For one full weekend in June, the TBEX conference – held at the Keystone Resort Conference Center in Colorado – attracted over 600 travel writers, bloggers and sponsors.
TBEX events – and associated website –see TravelBlogExchange.com – cater to travel bloggers from all over the world. Participants attend to network, learn and check out the competition. They come seeking ideas for fine tuning blogging skills, expanding their online footprint, and – for those who haven’t done so already – monetizing their efforts (making a living at it).
Primary sponsors of this particular conference were various destination marketing organizations (DMO’s), Tripit.com, TripAdvisor.com, Viator.com, British Airways,Travelllll.com (a matchmaking service for travel bloggers and sponsors),Southwest.com, RoomKey.com, WordPress.com and Scottevest.com (who gave away free vests to registrants – I love mine!).
Expedia was also a major sponsor – underwriting the “How the West Was Fun” party at Keystone Stables on Saturday night. (Interestingly enough, Expedia reps didn’t seem to be soliciting affiliate relationships…guess they just wanted bloggers to buy travel at Expedia and influence others to do the same.)
The event was very well organized with consistently high quality production values throughout. This was the third or fourth TBEX conference – but my first. Feedback from veterans of previous conferences marveled at how much better organized it was over earlier ones.
There were four dimensions to the conference –
- Keynote speeches
- Breakout seminars
- Networking & Speed Dating (scheduling 10 minute face to face meetings with parties of mutual interest)
- Trade show
Reviewing some of the more interesting notes and slides from the keynotes and breakout sessions –
- Content is still king
- It’s not just about content, it’s about personality
- Creating content is easy – creating engaging content is harder
- The visual web is now the norm (always include images)
- Understand the confluence of your skills and passion – then connect with hat your audience needs
- Stray from the herd – the opportunities are in what is NOT being done
- Sacrifice some of the short-term in favor of the long-term
- Earn your traffic – don’t buy lists
- Focus on authenticity rather than aggressive marketing
- Don’t follow people on Twitter just to get them to follow you back
- Don’t beg for links and shares
- Build a brand that is Loved, Unique and Memorable.
- Don’t stuff keywords or write for key words. After you write something, go back and see if there is a searched-for phrase that you can include.
- Think of your blog / website as leverage, not an endpoint.
- Commit to a consistent schedule – but you don’t need to post three times a day.
- Interact with influencers whose content you like.
- Make it easy for others to share your work.
- You only need to share your work on your top two or three networks.
- A 12% open rate for your emailed newsletters is GOOD!
- Building a critical following takes years. Most people give up after a year.
- In the retail world, email is still considered one of the most powerful marketing tools.
- The size and quality of your email list is the most important metric for a travel blogger- more important than search engine traffic and Google analytics.
- Identify potential sponsors for your newsletter.
- Introduce “newsletter only” content – don’t make it just an email version of all your blog posts.
- Use contests and giveaways to build excitement and interest.
- Focus on subscriber growth – make your signup field front and center on your website.
- The most effective headlines are lists (Top Ten Ways…etc.) or questions (How do you…etc.).
The most popular breakout seminars were about monetizing a blog – blogging as a business…finding sponsors, etc.
Strangely, the focus on monetization was limited almost exclusively to the finding a sponsor and/or the journalist-getting-paid-for-an-article model. I only heard one questioner at a breakout session mention that he had a booking engine on his site. There was also great interest in securing press junkets.
I think this apparent lack of interest in retail opportunities in the travel blogging community gives us a leg up on the monetization issue. We only need continue developing our blogging & writing skills as a means to attract and qualify customers to our specialty.
Consider attending a TBEX conference – they are fun and informative. The fall conference will be held in September 21-22 in Girona, Spain – and who needs an excuse to travel to Spain! See you there.