Imagine if you weren’t alone in what you do. Imagine a small army of champions, all around the internet, spreading the word about your town, standing up for you when you are criticized, posting photos and videos, and telling everyone who will listen about your best assets. Who wouldn’t want that?? You are going to build that army of champions, by networking and word of mouth, and by building relationships. You’re probably doing lots of the right things, but don’t know how to put all the pieces together. It’s all about taking care of the people who love your place as much as you do.
So who loves your place? Your locals. (well, at least some of them.) Your former locals, your alumni. How about your visitors? People who come back year after year, or even one who only visited once, but they remember it forever!Then how about family? And land connections: people come back to hunt, or fish, or just to visit because they or their family have land in the area. So a lot of people love your place! How many of all those people are online? Lots!Some have blogs or websites, some are on Twitter. Most are on Facebook now. The photographers are probably on Flickr. And lots of professionals are on LinkedIn. And those people are influencing other people about where to go. A UK study found that 52 per cent of Facebook users were influenced by their friend’s holiday photos to book a trip to the same place. http://www.bighospitality.co.uk/Sectors/Hotels/Facebook-Factor-inspires-52-to-make-travel-bookingsNow, imagine if you could nurture that, if you all your locals and former locals and visitors would start sharing just a few more photos…
Well, before you can nurture them, you have to find them. So the first step is to be findable online. Some of these people are already looking for you! Have a simple Facebook presence and respond to people there. Be contactable through your website, and not just by phone. Online people want to connect online. Then you can search out some additional people.Search by geography: facebook, Twellow, Local Tweeps, Flickr * Demo/screenshotMake a ‘locals’ or ‘supporters’ list on Twitter. I’ll bet people will ask to join.Local for local groups: Social Media Club, Social Media Breakfast, Jelly, co-workingCheck your site comments, your Facebook likes, and alumni groups on FacebookDemo:FacebookTwellowLocal TweepsFlickr
Here are even more places to find possible champions. Watch your searches & Google Alerts for mentions * DEMOHold an open mic night on your blog and see who turns up! [This just means hosting an online discussion in the comments on your blog or on your Facebook page. Announce the date and time to your friends and fans, pick a broad topic related to your place, and open the discussion. Soon you’ll have conversations breaking out and new people showing up.] * ScreenshotYou can also ask in your newsletter, website, Facebook, newspaper, etc.: that can be as simple as placing an announcement. Look in your mailing lists, event sign-in sheets for names you recognize from onlineCooperate with your geographic neighbors: you have a shared interest, and high school rivalries aside, you can work togetherDemo:Google Alerts
Now that you have a list of possible champions, it’s up to you to nurture them. You want to get to know them and their “beat”: what do they write about? If they are bloggers, what are their topics? For photographers, what types of things are they looking for? For Facebook mavens, what are their interests? Reach out individually, with customized notes on special events and big promotionsBlasting press releases will not work. They don’t respond because it seems so rude. A press release blast is not a personal conversation, and online is definitely a persona conversation.When you find an item about your place, comment and thank them for the mention. This is the most important thing you can do. It shows interest in and respect for their work.
Promote their local content: that means link to them from Facebook or Twitter. In fact, get together a bunch of local content, and do a roundup and link to them from your newsletter or blogSupport local gatherings, groups, photowalks. Remember the Social Media Club and the Jelly coworking? Support their events and get-togethers. Attend yourself! Make badges, buttons, twibbons for big events. You’ve probably seen people with these LiveStrong bands on their avatars. Florida did this for The Great Visit Florida Beach Walk. Twibbon.com will let you add your ribbon or logo to avatars for Twitter and Facebook. You could do this for Homecoming, or your big festival. But it’s probably not something people will want to have on there full time.
Once you’ve made some deposits in the relationship, you can ask for some things in return. Invite them in for coffee. Ask their opinions on promotions, etc. Follow through or be honest on items you can’tAsk to use their photos and posts, and give them creditAsk them to connect you to their networkAsk them to help evaluate potential bloggers Invite them to weigh in on firestorms (use sparingly)Your locals and fans can be powerful and loyal champions. The more you treat them with respect as part of an ongoing relationship, the more you’ll get back in online coverage, support and ideas. When you are comfortable working with online people and bloggers, then you are ready to start reaching outside your group of natural fans, for more widespread online coverage. When you do, your champions are your best base of support.
