When you look at the Holy Grail of travel blogging, the vast majority of bloggers who have sprung up since around 2012 or so will quote one thing as their primary reason for attempting to work in this profession: sponsored travel. But what many of them fail to realize is that earning sponsorships is a process that takes several years to build up to, and includes building up expertise as an Internet marketer, which directly translates into social media marketing, which is what comes before social media managment.
First and foremost, if you are just coming into the game, you are nobody. Get ready to work your ass off and build up over the next two to three years until you reach the point where you have enough traffic + expertise to offer potential sponsors to earn press trips and related opportunities. See the first part in the series regarding the myth of free travel, the second part regarding expertise in media and public relations, as well as our 3,000+ word blog post covering the overview of sponsored travel.
Secondly, understand that in the beginning you have nothing to offer to a potential sponsor. No traffic, no influence, no following…and, more importantly, you have zero experience as an Internet marketer, which is what you absolutely have to have if you plan on doing any meaningful social media marketing…which is absolutely NOT the same thing as posting blog posts and photos to Facebook.
When I spoke at TBEX in Cancun in September of 2014, I covered advanced Facebook marketing for brands, DMOs and public relations agencies…and for travel bloggers. And there was a significant portion of the audience who absolutely abhore Facebook because it requires them to spend money to get the most out of it. Unfortunately for them, the basic components of Internet marketing (which is what social media and online marketing is all about) revolve around needing to spend money to make money.
But before you ever spend a penny, the very first part of social media and Internet marketing is research. Period. Weeks and months of research. NASA didn’t send a man to the moon until they had performed literally decades of experiments and spent millions of dollars on “split testing” various equations and combinations.
If you are familiar with The Scientific Method, this is exactly what social media marketing and Internet marketing is all about. Going to the laboratory with your theories and trying out various things until you find one that works.
Posting photos and blog posts to your social media platforms is not marketing. That’s simply sharing photos, something a five-year-old child can do. The act of selling, of getting people to pay for products and services, is what marketing is all about…and that’s what clients are looking for you to complete when they hire you for a sponsored trip.
You need to be able to gaurantee that you will book tickets, sell hotel reservations, bring in restaurant clients and tour packages. And while your influence with your followers is one component, it is only one small fraction of a much larger and much more complex equation that revolves around actually improving your CTR (click-through-rates) and ROI (return-on-investment) of the sponsor.
If you are new to blogging, you don’t have anything to bring to the table other than your unique point of view. That’s not enough. Your opinion isn’t worth anything. It’s just an opinion. Sponsors need to know that you can do more than just write opinion. They need to know what kind of ROI you can bring them beyond your blog and your personal readers.
If you are new to Internet marketing as a whole, I highly recommend The Beginner’s Guide To Online Marketing. It’s a free resource that goes into some of the nitty-gritty details of marketing, and details a variety of case studies on how viral traffic is based on research and marketing….not simply luck.
My favorite is the part where they talk about the girl who put out that I-danced-every-day-for-a-year-and-here-is-me-getting-better-at-it video on YouTube, which generated millions of views in a matter of days. Guess what? That was planned. More than a year of preparation went into making that campaign go viral. Not only did they have to spend a year recording the shots for the video, but they were also spending all of that time behind the scenes working on demographic research, target market analysis, and all the other little details that go into planning a campaign long before a single photo or video is ever shared.
Meanwhile, Social Media Examinar has a phenomenal three-month-long case study they did with Facebook ad split-testing, which they published here. They show how you have to spend money to make money with online marketing, and how they reduced their lead aquisition cost by a whopping 66%. That’s fraking MASSIVE!
But in order to get those kinds of results you have to be willing to take the time and research, test, play around with money, spend intelligently, research your target market, follow the advice of others and, more important than anything else, test, test, and test some more until you finally find what really works.
But before you make your first step…you have to plan. And from there you have to build up and spend several years earning the relevant social media marketing expertise that clients and sponsors are going to want you to have before they are willing to work with you.