Rough Guides launched its first website in 1995. And the travel publisher has been expanding ever since, especially into Web 2.0 space. They participate in social networking sites, such as MySpace and Facebook, offer podcasts and other downloadable audio, provide mobile content and partner with third-party bloggers. They also operate a thriving online community on their own website.
“We’re in period of experimentation, which is where a lot of companies are at right now, and we’re learning all the time,” says Liz Statham, Director, Marketing and PR. “Our main strategy and objective is to broaden our conversations with consumers, and, in the digital world, those conversations can be more direct than ever before.”
Statham and her team constantly refine their Web 2.0 strategy as they learn how certain channels work. Experimentation has taught them a lot of lessons while revenue from online sales of Rough Guides books jumped 200% last year.
Here are her top 5 lessons:
-> Lesson #1. Monitor Web 2.0 activity, don’t moderate it
Publishers who are used to controlling all the content and activity on their websites need to adopt a more hands-off approach to Web 2.0 channels. Much of that activity takes place among customers and potential customers who prefer to have free, open and honest dialogues with one another. They don’t want the scope of those conversations directed or, worse, censored by a publisher.
Statham and her team monitor the activity taking place on Web 2.0 channels, but they don’t micromanage it. They allow the brand and customers to speak for themselves. Here are two of the sites they monitor:
- Rough Guides’ Wikipedia entry
Fans of the brand created a Wikipedia entry for the company. Statham and her team are happy to let consumers update it as they see fit. They periodically check the entry, but don’t make changes unless something is factually incorrect.
- Author blogs
Many Rough Guides authors maintain their own websites and blogs. Statham’s team links to them from the author biography pages on the Rough Guides website. That’s it. They don't tell authors what they can and can't say on their personal sites.
-> Lesson #2. Match content to channel
Users of a specific Web 2.0 technology are likely to be most interested in content relevant to that channel; so match content to the channel. Statham and her team have adopted several marketing techniques that match appropriate content with a given Web 2.0 channel. For example:
- Create dedicated MySpace pages
To help promote the 2006 release, ‘The Rough Guide to MySpace,’ author Peter Buckley created a page for the book on the social network. In addition to typical MySpace features, such as adding “friends” and letting readers post comments, Buckley included links to PDF sample pages and information to help customers buy the book online.
- Create iPhone interface
For the 2007 book, ‘The Rough Guide to the iPhone,’ the team created an online interface that works with the iPhone’s small screen size and finger-controlled user interface. The tool lets iPhone users browse Rough Guides’ travel content by city or country. It features a banner ad that links directly to a book’s product page in the company’s online store.
- Hold mobile MeetUp
To support the launch of Rough Guides Mobile, an application for cell phones and other mobile devices, the team worked with partners Samsung and Nokia to plan a MeetUp event with mobile enthusiasts.
MeetUps are networking parties organized and promoted online. The companies partnered with mobile content trade magazine Mobile Entertainment to plan a MeetUp launch party that attracted more than 150 attendees -- and plenty of follow-up discussion in the blogosphere. “We monitored how talked up it was and what was said about it.”
-> Lesson #3. Podcasts work best for specialty topics
Statham’s team has produced free podcasts for more than a year featuring discussions with authors of Rough Guides books. This is what they’ve learned about the medium:
-Adoption can be slow
Their Web audience adopted podcasts slower than they expected (Statham won’t disclose listener statistics). Cross-promoting new podcasts to email newsletter subscribers did boost the number of downloads.
-Podcast content is critical
A podcast’s content has a significant influence on audience response. At first, Rough Guides’ podcasts covered the content of entire books, such as ‘The Rough Guide to Jamaica’ and ‘The Rough Guide to Singapore, Malaysia and Brunei.’ More recently, they created podcasts with tight focus and a clear hook, such as ‘The Rough Guide to Traveling with Babies and Young Children’ and ‘The Rough Guide to the iPhone.’
Podcasts with a tighter focus generate roughly 10 times the average number of downloads. Statham believes that well-defined topics attract more listeners. So, the team has redefined its podcast strategy. Rather than producing them monthly, they now produce more occasional podcasts with a special topic focus.
-> Lesson #4. Use your online community as a focus group
Rough Guides operates its own online community to give readers and travelers a space to share travel stories, post photos and ask questions of the community. But Statham and her team also use those conversations and contributions as informal focus groups. They can spot travel and consumer trends or get ideas for content and features.
Activity in the community has shaped more significant content strategies besides reiterating the popularity of certain destinations and highlighting up-and-coming areas of interest. For example, Rough Guides launched 26 years ago to cater to the low-cost, backpacker end of the travel market. But in recent years, online community members have asked for a broader range of dining and lodging options. So, Rough Guides expanded the depth of lodging and dining coverage in their travel guides -- from a shoestring budget to luxury level.
Providing the online forum and reacting to the audience’s needs also has created a more loyal user base. The rate of repeat visitors to the website is 24%.
-> Lesson #5. Offer content in multiple formats
Digital content requires print publishers to rethink their format and distribution strategies. “It’s a big sea change, moving from the mindset of being a publisher to being a content provider,” Statham says.
To that end, the team has repurposed its print content into several digital formats:
Rough Guides Directions and City Guide print titles are available as ebooks as well. And the ebooks have not cannibalized sales of the print versions. Hard copy sales for both have grown since the addition of the ebook versions, Statham says.
- Audio files
Free downloads of speaking and pronunciation guides supplement its foreign language phrasebooks.
- iPod and iPhone content samples
Offering free content helps convert Web visitors into book buyers. Recently, the team created free content sampled from some of its most popular travel books, formatted for users to download to iPods and iPhones.
Rough Guides calls these content samples Podscrolls. They provide dining and drinking guides, complete with editorial reviews, for 10 top destinations:
o New York City
o San FranciscoUseful links related to this article
Creative Samples for Rough Guides: