Q: I have been watching the story of #BloggerGate unfold with interest and am both amused and intrigued by the response on both sides. It has however highlighted that I don’t have a proper strategy for handling these types of enquiry, and I think I should. Where should I start?
A: With these types of questions, I always tell my readers to start with themselves. What makes the independent hospitality industry so interesting, vibrant and special is the individuals who work within the hotels, and as you are heading up yours, any decision you make should be one you are happy with personally. What you establish may not please everyone, but if it pleases you, then that is a very important commercial consideration to make.
Having also watched this story unfold, I have sympathy with both sides. For hoteliers, supporting bloggers (or indeed journalists) with a free stay in exchange for coverage can sound enticing, but of course does not necessarily mean that you will gain paid-for stays as a result. In the meantime, you are paying staff, providing a full service, and potentially turning away a paying customer that would have stayed. What’s more, the outcome for the blogger is immediate – they get a place to stay right now, whereas the outcome for the hotel is longer-term with stays in the future if they materialise at all. You have to consider whether the coverage will ever actually gain you more business? There are of course no guarantees.
On the flip side, for a blogger or journalist, in many cases, this is their full-time job. This is how they make their living and they invest a LOT of time in building their business. They are usually self-employed, and having supported a lot of blogger stays in the past, it really is a full-time job for them, with emails, tweets, messages and responses arriving 24/7. In building their business, they are creating their own livelihood, but it lives and dies by having regular, engaging content, and by advertising and product placement deals. If you consider that many other jobs have a salary, expenses, subsistence and the like, for a journalist or blogger, these expenses are coming directly off their bottom line or income. There is a limit to what a freelancer can charge for an article and in the case of a blogger, they probably aren’t charging at all, and things like hotel rooms will be out of the realms of affordability. I appreciate that isn’t your problem, but if the coverage they provide is worth it, then they will have driven customers to you, without being paid and potentially having paid you for the privilege. Here is where the free stays come in.
What your blogger and journalist policy should actually come back to is results and value. In my view, a free stay for a valuable write-up that brings me bookings, is a fair exchange (particularly when you factor in few hotels have 100% year-round occupancy), but what is important is that you quantify and understand that value before you agree to anything. Here’s my top tips:
Formalise your policy and be transparent. If you are going to accept journalists and bloggers, outline your expectations in return. This should include:
- Clear information on when they can stay. Many would LOVE a full weekend stay in peak season, but you can be clear that gratis stays will only be offered mid-week for example.
- A dedicated form to understand the potential value of the stay, which needs to be completed by the blogger, or by you on behalf of the blogger. You should be asking for things such as unique and returning visitor statistics from their blog (or publication), follower numbers on their social media channels, and importantly, you should be asking for a quantified case study of brands they have worked with previously and the benefits those brands have seen. You then need to establish boundaries of acceptance e.g. no bloggers with less than 3,000 subscribed readers for example. Watch out for generic stats too; we handle a lot of enquiries extolling the virtues of reaching 20million social media users, but this is a general industry statistic and not specific to that blogger.
- Identify how you are going to track the effectiveness of the coverage after the stay is done. For example, we worked with one hotel who offered a free night when you booked two nights, another who offered a bottle of champagne in the room for all the readers. Using a dedicated code will help you to track who specifically read that article, and also the effectiveness of your coverage policy, so you can refine it in the future. As an added tip, I always work to ensure this offer is only published privately / extended to subscribers via email or similar, so it isn’t being seen by anyone that does a search for your hotel.
- Contract your expectations with the journalist or blogger. Be explicit in your expectations for a review. You can’t dictate what they say or write, but you can agree in writing what they will give you e.g. a 500 word article to be published by a specific date and emailed to a database of subscribers etc. This will help ensure they are clear on what they need to do and you are clear on what to expect.
Personally, I believe there is much to be gained from having bloggers and journalists come to stay, but only if managed well. You also have to be clear that there are some who will chance their arm for a free stay with no blogging credentials at all, but a formalised process will help to weed these out. The choice ultimately is yours, but formalise what you want and do, and stick to it.