So I've just returned from Manchester after an excellent weekend at the Travel Bloggers Unite conference. I thought I'd pause for a moment in the sunshine on my way back from the station in Lincoln to reflect on my takeaways from the event. Lincoln, for the record, is the home Coffee Aroma; rumoured to be one of the top 5 coffee shops in the world. It's also my office on days like these whenever the weather is nice and I feel like getting out and about.
On Travel Blogging & Bubbles
Travel blogging is a very young industry. They still think social media is awesome magic and haven't come to a conclusion on how everyone should be making money out of their blogs. Should you get paid by the companies providing the trips? Should you get paid for writing content with links in it? Should you get paid for banner advertising? Affiliate marketing? These questions and more are up for constant discussion, but no consensus.
It's so easy to get sucked into the details of the industry that you care so much about and forget about the bigger picture. I spent most of this weekend telling people to take a step back, look outside the travel sector at what other companies and individuals are doing. Blogging has been around for a long time and other industries have already paved the way. Travel bloggers: your only job for the rest of today should be to make sure that you watch Gary Vaynerchuk's keynote at the Blog World Expo - it covers so many of the things that were being talked about at TBU, and yes, it really was 3 years ago that he was talking about this stuff. The audio quality is terrible, but the content is really really worthwhile. If you enjoy the talk - you should definitely pick up a copy of his book on Amazon for a mere £6.69 too.
A couple of people asked me this weekend if I'd learned anything - I said "no". I'm pretty savvy on blogging, branding, freelancing and all the main topics being discussed. And yet, having told everyone to take a step outside of the "travel bubble" and explore the bigger world of the web, I realise (once more) that I too am in a very secluded little bubble. I'm no better. We web designers could sometimes do with spending less time on every minute detail of how the web works, and more time on actually doing something with it.
When I spend time at travel events I suddenly realise how nice it is to get away, even for just a moment, from the nuances of web standards, validation, browser support and whether or not an anchor tag always be wrapped with a block level element or whether it can sometimes be treated as one based on context and still remain semantic.
To any travel bloggers reading this: you won't have understood that last sentence. To any web designers reading this: I put it to you that you probably shouldn't care.
On PR & Opportunity Cost
There were lots of things on the table at TBU, but these were probably the the two at the top of the list. I thought the discussion about PR agencies was interesting (and generally positive), but I've seen a couple of followup tweets and blog posts implying that the entire conference was all about how travel bloggers and PR agencies should be working together. Please don't let this be your only takeaway from TBU. There's plenty of great things to be said about PR agencies, but let's not get carried away here: they are one piece of a larger puzzle, and not always an essential one. Work with PR agencies if it's beneficial to you, but please don't feel like it's the only thing you can or should be doing. Social media is not PR. Again: watch Gary Vaynerchuck's keynote above.
As for "opportunity cost" - let's clarify something briefly: A few bloggers throw this term around a great deal in regard to blog trips. They say that bloggers who go on (unpaid) trips are providing valuable exposure to companies in return for no financial compensation, so the opportunity cost is that the time spent on blog trips could have otherwise been spent on paying work. But opportunity cost, dear friends, works both ways: The opportunity cost of going on a blog trip is paying work. The opportunity cost of not going on a blog trip is all the content, networking and relationships that come with it.
So you choose: a week of paid work, probably sitting at home - or a week of unpaid work where you spend time traveling, getting to write about it, meeting people who may give you paying work in the future, and building your reputation. One is not superior to the other. Decide what suits you best and then move on.
After all, the opportunity cost of wasting time discussing opportunity cost is also time that could otherwise be spent on paying work.
On My Talk
My session was all about WordPress (surprise!). I didn't plan on writing an entirely new talk for TBU, I was going to cobble together bits from my numerous other WordPress sessions and workshops, but on Thursday night I decided that the audience was going to be so different from my standard range of geeks (love you) to take the easy option. Around 91 new slides and 0 hours of sleep later, I'd put together a session targeted entirely at travel bloggers using WordPress. It was the first time I'd delivered the same talk back-to-back, 3 times in a row, but I think it went ok!
The slides, if you'd like a copy, are embedded below.
Finally - to everyone at TBU: Thank you for a fantastic weekend. It was an absolute pleasure meeting all of you. If there's anything I can help with, please don't hesitate to drop me a line :)
Oh, and a special mention goes to the Caliberi crew. It was great meeting all of you ;)