Strategic Communication is an elegant combination of art and science. It’s making sure that the ways you communicate are aligned with your overall business objectives. At Step In … Learn More...
Here at Step In we work on behalf of brands, products and organizations to connect bloggers and influencers for different paid and trade projects. Whether it is a weekend getaway or a free lunch, you should want brands and those who work on their behalf to be able to find and connect with you.
Finding the right person to work with on behalf of the brands we represent at Step In is something we take seriously. Yes, we have tools that help identify bloggers and pull page authority and rankings but we pick our bloggers “by hand”. We spend a lot of time reading through blogs, scanning Twitter feeds, looking at Facebook pages and combing through Instagram channels of each of the people we recommend to our clients/brands and then ultimately decide to pitch. We use custom pitches written for each project and blogger which takes more time but we believe in. This process is not fast and is a lot of work, but we feel it makes the best partnerships and the projects work more smoothly.
Being in the business a long time also means we know many of the bloggers and influencers in the travel space, especially in Texas. Lots of these people we are thankful to call our friends. In groups and in person we have seen and heard more than a few complaints about brands with bad pitches that just did not hit the mark or were so far off base it was ridiculous. While brands definitely need to do their homework when reaching out, there are definitely some things you can do as a blogger and/or influencer to help the brands, products and organizations figure out if you are a good fit.
Things Bloggers Can Do To Be More Visible
After a recent research session on behalf of a travel destination, I compiled a list of things that were lacking on many influencers’ public profiles. These things will help you stand out, show clearly who you are and what you are passionate about. You want to move from the initial “quick scan” stage which we do with a large list, on to the longer “detailed review” stage as the list of potential influencers gets paired down.
We hope this checklist will be helpful for you to scan across your blog and social channels with new eyes to see if you are making it easy for brands to find you, see your hard work and reach out to partner with you!
___ Do the social media links on your blog work? I can’t tell you how many times I clicked through to dead links directly from blog sites. Yikes!
___ Can we find your channels? With so many great blog templates and widgets these days it is easy to find one that you can connect the social profiles you are active on to your blog where they are easy to find.
*Note -This one really surprised me. I found many social pages people were obviously spending time to update and put good content on them (I do content creation for clients too and I KNOW how long that takes!) but they were not linked. It took multiple google searches to find all of their social channels because they were either not linked on their blog or the social links on their blog were broken/linked to the wrong place. Not everyone is going to take the time and extra effort to go look for all your channels, make it easy and link them!
___ Are each of your channels linked to the other? On the note above, people don’t always start with your blog – no matter where they find you on the web, they should be able to get back to your main channel, ideally your blog. Are they able to do that from each of your social channels?
*Ideas – Pin a tweet on Twitter with all your links to your blog and active social channels. Use highlights on IG or at least link to your blog or a link type app on your IG bio. Use your FB “About” section to list all your social channels.
___ Do you have consistent branding? Consistent branding and photos across platforms are helpful so we know we landed in the right place! This is especially important if you don’t have the same name or handle on your blog and social channels.
___ Is your physical location easy to find and correct? If you have moved in the last few years scan all your bios to make sure they are updated. Many times offers are location based and being able to figure out what city and state you are in saves you and the brand both time.
*Example – Once we were looking for bloggers from a specific city to help talk about new flights from that city to our client’s destination. If none of your profiles state your home base, then we are just guessing!
___ Contact information easy to find? Sponsor page with all your blog stats, great! But how do we contact you? Make sure you have a contact page and that your email is on it! I visited multiple pages that had no email or contact form which makes reaching out a little complicated.
Connecting Brands and Influencers is About Finding the Right Fit
As the industry continues to grow and change, micro influencers will pave their own way. Just because you don’t have 50k-500k followers doesn’t mean a brand won’t be interested in working with you. We enjoy discovering up and coming influencers and you don’t have to have to have Kardashian status, just be a great fit for our client!
We encourage all bloggers to make it easy for products, brands and organizations to reach out to you. You never know who you might be the perfect fit for!
Take a Moment to Check All Your Profiles
Something we recommend to all our clients is to do a quarterly review of their online presence. This is a good practice for influencers too.
Here are some things you can do to keep your social channels ready for fans, followers, collaborators, advertisers and brands.
Quarterly Social Check Up:
About and Bio Pages
- Is the information current?
- Do the links work?
Profile, Cover and Header Photos
- Are they the correct size?
- Current or relevant photos and graphics (no past holiday/event/etc.)?
- Do you have cohesive branding across channels?
- Updated password?
- Two-factor authentication?
- Review all locations where logins to your social accounts have occurred.
- Confirm you are using all apps with access to your channels, if not revoke/remove access.
What are your experiences working in the influencer/brand activation space?
Are you a digital hoarder? I know I am. I save news stories to read in Facebook later (and never do), I have an RSS reader with dozens of blogs rolling up just waiting for me to read it and yet, I can never find anything. I just got a new laptop, so it was a great time to do some digital clean up.
Here are 5 things I’ve done this month to free myself from the digital clutter.
Purge Client Files
It’s so rare to go back to a former client files to retrieve anything, so get them off your desktop and file them in Dropbox or somewhere else in the cloud under one folder called Archive. I usually save all work from clients for a year, but delete the email folder for that client after three months.
Save the Good Stuff
Before you go crazy and start deleting, is there one thing or a couple of things that you might use as a sample later on or as a guide to format another clients’ communication need? File it on your desktop in a new file called Samples. I started this about a year ago and it’s made building new powerpoint presentations and sharing templates for editorial calendars or other work so much easier.
I am overwhelmed with the number of stories I should be reading to keep current in my field. For the digital stuff, I roll blogs and news feeds into Feedly into categories that are important to my client work and to my learning. The trick is, to go in and purge the feeds out when you no longer need them. Done with the client in a specific industry? Trim it down.
And all those newsletter subscriptions? If you’re not already using Unroll.me, you’re missing out. IT’s an add on that puts every newsletter to which you subscribe into ONE. DAILY. EMAIL. Since I’m now getting a thousand or more of these things, it’s the only way to get your head above water.
If they are so valuable that you want to save it for later, start a Diigo library and keep them all in one place.
Update your Profiles
Now is a good time to check your Twitter Bio, your “about” section on Facebook and your Linked In headline. I would recommend you get new headshots too, but that would just be crazy talk! (It takes me forever to change out headshots. No good reason)
Check Your Privacy Settings
I almost never do this, but this recent story in the Washington Post with EXACT Instructions on a couple of things made it easy. Took me five minutes. Do it now to clear advertising clutter out of your feeds!
Influencers and brands have been in the news lately and not in a good way. Dishonesty in campaigns – it’s rampant in the world of working with influencers. But it’s not that difficult for brands and influencers to find common ground. Brands philosophically understand why working with influencers can elevate their efforts. Influencers need brands to keep their independent media channels growing.
But it’s clear from recent news coverage that the ocean is choppy and brands and influencers are having a tough time navigating their courses.
Influencers Who are Faking It Make the Rest Look Bad
Two recent examples point to flaws among the influencer community. Rachel Hollis, a blogger turned speaker and author recently attracted unwanted attention after she was accused of plagiarizing quotes on her Instagram channel.
Another recent story involves Aggie Lal, a lifestyle influencer. It came to light after she charged $500 to join a master class, which turned out to be anything but masterful. Some of the 380 participants (do the math on what she may have earned from the project) were so angry they turned to other social networks to complain loudly and publicly.
The Atlantic recently reported on just how rampant “fake deals” are among the influencer community, which should shock anyone in the field of marketing and communications.
