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Blogging

My 2014 State of Social Media

Social media is always changing and you have to be able to adapt to the changes. What worked last year might not work this year and something new is always on the horizon.

When I began my blog in 2006, Facebook and Twitter existed, but they weren’t that big of a deal. I actually put quite a bit of effort into my MySpace page when I began traveling in 2007, which seems silly now, but at the time it made perfect sense.

Here is what I’m currently finding with the various social media channels I use, how effective they are and where I plan to put my efforts in 2014.

Twitter
I put a lot of effort into Twitter several years ago. I haven’t really cared about it in a long time. I think too many bloggers, PR firms and companies put way too much emphasis on Twitter. It is the least effective platform for me now in terms of engagement (retweets and favorites).

Twitter’s problem is that it is so ephemeral, that if you don’t happen to be looking at the screen when someone tweets something, you’ll miss it. It is almost the opposite of the problem which Facebook has (see below).

It is very effective as a chat room and if I want to talk to other bloggers, Twitter is the best way to do it. If I have an off hand comment, I’ll put it on twitter, because I really don’t worry about timing or the number of posts I make.

I’m still amazed at how much stock people put into things like Twitter hashtags, when the action is all happening on other platforms. Many sites like Klout use Twitter as the default platform for determining someone’s social media ‘status’, and it really shouldn’t be that way.

One thing I have been doing lately is embedding more images into my tweets. This has improved engagement levels, but it is still well below other platforms.

One side note, there was a change during 2013. Now most of my engagement on Twitter is in the form of people favoriting my tweets, not in the form of retweets. Unfortunately, this doesn’t show up on most counter stats, so it tends to be hidden from most people. Nonetheless, favoriting is becoming more and more popular on Twitter.

One of my biggest uses of Twitter today is as a recruiting tool for Instagram.

Facebook
I get far, FAR more engagement on Facebook than on any other platform. It isn’t even close really. Recent changes to the algorithm Facebook uses to show user content sucks, but you pretty much have to suck it up and deal with it because everyone is on Facebook.

The last 2 years I’ve invested in some ads for my Facebook page. I’m not going to do that in 2014. At least not like I have in the past. A side effect of Facebook limiting what people see is that there is very little incentive to grow a Facebook audience anymore, because you’ll never be able to reach most of the people in your audience.

That being said, I do occasionally boost a post on Facebook. I’ll do it anywhere from 1 to 4 times a month with a budget of $5 to $25 per post. It can make an enormous difference, especially if people start sharing the content. It can often set a spark to turn something quasi-viral.

I’ll only do it for links to my site, and only for content I think is especially good. There is a hard limit to what I’m willing to spend, but small boosts, used strategically, can be well worth it.

Google+
Goole+ is now my biggest audience in terms of raw numbers, but it doesn’t have the engagement that Facebook has. This may slowly change over time as Google is clearly not giving up on this. The key to posting anything on Google+ is images. Photos are the key to success on Google+. If you just post a URL, it will perform worse than Facebook. If I post a URL, I always post an image with it. I don’t expect a ton of discussion or debate on this platform.

Pinterest
I paid almost no attention to Pinterest until last year. With the launch of their new mapping feature, which really works well for travel, I’ve seen over a 10x increase in my following on Pinterest in the last 3 months. I’ve gone from 2,500 to 25,000 followers in that time. Things have slowed down since the launch of the mapping feature, but I am still seeing growth. How things perform on Pinterest is still hit and miss and I am still figuring it out. Some images will get over 100 pins and some get almost none.

Intsagram
On a per follower basis, Instagram beats Facebook for engagement. While this is my smallest platform in terms of followers, it has been growing rapidly and steadily the last few months. Moreover, engagement has been going up as well. Here is a graph I got from Statigr.am:

The red bars reflect total engagement, which is often just a reflection of how much you post. The brown line shows engagement per post, which just keeps going up. It is almost at 200, which is on a par with images I post on Facebook.

It seems that ever week or two I’m placed on a new list of Instagram people to follow and I’m seeing constant spikes in followers.

LinkedIn

Because I run a consumer focused site, I don’t really bother too much with LinkedIn. I use it as a business tool and a glorified rolodex. I don’t even think of it as a marketing platform.


If each social platform were a stock, here is how I’d rate them:

BUY Instagram and Pinterest
HOLD Facebook and Google+
SELL Twitter

The biggest single social media takeaway from 2013 was that photography really works well across the board. Even on Twitter, photos perform better than non-photo tweets. If you are a travel blogger, put some time into improving your photography. Even if you aren’t a travel blogger, find ways to integrate images into what you do. Original, non-stock images.

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Blogging

Back Into Startup Mode

Last May I announced that I was going to be changing how I travel. I had hit a point where I wasn’t able to continue at the pace I was going.

