Two weeks ago I moved from Media Temple to Websynthesis. I think this graph tells the story better than I could:
Two weeks ago I moved from Media Temple to Websynthesis. I think this graph tells the story better than I could:
There is something that has been gnawing at me for several months now. I’ve been suffering from a bout of cognitive dissonance ever since I attended the Book Passage Travel Writing Conference last August. I sat in on the sessions by Spud Hilton, the travel editor of the San Francisco Chronicle. During his 4-day sessions, one of the points he brought up was that the story “is not about you”.
I think he makes a valid point. If you are writing about the Russian winter, then the story is about the Russian winter. He backed this up by confirming what I’ve been saying for years; no one reads the byline on articles. No one knows or remembers who wrote anything.
Online, however, people often do remember who wrote something. They follow individuals on Twitter and subscriber to the blogs of particular individuals. There are many individuals who have personal followings larger than some media outlets. Online it seems, personality isn’t only important, it is really important.
So how do you resolve these two seemingly contradictory things? Just because you read something in pixels instead of ink doesn’t mean that the rules of telling a good story have changed. Likewise, the tendency of people to follow individuals online should be obvious to everyone.
The answer lies in understanding the difference between a story and a meta-story.
Most readers have no idea what they are getting when they receive a new issue of a magazine or a newspaper. They didn’t subscribe because there was an article on a particular subject scheduled at some point in the future. They subscribed because the publication made a promise as to what it was it was about.
National Geographic is different than People Magazine. Most people would call this branding. It is the implicit promise of what you are going to get in the future. I can be almost 100% certain that the article about ivory poaching will appear in National Geographic and the one about Kim Kardashian’s baby will appear in People.
In a publication, people are interchangeable. Most people have no clue who the editor or publisher is of any magazine they subscribe to. Even if they see a byline on an article, they have no idea who the person is or what their back story is. Moreover, if that person is a freelance writer, there is no way they can follow that person to read more of them even if they wanted to.
Online, that all changes.
If someone reads a post from me on my blog, they can easily find out more about me. They can read articles on similar subjects that I’ve written about. They can see my face and hear my voice.
When you read an article in a travel magazine, you usually have no idea how experienced a traveler the writer is. On my site, you can see a full list of every place I’ve ever been.
The decision to follow someone online is similar to the decision to subscribe to a magazine or newspaper except instead of the promise of a brand, there is a meta-story.
Meta-story is the term I’m using instead of brand to describe individuals. The idea of a brand really doesn’t apply to people, despite the attempts of social media gurus to apply it. A meta-story is exactly what it implies. It is the backstory to you and your life. It is the collection of your values, priorities, personality and history that makes you who you are. Meta-story is a rather vague term that can apply to any number of things, all of which result in a reader wanting to hear more from that person in the future.
The resolution to the conflict I described above is in understanding the nature of a story vs. a meta-story and the difference between playing the role of writer vs. that of publisher.
Individuals have followings online because of their meta-stories. What makes a good story, however, hasn’t changed.
We have all read articles online that did not result in following the author to read the next thing they published. Being a good storyteller and having a good meta-story are two different things.
I’m sure that the vast majority of the people who follow me do so because of my meta-story. A guy who travels around the world full time is inherently interesting. That doesn’t necessarily make me a good storyteller, however. I’ve had to work hard to become a better photographer and I’m still working at becoming a better writer.
Likewise, being a good storyteller doesn’t mean you have a compelling meta-story. There are plenty of good writers I’ve met who provide no compelling reason for people to follow them. Even if there is a compelling meta-story, a vehicle has to be in place for people to discover it. A byline just doesn’t cut it anymore.
A good story isn’t about the writer, but a good meta-story is.
Good storytelling hasn’t changed, but publishing has. A good story can bring people in and a good meta-story can keep them coming back.
I had a problem in 2012. I spent so much time traveling and running around that I had very little time to focus on growth of my site and the goals I set out to achieve.
I’m going to purposely slow down this year and focus more on creating content and getting the word out.
My biggest failure in 2012 was with my email newsletter. I didn’t send out a newsletter for FIVE months! My subscribers stagnated and it is pretty easy to see why it happened.
It isn’t enough just for me to set arbitrary goals anymore, I also need a corresponding plan.
I lump these two together because they both show up in my Feedburner count, but in reality almost all the growth is in the email newsletter. In fact, in the minor site redesign I recently did I deemphasized RSS and put more emphasis on email.
I also released a new incentive ebook and the results have been pretty good. The open rate has been high (65% so far and I sent it on a holiday) and the click rate has been insane. Almost 85,000 clicks so far. How did I get far more clicks than subscribers? Simple. People sending the email to their friends so they can download the book. Also, I had links to 2 ebooks in the email, so it is still may 10’000’s of people who downloaded the new ebook alone.
My goal for 2013 is more modest than last year. In fact that goal is exactly the same: 30,000 subscribers. Breaking this number down, it is 800 per month or 27 per day. I am already getting 20 subscribers per day on most days, so it isn’t that crazy of a number.
I ended up gaining about 5,000 new subscribers in 2012, which is more subscribers than pretty much any other travel blog has in total, save for one. Despite the number, it is still only a 33% increase and far shy of my 100% goal for last year.
A 50% increase in 2013 will still represent a big improvement over 2012.
We have to promote the newsletter more across my other channels as well as just being more diligent about sending it out.
It is entirely possible that if I do a few things correctly, I could blow past this number. I’ll just have to wait and see.
I made my goal for Facebook fans. Once I hit 30,000 fans I started testing Facebook ads and we had some success. We (Amy and I) cut off ads in December but are going to start them up again soon. The goal for 2013 is to have 125,000 Facebook Fans by the end of 2013. This amounts to 6,000 new fans per month which should be easy with smart advertising and current organic rates of growth. I’m also going to be doing more live updates this year now that I’ll have access to internet in more places (unlocked GSM phone). That type of content tends to do well.
After email, Facebook is by far my top priority. I get more engagement on Facebook than all other social platforms combined. It isn’t even close. I could probably spend all day answering questions on Facebook if I wanted to.
I should also note that another important metric isn’t just raw followers, it is engagement levels. Given the nature of Facebook, only a small percentage of people will actually see what you post. I shoot for a 5% rate of engagement, which is pretty good. People aren’t just viewing content but are actively commenting and/or sharing it with their friends.
No goals at all. I annualized out my 2 month rate of growth on Twitter. Assuming current rates of organic growth I’ll wind up with around 130,00 followers at the end of 2013. That is fine. I don’t put much effort into Twitter. Since I got Twitter verified my organic growth rate has gone up a bit, which is good enough.
I have paid almost no attention to Instagram until recently. The last few weeks I did a promoted post on Facebook to let my fans know about Instagram and that netted about 2,000 new followers. I also talked to a guy on online who has a huge Instagram following and he promoted a few of my photos which netted me several hundred more fans. I’m current sitting just below 5,000 followers. I’m not sure it is worth putting that much effort into it. I have recently tied my Instagram account with my Facebook Fan Page, which I assume will help organic growth on Instagram the more I use it.
I have 7,000 followers on Google+. I have no idea how or why. I get little in the way of engagement. However, there are some photographers out there who do fantastic on Google+. I’m not going to abandon it, but I’m not sure what to do with it. Maybe do more Google Hangouts. I’m open to experimenting and will welcome it if something happens, but this isn’t goal worthy.
I think I can do a LOT here. I simply haven’t bothered to do video, but this year I want to make some changes. I am basically starting at zero (112 subscribers). I have some ideas and I think that I’ll be able to develop a style that will work well, but I’ll have to test it. I will also probably need to hire some editing help, perhaps in the form of a VA. Stay tuned.
The more I think about it and the more I research people with large YouTube followings, the more important I see YouTube being. It is possible that it could be the most important thing I have listed here (but I’m not confident enough to stay that conclusively yet).
I’m going to cut down on conferences this year significantly. I’ve already finished NMX in Las Vegas. The only other ones I’m planning to attend are ITB Berlin and TBEX in Toronto. I might go to TBEX in Dublin, but that is probably it. I didn’t get much value from World Travel Market. It just isn’t set up for media. If they do speed dating at ITB, that should be more than enough to keep me busy. Those three events (ITB, TBEX, TBEX Europe) are spread far enough apart during the year that I wont feel rushed in attending them all.
I’ve had great success with my photo ebooks. I’m going to make more. They can serve as both a monetization strategy and a way to grow my audience, and if done correctly they can do both at the same time. Bigger items tend to do better than any individual blog post.
At long last, I can finally announce the destination for the 2013 Everything Everywhere Travel Photography Tour. This year we will be going to ITALY!
The tour will take place from May 11-24.
Here is a list of some of the places that we’ll be visiting:
Once again the tour will be run by the small group travel experts at G Adventures.
The goals for the tour are really simple. I hope for everyone who attends to:
Pricing information and registration will be available soon on the G Adventures website. If you are interested in attending, start setting aside May 11-24. The tour will begin in Venice and end in Rome.
I’m a big believer is setting out goals and making those goals public. I’ve done my blogging goals for several years on this site and I’m going to do it again for 2013.
My biggest goal for 2013 is to write more.
This has been a big problem for me. I often wait for my photos to get edited before I write about a place, and it often takes months to edit my photos. By the time the photos are edited I have an enormous backlog of other things I have to deal with and little gets done.
Writing is a habit. The more you write, the more you write. Moreover, the more you write, the better you will write. Like anything else, writing is a craft that improves the more you do it.
One thing I’ll be doing is writing more here, just because it is another outlet for me. I feel less pressure posting here than I do on my main site.
I’m not going to try to post every day. I’ve tried doing that over a single month and it just isn’t possible.
I also think I’ve been censoring myself too much. I’m going to go off reservation a bit on what I blog about on the main site. It will still have a world focus, but maybe not travel per se.