I recently attended TBEX (Travel Blog Exchange) in Toronto and was astonished by just about every aspect of the conference. The sessions were informative. The speakers were interesting. The venue was convenient and comfortable. The networking and evening festivities were well executed. All in all, it was a great conference with many things learned and many new contacts made.

Why I decided to go to TBEX

Travel blogs and companies are extremely active in social media and are always finding creative new ways to engage their audiences. For this reason there are quite a few travel companies that use the PromoSimple platform for running giveaways and sweepstakes on their websites, blogs and Facebook pages. TBEX was the perfect opportunity to learn more about what trends are occurring and how travel brands and blogs are engaging current users and attracting new audiences with promotions and giveaways.

Attendance and organization of TBEX

The attendance of 1,200+ travel bloggers plus a vast range of companies in the travel industry from large global brands like Expedia to more niche services like Liftopia surprised me immediately, but the level of professionalism and how well the event was executed was just as surprising. I’ve attended many conferences in the past (travel and non-travel related) from ad:tech to ITB Berlin and this was by far the most efficient and educational.

The hot topics at TBEX

One of the most common themes throughout the conference was how brands and blogs can work together in mutually beneficial capacities. This is perfectly aligned with the way that many blogs utilize the PromoSimple platform to engage their readers with the chance to win a product or service that they have used.

Quality content: In a session called ‘Brands, Bloggers & Dollars’ Ted Murphy, CEO of IZEA, presented information based on surveys and market research to showcase the variances between how bloggers expect to be compensated, and at what levels, versus the value placed on sponsored content by brands. According to the research presented, one surprising factoid was that quality of content far outweighed traffic or social media followers in brands making the decision on which bloggers to work with.

SEO and content distribution: Digital marketers are used to glancing at data and being able to quickly determine an ROI for all expenditures; measurability is a huge benefit of and one of the primary reasons for entering the the online marketing world. Stephen Oddo, Co-Founder, CTO, & Marketing Director of Walks of Italy, made an extremely compelling argument as to why his company is much more interested in long term relationships with bloggers than simply paying for a single sponsored post or evaluating the expenditure as you would a CPC ad by looking at click-throughs from the domain or the SEO value of a backlink. Unlike many presentations at conferences, Stephen also backed up these arguments with data showing the long term beneficial impacts on his website from these ongoing partnerships with bloggers.

Creativity works: Any brand can send a sample product to a blogger and ask them or pay them to write about it. Angela Berardino and Kristin Gritt from Turner PR ran through their entire process of finding compelling, unique ways to identify influencers and how to engage them beyond just having a sample mailed to them. Generating buzz for a brand or product needs to start with measurable goals; once you’ve identified your goals it’s time to figure out how to craft a program that will meet or surpass those milestones. To demonstrate this, they provided real world examples of how to plan for compensating the influencers that participate and creating budgets for these programs, including those that involve giveaways and sweepstakes. Some of their intriguing examples included sending s’mores kits to bloggers and inviting local bloggers from varied genres to visit a spa for the day and experience what it’s like to be a guest at the property.

Engaging your audience with contests: This session was clearly the most intriguing for me as it was the most applicable. I was also thrilled that JohnnyJet, a veteran travel blogger and PromoSimple user, was one of the presenters for this session. Johnny and Scott Carmichael, marketing manager for gogo, brought up some great points about how giveaways can reward your loyal customers while also attracting a new audience. An additional tip that I think many people don’t realize when starting to run giveaways is that the biggest prize does not always equal the highest engagement rate or number of entrants.

The speakers were very knowledgeable and provided some great tips, but one of the most intriguing aspects of the session for me were the questions being asked by the audience, including Dr. Cacinda “Cindy” Maloney of Points and Travel. These questions, such as whether or not a giveaway platform can validate social media actions clearly showed me that we need to improve the visibility of features like this within PromoSimple to ensure all of our users are aware of the functionality available to them.

General themes and takeaways from TBEX

With all of the speakers noted above and conversations with bloggers and brands, the common theme was being proactive in researching your partners and building long term relationships with them. The era of quick one-off sponsored content or giveaways is trending downward and is being replaced by longer term programs and repeated partnerships. This data and general theme is quite inline with our recent survey of bloggers in regards to those who work with sponsors more than once. We found that those bloggers who engage with the brand by sending reports and following up on the results are more than twice as likely to work with that brand again in the future. See the full blogger giveaway survey results.

TBEX links and information

Twitter | Facebook | TBEX Toronto | TBEX Dublin (October 3-4, 2013)