However, before I could implement the new plan I had one thing I had to finish: my Lesser Antilles trip. This had been in the works for months and I didn’t want to move into my new travel mode before finishing the trip.

As I write this on the island of Grenada, the Caribbean trip is near completion. Tomorrow I’ll be on Trinidad which is my final stop. I’ve almost been viewing my arrival in Trinidad as a finish line of sorts. Once I finish with my Trinidad visit, I can start a new chapter.

I know this blog tends to be visited by other bloggers and industry people, so I wanted to go into some more detail about what I’m going to be doing and what my plan is going forward. I haven’t fleshed everything out yet, this isn’t necessarily set in stone.

Before I do that, I have to explain what the fundamental problems are that I’ve been facing.


I love to travel. That isn’t just a cliche I’m tossing out because it sounds good from a marketing perspective. I got into this to travel, not so I could become a ‘blogger’. If I had to choose between traveling and running a website, I’d hit the delete before the ultimatum was over.

As the blog has become more successful, however, and the travel industry has become more accepting of bloggers the opportunity for travel has exploded.

I’m like an alcoholic at a bar where everyone is buying him free drinks. I’m able to indulge in my passion without almost any restraints. On one hand it is wonderful. However, it does have its drawbacks.

As early as 2009 I pointed out the problems with traveling and creating content. You can’t be running around the world while putting out high quality articles and photography.

At first I thought that for ever 2 days traveling I would need 1 day to work. Later I moved that ratio out of 1 day of work for every 1 day of travel. Having spent more time around successful travel writers and photographers I realized that, that ratio still is out of whack.

Observations I’ve made

  • I don’t need to be moving constantly. Rick Steves claims to travel in Europe for 3 months every year. Most travel writers only seem to travel about 4-6 weeks each year. Some travel much (much) less. I know a few that barely travel at all. They write stories from press releases and online research.
  • Traveling means missed opportunities. I’ve spent many nights sitting in hotels around the world watching other travel media professionals getting far more opportunities because they live in New York or London. The ability to professionally network is basically non-existent while you are on the road. For many things within the industry, your travel resume is really irrelevant. (I think it matters to readers, but that’s another issue.)
  • Constant travel means letting things slide. The current WordPress theme I’m using is now 4 years old. When I had it commissioned it was sort of cutting edge. Now it has become a frankenstein of code cobbled together over the years. I haven’t had time to devote to upgrading my site, so the old one just limps along. I have a project I’ve been wanting to do for years that involves tagging and putting captions on my photos. I have yet to do it. I wont even mention my book which which is now over 3 years in the making.
  • You can’t write much when you are constantly moving. Yesterday I had a 6am flight, which means I had to be up at 4am. My flight was then delayed for 2 hours during the layover. By the time I arrived in my hotel it was 1pm and I hadn’t eaten. By the time I addressed all my emails and social media for the day, I was tired and it was already late. I didn’t have anything in me to write something meaningful. Writing is a habit. If you stop doing it, it becomes harder to start. One of the reasons I’m writing the article you are reading is just so I can type something to get things going. I’ve probably written less than 10 meaningful articles on my blog this year.

When I was growing my site I would spend several weeks in one spot and just work. I spent over a month in Saigon in 2008. I spent 3 months in Thailand in 2010. I wrote guest posts and was active being everywhere online.

I rarely do that anymore.

I can’t remember the last guest post I’ve written. I seldom read other blogs and leave comments anymore. I have contacts and the ability to do freelancing for major travel outlets and I haven’t taken advantage of a single opportunity.

My traveling has been the fundamental stumbling block in growing my travel website. (The irony is not lost on me.)


Coming to grips with the idea of traveling less has been difficult. I’ve come to accept that this is a lifetime process and that I don’t have to do everything NOW. I also have come to realize that my travel resume is as good as it will probably ever need to get for whatever professional purposes I’ll ever need.

I’ve also had lots of time to think about where I need to be going in the future. I’ve had a lot of thoughts on the future of what I’m going to do and the future of blogging. Right now I’m at a point where I’m willing to hit the reset button and totally start from scratch if necessary. Here is some of what I’m thinking:

  • How important is having a blog? Robert Scoble has made 1 blog post from February to August of 2013. He doesn’t bother actually posting things to his blog because it is so much easier to post to Facebook, Twitter and Google+. I’ve been posting far more in social media outlets than I have on my own website. Does it really matter where you post so long as people are reading it? I’m aware of the advantages of owning your own platform, but it is also true that you have to go where the people are. I’m not saying I’m giving up my blog, but I am saying I am willing to rethink things. I’m going to experiment with treating each social media platform as its own end for the next several months, not just a means of generating traffic for my blog. This will mean less traffic but more engagement. I’m considering even reposting entire blog posts on Google+ and Facebook. I’ll see what the results are in a few months.
  • More video. Since before I even began traveling full time I’ve had friends tell me I should be doing video. I’m naturally more comfortable talking than I am writing. I’ve been doing competitive public speaking since I was a sophomore in high school and it is my strong suit. I have given the problem of travel video a great deal of serious thought. Cable television has totally dropped the ball in terms of travel and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. I’ve paid close attention to Anthony Bourdain’s move to CNN and the reason’s behind it. The reason the Travel Channel let their top star go is because of the cost of production. From what I understand, Bourdain travels with a crew of 8 people, which isn’t cheap. I think it could be done with 3 and with much cheaper gear. You can’t do video half assed, however. You have to do it whole assed. There are many reasons to do video and many problems that will have to be overcome. I have a clear idea of what I want to do in my head, but implementing will take some help.
  • Focus. What should Everything Everywhere be about? Honestly, I don’t care about most things ‘travel’ related. I don’t care about hotels, airlines, frequent flier points, travel hacking, top 10 lists, guides or tips. I don’t want to get into the business of writing guides for destinations. All of those things address the how of travel (which is important), but miss the much larger question of why. National Geographic is technically not a travel magazine, but it has probably launched more trips than every other travel magazined combined. That is because if focuses on the why, not the how. Culture, nature, and history couples with great photography are the drive inspiration to travel to other places. I have never been satisfied where my blog was at in terms of focus. I’d be willing to sacrifice traffic to bring in a more intelligent reader who is curious about the world, not just someone who is looking to save a buck on a hotel room.
  • More people. I’ve considered turning Everything Everywhere into a multi author blog. This would be a radical change, but I would still keep my personal stamp on the site. I’ve thought of many different ways this could work. One option would be to recruit other travelers and organize expeditions around the world they would go on. Get a small team of explorers and send them to the four corners of the world. I have built enough contacts and a brand that I could bring in talented people have get them up to speed quickly. More people means a smaller work load for each and they can focus on doing more in-depth work. Another option would be to get a small team to curate culture, nature, science and history related news. The two options are not mutually exclusive. In either case, the site would expand to more voices beyond just mine, but still keeping a focus on photography and the ‘why’ of travel.
  • Freelancing. I don’t think freelancing is a good business model either. You can make a living at it, but it is difficult and you will never really hit a home run doing it. However, I you can have more success if you have something to promote, be it a book, blog or something else. I have a lot of opportunities to freelance, so it is just matter of picking the right opportunities. I still see little point in writing in print as it doesn’t provide any ancillary benefit beyond the check you get. People can’t click and Google can’t index it. I’d write for online first and if someone wants to put it in print, so be it.

I’m sure plans will change, but once this trip is over, I’m back open for business.

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Blogging

Thoughts on TBEX 2013

With a bit of time to digest everything, here are some random thoughts on this year’s TBEX conference in Toronto. I’ve been to every TBEX except for the event in Copenhagen, so I have something to compare it to.

  • TBEX is all grown up. 1,300 people is a lot. The feel of the conference has definitely changed. Even last year in Colorado I could still at least say hello to most of the people I knew. This year there were many people who I know attended but I never once saw. This is just the new reality and is something everyone is going to have to live with. The number of people who want to be travel bloggers is swelling and I see the growth rates continuing for at least several years. How big can TBEX get? There are other blogging conferences which get 3,000-5,000 attendees, so I think that would be the upper limit. I don’t, however, think that travel blogging will be a popular as parenting blogs, so I think 2,000-2,500 might be the max. If it goes beyond that it will be because the conference evolves beyond blogging into a general new media conference for the travel industry.
  • Increasing Pressure for Quality. There were 45 slots in the writing workshops and a waiting list of 91! There is clearly a demand for this level of education for writing (and to a lesser extent photography and videography). I would not be shocked if next year the writing workshops go a full day and have even more instructors to fill the demand. I could easily see 150 people attending the sessions. The preBEX workshops could very well become their own thing independent of the main conference.
  • Many businesses are still clueless. A common thread I heard from bloggers is that a lot of businesses they spoke to still don’t know why they were there or what they want to do with bloggers. They were pretty open about admitting that they had no clue what they were doing. Everyone feels like they should do something, but they don’t know what. A few companies have figured it out (or at least have figured something out), but it is still a mystery to most companies.
  • People expect too much from sessions. I never go to a conference expecting to learn anything. Anything you need to know can be better learned online. 50 minutes listening to someone with a PowerPoint presentation isn’t an optimal learning environment. You should hope to come out of a conference with ideas. The seed of something you didn’t think about before that you can expand after the conference is over. Most probably, you will get these ideas from talking to people in the hallways, which is the real value of any conference. That is the real danger of having such large conferences. The hallway time you spend talking to people get diluted and it is hard to find people. The parties this year were just so big, I couldn’t have as many meaningful conversations as I have had in the past.
  • Have smaller events. Rather than one massive party each night, 2 or 3 smaller ones might be better. Last year they had breakfasts for bloggers in various niches to meet and talk. That was absent this year. It would be nice if they brought that back.
  • I have no idea how productive this year was. I had 2 meetings all weekend. My manager Amy’s schedule was full. We talked afterwards and we might have a few things which could pan out business wise, but I won’t know for months. Oddly enough, several organizations who really wanted to talk to me didn’t bother to even notify me before the conference. None have followed up with me as of yet.
  • Supply is still greater than demand for press trips. A sobering thought, but the reason why so many people are starting blogs to get free trips is because people are giving free trips to almost anyone. I’ve been amazed at some of the bloggers I’ve seen some PR companies and DMO’s sending on trips, but they don’t seem to care. Right now we are in a phase where just having “blog” attached to you is enough to get people excited. PR clients want to do “blogger trips” without really caring who the bloggers are. I’m not sure if this is a fad, or just the modern day equivalent of hack writers going on press trips, which has been happening for decades. The truth is, there are still more hotels and destinations than there are bloggers. So long as there are budgets, you probably wont see the end of this. I’ve noticed more veteran bloggers cutting back on sponsored travel because the trips are often not that fun and are tiring. That means more opportunities for newbies.
  • New sessions for next year. I would like to see a session on how to pitch stories to traditional media. I would also like to see a session (or track) dedicated to traditional media people who are getting into blogging. Both would be useful and welcome.

