This past weekend I was fortunate enough to attend the second Getaway Travel Blog Conference at the Upper Eastside Hotel in Woodstock, Cape Town. Man, oh man, was I pleasantly surprised by this travel blogging community. From start to finish the whole ambiance of the conference built up such an excitement in me, perhaps because I didn't know what to expect.
11 speakers presented at the conference, all were very clued up about the travel blogging world, social media and blogging as a profession.
According to Du Toit, whether we like it or not, travel remains a reality, and therefore as bloggers, you have to be relevant in what you are communicating and also how you are communicating that message to the world. "Adapt or become absolutely irrelevant," she says.
Something that she said, which I find to be very true, is that, over time, the story of a travel experience has become the unique selling point - not the place itself. When people read your story about a certain destination, it's in fact your experience that you are selling - readers want to feel that they can also experience what you have experienced.
She also enticed us with the new digital campaign that Cape Town Tourism launched recently; follow #LoveCapeTown on Twitter and join in the conversation to tell the world why you love Cape Town.
Changing the media landscape
Travel blogger Keith Jenkins (@velvetescape) talked about how travel bloggers are changing the media landscape. He started his blog, Velvet Escape, in 2008 and has visited over 60 countries through his travels.
He shared some defining elements of being or becoming a professional travel blogger as well as key benefits of working with travel bloggers.
When brands decide to partner with travel bloggers to gain exposure around their destinations, products or services, they can benefit from immediacy, multimedia exposure, a long shelf life, interaction that in turn builds trust, as well as having destination ambassadors.
Also, when working with travel bloggers, brands are not simply getting local exposure, but thanks to the web and social media, (which is integral in the work of a travel blogger) they are likely to get global exposure as well. Bloggers are therefore also ideal digital ambassadors for brands.
Bloggers as brands
Jenkins' talk tied in quite nicely with Matt Long (@landlopers), founder of travel blog Landlopers' talk on travel partnerships - how to work with brands and destinations.
What was interesting to me about Long's talk was that he described bloggers/blogs as brands, and actually, if you think about it, that is exactly what they are. If you look at any successful or popular blog, it usually has a high amount of followers and readers because people want to hear that particular writer's opinions and experiences; they will come back monthly, weekly or even sometimes daily for the personality in his/her style of writing.
Take Nando's as a brand for example, and let's put aside the actual product that it sells for just a moment. People love Nando's because of its brand personality - its quirky, controversial ads. If it had to lose its brand personality over night, I think it would certainly feel some damage. People love and trust its individuality, and it therefore has to maintain its personality - that's what keeps the customers coming in. The same applies to blogs.
"Translating feelings into pixels"
Andrew Brauteseth (@guy_with_camera), tickled our imaginations with his remarkable talent behind the camera.
He took us on a journey of how he came about his current blog, Guy with Camera. He said that he simply loves "translating feelings into pixels" - and that is what he wanted to do.
He gave some great pointers on how to make your blog stand out from the crowd...basically by sharing everyday things in a way that is different to the ordinary way.
I loved the example he used of how each individual's sunset photos look compared with other sunset photos - usually exactly the same. The trick is to find a way to capture the moment you are in, don't focus on the sunset per se, but try to capture the vibe and the ambiance along with that perfect sunset - that is what will make yours look different.
This is one of the sunsets he experienced in Zanzibar. I have no words...
He also mentioned something rather insightful: "Don't create and analyse at the same time - it's two different processes". I think this is something a lot of creatives struggle with, especially if you are creative and critical or even a tad perfectionistic - definitely something I will have to work on.
Leveraging your social media channels
On the topic of leveraging your social media channels was Melvin Boecher (@traveldudes) from Traveldudes. He gave great tips on using social media - especially Twitter - to promote a blog and share content, and says that the best way to tweet and interact with your Twitter community is by being yourself and having fun. Simple, but effective... by the looks of his 86 901 followers!
I learnt that it can be important to know the value of your tweets, because most of the time travellers trust their twitter community more than they do a random search on Google, particularly in the travel industry. Therefore, make sure that you tweet reliable and quality content. He also recommends that once your amount of Twitter followers gets a bit out of hand, to make use of Twitter lists.
One of the highlights of my day, and top moments of inspiration, came when Nellie Huang (@WildJunket) took to the stage to share her personal journey of starting her blog, WildJunket.
She provided easy to follow guidelines on writing content that will drive traffic to your blog:
Picking your niche - what interests you?
Finding your voice - your voice/writing style should be something that reflects your personality; use your senses to describe how you experienced something, show the reader what made the place amazing - don't just tell them that it was amazing.
Choosing the right topics - find out what the latest travel trends are and keep up with news, festivals etc.
Learn some writing techniques - make sure your headings and intros are attention-grabbing.
Keep your readers interested - link to other related posts and engage with your readers via comments or social media.
The technical stuff
We also learnt some technical stuff from Joseph Lawrence (@josephclawrence), UX developer and partner at digital agency Clickshape, on using PPC, SEO and also how to track your blog readers via Google Analytics. You can actually see where your readers are located - right down to their suburb.
Mike Sharman (@mikesharman), owner of digital communications agency Retroviral was quite the treat with his witty and humorous personality. His topic covered viral marketing - thinking local and spreading global. He described the social media world as a braai on steroids... Finally! The perfect way to explain social media to my parents! Thanks Mike.
Described as the Mr. Miagi of the South African digital world, Dave Duarte (@DaveDuarte) spoke on how to make your blog awesome. It should be simple, concrete, credible, emotional and expressed in the form of a story.
For those of you out there who have been wanting to start blogging or get frustrated with not being able to get the ball rolling, here are some tips that editor of Getaway, Cameron Ewart-Smith shared on getting inspired:
ideas are all part of something, in other words, you won't come up with any ideas if you try to completely clear your mind and go and sit in a room to wait for that "a-ha" moment. You will need to interact with people, things and places to be able to come up with an original idea.
Ideas feed off each other. Your first idea might not be the greatest, but don't dismiss it completely. See what you can work with out of that idea and keep on going. One idea usually leads to the next.
Research - read, read, read!
Observe and listen everywhere you go.
Try to work on the solution - not the problem... a common mistake we all make.
Remember that nothing happens over night. "Ideas take a lot of hard work to come to fruition," he says.
Getaway publisher, Jacqueline Lahoud (@jaxlahoud) closed the day with a brilliant TED clip on how to start a movement.
I think the top thoughts that I took away from the GTBC was "finding your voice" and remembering that, when writing as a travel blogger, to share your experience - not the facts of the destination (Wikipedia can do that). As Willam Price (@william_price) quoted: "The human mind is bafflingly bad at understanding logic, but shockingly superb at understanding stories."
Nice one Getaway, Cape Town Tourism and all involved. What a rad conference...and, of course, after-party. **winks**
Ilse is a group editor at Bizcommunity.com, the first-choice B2B news site in Africa. She is the former editor of Marketing & Media Africa at Bizcommunity.com and is also a contributing lifestyle and travel writer. In her spare time, she also does some blogging and freelance writing & editing (when she's not surfing, hiking, or travelling). Email or find her on Twitter.
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