“Lifestyle blogging is all about seamlessly monetizing your good taste and consumer choices, which means it can be near-impossible for laypeople to tell if an influencer genuinely loves a product, is being paid to talk about it, or just wants to be paid to talk about it,” wrote Taylor Lorenz in The Atlantic.
This only scratches the surface of the problem of transparency with influencers. Many influencers who are trying to establish themselves in the space know just enough from a conference they’ve attended or a presentation they’ve heard to bravely approach brands. Often they use specific language about what they’re offering you and what they want you, the brand, to do. Others are more vague, saying things such as “we’d like to partner with you” which means they’d like to get paid, but want you to reveal your budget first.
This ruins it for the influencers who are conscientious, transparent and communicative. Because they are out there. I’ve worked with hundreds of them and it’s a joy to bring to life a campaign that perfectly marries the right influencer with the right brand.
Brands Have Reputation Issues Too
Late last year, shoe retailer Payless created a fake pop up store and tricked more than 80 influencers into thinking the shoes were part of a new luxury brand. The story, which you can read here also describes how they “revealed” the trick to the participants. (Payless recently filed for bankruptcy and is in the process of closing its stores).
While philosophically, brands understand influencers, they just can’t figure out where they fit in. Are they like a journalist? No? Are they like a marketing promotion partner? Sometimes? Are they like sponsored content? Sometimes?
One of the biggest brand hurdles is FOMO – Fear of Missing Out. They want to get into the influencer game, they know it’s on trend, but guess what? Maybe they didn’t do their research. Or they’ve made small advances with a few select influencers here and there and believe they got burned, so that defines how they feel about the future of influencer marketing.
Our team has assisted many brands to get started working with influencers. We help them answer a lot of questions. Who should I choose and why? What do I ask them? Do I pay them? How and when? What can I expect from them?
Making the Right Match between Influencers & Brands
Clearly, there is huge room for improvement between influencers and brands. Here are three things influencers AND brands can do to make the right match.
Do Your Homework
Influencers: Research the brand who approaches you or the one you are targeting. Look at their marketing, their social channels, and visualize where you might fit in.
Brands: Research every influencer you’re interested in AND those who approach you directly. Are they who they say they are? Who have they worked with before?
Clear and Concise Communication
Influencers: don’t oversell to a brand. Be honest about your past work and where you are in your influencer journey.
Brands: Be clear about what your influencer activation policy is and most importantly, WHAT IT IS NOT.
Influencers: get your work in on time and do more than expected. Ask questions until you’re clear what is being asked of you and by when.
Brands: be clear and reasonable about what you want the influencer to do. Is it number of words, number of posts, reporting on engagement? Define it.
Make Strategic Decisions
Influencers: Don’t hit up every brand in your industry or in your geography. Be selective and targeted.
Brands: make sure the influencer is the right fit. Just because they’re “big” or well known does not mean they will work for you.
As influencer and brand activations continue to accelerate, it’s more important than ever that we negotiate equitably and honestly. It’s not difficult to find common ground between influencers and brands if you plan and prepare for the project. If you want help getting an influencer program started for your organization, call us. We’re here to help.
It happens to every social media manager. All of a sudden, your Facebook posts are boring. Or your Tweets go without a Retweet. Instagram photos have so few likes, you can read every name of those who DID give it a heart.
What could possibly be wrong?
It might be social media fatigue and it happens to everyone who manages social media channels over time. The good news is that you’re obviously paying close attention to your channels because you noticed! The bad news – it’s time to take a minute and shake it off – with or without Taylor’s Swift’s “Shake It Off” playing in the background.
Internal Factors Affect Your Channels’ Performance
Look at your content lineup. Is it repetitive? Are the photos high quality? Are your categories diverse enough?
Tip from Claire : Look at how you’re presenting information on different channels – while your messaging should be consistent, each social channel has its own vibe and content needs to fit that specific channel. Have you been copying and pasting? Change things up across channels and see how engagement changes!
Tip from Jennifer: Vary your content types. For Facebook use a mix of video, photos w/link & w/o links. Use graphic only with no caption and sparingly use text only posts. With Twitter, mix it up but don’t forget that Twitter is also favoring video and graphics/photos are valuable for brands on this channel.
Your Posting Schedule
Are you repeating the same time slots? Are you missing the peak times when your fans are online? Are you posting on the wrong days? Are you posting too often? Are there gaps between your posting schedule?
External Factors Affect Your Channels’ Performance
Local News Cycle
We get stuck on news stories in social media these days. Look and see if something from the local area has dominated in the channels. It could be suppressing your content.
Like it or not, national stories, especially as election season draws near, also dominate social feeds and could be suppressing your fans and followers from seeing your content.
Taking these steps might help illuminate what’s happening in your channels. If the way through is not yet clear, it’s time to go to the next step.
Three Things You Can Try to Beat Social Media Fatigue
- Cut your posting frequency in half for one to two weeks while you keep examining the factors that you have control over, like your content types and posting schedule. Then come back with fresh eyes to review the situation.
- Put ONE channel on hold. If you’re managing a social media ecosystem of 3 or more channels, walking away from one channel for a period of time will not sink the ship. Then come back to it, look at it again and think about how you can change it up. Or if that’s too painful to consider, consider auto posting from one channel to another for a short period of time just so your name is out there. This is a great strategy to try between Facebook and Instagram or Instagram and Twitter.
- Take an hour and review what your competitors are doing. That usually creates an “aha!” moment.
If you still don’t know how to get out of the rut your channels are in, call us! We do full social media benchmark and channel audits for clients in nonprofit, travel and hospitality.
For some organizations, working with bloggers and other social influencers is new, maybe it’s even uncharted territory. Other companies have ideas about how to approach these media creators and may even have tried a few things. A third group of companies has sophisticated programs with high visibility.
If your company is new at this, or tried a few things that may or may not have worked, it’s a fair bet you are seeking ways to demonstrate the value of working with social influencers. Here’s how to demonstrate value in the future.
Create clear expectations of what you want the results to be. Are you asking the influencer to do social media on the go — spontaneous posting on social networks — as they experience your product or service? Or are you looking for a thoughtful report or image stream after the fact?
Ask yourself these questions:
- What do I hope to get out of this relationship?
- What volume do I expect?
- Are there deadlines I hope to meet?
A fair exchange is “I’ll give you X and I expect Y.” What “X” and “Y” are for your organization could be different. If the social influencer is creating content for your digital properties, fair exchange might include compensation and credit for the content. If the content is created on the influencers’ blog or social network, then fair exchange may be your ability to promote that content on your organizations’ channels. Making sure that the “deal” works for everyone and that everyone’s intellectual property is protected, might include an actual contract. Or a clearly defined email. Or as the organization, you might use the photos or works under Creative Commons licensing. There are millions of variations of these ideas and organizations and content creators should always consult professionals related to contracts and other legal matters.
Here are some questions to ask:
- Have I been clear about what I expect?
- How have I communicated my expectations?
- Do I need a contract?
- Should I consult a lawyer or contract administrator for assistance?
Nurture The Relationship
Getting to know influencers that may align with your brand takes time and research. There are many ways to find those influencers organically and many tools that help identify influencers using tags and algorithms. Even if you have the best tools, it’s still important to get to know each influencer, their expertise and how they approach brand relationships. It’s no different than joining the local chamber and getting to know other chamber members at networking events. The relationships need to be built over time.
Some things to consider:
- How can I develop influencer relationships?
- Are there groups to join?
- What tools should I explore?
If you want your future influencer relationships to be professional and ethical, they must include elements of disclosure. The influencers, by law, must identify brand relationships with disclosure statements on blog posts, and identify paid relationships using hashtags like #ad and #client on networks such as Instagram and Twitter.
- Have I discussed disclosure with the influencer(s) I’m working with?
