I’m now fully installed at this blog’s new home:
Please shift your email and RSS subscriptions to the new URL, where the fun will continue as we explore the social Web.
There will be no further content posted here. Thanks!
I’m now fully installed at this blog’s new home:
Please shift your email and RSS subscriptions to the new URL, where the fun will continue as we explore the social Web.
There will be no further content posted here. Thanks!
I wanted to let all of my readers know that I’ve decided to move this blog from the free WordPress.com domain name to what is known as a “self-hosted” WordPress blog (meaning I pay for blog hosting, in this case on Bluehost, but still using WordPress blog publishing software.)
My thoughts on understanding the social Web, especially with regards to tourism and travel, will appear very soon at a new URL and domain name, Sheila’s Guide To The Good Stuff.
The free WordPress.com setup is wonderful and met a lot of my requirements, but I need more control and customization options so I decided to move the blog before it got any further along in growth, development and Google juice. I learned when we moved my BootsnAll Family Travel blog that rebuilding search engine authority takes time and lots of link-gathering, so I need to get going.
I’m learning a lot of good geeky stuff during the transfer process (with the help of my WordPress guru Jennifer Navarrete) and those insights will be valuable to my tourism clients in the near future when I launch a new paid membership and learning site, Tourism Currents, with Small Biz Survival’s Becky McCray.
I’m worried that I’ll lose my RSS and email subscribers amongst the cardboard boxes and packing tape, so you folks keep a lookout for the “We’ve Moved Now!” post that I’ll probably be putting up on here either Monday or Tuesday, July 13 or 14.
This blog will remain in place, but it won’t be updated any more once I move.
Thanks for your patience!
It is what people are doing with them.
These are early days for Web connection technology, very much akin to the early days of the automobile. Sure, the first cars were loud, stupid and rather unreliable, compared to Ye Olde Horse.
Why bother, said most folks. Aren’t those silly new machines a ridiculous extravagance?
If, however, one looked beyond how to make the danged things work, and finding decent roads to drive them on, and locating places that sold gas, tires and parts, one could see the Big Picture….fast and affordable personal transportation across vast distances, anywhere, anytime.
That’s the social Web, too: human connection, anywhere and anytime.
Who the hell cares, you ask? I care. Here is why, from the article:
“Tucker is proof that smartphones are starting to put down roots in rural America. He lives in a 150-person town near Brandon, Nebraska — a place even he calls ‘the middle of nowhere.’ The nearest neighbor to his 4,000-acre farm is about 2 miles away.
Yet, farmers like Tucker are using Internet-enabled phones to gain a foothold on online social networks — both for business and personal reasons. (Follow him on Twitter)
‘I can be in the most remote place and just with the power of having a BlackBerry … I can communicate with anybody at anytime about anything,’ he said. ‘It is just amazing.’
The growth of smartphones on farms is important because many people don’t think about where their food comes from, much less associate a specific farmer with that process, said Andy Kleinschmidt, a farmer and agricultural extension educator at Ohio State University.
‘When you can put a name or personality with someone who’s actually raising corn and soybeans or actually milking cows, that’s the most important thing that’s come about in my opinion,’ he said.”
We are watching our society knit itself together, making far-reaching human connections across timezones and cultures, in totally new and unexpected ways. I learned about Steve in Nebraska on the same day that I reconnected with a wonderful travel writer in Florida; I first heard Tom Swick speak at the best annual book festival anywhere, and now he’s figuring out what to do with Twitter, just like Steve on the tractor.
I would not miss this moment in history for anything, even if it does come laden with goofy names for the tools we are using to make that history.
I wanted to call your attention to my Aussie friend Des Walsh’s excellent post on why social media ignorance [is] not an option for business.
While moderating a panel, Jeffrey Hayzlett, Kodak Chief Marketing Officer, noted that ROI (in addition to its usual “Return on Investment”) can also mean “Return on Ignoring” if a business or organization sticks its collective head in the sand about the fundamental changes wrought by the social Web.
