Why Social Media & Social Travel Market Sessions Didn’t Rock My Room

There was a moment when I thought I’d slipped down a wormhole into a parallel universe. The tweet about the Social Travel Market session I was attending announced ‘so and so is rocking the room’.

The ‘room’ at that point was subdued to what seemed the point of boredom. Either I was in a parallel universe, I had the definition of ‘rocking the room’ all wrong or some tweets just weren’t accurately reflecting what was taking place at STM 2012 events.

This was just one of the reasons that some Social Media and Social Travel Market sessions just didn’t do it for me and why they represented the only disappointing aspect of World Travel Market 2012.

Social Travel Market, WTM, London

How to Measure Travel Blogger ROI
First up was Keith ‘Velvet Escape’ Jenkins  and Melvin ‘Travel Dudes’ Boecher’s How to Measure Travel Blogger ROI (return on investment). Developing a formula to measure ROI is a thankless and impossible task. The traditional print based method for measuring ROI has been by using AVE (Advertising Value Equivalent), something that is viewed by some professional marketing experts as nothing more than a marketing tool that uses arbitrary formulas to make PR companies look good to their clients.
In many way that is what ROI formulas are all about; providing clients with something they can use to justify budgets. It’s not qualitative in the slightest but traditional media has been getting away with using AVE for years, so respect to Keith and Melvin for trying to level the playing field.

Keith and Melvin made a valiant effort but the most searching questions from a couple of tourist board representatives in the audience exposed the problems with trying to measure ROI using selected statistics and questionable tools (e.g. Klout – whose popularity goes up and down depending on whether it makes people look good or not).

To be fair, Keith and Melvin’s presentation, although it raised many questions, was honest and sincere. What made me uneasy was that the session was also used as a promo for TBU’s travel bloggers directory; the opening salvo of what seemed to be a struggle for dominance in the travel blogging world between TBU and TBEX.

Bloggers and Blaggers

How to Sort Bloggers from Blaggers
This session highlighted my real beef with my Social Media & STM experiences and provided the most ironic title of Social Travel Market 2012.

There was much that wound me up with this presentation but the biggest crime was that it drew a large crowd based on its name and then didn’t address the question of How to Sort Bloggers from Blaggers in the slightest; the title was a hook.

About 20 minutes in, Rick Calvert asked Steve Keenan what a blagger was. Giving a presentation when you don’t know what the title means doesn’t inspire confidence and Steve’s explanation of a blagger being a thief didn’t match the more appropriate definition that a blagger is a bullshitter. Hence the irony, the title of the session bullshitted the audience.

Tourist boards and DMOs were there to find out how to identify serious travel bloggers, instead they got a promo for TBEX and the shiny new Professional Travel Bloggers Association.

I’m all for a professional association for those who view travel blogging as more than a hobby. But having entry requirements that consist of a) having blogged for 9 months and b) 3,000 page views a month begs the question ‘what exactly is the professional aspect’?

Maybe the professional part is that you have to pay a $75 subscription to be included as a professional travel blogger. Still, the low entry requirements means that the door to being a member of the PTBA is open to nearly all.

Additionally, tweets screened on the TV at the front of the room seemed to be selective and the irony was piled on further when the audience was asked if they trusted traditional media. This, at a session whose title had misled us, was a step too far.

Overall Disenchatmnent
At other sessions I listened to advice on how to get a job in social media from someone who didn’t have a blog because ‘you have to have something interesting to say to have a blog’; a PR rep who considered that older people experienced in traditional PR methods brought wisdom whilst young guns brought energy and enthusiasm – no sweeping generalisations there. There were also too many tweets that didn’t reflect at all what was being said or that repeated sound-bites out of context.

World Travel Market Brochures

I didn’t attend the White Paper Best Travel Blogging Practice presentation. Having a government background, the name itself had me raising an eyebrow. My idea of a White Paper is a government policy document. But there is another definition; a private marketing tool. It’s important to make that distinction.

I’ve read the document and whilst there’s much to commend within, it ultimately ended up coming across to me as another promo for the people involved. There is nothing wrong with that, there’s some innovative stuff going on that deserves to be broadcast, but by the end of the sessions I was tired of being ‘sold’ products and people.

And that’s why these sessions didn’t do it for me. I like travel; I like learning and developing, I like the sharing of good practices; I like healthy debates; I like communities; I like travel bloggers and  travel writers; I like the fact that travel blogging has blown away tired old barriers.

But for me there was an overall feeling of being led (or misled) down carefully laid paths.

I’ve never responded well to attempts at manipulation, even in a subliminal way, by sales pitches with knobs on and that’s what some Social Media and Social Travel Market sessions felt like.

Jack is co-owner, writer and photographer for BuzzTrips and the Real Tenerife series of travel websites plus lots of other things. Follow Jack on Google+




9 Comments

  1. Please note that the TBU session on Tuesday has no connection at all with Social Travel Market.

    It would be appreciated if you corrected your article accordingly.

    Thank You

    Oliver

  2. I have to agree with you Jack, great post. After following Social Media Hotel Marketing Guru’s like Josiah Mackenzie and Daniel Craig this past year I was expecting a little more out of this years Social Travel Market.

    The Topic Headlines got me tuning in live from Lanzarote however I soon became disillusioned with what was being said …it just gave me nothing new to think about!

    • Thanks John,

      I think we were particularly disappointed with the bloggers/blaggers session because it was running late and we ended up taking a lot more time out of WTM than we had planned to sit through something that we felt tricked us. But it wasn’t just that, there was generally a lack of real depth.

  3. Thank you for correcting the title and the article and thank you for the criticism as well. To answer the points you raised.