- Are we meeting my organizations ethical and professional guidelines?
- Are we in compliance with current laws regarding disclosure?
I’ve matched brands with influencers on a wide variety of promotions and campaigns, and it’s easy to get off track. By creating clear expectations, nurturing the relationships and developing clear expectations including strong elements of disclosure, you can develop value for your organization with influencer campaigns.
PRCG Adds Step In Communication to its Nationwide Client & Agency Network
Step In Communication and Fran Stephenson, APR, has been appointed the San Antonio partner of the PRConsultants Group (PRCG), a nationwide network of leading public relations professionals.
“Step In Communication has proven its expertise in strategic communication, social media management and crisis preparation,” said PRCG President John Deveney. “We are excited that Stephenson is joining our nationwide network, and bringing her firm’s unique capabilities to PRCG’s expanse of clients.”
“I am excited to join the PRCG network, and such an elite group of PR professionals,” said Stephenson, APR and principal of the firm. “The team at Step In Communication looks forward to providing our skills to the network, as well as our ability to now offer boots on the ground to our clients in every major market in America.”
Clients of PRConsultants Group members enjoy boutique agency service alongside premier access to senior public relations professionals in every top US DMA. PRCG members have executed successful projects for national and international brands such as 7-Eleven, Cold Stone Creamery, Labatt USA, Mardel Christian & Education, Make-A-Wish America, MADD, Home Run Inn Pizza, and Wal-Mart.
About PRCG: PRConsultants Group (PRCG) delivers results through an exclusive nationwide network of nearly 50 public relations consultants. PRCG provides brands with a unique ability to leverage local market knowledge and connections along with the expertise of senior level PR pros in every major market in the U.S. PRCG is recognized nationally for “National Strength. Local Power™”, the ability to engage audiences at the local level and deliver high-impact results in markets nationwide. Focusing on strategic planning and creative execution of media relations, social media, promotions, and news events, PRCG also offer crisis management services and event site selection via local market experts. PRCG members have successfully executed projects for national and international brands. More information is available at prconsultantsgroup.com.
About Step In Communication: Step In Communication is an award-winning San Antonio-based agency, specializing in strategic communications plans and is noted for its influencer outreach programs, social media strategy, channel management and measurement for clients in hospitality, tourism and health care.
What is Texas’ hottest and hippest destination right now? It’s a couple of upcycled grain silos a mile off Interstate 35 in Waco called Magnolia Market and it’s a home decorators dream. It’s the brainwave of Chip and Joanna Gaines, the HGTV celebs from Fixer Upper.
I’ve personally enjoyed the show from my home in San Antonio, and followed the hoopla surrounding the opening of the Magnolia Market three hours north of my home. But it wasn’t until I had an opportunity to stop by on a recent trip up the interstate that I got to see firsthand why all my Facebook friends were drooling about this place.
I expected to encounter a cute shop with the accessories that Gaines is known to showcase in her “reveal” segments. If you watch the show, you’re familiar with the appearance of vintage-looking signs, handmade soaps, rustic textiles and ginormous primitive wall clocks –some of her favorites.
The Fixer Upper couple has taken their design sensibility—and sensation – and applied it to a shopping complex. The retail store, Magnolia Market, appears modest until you walk inside and realize that it’s barn-sized. Adjacent to it is Silo Bakery, a small picturesque storefront with outside seating for cupcakes and coffee. The up-cycled grain silos themselves have shade, signage and seating. Directly outside the silos is a Texas-sized field complete with soccer balls for kicking and swings for swinging. Behind the silos is a garden shop and seed store. Lining the back perimeter are a handful of food trucks. Everything is painted in an elegant black and white palette and squeaky clean. Staff are strategically placed throughout to answer questions and direct visitors.