How many of you have done fam tours for regular tourism writers? [That is a special, abbreviated tour of your place organized specifically for travel writers, or tour operators, or others like that, intended to gather positive stories, more bookings, and more exposure.]Let’s extend that idea to your online champions, plus other online content creators who would love you, if they just knew about you!Hutchinson, Kansas, (population 40,000) is home to the Kansas Cosmosphere and Space Center, a Smithsonian Institute museum, and the Kansas Underground Salt Museum. In 2009, local Cody Heitschmidt organized a blogger fam tour for Hutchinson. "We brought in 11 bloggers, mostly from the Midwest, for two days. We took them on a tour. They blogged and tweeted like crazy. They took photos with their phones and sent them out over the Internet. The Cosmosphere's Web site traffic increased almost 300% and could be tracked back directly to the blog posts. Right now there are about 1,400 photos, 60 videos and 100 blogposts on the Internet about the Cosmosphere and Hutchinson. That incredible exposure only cost us about $3,400.”In case you haven’t picked up on it, that’s me on the far left. I was one of those 11 bloggers. So I can tell you first hand what it was like as a blogger on the trip, as well as some of the background, as Cody and I exchanged emails in organizing the tour.
A. What they are likePublic. Rapid. Sharing.Digital invasion: That’s what those who are wired into the social web do – we start connecting immediately.Bloggers are natural connectors, but we do it differently than some, and we use Web tools in ways that seem strange to the unplugged.Sitting around the table, we introduced ourselves and ate box lunches while we yakked, tweeted and photographed everything.At one point, I pulled this enormous cookie from my lunch and made some joke about it, and small business whiz Becky McCray pulled out her camera to take a photo.You could sense that our Hutchinson hosts thought we were a bit silly, photographing everything, but I said, “Just you wait, this cookie can get around, and we’ll use it to talk about your town.”The “Hutch cookie” lives on Becky McCray’s Facebook profile under Photos. More importantly, it’s in the Hutch Blogger Tour set. That set shows people some of the neat stuff we saw in Hutchinson (and every time she uploaded something to it, everyone in her Facebook network saw it.)Because I’m tagged in it, the photo shows up under Photos of Sheila in my Facebook profile. It showed up in my Facebook network when I was tagged. It shows up again when I post a link to this post on my Facebook Wall.I tweeted that I was writing this post about this cookie.I tweeted about the cookie after the “Share your cookies with your imaginary Internet friends” was posted. Because the post was hashtagged with #Hutch (the Hutchinson-related hashtag) it also shows up in Twitter Search.The tweet showed up on my FriendFeed page.It’s got a Hutchinson tag where I’ve saved it on my Delicious bookmarking page, and it’s on StumbleUpon as well.What the heck, it’s on my Plurk page, too.Yes, it’s only a cookie. It’s a seemingly pointless photo; but, it will live on forever, and so will our words about Hutchinson, Kansas.THAT’S why the Web is powerful as hell.That’s why we’re different, and for people who are used to dealing with print writers and journalists, there are a few other things you should know:We may be talking about your organization or destination before we even get there. We talk about it on Twitter and on Facebook. Our TripIt widget on our LinkedIn profile says we’re coming your way, and we’re bookmarking Web sites using StumbleUpon or Delicious for some advance research. Can you hear us? Do you have rudimentary Google Alerts set up? Do you know how to search Twitter?We’re immediate, or at least pretty darn quick. You’re used to seeing print articles a few weeks to a few months after a journalist visit, but bloggers are different. Many of us are blogging while we’re still hearing briefings or touring attractions. We’re posting videos on YouTube. We’re uploading photos of your destination on Flickr. We might be talking about lunch and dinner on Yelp. We’re uploading photos and comments to our Facebook page. Constantly.Where are you on the Web? Does your organization have a blog? A Flickr pool? A video channel? Are you on Twitter? Where’s your Facebook page or group? Not to be dismissive of people’s efforts, but you’re not knocking anyone’s socks off these days simply by having a Web site. A Web site is a given, like a phone number. Please tell us where you are – if we like your stuff, we’ll be linking to it and talking about it. Do you see our links coming in? Come on over and comment on