Sunday, June 09, 2013

TBEX: Lessons for the Hobby Blogger

Last weekend was the big Travel Bloggers Exchange in Toronto - TBEX. I was one of the over 1200 travel bloggers who joined in for keynotes, seminars and sponsor/PR meetings.

My impression was that most of those who were in attendance are professional travel content creators. They make their living by writing and photographing for their own blogs, for travel media or as freelancers. The conference provided plenty of professional development opportunities, including commerce and business seminars and a marketplace for interacting with potential sponsorship partners.

I am a hobby blogger. Yes, I've been at it almost ten years, I've had a few pieces published and I've made a little cash off my travel photography. But I am not a pro-blogger. I have no plans to pursue this as my career right now. So, I avoided everything that was business-oriented. I also skipped the keynotes but that's because I hate keynotes.

So, was there anything for me to learn from TBEX as a hobbyist? Absolutely. I attended four content seminars and I picked up practical and specific advice on how to improve my blog. I am now inspired to create more useful and higher quality content for To be honest, I'd like to go back over my archives, delete 93% of my old posts and re-write the rest!

The two main ideas I picked up at TBEX:

• You are better off publishing two well written, well researched posts per month than publishing a high volume of low quality posts.

• Your audience is unlikely to be interested in a journal-like narrative of your latest holiday. Readers do want inspiring stories or advice they can use. Readers will get bored of you long before they are bored of your destination. Use your blog to help or inspire others to travel rather than to show off your experiences.

Two other thoughts about TBEX in general:

• I kind of expected that with 1200+ bloggers in attendance, most people at TBEX would not already know each other and that it would be easy to meet new friends and peers. I thought I would not need to navigate a lot of pre-formed cliques. In actual fact, it seems most of the attendees were long lost best buddies who were not especially motivated to socialize with newer faces. Similarly, I thought that a convention largely made up of freelance writers would have included a lot of introverts, but I was wrong again. I got through five parties and two days of sessions by making a big effort to talk to anyone who seemed open to being spoken with, but there were far fewer of us lone wolves around than I expected.

• Something interesting for me was to see Toronto reflected in the gaze of all these well-travelled visitors. Tourism Toronto was one of the main sponsors of the conference, splashing out on the Toronto-themed opening night party and also running special tours and experiences for the visiting writers. From the TBEX crowd, I overheard and read a lot of rave reviews of Toronto.

I work right downtown in Toronto and I've lived in the centre of the city for over 12 years in total: I know this place. However, I was having trouble recognizing my own city in this promotional campaign. Tourism Toronto did what all good destination marketers do - they made this city seem like an unparalleled cultural and culinary playground. I don't know, maybe I've spent too much time here. Maybe this really is the greatest place on earth but I just haven't noticed it?

Now, a round-up of what I took away from four content-focused seminars:

Content Strategy - What are you writing and why? - Vivek Wagle, David Lytle and Andy Murdock

-start with why you are doing this
-your content strategy is the relationship between the pieces of content you create
-get an image of your audience through your visitor analytics
-you are your own brand, stay true to that identity
-choose 12 adjectives to describe yourself and plan your content around them
-if your topics are diverse, your consistent voice and style pull everything together
-figure out why you are the authority on a topic. is it your passion?
-go broad or go deep!

Telling Your Stories Through Travel Photography  - Lola Akinmade Åkerström
Lola's presentation is available online here. I recommend viewing it for her tips and her photos, too!

- interact with the people you photograph! don't sneak shots. if they are comfortable with you, you'll get better, more candid, closer shots
-visually elevate people in your shots, don't look down on children
-be patient, observe the environment, shoot on 'burst' mode
-in low light, focus on a single light source to create drama
-turn your back to sunrises and sunsets to capture the 'golden glow', especially on people
-food: shoot everything around the food, food in its domain, environmental portraits of food
-for a photo essay that leaves the audience interested: strongest shot, stronger, strong, detail shot, strong, stronger, open-ended shot
-how to choose which photos to use: the more questions a photo answers, the better
-your progression as a travel photographer depends on how well you can interact with and observe interaction with the environment

Using Storytelling to Hook, Frustrate and Torment Your Readers - Mike Sowden

-what do readers want? to be held in a state of tension. build-up more attractive than pay-off
-write delayed answers and cliff-hangers, start at the end of the story to maximize tension
-focus on details, bring readers through it with you, use sensual language
-don't hide the negative. misery is hilarious!
-write less. there is quality and higher desirability in limited content.

Before You Hit Publish - Leif Pettersen, Pam Mandel and Chris Christensen

-is it useful? does anyone care?
-does it answer a real question?
-did you proofread, check your facts?
-have a promotion plan, categorize your posts, illustrate every post
-find out where the story starts and throw the rest away
-take out useless adverbs ("really", "very", "actually")
-check the perspective/point of view. is there some other way to write this story?
-reading your post aloud helps find sections that are clunky
-make sure you bring the reader along on narrative (i.e. transition between scenes)
-cut what is not in service to the piece. fewer words are better.
-make sure the piece can stand alone without the reader knowing your personal backstory
-let your post "marinate" before you publish. it takes longer but this is good for proofreading and improving the writing


ldf said...

You attended completely different sessions than I did. Thanks for posting your notes!

Wendy said...

Thank so much for this post and your notes, I have printed them for future reference.
I too live in Toronto and currently blog for a hobby AND am an introvert so I could relate to much of what you experienced.

Tracy Antonioli said...

THIS: " I got through five parties and two days of sessions by making a big effort to talk to anyone who seemed open to being spoken with, but there were far fewer of us lone wolves around than I expected."

YES! I was to especially 'YES' your use of the term 'got through'; the social events almost killed me! And I'm a SUPER extrovert! It seemed EVERYONE knew each other. And I was all alone. I truly believe there were more of us than it seemed, we just didn't know each other.

Marie Frei said...

Thanks for your notes! :) I actually had a very similar experience at a travel blogger conference (not TBEX). I try not to let the cliques or superficial people get me down, because they're always going to be there, in every profession. I left knowing more about who I do or don't want to work with/for in the future, and that was the best information I could walk away with. It's something you can only really figure out when you meet in person, so I don't regret attending at all.

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