I consider myself a seasoned traveler, but I’ve not seen shopping so elevated into the realm of a full day experience as it has at Magnolia Market. It’s more akin to a theme park than a home decorating store. And that’s what everyone is talking about. How a couple from Waco went from modest construction/design team to the number one show on the HGTV Network. In the last two weeks, they’ve been the cover story in Texas Monthly and featured on the Texas Standard, but they’ve been featured in numerous design magazines the past year.
Five years from now, we’ll all be looking back at the phenomenon of what’s going on in Waco Texas and trying to figure out how to replicate it. If you’re wondering how to create and market a destination, just call it anything with the word “magnolia” in it and sit back and watch the tourists flock to it (35,000 visitors per week is a widely reported figure).
But the bottom line, everyone in Texas is cheering them on. We want them to succeed.
So let’s examine this phenomenon like we would any busy theme park. It’s best to prepare for your visit to Magnolia Market. Here is a checklist based on my recent trip and some ideas I’ve gathered from recent visitors.
5 Pro Tips to Plan Your Trip to Magnolia Market
Be Prepared to Stand in Line…or NOT!
Depending on time of day and day of the week, there will be lines. Lines for “looking” at the beautiful home accessories on display and lines for purchasing them. There will be lines for cupcakes and lines for restrooms and lines for the food trucks. But Dawn Monroe, of the Frugal Mom, had a completely different experience.
“About the crowds – we went on an overcast Saturday, at 2 p.m. It had just rained, so apparently the crowd left and we got really lucky.”
Have a Parking Plan
Sure there’s parking on the street, but at peak times, every space is taken. A local church next door offers parking for $10. There’s a trolley running on weekends to and from free parking lots that are farther away, but the parking is free and so is the trolley. Best idea: drive right up to the block, assess the situation and decide if you want to pay $10 for convenience or use one of the more remote free lots.
Take Your Time
The Magnolia Market experience is not to be rushed.
“There are adorable touches everywhere,” says my friend Gloria Nwelue, the former San Antonio community manager for Yelp. “Those cute little picnic tables with black and white striped awnings and that super cool giant double porch swing? Swoon. Everything was even cuter than I expected, if that’s possible.”
“The outside entertainment area is lovely and I enjoyed sitting out there to have lunch,” says Janice Langlinas of Austin, a former tourism professional.
Lots of Helpers!
It’s quite obvious that Magnolia Enterprises is employing a LOT of people in Waco, which is great for the area. They were very well staffed on the day that I visited, sporting cute little aprons and holding maps of the layout to help visitors navigate.
“Extremely helpful staff spent about 20 minutes helping me purchase one of their large antique olive buckets they were using for display, said my friend Melissa Welch-Lamoreaux. “And, the decorating ideas I took away from the visit–priceless.”
Expect to Pay for Your Experience
The Magnolia Market experience is not without its price. Some of the visitors I queried had expected all the items to be artisan made. And some are, but the bulk of items for sale are not quirky, one-off finds, but are just as likely to be high end, imported goods.
“I had to wait in line just to view certain items in the market, not to mention the insane line to actually check out,” said Nwelue. “Needless to say, I didn’t buy anything because I’m not a fan of shouldering my way through the masses.”
Last Word on Planning Your Visit
Visit the website for hours and directions – the area is closed on Sunday!! https://magnoliamarket.com/silos/
Check out some of Waco’s other attractions here: http://wacoheartoftexas.com/
Spend any amount of time on Facebook these days, and you witness people traveling in gangs, rising up because serious harm has been done to someone or something. Virtual vigilantes. It could be inspired by the upcoming presidential election, or world events, but the general mood is shifting.
In the early days of Facebook, the network was largely positive, but the sheer size of Facebook and the mountain of content we see daily, is changing the way social media managers need to approach their pages.
This is especially true for groups, which often have a higher degree of controlled access. If you’re managing a Facebook group, it’s a challenge to keep the community moving along.