Couldn’t agree more.
The connectivity of the Web and cellular technology, in the hands of humans who desire connection, is equivalent to the impact of the printing press in Western culture or movable type in East Asian culture. In fact, it has MORE impact because we can reach around the world with it almost instantly. The “Return on Ignoring” is finding that one’s business has been left behind.
Yet, the scoffs and laughter continue amongst those who will not see, unfortunately many of them around my age (I’m 48.)
I see it, though.
I see it even with bifocal contacts and gray hair. I’ve seen it ever since I wrote about network-centric warfare and Navy organizational structure.
I see the path and I’m heading down it with confidence, even if I have to leave a few folks wandering behind in the wilderness. They see a mirage called “the way it was,” but my feet are taking me along the path carved by “the way it is.”
Want to travel with me?
We’ve all been there – you’re reading along through the comments in a blog post, and two (or more) of the commenters start getting into a written tussle, a back-and-forth that gets increasingly heated and increasingly irrelevant to the original post topic.
It’s similar to watching two drunks arguing at a party; the usual reaction from more sober bystanders is, “Get me out the heck out of here.” Same thing on a blog – readers see all that racket and click away for more rational discussions elsewhere. Maybe a few want to hang around and watch the train wreck, but really, why feed the voyeurs?
If you’re the blog administrator, what should you do when your post is hijacked like that?
It’s easy to remove stupid, obviously spammy comments from trolls, but what about apparently rational readers who have a bone to pick with each other?
On the Perceptive Travel Blog, I wrote a post about the Art Car Parade in Houston, Texas – a really fun and quirky annual event with wildly decorated cars. Two commenters starting disagreeing about whether a woman in the parade had shouted foul language at bystanders, particularly children.
Since their own language remained relatively civil, I didn’t remove any of their comments, even when the Cranky Factor escalated.
My view is that it’s usually not a good idea to remove comments once they’re posted because yes, people DO remember that they were there, and as long as the discussion was reasonable, readers will wonder what the blog owner is trying to hide or squelch. They’ll often leave comments asking about the missing comments, too. (At times like that, you’ll be almost ready to swear off of two-way communications like blogging….)
The best information I’ve found so far also indicates that I’m not held liable for comments left on my blog (for you legal beagles out there who are wondering, because I wondered, too.)
So, after my one “let’s all calm down” comment failed to stop the additional verbiage coming in from these two women, I closed all comments on the post.
I’ve never done that before – it felt a bit odd, but I figured if I was tired of reading about who-said-what, my readers were as well, and my first responsibility on that blog is to provide good travel-related content, not a platform for those two to holler at each other.
Here’s what I wrote in the final comment:
“I’m now closing comments on this post, which is supposed to be about the Art Car Parade and not devolve into a “who said what in Houston.”
Dawn, I know you submitted another long comment in response to Nikki’s comment, but I really do not want my blog (which I think of as my house) becoming a platform for arguments about some other woman’s actions and whether they occurred or not on the day of the parade.
Y’all take your discussion elsewhere, please. Start blogs or something.
For all the other readers, just go see the danged event, but any verbal or actual brawling that occurs there is out of my control.”
That’s my take on the situation – most comment brawls only make the commenters look silly, not the blog author, but at some point, hey, it’s MY blog. The comments are an integral part of any blog, but if they run off the rails, they also run the blog off the rails. I stopped the train.
What would you do in a similar situation?
I recently received an email from a senior executive at a mainstream public relations (PR) firm. She said that she has clients in the travel industry and they’d like to know how to reach out to bloggers, and specifically how to get a mention on my BootsnAll Family Travel Logue.
You know what’s next (bloggers are a different breed because we’re public, rapid and sharing) so to save myself from drafting an entirely new blog post when I’ve already written what I want to say, this is what I told her, shared here with you….
“In response to your question, the answer is yes, I do get a ton of PR/marketing emails and end up deleting most of them, and blocking those that are totally unrelated to family travel, sent to me 4 times or with giant attachments that clog up my life.
It is too hard (and not worth it for my [travel blog] readers) to keep up with the rising, ever-more-desperate stream of notices (desperate because of the economy) about hotel packages, good deals on ritzy, live-in-a-bubble resorts in Cancun (I’m not a resort kind of traveler, as any reader of my blog knows,) how CVS Pharmacy products can help my family road trip, blah blah.
The flood is really starting to impede my ability to see/respond to important emails that involve actual writing or consulting work for pay.
I want to blog about places I visit and things I do with my kids, not regurgitate, for free, press releases about resorts that I’ve never been to and will never visit. I write for two travel blogs, two blogs about social media and another about drag racing – I don’t have time to plow through all that junk.
The few emails that resonate indicate that:
When I DO say “y’all come” to tourism organizations, they are often clueless. They’re so used to broadcasting, they don’t know how to interact in a two-way fashion.
For example, I’ve been running the 50 State Series on my family travel blog for weeks now, taking family-friendly suggestions from Twitter and Facebook for each state. I’m giving state tourism organizations a chance to toot their own horn, but I can’t believe how hard it is to get them to respond. Hel-LO! Here’s the Vermont family travel 50 states post; that is the kind of stuff I want to blog about. Thank goodness for my Twitter followers; at least they know how to respond to calls for tips or I’d never get a post done each week.
Sorry if any of this came across as excessively crabby, but there’s no magic bullet for blogger outreach. Good PR has always been about knowing your target journalist or writer, establishing a relationship BEFORE you pitch and not pitching blindly.
PR folks Geoff Livingston, Kami Huyse and Jason Falls have met and interacted with me on Twitter, on my blogs and in person at events like the South by Southwest Interactive (SXSWi) tech conference. I respect their knowledge, count them as friends and would now listen to most anything they have to say to me. They’re the gold standard.”
That’s all you gotta do, really….
Did I miss anything? Am I, in fact, just too crabby? 🙂
The familiarization trip/press trip or “fam tour” (I’ll use the terms interchangeably here) is a warhorse staple in the tourism public relations and marketing arsenal. It means that you bring writers to your destination, pay their expenses, show them your highlights and then wait and hope for positive future coverage in their magazines and newspapers.
Many publications do not accept articles based on such trips, but many others do. I have written for both. Some pubs are more transparent than others about freebies. A whole industry supports this matchmaking – I attended a conference about a lot of it, Travel Media Showcase, in September 2008.
Fam Tour Pros – Efficient use of time and assets for tourism organizations and Convention and Visitor’s Bureaus (CVBs.) Allows writers to travel to places that they otherwise might not afford since travel writing pay is notoriously low, especially in today’s tough economy, including pay for guidebooks.
Fam Tour Cons – The journalistic ethics “sniff test.” Can writers be truly objective about a destination when it’s handed to them, however sincerely, in a nice package with a bow? Can writers find original, unique stories and hidden nuggets about a place when they spend all day marched on and off a bus and their nights at nice hotels/resorts courtesy of the local Visitor’s Bureau?
Now, let’s make the discussion even more interesting and throw in the question of bloggers taking fam trips. Are they considered journalists? Do ethics rules apply? If bloggers clearly disclose that posts are based on a free trip, is it up to the blog’s readers to decide the value of the content, or has a line been irrevocably crossed?
Is the blogger press trip the right vehicle to gain social media presence for a tourism organization? Is it a good vehicle at all?
My Personal Experiences
I wade into these fractious waters after returning from my third press trip….the Hawaii Tourism Authority (HTA) dipped toes into social media waters with the So Much More Hawaii bloggers tour, to which I was invited to blog primarily about family travel. I went because I know and appreciate the islands and wanted to support HTA’s efforts to use social media in reaching out to new potential visitors.
I’ve taken face shots in this area before. When I wrote about a Virginia fam trip on the Write to Travel blog (The Press Trip: Great Deal or Big Hassle?) and then posted the link for discussion on the mediabistro.com Bulletin Board, one commenter said, “I hope you never expect to be taken seriously as a travel writer after a post like that.”
Well, alrighty, then!
My second fam tour was to Hutchinson, Kansas – my expenses were paid once I got there but I paid my own airfare to/from Texas. (As an aside, a “free trip” to Kansas did not seem to raise much interest or ire from the ethics watchdogs.) I participated in the Hutch trip because I wanted to support one of the tour organizers, Cody Heitschmidt, in his efforts to use social media to step up awareness of his town.
My third fam tour, the one to Hawaii, garnered positive press reaction in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin and KHON 2 News, but David Shapiro, a journalist blogging for the Honolulu Advertiser, wrote that “the new media folks accepting the freebies were a throwback to the bad old days of journalism when favorable coverage was for sale at the right price” in his post Junketing gets wired.
(Read the comments on Shapiro’s post – they’re lively. This time I get to be “scum” and some other unmentionables.)
I Tell Tourism To Reach Out To Bloggers, So They Do. Now What?
A UK public relations person with McCluskey International, Ian McKee, asked the question “Blogger FAM trips – are we nearly there yet?” and I responded with some thoughts on the whole fam trip issue:
“Yeah, we’re already there for blogger-focused fam trips, at least in the US.
The material that I gather from these trips goes into many different blogs (not just my travel ones) and is also pitched to those publications that accept material from “comped” [complimentary] travel. So many people don’t even realize that US national-level glossies like National Geographic Traveler, Condé Nast Traveler and Budget Travel do not allow comped travel. The idea is that their pay rates (US$1/word and up) make it worth the writer’s while to pay for everything up front and reimburse oneself later when the check comes in.
I will come right out and say that Darren Cronian [the Travel Rants blogger who left a critical comment on Ian’s post] is right; you cannot say you are totally, totally objective when your destination is handed to you on a platter. I would LOVE to have the funds to do it “right” – completely anonymous, paid out of my own pocket, researched on my own and not supported by local tourism PR any more than any other traveler who calls/rings up the office and asks for help.
The fact is, I cannot always operate that way, and it does bother me. So, I try to use the freedom offered by my blog outlets to be as objective and fair as I can possibly be, given my own ethics compass, and ALWAYS disclose that my material is coming from a sponsored press trip. I even blog about my discomfiture, as other writers….have done.
Thank you for bringing up the “days of lost income” issue. People think, ooh, Hawaii, what a deal she’s getting. No, in the basic sense, it is 10 days when I am writing free content for the Hawaii state tourism board. I have lived in Hawaii and other beautiful places; I am not impressed by “paradise.” My 9-year-old son will accompany me since I’m covering family travel and want to test all this on an actual human child. I love my kid, but he ain’t a vacation.
So why am I doing it? Ah, there is method in my madness. There are stories that I can write from Hawaii that have nothing to do with travel, per se, so the comped travel problem won’t be a factor (I have a story idea for WIRED magazine out of the Kansas trip, believe it or not.) More importantly, I am beginning to focus my social media consulting business on what I call “Tourism 2.0” – teaching CVBs/tourism organizations how to use the social Web to reach potential visitors and help with economic development. I will gather ROI data and other things from the Hawaii trip to help build my business.
My plan is that someday soon, I’ll make enough money from this sort of consulting that I WILL be able to travel my way – independently, unfettered and able to pitch to any publication. The only reason I’ll contact a destination’s tourism/PR folks will be as “Joe/Jane Six-Pack” regular traveler, to test how responsive they are to visitor requests.
In sum, I think tourism organizations are missing the boat if they are not reaching out to bloggers. I coach/advise/consult and tell them to do it. What’s tough is when they DO reach out to a blogger, but it’s ME. I’ll play, but I’m not particularly comfortable with it.”
That last paragraph block is the core of this blog post. Fam trips make me feel rather funky, as a print writer OR a blogger. How do you mitigate “funky?” Can you? A lot of others don’t seem to have a problem with press trips. Who am I to judge them? (but I must consider what is best for me and for my work.)
Do Bloggers Have A Place On Press Trips?
From my point of view – Yes – within limitations.
There’s no question in my mind that you cannot beat a well-connected blogger’s impact compared to “one and done” print media. I do not question whether we are a good deal – we are. That’s the problem. Social media is now “Today’s Special” on the PR/marketing menu. My concern is blogger credibility in the face of these freebie handouts that have implications that may not be clear to the non-journalist.
Bloggers can take the disclosure problem right into their own hands. They should fully disclose in EVERY post that the trip (or product or hotel stay) was provided free of charge or was substantially discounted.
But is that enough?
Video podcaster and social media consultant Roxanne Darling goes so far as to say that to avoid Google penalities for paid or “comped” blog posts, every link to the company giving the freebie should be “no follow” so as to avoid giving that company the benefit of your blog’s PageRank or Google “juice”/authority through your links to them.
Disclosing on just the blog posts isn’t really enough,either. As I said in a comment on Roxanne’s blog:
“I put a disclosure of my [Hawaii blogger’s tour] paid sponsorship at the bottom of every Family Travel blog post, but for space reasons I had a harder time doing that for my tweets, Stumbles, Delicious bookmarks, Facebook comments & photos, Flickr photos, LinkedIn status items…. we know how to reach out all over the place and full disclosure is still very important, but not always easy to do on every publishing platform.”
Roxanne is toying with the idea of a standard “sponsored item” button for paid content, similar to an orange RSS button; I think it’s an intriguing concept.
And by the way, who’s in charge of blogger ethics?
The answer is….nobody, but the reality is that currently, the driving constraint is probably the blog’s readers. Readers vote with their eyeballs. Lie to readers and you lose them, you lose credibility and your blog goes down with you.
Some see a blogger fam tour as an experiment in social media and therefore exempt from knotty ethics questions, but that’s only if you see social media itself as some sort of newly jumped-up experiment. I do not. I’ve been blogging since February 2006 and I thought I was late by not starting until then. It is not “new media.”
I doubt any tourism organization is going to stop hosting fam tours because of anything I’ve said here, but I would caution them that a lot of writers are perhaps more uncomfortable with the whole thing than we may admit, even to the many cheery, hardworking PR people who are trying to do a good job as destination promoters.
Local Blogger Hosts As A Fam Tour Alternative
I think a destination’s local bloggers, acting as hosts, may be part of the answer.
On the So Much More Hawaii tour, I had family-focused “host bloggers” in Maui (Liza of A Maui Blog) and Oahu (Russ from ParkRat’s Playground) who tied into my family travel topic. The hosting logistics were put together quickly, but my understanding was that their expenses were somewhat defrayed through a partnership with Hawaii-based Pono Media and the Hawaii Tourism Authority.
For example, Pono Media paid for my Maui host family to rent a large van for a day so we could all drive up to the Haleakala National Park summit and then eat lunch together at a place that we chose, the Paia Fish Market. I didn’t feel like such a mooch under such a setup, and I liked knowing that my host family’s time and effort were somewhat compensated.
No one set our schedules with the locals, so on Oahu, Russ took me to Waiola Shave Ice and Rainbow Drive-In because that’s what his family likes, not because anyone official told him to go there (I don’t think compensation for Russ was quite as well organized, so I kept offering to pay for things including gas, but Russ politely declined.) One evening’s entertainment was watching our kids chase crabs by flashlight at a local beach park. The Visitor’s Bureau would not have put that on a fam tour schedule, but it was one of my best memories of the trip.
This hosting alternative would require local bloggers to work almost as freelance contractors to the Visitor’s Bureau (they wouldn’t be volunteers like, for example, the Big Apple Greeters in New York City.) I’m not so naive as to think that problems might not arise on both sides, but I still think the idea has merit based on my experience in Hawaii (and my fellow tour bloggers also loved their time with local bloggers on Kauai, Maui, the Big Island and Oahu.)
