp, Brugge, Gentand Brussels) will likely make appearances on The Travel Belles’ site and Facebook page, where we share two or three pictures a day, for a while now.
The more independent and long-producing any visiting blogger is expected or hoped to be, the more crucial initial vetting on the part of PR to discover the right bloggers for a particular campaign becomes. As a blogger, the more I feel as if the host is trying to build a relationship and being respectful of my time and what I have to offer throughout the campaign, the more likely it is that the results will meet everyone’s goals and expectations.
Some results will be immediate with trackable ROI. Some results will be more long in coming, the seeds of which can be found not just in my notebook full of ideas and hundreds of photographs, but in conversations on Facebook, and even in things like me telling my American Express card wielding book club, multiple first hand gleaned reasons why they must plan a shopping trip to Brussels.
The Flanders is a Festival campaign as a whole played perfectly into my writerly sensibility that each moment has a story to tell, and it was a true gift as a travel blogger to be given enough space to hear them. My memories are not of speeding from point to point to stay on a schedule; instead they are of things like following the smell of chocolate shops and waffles in the rain.
My travel blogging and influencer sensibility left Belgium satisfied as well: Flanders will long be on the tip of my tongue when it comes to recommending places to travel. And I, for one, would be fine with this mutually beneficial approach to hosted blogger trips becoming a trend.