Good Communities Need Moderation
The best Facebook communities have a good moderator – one or two people (Facebook calls them Administrators) who guide the community along, keep the conversation going and, when necessary re-direct the conversation when it strays from the purpose of the group. Two great examples of groups which I participate in (which are by invitation only, so I can’t link to them here) are the Solo PR Pros Facebook Group and the San Antonio Bloggers Group on Facebook.
Both have amazing administrators which guide the discussion and set the tone for how the group navigates each day. But they also have structure, which is equally important.
Good Communities Need Structure
Although structure in Facebook groups can be very informal, it does create a backbone for the administrators. In the San Antonio Bloggers Group, the administrators have posted guidelines on what types of posts and conversation are allowed and guides to the members’ Twitter handles or Instagram channels. This prevents repetition in the thread and connects seasoned members with newer members.
“A moderator’s job is easy when the purpose behind a group is clear from the beginning and guidelines are clearly posted to help lead the way,” says Stacy Teet, moderator of the San Antonio Bloggers Facebook group. “One of the most difficult parts of managing any large group–online or offline– is keeping all the cars on the track following the same locomotive. Members are as diverse as they come, each with their own individual personalities, preferences and ideals, but if you build a community centered around a common interest, topic or goal and you keep the group focused on that one thing, positive momentum should take care of the rest.”
In the group for solo public relations professionals, the group files include templates, conference information and other information to help its members be better at what they do.
“One of the ways that we keep content fresh for our group is by listening. We actively listen to conversations to keep a pulse on what members need to support them in their day-to-day challenges,” says Karen Swim, president of Solo PR Pro, which offers the closed Facebook group for its paid members. “Knowledge of our audience also enables us to spot trends, information, resources and tools that would be of interest to the community and deliver content accordingly.”
But what happens when that Facebook turns into a mob?
I have participated in several groups where certain posts brought out the mob mentality and discussions got heated. When this happens, it’s tough for administrators to keep the peace, much less manage (what used to be called) “civil discourse.”
What can you do to manage the community back to a peaceful, yet talkative, state?
First, invoke the “guidelines” doc. Strong Facebook groups have a document that outlines what is and isn’t appropriate to post in the group. It also highlights what types of content are inappropriate and how that type of content will be handled.
“If a discussion begins that doesn’t relate to the group, a moderator can ask members to continue the discussion outside the group. If the group starts to veer off course in their day-to-day or general conversations, the moderator should restate the purpose of the group,” says Teet. “Ask members to reread and acknowledge posted guidelines.”
Second, if you don’t have a guidelines document for your group, now might be a good time to think about it. Once it is created, point members to it from time to time so they know it’s there. They might even go read it!
As an administrator, it’s your job to keep the conversation moving, so if that means biting your tongue, redirecting the conversation, hiding or removing inappropriate posts or working with individual members behind the scenes, think through the outcome you desire and then figure out how to get there.
The needs of the community almost always outweigh the impact of any individual post or member. It might be prickly for a while, but the good news about Facebook Groups, the conversation moves on quickly and will soon be forgotten. Can you say ‘squirrel’?
Like many travelers, I’ve experimented with the new vacation rental sites like VRBO and Home Away. These sites allow you to rent a vacation home or apartment using filters like location, features and price. They are becoming formidable alternatives to hotel bookings.
I’ve stayed in a wide variety of with varying success. Here’s what you need to know before you book your next vacation.
The Bad Stuff
Hyperbole. Many landlords are vague and flowery in the language to describe their rental property. One example for my extended family was a holiday spot which said “sleeps 10” — 4 of those “beds” were air mattresses on the third floor (leaky ones at that!).
Location. Like many real estate listings, the description will always accentuate the positive and minimize the negative. We once stayed somewhere which was described as being in the “hip” neighborhood, which it was. But it was also next door to a very loud construction site.
Illegal rental. The instructions we were given at a gorgeous property during a girlfriends’ getaway were: ‘if you’re out walking and you encounter a neighbor, tell them you’re friends of John and Mary.’ This is less likely now than when these services first cropped up, but as a renter, you might want to make sure that the landlord has the right to do short-term rentals.