While TBEX has changed, it is still the #1 conference on my schedule each year. It is the only place I can meet people like myself and companies who are looking to meet people like me. That alone makes it worth the trip.

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Blogging

How To Pitch Me

I am getting more and more emails from people I’ve never met who seem to think that my mission in life to to promote projects and companies that I have never heard of, for no compensation.

I reject 99% of what I pitched to me. In fact I can count on my hands the number of companies that I have worked with simply because so few have ever presented me with anything worth responding to.

For those few who will read this, here is how to pitch me:

1) Contact me personally.

Form letters will get instantly deleted. Making a single reference to a blog post that happens to be on the front page of my site and following the rest with a form letter will get deleted. Providing generic compliments about how you like my “content” will your email deleted.

Anything which smacks of an email that was sent to multiple people is something I’m probably not going to want to be a part of. You can’t separate yourself from the crowd if you are part of the heard.

Write me a personal email. It isn’t hard to tell if it is a cut and paste job. Show that you’ve actually sat down and have gone through my site, you didn’t just get my name off of some list with a number on it.

Even better, make an effort to meet with me in person. I know that isn’t always possible, but it goes a long way. (I’ve had in face meetings with every company I’ve worked with just to give you an idea of how well it works).

2) What is in it for me?

That sounds selfish, but it is far less selfish than a for profit company begging for free publicity. I didn’t get started blogging so I could promote companies for free. I know damn well what you want. You need to give some consideration to what I’d want.

Most pitches I get provide no reason whatsoever as to why someone would ever want to accept it. I recently got one that pitched an ambassador program. Ok, fine. Why would I want to be an ambassador for your company? There was nothing in the email to indicate there would be any upside to me whatsoever. They just wanted “ambassadors”.

If there is at least something in your initial pitch which would at least indicate there is a benefit to me in partnering with you, there is no point in sending it.

3) You almost certainly cannot provide me any exposure

Unless you happen to be a major media company, you can’t provide me exposure. No one is going to visit your company blog. If they were, you wouldn’t need me. Your link is meaningless. I’m not a freelancer. Go to oDesk and hire someone to write $5 articles for you if that is all you want.

If you are a start up, you especially are in no position to provide “exposure”.

Unlike some writers, I’ll happy provide free content, but only if you are a major media outlet that actually can provide exposure.

4) If all you care about is SEO, move along

If your title has anything to do with “search” or “SEO”, I know all you care about is a link and I’m not going to work with you in any fashion. Period.

5) Do something for my readers

Me promoting you isn’t doing something for my readers. What would really be nice is if you provide some sort of deal/coupon/download/contest which was only available through my site to my readers.

6) There needs to be more than an affiliate link.

Affiliate programs are very lopsided. I promote you for free and then only get credit for sales from my website. I get zero credit for any other sales which might come through different channels. The only sort of affiliate program I’d enter is for products that I’d be linking to anyhow, usually for companies that sell a wide range of products (aka Amazon).

In summary, if the only thing you can tell me is how you will benefit from a deal, it is a deal at all. Presenting a real win/win is the only way to do business.

I’m shocked that most people don’t know that.

Categories
Blogging

I switched my webhost

Two weeks ago I moved from Media Temple to Websynthesis. I think this graph tells the story better than I could: