In May 2015 I was invited to co-present with Gary Bembridge at the TBEX bloggers conference, held in Lloret de Mar, Costa Brava, Spain and we decided to share some of the things we had learned in setting up a collaborative blogger group at Travelator Media.
Our talk shared the insights from surveys we conducted with 200 bloggers on what they were currently being paid for and 50 industry partners on what they were prepared to pay for from bloggers. We also reached out to bloggers who have worked commercially with brands and DMOs and gathered over 15 detailed case studies to understand what was working in paid blogger campaigns. You can find the slides of our presentation below and on the Travelator Media slideshare site.
A free report with more detail on the survey findings and blogger case studies can be downloaded by clicking the button above.
Section 1: Current and future practices on paid-for blogger activities – the survey results
During March and April 2015, Travelator Media conducted research among the travel blogger community and the travel industry to obtain a better understanding of the attitudes, current practices and the likely direction of moving from traditional press-style trips into paid-for campaigns with bloggers.
The two studies were run on SurveyMonkey with 200 bloggers being recruited via Facebook groups, TBEX mailing lists and word-of-mouth. Over 50 industry members from PR Agencies, Tourism Boards and Travel Brands completed the separate industry survey and were recruited via Travelator Media contacts and from amongst partners like Think Digital Tourism.
1.1 Growing awareness of a brand or destination is the key reason that travel brands and tourism boards work with bloggers.
Both bloggers and the travel industry agree that building awareness is the main reason for partnering. The industry places a high value on generating quality content as their second core objective, while bloggers tend to believe that social amplification is higher on their priority.
1.2 Over half the travel industry appears to be willing to pay bloggers to generate content, with a large proportion undecided (but not totally rejecting the idea).
There is growing openness in the travel industry to paying bloggers to produce content.
56% of industry respondents indicated they would be willing to remunerate bloggers to produce content for them. Only 18% were adamant that they would not pay. There is a sizeable group (26%) who are undecided, which suggests there is may be a growing awareness of the trend. Travelator Media believes that this group may be open to the benefits as the blogging sector develops.
1.3 While the travel industry are less inclined to pay for editorial content from press trips, they are open to paying for the creation of corporate content or management of their online activities by bloggers.
Only 30% of respondents said they would be prepared to pay bloggers to go on press trips to produce and publish editorial-style content on their personal sites. Typical comments from the study were:
“Like journalists, we never pay for editorial content”
“I would never pay a blogger to go on a press trip and produce editorial content. I would only consider paying bloggers to take part in a sustained marketing campaign”
However, there was willingness to consider paying bloggers to act as on-going brand ambassadors, create specific commissioned content for use on corporate sites or activities or manage and run corporate online activities, such as social media sites or blogs. Bespoke video is the type of content for brand use that the industry is even more likely to pay for than audio and written material. The chart below shows the percentage of industry respondents that said they would be prepared to pay for:
This sentiment was shown in survey comments like;
“Bloggers need to be clearer about what is ‘editorial’ and what is ‘advertorial’ and paid for – both to clients and audiences. I would rather see X level of support in return for a trip, plus the added-value extra advertorial campaign ideas on top.”
1.4 Bloggers have not yet fully embraced this opportunity and most seem focused currently on seeking payment for more SEO style activities, such as sponsored posts, product reviews and advertising.
60% of bloggers in our survey claimed to have been paid by travel brands and tourism boards to produce content. However, this seemingly high figure is driven primarily by sponsored guests posts, which have been prevalent in travel blogging. Other key forms of paid-for SEO-style activities like product reviews and advertising links affect this number.
46% of respondents claimed they had been paid to go on press trip, however, anecdotal experience suggests this is higher than reality and may reflect either respondents classifying funded trips (flights, accommodation etc.) as being remuneration or a bias in our respondents. Either way, there is a clear opportunity for bloggers to focus on working with the travel industry on producing content for corporate use for brands and in working on longer-term brand ambassador programs.
1.5 Bloggers need to understand how brands view different kinds of media
In order to access the budgets that will pay for their work, bloggers need to understand how marketing professionals look at different kinds of media, typically dividing it into three categories; Earned, Paid and Owned.
In our presentation we used the example of how this might apply to a destination like Aruba.
Earned Media: This is coverage gained from PR activities such as press releases and press/blogger trips. Earned media is seen as generating “editorial”, content that represents the opinion of the person creating in and in theory without any control or influence from the brand. There is no direct payment made to the individuals who create the content and so no direct influence on what they say. The Earned Media model applies well to journalists who are paid by a publication which in turn may be supported by advertising. The model does not work so well when applied to bloggers who are not being paid to write on their blogs and often do not earn much directly from their blogs. Of course for many bloggers, free travel is desirable and a form of payment in itself.
Paid Media: Advertising is the main form of paid media but this also includes what is known as “advertorial”. This is sponsored content that the brand pays someone to create and they are looking for it to promote their product while resembling the usual editorial style of the publication. Under US and UK advertising guidelines, advertorials or sponsored posts must be disclosed to the readers or viewers in some way. Press articles are typically labelled at the top as ‘Advertorial’ or ‘Sponsored’ while a blogger declaring they received payment or support to go on a trip would be the equivalent.
Owned media: this is corporate content that is specifically created for the brand’s own channels or marketing materials. Examples would be written content on the DMO website or videos that they have commissioned to have produced for their YouTube Channel.
1.6 Bloggers need to understand and pitch where the budget it
In the examples of earned, paid and owned media, brands and DMOs have historically allocated most of their budget to Paid Media (Advertising and advertorials) and Owned Media (commissioned content such as photos and videos). They have historically not allocated much budget to Earned Media (PR and press coverage), since it is expected that journalists will be paid by the publications that commission them.
In our survey this came through clearly with comments such as;
“There is a widely held misconception that brands have an abundance of funding, whereas often we have merely hundreds of pounds/dollars to work with throughout the year”
“Bloggers need to be more realistic about their payment expectations. They sometimes give the impression that they think a client has an endless pot of budget”
However, these comments tend to come from within the PR teams working on Earned Media, who are often the first point of contact for bloggers, while the marketing and advertising budget is managed in a different part of the company. While the rise of online media has blurred the boundaries between Earned, Paid and Owned Media, companies are slow to change the way that they allocate their budgets to align with the new reality. Bloggers pitching for the PR budget may find they are told “we don’t have any budget” and would be better to position what they can offer to attract funding from the larger marketing or advertising budgets.
A free report with more detail on the survey findings and blogger case studies can be downloaded by clicking the button above.
Section 2: What’s working in paid blogger campaigns?
In the second half of our TBEX presentation, we used the case studies of successful paid blogger campaigns to illustrate key themes that came through from the research.
Should bloggers be paid?
Coming to blogging conferences like TBEX it’s interesting to see how the conversation and the blogging landscape has changed over the last few years. Not so long ago, the discussion was about whether brands should work with bloggers at all and many saw social media as just a passing fad. Now that bloggers and social media influencers are firmly established as part of the PR and marketing landscape, conversations at blogger conferences seem to have moved on to “Should bloggers be paid?”.
With the rise of the professional travel blogger, many are finding that working to promote brands and destinations in return for a ‘free’ press trip is not a financially sustainable business model and the blogging community need to find ways to be paid for the value they can provide. The aim of our presentation was to move the conversation on further to ask “How can bloggers deliver value that brands are prepared to pay for”.
2.1 Long Term Relationships
Many bloggers we spoke to told us that a press trip had led to building a good relationship with a brand or destination and that this had later resulted in paid work. Even the most established bloggers told us that they would do a mixture of paid and unpaid work, and might work with specific destinations without looking for any payment if it enhanced their blog and gave value to their audience in other ways.
There are some destinations and brands who have been working with bloggers over the last few years, building up their experience on how to get the best out of this relationship and have seen the value that bloggers can provide. As a result of this, many are now prepared to selectively pay those bloggers who they have a good relationship with, for things they need like photography, video, consultancy or specific kinds of content.
Takeaway for bloggers: Value your time but look to the long term when building relationships that may lead to future paid work.
Takeaway for brands and DMOs: Don’t expect everything for free but reserve some of your budget to pay bloggers where they can offer additional value to you, especially those who have invested the time in working with you.
2.2 Value beyond editorial
Our survey showed that only 30% of brands and DMOs are likely to pay for what they consider to be ‘editorial’ content. However, they are more likely to pay if this coverage is part of a package that provides them with additional value. This is where collaborative blogger groups such as Travelator Media are able to offer additional value when working with brands on campaigns, such as;
- Campaign management – providing project management on the blogger side of the campaign can save the brand time and money.
- Finding the right bloggers – this is often a pain point for destinations and brands who are less experienced in working with bloggers asking ‘how do I find the right bloggers?’ Bloggers who have a knowledge and understanding of the blogging community can save the brand time and reduce risk by either researching and identifying suitable bloggers or offering a group of bloggers that target a specific niche.
- Results Tracking – As brands have to answer to their stakeholders and DMOs are spending taxpayers’ money it is important that they can demonstrate results from paid campaigns. Providing data on the results of blogger activities such as page views, social media impressions and engagement, evidence of booking interest is an area that bloggers can add value which saves the sponsor time or money in doing this tracking themselves.
- Pre-agreed deliverables – since bloggers are often considered a risky proposition with varying levels of professionalism and reliability, it is valued when bloggers are able to agree deliverables up-front giving minimum levels of articles, video, social media or other activities as part of a paid proposition.
- Finding additional partners or sponsors – if a blogger is able to find additional partners on a project to share the costs, this may release budget for the sponsor to pay to the bloggers. As an example, a group of UK bloggers, The Travel Mob, worked on the #TasteLjubljana campaign and charged a set campaign fee that included their accommodation and transport, but they then sought individual sponsorship for these items direct from the providers.
- Additional Reach – some bloggers have a substantial audience that it is worth brands paying to access. As an example Paul Johnson at A Luxury Travel Blog worked on a campaign with All Nippon Airways. A Luxury Travel Blog has 250K unique users, 474K twitter followers, 245K Facebook page likes and the articles from this campaign with All Nippon Airways received 70K page views.
2.3 Bloggers as expert content providers
In our industry survey, 43% said they would consider paying bloggers to write articles or produce other content for them. We found that while brands are less interested in paying for ‘editorial’ coverage to be published on a blog, they are more willing to pay for similar content to be published on their own website or blog.
Partly this may be because brands feel more able to control the content that they commission to ensure that it supports their overall objectives. Also when an article is read on the sponsor site, the customer is likely to have moved from the inspiration phase to the planning and booking phase of the travel lifecycle and so the content is more likely to support a booking decision, converting more directly to sales.
In our case studies we found example of this such as;
- Green Travel Media – a consultancy founded by Bret Love & Mary Gabbett working with International Expeditions, used well-known travel bloggers to produce high quality articles for publication on the IE blog. This is part of a long term campaign but the initial results from the first 14 articles published were excellent, generating over 10K page views with the blog content helping to drive a 120% increase in traffic from the IE blog to their website where people are more likely to make bookings.
- Andy Jarosz of 501 places – worked with National Geographic Traveller and ASEZA on the Digital Nomad campaign in Jordan. Andy produced a series of articles for online publication, with 8 articles for his own blog at 501 places, and 6 for publication on the National Geographic Traveller website and a feature article for the National Geographic Traveller magazine is also planned. Andy and his wife, photographer Sameena also provided social media coverage while in Jordan.
2.4 Brands value highly visual content
In our industry survey 52% said they would consider paying for video and 41% for photo rights. This may be because brands are accustomed to commissioning photographers and videographers to work for them or expect to pay for photos to use on their website or in advertising. This is an opportunity for those bloggers who may also be skilled photographers and videographers to offer these services as part of a wider campaign or package of coverage.
As an example, a blogger might offer a selection of their photos from a trip to be used by the brand in social media posts or in galleries on their website. Typically photos for print or advertising use are perceived to have a higher value and may be charged separately.
Social media has created many more opportunities for visual content to be distributed, especially for consumption on mobile. Short form video such on Vine and Instagram is popular and short video clips can be easily shared on Twitter and Facebook. Facebook’s strategy is to dominate in the video space and so their algorithm currently favours video.
