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A couple of weeks ago, on the first day of the TBU travel blogging conference in Porto, I waxed lyrical about having found my passion and feeling hyped about being a travel blogger. I had been inspired by Dave and Deb of the Planet D‘s keynote speech.
Since then, things haven’t been so simple. I’ve had moments of despair, thinking no way do I want to do this if that’s what I have to do. The issue is marketing and monetization – two words that make me cringe.
Marketing or manipulation?
I have always struggled with the idea of marketing, which seems to run a fine line with manipulation – trying to make people do things they otherwise wouldn’t want to. It’s a horrible feeling when you realise you’re doing it – like trying to make a friend come to the pub when they’re exhausted and want to stay in, just because you don’t want to be alone.
It’s easier when your cause is worthwhile, but I even found it hard at the Red Cross where, as a writer specialising in fundraising, I was constantly having to try to make people donate. There is nothing inherently wrong with this – I believed in the cause and genuinely wanted to help, but I still felt uncomfortable tugging on people’s heart strings.
Advice from other travel bloggers
This attitude isn’t going to get me far. If I want people to read my blog, I have to tell them about it, so I looked to other bloggers for advice and found I’m not alone in these struggles.
Through these conversations and listening to some of the talks at TBEX 2012, Girona, I came to three conclusions that work for me. Firstly, it comes down to having something that’s worthwhile producing and sharing – something that’s going to help people. Don’t write and market your words to trick people, but do it to help them. This is a sentiment that was emphasised in talks by C.C Chapman, Chris Guillebeau, Shannon O’Donnell, Jodi Ettenberg (at TBU), Pam Mandel and Will Peach.
Be naked in your writing
In Pam and Will’s session, they talked about being naked in your writing and the way you present yourself (as if Will Peach’s talk would fail to touch on nakedness). Jokes aside, that word struck a chord with me. I write this blog to share feelings that others might relate to, and to provide travel tips and inspiration for those who want to explore. I want to be naked in my writing, promotion and money-making. It’s the only way I can feel comfortable and keep that passion alive.
And that’s the second key – doing something you feel comfortable with. There are a lot of opinions in the world, and they’re certainly not lacking in the blog world, but the only one I definitely think is wrong is the ‘my way is the right way’ assertion. There are ways that might make more money or ways that may increase your Facebook fans, but every audience and blogger is different, with varying aims and motivations.
Whose way is the right way?
At the conferences, people often commented that no travel blogger really knows what they’re doing as it’s such a new industry, but I think it is perhaps more accurate to say that no blogger knows what their fellow bloggers should be doing. We are all feeling our way, trying to create a life that works for us. We can listen to others’ advice and take the bits that make sense to us.
Finally, I think its important to remember that our readers are human, not numbers to be collected. I touched on this a while ago in an article about why travelling is important to me and why I dislike people being reduced to consumer categories. For me and for many of the bloggers I spoke to, if what we publish isn’t something we’d want to share with a friend then we’ve likely gone wrong somewhere.
Marketing and monetization don’t need to be dirty words. They are necessary if you’re going to make a living directly or indirectly from your blog, and I’m okay with that, so long as I produce quality content and stay true to my motivations. After all, for me, blogging comes down to authenticity. We can read newspapers, magazines and guidebooks for an edited version of reality – in blogs, we should get the real thing.
The last few weeks have been a series of ups and downs, but the highs outweigh the lows ten-fold. Perhaps most telling of all is that many of the ‘contacts’ I was supposed to network with at these events are now people I consider friends, many I hope to keep forever. When you can say that, I think it’s likely you’re in the right place.
Thank you TBU, TBEX and the Blog House for an amazing three weeks.