It also requires tourism organizations to get to know and then vet those bloggers who wish to participate. CVBs already vet hotels, restaurants, etc., and they SHOULD know their local bloggers, who can be outstanding destination advocates.
This isn’t the whole answer, by a long shot. A host blogger compensated by a CVB is still a “freebie,” unless the CVB offers the host option to any visitor, not just press, and/or charges everyone a nominal fee for such host blogger services. I don’t claim that this is the ideal solution, but I want to explore a better way than the fam tour, and this seems promising to me.
In sum, no one has given me rules to follow here in the bloggy Wild West, but I’ve ended up making my own (what others do is their business, of course.)
For myself; I am willing to consider going on future blogger fam trips, but I won’t seek them out. I will still produce content (print/online articles, blog posts, photos, videos) from the Virginia, Kansas and Hawaii trips, and I will still clearly disclose when my travel was paid for, but I now plan to redouble my efforts to make enough money through my consulting and freelance work so that I can pay for my travel on my own.
I’m more than happy to advise on “Tourism 2.0” and how to interact on Twitter, Facebook, blogs, etc., but there is no social media magic bullet served by any headlong rush to include bloggers in a tourism marketing model that has some serious flaws.
I’ve just returned from a 10-day “fam tour” (familiarization tour, sometimes called a press trip) to the Hawaiian Islands with a diverse group of bloggers who were sponsored by the state’s Hawaii Tourism Authority and organized by Cilantro Media.
Our trip made the front page of the Pacific Business News, and in the fight for the legitimacy of bloggers and wired writers/photographers/videographers as information sources, that’s kind of a big deal.
More thoughts to follow, but the bottom line is that I see our “So Much More Hawaii” tour as a breakthrough in the use of social media for tourism and travel organizations.
It shows that bloggers can provide legitimate insights into a destination.
We can also reach an audience that might not be swayed by glossy brochures, advertorials in newspapers that we don’t read or TV ads on programs that we don’t watch (because we watch TV on Hulu.com instead.)
Seems a little strange that economic desperation is largely driving this interest in social media, but we’ll take what we can get.
Just So You Know Disclaimer: The state Hawaii Tourism Authority through Cilantro Media paid my way to Hawaii for the So Much More Hawaii bloggers tour, and also paid most of my expenses while I was there.
We are going to work together as speakers, trainers and consultants, showing others how to use social media for economic development.
There are a number of ideas and products in the works including interactive training packages and possibly paid membership to a Web-supported community.
Here at the beginning, Becky will focus largely on small town entrepreneurship and I’ll focus on what we call “Tourism 2.0” – how travel and tourism can use social media tools to raise awareness of their destinations.
We see them as part of a greater economic development whole for any size of town or city, anywhere.
As a small town entrepreneur herself, Becky noticed lately that many “Shop Local” campaigns seemed to be targeted to larger cities, and she had specific ideas about how to execute such a project in a small town.
Being Becky, she went ahead and wrote the book on it: a step-by-step guide to starting a “Shop Local” campaign in a small town. I recommend it for any business person, especially in this tough economy.
Thanks for your support!
You’ll be happy to know that one of my own goofy definitions of social media is “blogs and stuff,” because I like to explain things to folks in plain English.
Want more help in navigating the two-way Web 2.0 world? My ebook is now available:
Social Media – What It Is and Why It Matters to Travel and Tourism
It’s the first in a series of ebooks I’m writing that will help bring focus to the power of Web-based communities in the world of tourism.
In this one, I explain:
** Why — why social media is a powerful communication tool.
** What — what are some of the social media platforms and tools, with examples of tourism organizations that are using Facebook, Twitter, etc. right now.
** How — how to get your tourism organization started in social media, either with baby steps or what we call in Texas “going in whole hog.”
The ebook only costs $9 because I want to make it affordable for the smallest travel and tourism company. I’ll take PayPal or any major credit card.
Please see the payment button below to buy it. Thanks!