Instagram in particular is becoming very popular with DMOs, since it is all about inspirational travel images and the viewer interaction is very high in proportion to other social media platforms. This is leading to the rise of professional Instagrammers with high follower numbers, since Instagram trips using top influencers can generate engagement levels in the millions.
Examples that we found in our case studies;
- Lauren Bath working with Explore Inari Saariselka – Lauren is a professional instagrammer from Australia with 400K + followers. She worked with Inari – Saariselka in Finnish Lapland to promote it as a destination to see the Northern Lights. Lauren helped organise a campaign with herself and 2 other top instagrammers from which the 3 instagrammers shared 56 photos which received 1.2 million likes and nearly 14K comments.
- Laurel Robbins of Monkeys and Mountains – Laurel worked with Visit Finland on the Outdoors Finland campaign in which many bloggers were involved. In addition to publishing blog posts and social media from the trip, Laurel subsequently started working with the BBC Earth instagram channel with 20K+ followers and was able to feature 3 of her Finland photos on their Instagram feed.
2.5 Leverage the value of blog content
If a brand or DMO is working with bloggers either on an editorial basis or a paid campaign, there are costs involved. It makes sense, therefore, that the content created through this investment should be distributed as widely as possible to ensure it is seen by the widest possible audience.
Bloggers sometimes find it surprising that they work hard to produce content only to find that it is not widely promoted through the sponsor’s social media channels. This may be due to the fragmented ownership of the brand’s marketing channels, with some channels such as social media being subcontracted to third parties.
In our blogger case studies we found that the most successful paid campaigns found ways to spread the content widely through mediums such as social media advertising, micro-sites and e-books. These additional promotional activities were planned in as part of the campaign and budget was allocated to fund them from the start.
Examples from our case studies;
- Visit Wales – the digital marketing agency icrossing managed a blogger campaign to promote family holidays to Wales. They invited 3 family bloggers to visit different parts of Wales and a film team created promotional videos about these visits. The bloggers produced articles and social media in support of the campaign and the resulting videos were also promoted with YouTube advertising (featuring the bloggers), as well as Facebook and Twitter advertising to promote a competition to win a holiday in Wales.
- Visit Britain – iambassador worked with Visit Britain on a campaign involving 3 US bloggers to promote Great Britain to the US market. In addition to creating content on the blogs and social media, the bloggers’ writing and photos were integrated into a Countryside Collection micro-site which also linked to other Visit Britain promotional content.
- Must Love Festivals – in a digital storytelling project about festivals, Kash Bhattacharya worked with a number of DMOs together with sponsor Expedia to create content to promote local festivals around Europe. The bloggers involved created articles, videos and social media content and a selection of the content was repurposed to create an e-book which will be distributed to 2 million Expedia customers.
2.6 Engaging traditional media to promote blogger campaigns
While social and online media has been gaining ground, traditional TV and print media still has a tremendous reach that few individual bloggers can compete with. With their prolific output, TV and print channels are often looking to online media for topical and interesting stories to feature.
The most successful paid blogger campaigns harness this interest and use bloggers as ‘experts’ who can generate newsworthy stories, which start in the blog campaign but can be amplified by traditional media to reach a wider audience.
We found the following examples from our blogger case studies;
- Wandering Carol working with Transat Holidays; Carol Perehudoff, a luxury travel blogger was one of 3 bloggers who worked with Transat Holidays, a Canadian company to promote their luxury holidays. Part of the arrangement was that Carol would be available for TV or press interviews and she made 3 different TV appearances as a luxury travel expert on regional news shows in Canada.
- Becki Enright from Borders of Adventure worked with Marketing Greece; Becki spent a week in Athens exploring the city as part of their I’m an Athenian campaign. After her 3 articles were published, Marketing Greece released a press release about her visit, resulting in her being mentioned in a further 14 online articles and she was also interviewed by a local Athens TV station & newspaper.
- Kirstie Pelling working with Go Lakes Cumbria; Kirstie who is a UK family blogger at The Family Adventure Project worked on the #PoetinMotion project for Go Lakes Cumbria. The campaign was to promote use of public transport in the Lake District and Kirstie travelled around the Lake District by bus and boat, writing and performing poetry. The campaign caught the attention of the local media and aired on BBC regional TV with viewing of around 600,000 viewers. Kirstie was filmed “wandering lonely as a cloud” while dressed as a cloud to commemorate Wordworth’s poem, which also got featured on local TV.
2.7 Brands + Bloggers working as marketing partners
When moving into the working on a paid basis with brands, bloggers need to consider themselves as a marketing partner if the relationship is to work successfully. Bloggers need to think carefully about the brand or destination they are being paid to work with and be sure they are comfortable and aligned with the marketing messages they are being asked to promote, ensuring that these will be in tune with their niche and audience.
In turn, the brand needs to select carefully the bloggers they work with and to share their objectives to ensure there is a common expectation of what will be delivered. They need to allow the blogger the creative freedom to speak in their own voice and deliver content that will work for their audience.
We found the following examples from our blogger case studies;
- Alexandra Jiminez of Travel Fashion Girl working with Visa Signature – On her recent Asian trip Alex was hosted to stay in some luxury hotels as part of a campaign with Visa Signature. She was also paid to write articles on her blog that explained the Visa Signature service, which enables members to make hotel bookings and receive additional free benefits, a service that Alex felt would be of interest to the Travel Fashion Girl audience.
- Sherry Ott of Ottsworld working with Club Carlson – Sherry was one of 3 bloggers in a campaign which aimed to raise awareness of Club Carlson points. The 3 bloggers each travelled in a different part of the world, staying in hotels for 48 hours and writing about what to see in each location. Although the bloggers had freedom to write what they wanted, they had to book their hotels using Club Carlton gold points and one of bloggers could win another million points to give away to a reader. In this way awareness of the Club Carlson points scheme was built into campaign in a natural way.
- Julie Falconer of A Lady In London working with Easyjet – Easyjet wanted to promote the idea that you can fly into Amsterdam and from there easily visit cities like Utrecht, Rotterdam and The Hague. As part of the Easyjet campaign, Julie visited each of these cities and wrote about them on her blog and also helped judge a competition to win Easyjet flights.
2.8 Using bloggers as brand ambassadors
In our industry survey 54% said they would consider paying for bloggers as brand ambassadors. Within the travel blogging sector a growing number of bloggers have gained large followings for their blogs and social media platforms. This means that brands are keen to work with those bloggers that have an affinity with what they have to offer, especially on longer term or more in depth campaigns that leverage their influence.
Typically these campaigns involve many of the attributes that we have already mentioned above, such as providing content on their blog and for other channels, use of photography, press and TV interviews and speaking engagements. All of these may be put together in an integrated way by these highly experienced bloggers to provide a package of promotional activities that provides considerable value for the brand or DMO.
Although the examples we give below are of well established bloggers with large followings, the same principles may apply to other bloggers who may partner with brands or destinations that are local for them or where there is a strong affinity for their niche.
We found the following examples from our blogger case studies;
- Y Travel Blog working with NT Australia – Caz & Craig Makepeace from Y Travel Blog worked with Tourism Northern Territories in Australia as part of their 18 month road trip through Australia which ended with 3 weeks in the Red Centre. Caz and Craig put together a package that included blog articles & social media coverage. In addition, their photos were featured in a number of places, in a story on Australian TV, on the Australia Instagram site which has 1.3 million followers and on the Lonely Planet Instagram site which has 261K followers when they did an instagram takeover. They were also interviewed for a national camping magazine and will be speaking at a camping show about their Australia road trip.
- The Planet D working with Discover Ontario – Dave Bouskill and Deb from The Planet D worked on the Discover Ontario Adventures campaign. They put together both summer and winter campaigns to choose adventures that they could feature on their blog, which was totally aligned with the destination’s objectives to promote the best of Ontario Outdoor adventures. They produced articles and videos for the Planet D blog, content for DMO site, they hosted a competition, did an instagram takeover, social media chats, print interviews and TV interviews. Dave and Deb found that communication & collaboration were the key to a successful campaign and that by leveraging their audience along with Ontario’s media connections they were able to reach a significantly larger audience.”
A free report with more detail on the survey findings and blogger case studies can be downloaded by clicking the button below.