Colleen Knopeck [Travel Influencers]

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Episode 36: How to Partner with Travel Influencers, with Colleen Knopeck

In this episode, you will learn everything you need to know to get started working with a travel influencer from Colleen Knopeck, Associate Consultant at Break The Ice Media.

Imagine being a Kindergartener and winning a writing award from a national PBS Kids show. Or by fifth grade, regularly writing for the Buffalo News’ Kids Page — and having the chance to interview Buffalo Sabres hockey players. And yet, that’s exactly what Colleen Knopeck did. It’s like she came fully hatched as a writer. As the Communications Specialist for Perry’s, a New York State maker of ice cream, Colleen handled Perry’s sponsorships, public relations, and media relations. She wrote everything from customer and consumer e-newsletters, the blog, social media, annual reports, to writing and directing an in-house video. If you were a blogger or members of media that were lucky enough to have ice cream dropped off to you — you could thank Colleen for coordinating it.

Her gift for writing articles and short stories translated into Colleen’s ability at Break the Ice to find the essential story in each client’s industry, and develop targeted messages. Because clients are often so close to their technical side or information, they can have a hard time sorting it all out. Clients may feel it’s hard to explain or put into words. With great listening skills, Colleen helps each client save time by doing that required distilling. She’s able to get that information to the consumer, or the media, that works best for a particular audience. Her innate ease with and understanding of social media allows her to see opportunities for effective advertising.

Thank you for joining us Colleen.

Thank you so much for having me, Nicole.

Well, I am really excited to talk to you today because I know we’re talking about a topic that, in many of the circles where you and I work, has been not only an emerging topic but kind of the topic of conversation, the topic, I’ve got to say, and that is this whole idea of travel influencers or digital influencers, which are some of those words that you hear floating around out there.

I know that recently, you assisted with a tourism initiative to bring some of those travel influencers into the Finger Lakes vacation region, so not only do you have the information that you learned at Travel PRSA, but also first-hand knowledge of working directly on some of these projects. I know our listeners are really going to benefit from hearing from you today.

Absolutely. This has been one of those buzzwords that everybody is talking about, but nobody seems to really have a set strategy in place. I’ve put together some tips and tricks to help you get started, and I’m excited to talk about it.

That’s really awesome. I think it’s really important that there is a strategy behind implementing any kind of initiative that a might include a travel influencer. Let’s start with what is a travel influencer? How would you define them?

They are an individual who creates appealing content. That could be blogs, videos, live streams, or photos, and they share it on their social media in an authentic way. They typically have beautiful pictures of destinations, food, or fun experiences, and people see those and want to emulate what they do.

Source Jay Wennington on Unsplash

“Travel influencers create appealing content and share it on social media.” – Colleen Knopeck #Podcast Click To Tweet

I’m sure we’re all familiar with them. They’re the pretty profiles that we view when we’re daydreaming of our next trip or looking for things to do to add to our bucket list. But depending on the person, they may go by a different title. They associate themselves as a social media influencer, digital influencer, blogger, consultant, content creator, et cetera, but they all kind of do that same thing. They put out that awesome content that encourages other people to travel as well.

That’s great. You make a good point that they’re not necessarily raising the flag and putting the flag in the ground and saying, “We’re a travel influencer. Come work with me.” There’s gotta be a way to find them and some of those titles you listed could certainly be helpful. What are some other things that you should consider when you’re looking at and considering working with travel influencers?

Well, first thing is their tone. You should definitely check out their social media accounts before you consider a partnership and just see how they speak, how they act, in both sponsored and non-sponsored posts. See how they have described other destinations before. Are they relatively positive? You don’t really want to partner with anyone who’s going to point out the negatives. Are they positive? Does their overall style and tone mesh with your brand?

Source: Kate Serbin on Unsplash

“Make sure a travel influencer's tone meshes with your brand.” – Colleen Knopeck #WhyCollaborate #Podcast Click To Tweet

It doesn’t have to be the exact same, but you should be able to see a connection between your brand and their platform. If it’s too far off, their followers will be confused and won’t engage with the content, which would be a waste of your time or resources.

Lastly, you want to think, would you want this person to show off and talk about your destination? Basically, they are going to be a brand ambassador, so you want to make sure that this is someone that you would really want representing your destination.

I, just real quick, I think that that’s a really good point. You know what I was thinking of as you were describing that, is what used to be, food critics. Restaurants would love to have food critics come, especially if they were going to give them a good review, but by the very nature of their title as a food critic, they’re being very critical of the experience and of the food. With a travel influencer or a digital influencer, it’s not quite the same thing now, is it?

No. Not exactly, but you still want to make sure that they’re painting the best picture of your destination.

All right. Yeah, that’s great.

You want to look at the quality of their followers. Don’t get caught up in the number of followers they have. Instead, look at how many people are engaging with their posts and if the influencer is responding to any questions or comments that the people may have. Then look at who their audience is and see if it matches your target audience.

Let’s say you’re trying to highlight your outdoor assets, and you’re comparing two influencers and trying to figure out who to work with. One may post about hiking, kayaking, rock climbing, and have an audience of a few thousand people who are really into outdoor adventures. Then, the other influencer posts about a variety of things. Some outdoor activities, but also food, wine, shopping, museums, et cetera, and they have a lot of followers, but some of those people love the outdoors, and some of them, they hate the outdoors.

Which influencer will get you further? The one with the engaging followers that are similar to your target audience. Those are the ones that are more likely to see the content, engage with the content, want to visit, and then follow through and actually visit your destination.

One way you can look to see if their followers are authentic is to check them out on socialblade.com, and it’ll show you the stats and trends from their followers on YouTube, Twitter, Instagram. It’ll give you some insight on how they’ve grown their following. If they’ve acquired a large number of followers in a short period of time, you may want to respectfully ask them about it. It could be that they were featured on a high-profile page or mentioned in a popular article and just grew their followers quickly overnight, or they could’ve paid for their followers. You definitely want to check that out before jumping into any partnership.

That’s a really good point, too, how did they get their followers. Definitely want those that have those raging fans, if you will, that are really following them and that will take what they say and want to emulate what the influencer is doing.

Exactly.

Yeah. That’s great. The other thing I know about influencers is, this isn’t traditional PR, even though a lot of times, this might fall to the practicing PR person within an organization, or it could fall on social media, a social media team, or a digital team to enter into these relationships, but it’s not your typical kind of pitch, if you will, is it?

Exactly. It definitely is working together between, usually, the PR team and social media team, or maybe that’s just one person who does both, but it’s combining both elements, so it’s not what we’re used to tackling, exactly.

Yeah, that’s great. Do they have to be paid for their time? How does that work?

It all depends, and that’s something that you should definitely look into before agreeing to work with an influencer. Some may be looking for you to cover their meals, accommodations, their travel, or some may give you a number for, a dollar amount for a certain number of posts. They may say that they will post once on Facebook, twice on Instagram, and give you the dollar amount of how much that would cost.

Find out what they will deliver, what the deadline is for the content, and if you’ll get the rights to the content afterward, which isn’t necessarily a deal breaker if you don’t, but you should always ask before you jump into it. Then consider if their ask is reasonable because they’re providing you a service and value for your destination, so think about the price tag that you usually put on content creation and good photography.

Everybody knows how well good photography does, so think about what you would normally pay for that, and consider if this influencer’s willing to do it for a cheaper price. It may be well worth a partnership.

Source: Rula Sibai on Unsplash

“Great photography may be worth working with a travel influencer.” – Colleen Knopeck #WhyCollaborate #Podcast Click To Tweet

That’s great advice. Let’s say you have identified your influencer and negotiated a contract. What are some tips for actually working with them?

Definitely set the expectations. This is important for both sides of the equation, but find out what they’re expecting from you and your destination before, during, and after their visit, and make sure they’re interested in the asset and activities that you have to offer. That’s the best thing is when you can find something that you offer that they love to do, and then help them help you. Find out what they need from you. This won’t be your typical media FAM, but that doesn’t mean you should treat their visit all that differently.

Actually, Development Counselors International, or DCI, recently surveyed travel bloggers and digital influencers about what it’s like working with destination marketing organizations, or DMOs. One of the biggest challenges that the influencers mentioned was the lack of response or slow response from DMO.

Definitely take the time to learn more about what the influencer is looking for and how you can actually help them out. Some of them may want a planned itinerary with scheduled stops, and then some may want just a list of suggested stops, but they’ll visit on their own time and in their own order.

Source: Cole Hutson on Unsplash

“Take the time to learn about the influencer and how you can help them out.” – Colleen Knopeck #Podcast Click To Tweet

Once their itinerary is all set, provide additional information to help them craft their post that’s interesting, and most importantly, accurate facts. Influencers usually post more than just a pretty picture. They try to explain what the picture is, where it took place, and an interesting fact to entice people to visit.

Give them everything that they’ll need to post about, and then make sure you give them the social handles for the places that they will be visiting. It’s so easy to forget, but it makes a huge impact when your influencer is able to tag each of the stops and show where it is so that their followers can connect with those stops as well.

Go into it with an open understanding. Social media may just a hobby for you, or it may be something that you do quickly just to be able to say that you posted on your page for the day, but it is part of a travel influencer’s job. Quality content is how they grow their following. Understand and respect how much time goes into actually crafting it, which may mean that they’ll need downtime during their visit to develop posts, so ask them ahead of time what their work schedule would be like and when they need that downtime.

I’m going back to expectations for a second. Make sure you talk about what they will produce. You’ll probably want to show off every cool asset that you have. I can almost guarantee that it will not all get posted, so talk about how many posts or videos they will share or how many different places will be featured. Make sure to ask about the timeline. Will they post them all in real-time throughout the trip or maybe once a day when they’re there, and then a couple times after they leave.

Work with them to develop a story. Choose stops that fit the overall feel of their social pages, not necessarily the feel of your destination. Their page represents their personal point of view, and in fact, DCI’s research found that 84% of respondents said that their content themes and ideas came from their own personal interest, while only 44% said that DMOs influenced their content ideas.

Posts that don’t fit their personality won’t seem genuine, and it’ll throw off their followers. Help them find a story angle and then tailor their trip. Remember, the end goal is for their post to influence others to visit. Whenever possible, give them access to the best views or some awesome VIP experiences.

Lastly, and most importantly, amplify the message. If an influencer is creating great content, make sure to share it. Sometimes an influencer will post about a destination before they even arrive, talking about how excited they are to visit. That can really start some buzz around town.

Source: Pexels

“If an influencer is creating great content, make sure to share it.” – Colleen Knopeck #WhyCollaborate #Podcast Click To Tweet

Go ahead and share that post, and then by engaging with their content, you’re furthering the message in reach, you’re making it easy for their followers to find and follow your destinations account. But don’t stop the support once they leave. A travel influencer is more likely to become a long-term advocate if you continue to engage with them even after their visit, and it’s pretty common for influencers to share a post about a destination a few days, weeks, maybe even months after they visited. You definitely keep them on your radar.

Those are some really awesome tips, and you’ve given us a lot to think about. I really like how we started this conversation with a discussion of who the travel influencers are, what we should consider when we’re trying to select an influencer to work with, and then moving through these great tips on how to work with them. I think you’ve given our listeners a lot to think about.

Is there anything that you would like to leave as a closing thought before we sign off?

Yeah, I just wanted you to calm down. It’s still so new, and you don’t have to worry too much about following set rules or messing anything up because everyone is still trying to figure out what works best. No two influencers nor their fans are going to be the same. Try it out, see what works for you and your destination, and go from there, and just have fun with it.

That is really great advice. I agree with you. Just have fun with it. Don’t be too serious. That’s really awesome. Thank you for being with me today, Colleen.

Thanks so much for having me. This was great.

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