In Blogging, Our Strength is our Weakness

Last week I spoke at the North American Travel Journalist Association conference in Anaheim. It was the first real travel writer conference I had ever attended and I got to meet many veteran travel writers who have been plying their craft for decades.

Being there and talking to travel journalists got me thinking of how what I do is different from what they have been doing for years. Perhaps the biggest difference is interaction with your readers. As a blogger, my readers can comment on anything I write knowing that I will read it. I get emails all the time from readers asking questions and I will often meet with readers in cities I visit for drinks or a meal.

You never see this sort of behavior with people who work on print or TV. If you sent a message to someone who worked for a newspaper to meet up and have drinks, they would probably think you are crazy. I haven’t meet a single writer who has ever met up with one of their readers or even has had an invitation from one. There is a very large chasm between writers and their readers. There is almost nothing in the way of feedback, comments and god forbid, actually meeting your readers.

Being an individual rather than someone who is works behind a larger brand name makes us very approachable, and that is our greatest strength. The fact that people think they can email us directly to ask a question or they can meet us in person is by far the most powerful thing about blogging. That personal connection makes us more trusted and listened to.

What audience we have, we had to earn. It wasn’t given to us by a gatekeeper at a publication and it wont disappear the moment they decide to downsize.

I’ve hammered this point home dozens of times in discussions with travel industry people. They assume that because something is glossy and has a big budget that people have a stronger relationship with it. It is higher “quality”. The problem is, the exact opposite is true. If it was true, magazines and newspapers wouldn’t be in the trouble they are in. You can’t interact with print. You can’t click with print. Pound for pound, a blogger will have a much more loyal audience than a print publication. Companies will toss 5 or even 6 figure ad buys at magazines which have an audience smaller than some blogs. They would never consider an equivalent ad buy with blogger of equal size.

This assumption that print is more powerful is absolutely wrong. The power of personality is the reason why people know the names of the bloggers they follow. It is why they follow them. The power of personality is what makes bloggers influential.

This familiarity, however, blows up in our face when we deal with the business world. Even if you have an audience larger than a print magazine, you wont be given the same amount of respect. Even though many bloggers are running small businesses, it is assumed that the influence and power of a business is reflected in its size. If you are just one person, you can’t be that big of a deal.

I’ve seen this first hand. When I started working with my assistant Amy, just having another person talk on your behalf changes the perception of the company you are working with. Suddenly, you aren’t just a person anymore, you have “people” (even if those people are just helping you on a part time basis or are on commission).

The informality which works so well with readers often leads to business behaving in ways in which they never would with a publication. Companies have no shame in asking for free consulting, free product mentions, or just ignoring bloggers altogether. I don’t think anyone would dare send an email to the New York Times asking them for free ad space.

I don’t think there is an easy solution to this. I believe that in the long run, things work themselves out. Part of the onus is on bloggers to change how they work with the industry, and part will be on the industry to see the real power and VALUE of working with independent online publishers.