    1) Book of Bloggers… wasn’t a salvo of any kind, used in any battle between anyone.

    It is a service I have been thinking of doing and working on since well before TBEX were bought out by Blog World and came to Costa Brava.

    The intention is to use the book as a way to add value to the blogger delegates of TBU and also to provide a simple, yet valuable resource to the industry.

    It was an opportunity to plug the book, but only added into the presentation in the context of…”Keith & Melvin are going to help you understand how to measure blogger ROI, but how do you find the bloggers?”.

    I limited myself to a couple of minutes and only added it in after checking with my co-panelists.

    As you have said… the session that it was mentioned in, was still very much on topic for 55 minutes.

    2) The White Paper… was created after the WTM London team asked us to author one on Travel Blogging Best Practices, after they attended our last conference in Porto.

    The authors of the book (including myself) were able to contribute based on our experiences over the past few years of working within travel blogging. It was designed to be informative and useful… and yes, we wrote it knowing that it would act as a B2B marketing tool. I don’t think there is anything wrong with that given the value that we provided in the paper and during the presentation in particular.

    It was intended to be written for an industry audience who should know what white papers are.

    It is a shame you didn’t attend the presentation as it was very popular and useful.

    Whilst I do understand your frustration and can agree with your point on the book, I think bringing in the white paper to the article is unfair.

    “…but by the end of the sessions I was tired of being ‘sold’ products and people.”

    There was no hook in the white paper which then strayed off topic. There was no unexpected “Sell” of any kind and as you clearly stated, you did not attend it.

    It feels as if your thoughts on the white paper were effected slightly by your feelings from other sessions.

    Is that a fair comment to make?

    • Thanks for taking the time to comment Oliver, I really appreciate it.

      I would say that my disappointment overall was down to the fact that things hadn’t moved on as much as I’d expected since the last time I listened to travel blogger presentations 12 months ago and that surprised me.

      I totally understand what you’re saying about the Book of Bloggers and of course it’s an eminently sensible tool to develop. But as it would only consist of bloggers who attend TBU it did seem to me that it could never be a definitive list and would therefore be of limited use to Tourist Boards/DMOs/PR companies etc.
      Clearly it was a good opportunity to promote it and, like you say, it wasn’t off-topic in the context of the presentation. But it just reinforced a feeling I have that there’s a bit of club building going on that isn’t necessarily representative of the whole travel blogging world.

      The promo for the professional travel bloggers association at the bloggers/blaggers session reinforced that feeling and also led weight to the idea that there was competition to try to attract the most travel bloggers. Over the course of a couple of days we heard about two different lists which had basically the same objectives.

      As for the White Paper, I hold my hands up – the name rankled and that’s why I mentioned it. To me there was (is) a danger that others could view it as a document whose authority goes beyond being a B2B tool. I know you say it was aimed at an industry audience who should know what a white paper is but I’m not convinced that is necessarily the case. Like I said in the blog, I thought there were a lot of good things in it (I didn’t agree with all though) but, yes, by the time I got to the end I was definitely influenced by what had gone on before. So fair point, it was probably unfair to include the White Paper.

      Jack

  4. Jack, I did go to the white paper presentation and it was the most sensible thing I heard all week re social marketing. The speakers were realistic and not at all “selling” themselves, but “selling” blogging in general to those in the travel industry who might want to know how to use bloggers/blogs, and to understand what it’s all about. They handled the questions at end very well, and I think everyone in the room would actually have liked more time than had been allotted. I felt as if this was the first businesslike and really professional session I’d attended all week, whereas almost everything else had come across as sounding amateur and wishy-washy….not least the bloggers/blaggers session which appalled me on just about every level. Overall, I totally agree with you. Since this was my first time and I am at the beginning (hopefully) I’d been very disappointed up to then.

    • Thanks Linda. That’s an excellent comment and I think you hit the nail on the head with “…almost everything else had come across as sounding amateur and wishy-washy… ”

      I’ve held my hands up about the White Paper – I blame my civil service background. I hear the term White Paper used for anything else than other than governmental purposes and I’m immediately suspicious of motives 🙂

  5. Thanks for holding your hands up Jack and Linda, I appreciate the kind words.

    TBU is not pitching itself as an association that represents the whole of the travel blogging industry in one country or globally. I would never try to do that.

    When I promote or recommend bloggers, I do so on the basis that I have met them, that they are motivated and dedicated to blogging. I can only meet them at a TBU conference, where I have more time to meet with people than I do after a WTM sessions has ended.

    The role I have with PRs has been described as that of a talent agent in the past.

    Today I got an email from an agency to help them with a blogger project, this would involve me working in a similar way. The agency would trust my word and recommendation of the bloggers I suggest.

    Anyone is allowed in the book who has been to a TBU, unless they are a complete lunatic! 😉

    The amount of different bloggers that have attended a TBU conference is quite significant actually. So I do disagree on the “limited value” comment. But then it is hard to judge until it is launched.

    The focus is on quality and professionalism, rather than getting high numbers through the door.

    The Prof Travel Bloggers Assoc will hopefully be a good thing for the industry, it has taken a while to develop and here is hoping it does a great job.

    Only STM can say why they curated a topic Bloggers vs Blaggers and ran the session the way they did.

    There will be competition amongst TBU and TBEX of course, but I would hate to see it form amongst travel bloggers. Only time will tell.

    I know that anyone is welcome at a TBU event, be it to speak or otherwise. The Book of Bloggers was the first time I placed a restriction on our activities.

    There are always going to be different lists, groups etc… that form.

    There are other associations in the pipeline and others that exist in other countries.

    Ultimately, whenever an ‘independent’ movement grows and develops, it will change. As travel blogging is doing now.

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