Adventure traveler, TV host and early Expedia executive Richard Bangs has been exploring the byways and backwoods of the world, and the Internet, for decades. Now, with Steller, he’s finding new ways to tell mobile-friendly and visually striking stories about the world’s most interesting places. Along the way, his platform promises compelling new ways to connect those locales and the travel businesses there with audiences and influencers.
Bangs suggests Steller “may be the world’s largest travel storytelling platform.” Unlike generalist sites such as Instagram, Steller is focused solely on travel-related material. And unlike many sites, Steller’s built-in tools make it relatively easy for mobile users to combine text, fonts, frames, photos, videos and more, then to share the result with other Steller users and to other social-media platforms.
Steller was founded more than a decade ago as something of a hobby by Richard McAniff, a prominent tech executive who is also a travel photography enthusiast. Last August, Bangs worked with McAniff, his former Microsoft colleague, and current site CEO Pete Bryant to refocus and reboot Steller. Bangs took the title of Chief Adventure Officer.
To keep the site free of advertising, Steller monetizes its operations in different ways. One approach, similar to that of the hugely popular photo-manipulation and sharing app PicsArt, is to sell add-on tools that provide new layouts and looks for creators.
“We are comparing ourselves to a number of different platforms but one would be LinkedIn, with their freemium model,” Bangs said. With Steller, “you can search any destination and get stories from people who are there, which is very exciting. But we can see that certain hotels and properties have stories to tell, and don’t have products that allow them to do that.”
The company is building a “prosumer” model, including templates that hotels and similar companies can buy to build on-site showcases of their properties, amenities and surroundings, Bangs said. Importantly, unlike Instagram, Steller stories can include outbound links back to a site, service or adventure.
That approach also leads to another potential moneymaker, branded content and influencer-marketing initiatives, fueled by the contacts Bangs has built up since his early days as founder of adventure travel service Sobek Travel, now called MT Sobek.
Steller already has built some of its stories around MT Sobek expeditions, which still offer the kinds of edgy adventures that first fired Bangs’ mind as a young man.
“It lends itself very well to that, it’s a story adventure,” Bangs said of the MT Sobek expeditions. “There’s a cast, challenges, risk and danger, and resolution at the end. It’s the perfect formula for a Steller story. Many of the destinations we’re talking to feel that adventure is an essential part of their tapestry.”
Steller just debuted its first major branded-content deal, an ambitious project with Tourism Ireland, that country’s official tourism marketing arm, and two other regional groups, Fáilte Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland.
The result is a digital version of the old “A Day In The Life” series, Rick Smolan’s genius format for coffee-table books that featured work by dozens of photographers all shooting a single country on a single day.
A Day In the Life of America was a huge hit, but plenty of other countries got the treatment too, including 1991’s A Day in the Life of Ireland. Tourism Ireland thought it would be a fine idea indeed to revive the Irish version for a digital era.
“We recognize that travelers are increasingly using mobile devices and social media to consume inspirational travel content,” said Tourism Ireland CEO Niall Gibbons. “It is a great way to fill your heart with Ireland.”
Content for the updated experience, A Digital Day in the Life of Ireland, was shot on April 28, led by a group of prominent non-Irish social-media influencers whom Steller recruited through CreatorIQ, a Los Angeles agency that tracks millions of influencers and the performance of their deals with brands.
The Day in the Life influencers are all focused on travel content, and included Tom Skerritt, Annette White, Stef Michaels, Garry Norris, and Kim Tate. CreatorIQ calculated their combined social-media reach at more than 76 million followers.
For a week leading up to the shooting day, the Irish organizations squired the influencers around the country to key sites, and connected them with 200 local businesses.
Even before the campaign fully launched June 19, 30 creators had generated nearly 1,000 posts and collected 14 million impressions across Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook and Instagram, according to a CreatorIQ campaign summary.
Steller itself ran 77 stories, Bangs said, including work from Steller’s own in-house team of creators. As well, businesses such as Ireland Blue Book created their own online material and posts, further extending the campaign’s reach and content.
“There are three types of things we’re all doing,” Bangs said. “We have a budget for some paid media. We’re using our levers to promote, and have our own internal calendar to promote the campaign. Tourism Ireland has the product on their site, Ireland.com. Then we hope to get some attention in other quarters.”
WIth a bit of the luck of the Irish, they may indeed get some attention. Then they’ll all have something to smile about when the campaign finally wraps.
Steller’s Travel Influencer Digital Tour Leaves Irish Eyes Smiling – Forbes