In-Depth: Expedia is using bloggers to engage as wide an audience as possible and its strategy is yielding benefits. Pamela Whitby reports
“Blogging is not just a fad. It is becoming another arm of a company’s strategy and so it is important that brands use metrics to measure it,” says Spencer Spellman, who pens the Traveling Philosopher blog and now works in partnership with Expedia, the world’s biggest online travel agent. As somebody who is in the business of blogging to inspire travel, travel brands should perhaps take heed - Expedia has and it seems to be paying off.
Spellman is one of around 30 bloggers that Expedia has worked with over the course of this year. “People who travel read travel blogs so this is such a rich community to mine and work with,” says Expedia USA’s director of public relations, Sarah Keeling. “Our work with bloggers so far has been a tremendous success – incredibly rewarding for us and for them.”
So while travel firm G-adventures may have been a pioneer in this space with its ‘wanderers in residence’ blog Keeling is a bit “shocked” by how few travel brands are using blogs to promote their products. Although Keeling admits that Expedia still has a lot to learn, this year it has actively used bloggers in its summer sale which involved some 12,000 hotels. One promotion -Kids in the City – focused on 12 US cities using 12 bloggers. The bloggers were “Mom’s who know their city really well,” explains Keeling. “Mom’s get recommendations for everything from paediatricians to playgroups so we thought we’d apply this to travel as well.” Everybody in Expedia’s US database who had ever travelled with children was targeted.
Another campaign involved a Facebook app for a fun quiz which allowed customers to uncover what type of beachgoer they are. The customer was then paired to like-minded bloggers - adventurous, fun-loving, bargain hunting and so on- on the main site who could offer their recommendations which - yes you guessed right – happen to be Expedia summer deals too.
Expedia has a huge inventory and can offer travellers so much choice. But what it also knows is that travellers will come to the site four or five times before actually booking. Blogs that really engage and inspire can play a really important role at this stage, says Keeling.
Choosing the right partner
So with thousands of travel writers out there, how does a brand like Expedia choose who to work with? Before working with a blogger Expedia wants an affirmative answer to the following three questions:
Do they offer a unique audience?
Do they have a unique point of view?
Do they come with a level of credibility?
As with anything though, the travel brand must understand what they are trying to achieve and then measure the success of the blog too. “We have a business need and we need somebody who can cast a broad net and engage with people who may then go on to buy our products,” says Keeling.
For Expedia measuring success involves understanding the perception the blog has created and how many page impressions it has achieved. “So we look, for example, at how many people engage with a particular hashtag – such as #ExpediaKids - we’ve created on Twitter and what they are saying about a campaign,” she explains. “And we also track transactions – so on the day that a city is being promoted how does it fare with bookins?” For the record the #ExpediaKids on Twitter generated over 4 million impressions in the first 18 days of the campaign.
While Expedia is still learning, the OTA has these top tips for brands considering using bloggers:
Dive in and experiment
Be open to candid conversations with the bloggers themselves; build the progamme together and measure its success (Kids in the City, for example, was pitched by a blogger)
Focus, focus, focus. And this is important - don’t treat a blogger as a vendor. It has to be a true partnership.
And here are some tips straight from the blogger’s mouth
Write about travel from first-hand experience and be authentic
Advertorial is easily recognisable and won’t work
Give the blogger full editorial control – that means sticking with the bloggers style and writing with his/her audience in mind
Look beyond just numbers. Bloggers can bring more to a brand than just Twitter followers because they have a targeted and engaged following
Long-term relationships - with numerous moving parts that may include blog posts, photography (Expedia has engaged a blogger to manage its Pinterest page), video, social media, and so on - are best. A lot of travel bloggers do it to fund their travels or to get discounts or complimentary tickets. But the benefit of those relationships is often one-sided and it doesn't often yield a return for either side.
The blogger should own the project they are assigned and deliver on it
One thing is certain - content production is no longer the exclusive domain of magazines and books. So while thedigital age may have made it tougher for magazines to make money from advertising, it has also paved the way for travel companies that make revenue from selling products and services to tap into content production. Unlike magazines which have lead times of months this has immediate reach. A blogger like Spellman can visit a destination, write about it and publish it all in one day - and if it’s good that could mean thousands of eyeballs.
It doesn’t take much to work out what is in it for Expedia.
Sarah Keeling is one of 90 expert travel speakers scheduled to speak at TDS North America in Las Vegas on September 13-14. For more information see www.eyefortravel.com/tdsusa