whatever we’ve posted.Everything is on the record and recorded unless you say otherwise, right up front. Our style with speakers is a little different – for presenters or PR folks who aren’t used to geeks, it’s like a digital Normandy invasion. We all arrive in some conference/briefing room and swing into action. We’re crawling under tables looking for electrical outlets to plug in our stuff, we’re opening laptops, we’re aligning our Web cams to live-stream your presentation to the Web as it happens, we’re firing up to live-tweet on Twitter using our iPhone, we’re holding up our Flip video cameras to start shooting, we’re snapping photos and uploading them right then. You’re ON, not only to the bloggers, but to everyone outside the walls who is in the blogger’s many networks (and questions will come in via Twitter and video chat boxes from those who are watching and listening outside the conference room.) Don’t be alarmed. You want reach, you got reach!For organizations who are used to a lot of “control” and one-way broadcast of their message, it’s a bit disconcerting to look at people who all seem to have data streams coming out of their bodies, going who knows where.In my experience, wired writers and bloggers are generally a pretty sharing, friendly group although our communications techniques may be different than what you’re used to. We’re big on authenticity and transparency, and we talk about things that we like.Be the one we talk about. Be ready to engage.Two way conversation, with responses from their audienceNot tourism professionals (“What’s a fam tour?”)
There is a tendency to focus on Travel writers only, but that is a mistake. First, those travel writers are inundated with offers like this. Second, so many other topics out there relate to what you are best at! Look around, and broaden your choices. You’ll have less competition for attention both from the bloggers and from their other writings. You won’t be up against that flamboyant Acapulco trip the famous travel blogger just took, for instance. For starters, consider CraftsFoodsSportsParentingFamilyMilitaryHistoryBusinessLocalRegional
Once you know the type of content creators you’re looking for, where are places to go find them. Alltop is like the internet’s magazine rack: you pick the topic, and there is an Alltop page for it. You can scan through and find tons of different blogs on that topic. It’s a great place to gather possibilities. On Google blog search, look for the keywords and phrases your writers would use. Search for the topic. Twitter search and Twellow work with the same keywords, but they are focused on Twitter only. Finally, ask your champions. They know others in the network, and they can help you connect. Remember, keep thinking more broadly than just travel.
Evaluate them: lively community with comments and replies, consistent posting: on the topic you’re seeking, consistent posts daily or weekly, or what ever schedule they follow.Google them and see what else you learn. Check Gist to see their other activityAsk your champions to help evaluate them: it’s second nature to most of them. Do you love their style? Their outlook? Stats and ratings matter less than personal factors. And Little bloggers grow.
Successfulfam tours require plenty of planning. Failure to plan means a bad experience for your writers, and bad coverage for you. Be organized, and not last minute – too many offers or confirmations still go out a less than a week from departure dateFocus on your local, unique and quirkyCustomize the trip to the wired writers and their nicheConnect them with locals, championsWarn them of video, audio ops – they won’t be sending a camera crew laterInclude wifi and extra downtime – they need time to write, process, upload. Do NOT allow anyone to charge them for wifiRemind/educate them on disclosure – FTC rules require disclosure for bloggers now, and you would be wise to remind them that they should include a disclosure in their coverage that they received free travel.
You’ll want to know whether or not your effort was a success, so you’ll need to collect stats before, during and after. Remember how Hutch knew that website traffic for the Cosmosphere was up 300%? You have to measure to find out. Collect and promote the resulting content. Once you have 1,400 photos, 60 videos and 100 blogposts, you’ll want to keep track of them! So set up searches. Assign a hashtag (We used #Hutch), and collect them. Ask the bloggers for permission to reuse or quote them. At the very least, link to every post and item you can find. Make sure if you ever, ever reuse any item produced by them that you give them credit.
Finding your online champions for tourism
Finding Your Local Social Media Champions<br />Becky McCray<br />