No dishwasher. Gross. How do I know the last tenant actually washed the dishes?
Really bad beds and lumpy couches. In several rentals, the furniture was old, in bad condition and might have been moved from a college dorm.
Junk. Or Missing Junk. We stayed in one place with no kitchen towels and only one washcloth, but a heap of junk in the closets and stale food in the cupboards. Who wants to navigate all that clutter?
Maintenance? What maintenance? One location had such a large crack in the bathroom window, you could make ice for drinks in the cold air that was streaming through it. No problems, we used the only available washcloth to plug up the hole.
Terms. Bad terms. Paying the entire trip in advance is a stretch for some people, not to mention the various cleaning/damage/replacement costs that vary from location to location. Equally frustrating is the method by which many rentals are calculated. Minimum stay requirements and event weekend surcharges often apply. Because of these terms, vacation rental sites lack the flexibility of a regular hotel.
The Good Stuff
Entertaining in Style! If you’ve ever planned a large gathering where everyone has individual hotel rooms, there’s nowhere to gather. Vacation rentals allow you to hang out in the kitchen, lounge in the living room, and connect with your fellow travelers.
Quirky perks! Beautiful freshly ground coffee in one location, complimentary wine in another and local produce and special treats in a third. All things you’d never expect in a standard hotel.
Local information! There’s nothing like getting a local’s perspective on area restaurants and attractions. “The binder” left by most rental managers is always worth a look.
Investing in the Experience. Some landlords invest in a quality bed and usually highlight it in the description. The same holds true for those with plenty of extra towels and quality wifi. Combined with an amazing travel destination, it can make all the difference in your trip.
Be a Smart Trip Planner
Unlike hotel chains with brand standards, each rental property is owned and operated individually and managed under the vacation rental company’s umbrella. There are potentials for misunderstandings between landlord and renter and all have had their share of scandals. If you’ve never done your vacation in this way, do your homework before your next vacation. Check out these online stories before you make your next booking.
VRBO and Home Away are two brands by the same company. And they were purchased by Expedia last year. Read some of the reviews here.
Some cities are legally challenging the short-term rental market. Paris is one example and San Francisco is another. Here’s what the travelers on Rick Steves travel forum have to share about France and Italy using vacation rental sites. This story, in the Los Angeles area, addresses the real reason why cities are trying to regulate rental companies – hotel occupancy taxes.
This story on tripping.com outlines all the information about various rental companies.
So before you book your next vacation rental experience, do your homework. Happy travels.
A quick glance at the news this month is a good reminder that a crisis can happen at any time. The weather is creating crisis situations for many organizations; others have been surprised recently by technical failures or social media mishaps.
If you haven’t looked at your crisis plan in a while, now might be a good time to check out these six resources and get your organization ready for its next crisis.
- Every Organization Needs a Crisis Plan
If you are NOT in the middle of a crisis right now, this story distills the planning process into the essential Elements. Read: Essential Elements of a Crisis Communications Plan.
- The First Hour Is Your Biggest Opportunity
It’s make-or- break, actually. What you do in the first hour of a crisis can determine how your reputation survives – or doesn’t. Read: What To Do the First Hour.
- Say You’re Sorry
No really, you’ll need to say it. And there’s a LOT of ways to do that. Here’s 33 ways to apologize in a crisis.
- You WILL Make a Mistake
But if you’ve read through this far, it may not be fatal. Here are common mistakes organizations make in a crisis.
- How Will We Ever Get Through It?
You can – and you will. Here’s a great success story from a small organization, the National Corvette Museum, that shows you can survive and live to tell about it.
Get the E-Book. If you really want to prepare your organization, go here to download my FREE e-book on Managing Your Next Crisis. It’s written with travel organizations in mind, but it’s loaded with information on preparing for any organization.