Marketing, manipulation and authenticity: lessons learned at TBEX

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TBEX Bloggers HQ at Equity Point Hostel
TBEX Bloggers HQ at Equity Point Hostel

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.

Shannon and Jodi at TBEX
Two new friends – Shannon and Jodi from A Little Adrift and Legal Nomads

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.

Bloggers on the steps in Girona at TBEX
More new friends at TBEX in Girona

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. 

37 thoughts on “Marketing, manipulation and authenticity: lessons learned at TBEX”

  1. I totally agree that there’s no one size fits all approach. You need to do what’s right for YOU.

    Though I’d also argue that you MUST do right by your readership as well. Without your audience, you might as write a journal. It’s when we place our own gain in front of that of our readers that everyone loses.

    Thanks for the shout out, I really appreciate it. Good luck with whatever comes next!

    • Thanks Pam. I 100 per cent agree. There is no point at all blogging if you’re not helping the reader in some way – whether that be through entertaining, providing tips or whatever your strength is – otherwise it becomes nothing more than an exercise in ego-stroking. Thanks for your talk at TBEX. I really enjoyed it and was delighted to see so much emphasis on storytelling.

  2. Hi Victoria, I really enjoyed reading your post. Since TBU, I haven’t had much time to go through the notes I made or do any serious thinking about what to do with my blogging (that’s about to change, thankfully) but you’re absolutely right; there’s so much advice out there about how to make money blogging that it’s easy to get lost in all of it and corrupt both your content and integrity in the process.

    I’m happy to hear that you don’t intend to do that and shall bear your reflections in mind as I sit down to work out the way forward for my writing career.

    • Pleased you found it helpful Julie. I really do think it’s about working out what feels right for you, which, unfortunately, is easier said than done. Also, like Pam said, don’t forget your readers and what will help them. We’d all be nothing without them.

  3. The same conflict presents itself to me on a daily basis. Yes we’re all feeling in the dark searching for a path and a voice but at the same time we’re at least doing something, which is more than can be said for a large chunk of society.

    Marketing and the rest of it, has become a way of life for us now. It goes hand in hand with anything someone tries to be and is, for the most part, inescapable. Even if you try to rage against it, you are, in a sense, complicit by acknowledgement.

    Thoughtful post and very glad to meet you. You were one of the stand out personalities of the whole weekend for me and I know we had some rather intense talks but these are what I will take away most. Thanks!

    • Will Peach, you have made me blush. Thanks for your kind words. I too enjoyed our conversations and look forward to meeting you again. I’d love for you to meet Steve.
      And yes, no matter how much we may sometimes feel uncomfortable marketing ourselves, it’s inescapable in this game and, as Jodi said, an essential piece of the puzzle.

  4. Great stuff, and I 100% agree with you. If it’s not about what’s right for you, it will in the end prove to always be wrong…

  5. Really enjoyed this post. Thank you for sharing your experiences from both conferences. Although I enjoyed TBEX for many reasons this time, I also have mixed emotions on where thing stand for my blog. This was helpful!

    cheers – lola

  6. Thank you for the mention (and the great photo!). I think it’s always a struggle to do what you want to be seen ‘for’ and to do what you think you are best doing. It’s a fine line to walk but ultimately I always try to look at my choices from the longest tail – what will be the most lasting impression? What will I end up regretting if I am hasty? It’s when we start to focus on short-term solutions that PR or marketing become dirtier words. Otherwise they are merely pieces in the puzzle, the tools you use to show the world who you are.

    So great to have met you! Hope to see you in the fall.

    • There was no way I could resist putting your smiling face in there! Thanks for all your wise words at the conferences, and here too. You’re absolutely right that thinking about the long-term is key. It’s often so tempting to go for the quick fix option, but people like you help me resist. Take care and can’t wait to see you in Autumn.

  7. It was so wonderful to meet you last week, and your observations are so dead on with the emotions I vacillate between when I think about the future of my blog, and how to handle the pressure to alter my voice to become more mainstream or monetizable (is that even a word?!). As Will noted, our conversations were memorable and stand out for their depth of thought. Looking forward to seeing you on the road again soon Victoria! 🙂

    • Thanks Shannon. It was an absolute pleasure chatting with you too. I really hope to see you in Mexico, with Ana too. I don’t think you need to change your blog at all. I love it just as it is. It’s genuine, which, for me, makes me keep returning.

  8. I feel the same way. I feel like spending time on marketing is the most unproductive way I can spend any given minute of any given day.

    But as you point out, it’s a means to an end to spread what you feel will benefit your audience and, hopefully, the world.

    • I know the feeling Adam, but sometimes, if done in a genuine way, the whole ‘marketing’ thing can be great fun. I certainly had fun at TBEX.

  9. Great post. As a very new blogger (I started mine a few weeks ago) I haven’t really thought too much into monetization and marketing, but I know it will be a consideration down the line. It would be great to earn money from blogging as it would keep me traveling!

  10. Came across your site from a comment you left on Will Peach’s blog. Really appreciate your summary of TBEX and your thoughts on the travel blogging world (meh) considering I wasn’t there and wasn’t paying much attention.

    Very interesting to hear how inspirational TBEX was for you. I like your first point of writing to help people, though I think there’s been a big push of “storytelling” by so many bloggers these days and I just don’t see that doing much to help people except to inspire. I think both are valid which I suppose makes your other point “that no blogger knows what their fellow bloggers should be doing.”

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts on travel blogging. You convinced me to consider attending an upcoming TBEX!

    • Hi Adam, lovely to hear from you and I’m pleased you found the round-up useful.

      I find it interesting that you say: “I just don’t see [storytelling] doing much to help people except to inspire”. For me, inspiring people is one of the most important things you can do. Moments of inspiration are some of the most beautiful and exciting of life. I love it when something inspires me, and would love to be able to offer others the same. That said, I’m also a fan of informative pieces. Of course, there’s no right answer, and there’s room for all approaches so long as they’re done well. I’m really enjoying hearing people’s opinions on here.

      And yes, do come to a TBEX. It was well worth it, even if just to meet so many excellent people. I hope to see you there!

  11. sounds like you got some sound advice at TBU guys – wish I could’ve come along….I’m happy dawdling along in my little blog and surf bubble for the moment though 😛

  12. Great article.
    I think it is, as you say, key that bloggers decide why they are doing it. The theme at TBEX for me was that you should be doing it to write and tell great stories. But for some it is about finding way to get their travels funded – and they may want to do whatever it takes to do that… all depends on an individual being clear what they want to get from it. And then be honest about that..

    • Well said Gary, and I’m pleased you liked the article. Honesty is definitely key – both to yourself and your readers. It’s always great to be mindful of your motivations.

  13. Hey, great post! Ditto! It’s a fine line to walk, that’s for sure! One thing is for sure, there’s a hell of a lot to learn and process! Seems like you’re headed in the right direction though, with the integrity to back your monetizing strategy up through quality content. I’ve discovered some new, rather unknown blogs that I prefer reading any day over the big names(like World Wanderer above)so it’s not just about talent, you have to get it in front of people. There’s a reaon novelists have agents! I wish you all the best, in travel, blogging and life!

    • Thanks you Sarah for such kind words. It’s so true that you have to get your work in front of people. I think that’s one of the main challenges of blogging: you have to wear so many hats – you can’t quietly be a writer, you have to be the agent, publicist, marketer and business person too.
      Thanks again for reading and I look forward to following your travels too.

  14. It was great meeting you at TBU and TBEX! I too struggle with monetising my blog seeing as I started it as a hobby and somehow it doesn’t feel right making it a commercial venture. But I need to do something to fund my travel lifestyle and there are worse things I could be doing! Hopefully we can catch up again soon. 🙂

    • Lovely to meet you too! I remember us chatting about this topic a bit on the bus. It is indeed a tricky line to tread. I too hope our paths cross soon. Take care, Victoria

  15. Love this post Victoria! I am so glad you addressed all the feelings and conflicts me, and I’m sure so many of the newer travel bloggers are facing.

    The hardest issue I have had with my blog is the same, feeling like I have to sell myself and my brand, even changing who I am for success and money. I felt it a few years ago when I was fundraising for environment groups but I feel it more acutely now. I think you and Jodi, Shannon and Will and other the other bloggers were right about walking that fine line between staying true to yourself and your motivations and making a living. Glad to hear someone else is going through the same struggle, hugs chica 🙂

    • Hey Liz, It was so lovely to meet you at TBU, the blog house and TBEX, and I’m delighted you found the post helpful. That’s interesting you felt a similar conflict when fundraising as that’s my background too.
      There is definitely a fine line to tread, but I don’t think it’s ever worth changing yourself as ultimately that’s an unsustainable and unhappy path. Be yourself, do what makes you happy, and find a way to make money from that. I think that’s the ideal route, making room for some compromises along the way, and thinking about the long-game rather than the quick rewards. Good luck and I really hope to see you again soon. V 🙂

  16. I’m coming to this thread a little late (via TBEX on Facebook), but it’s an interesting post with some great comments. This is also a really important issue from my side of the fence, as a marketer who works with travel journos & bloggers. The demand and noise surrounding “blogger outreach” as a marketing strategy is constantly growing, with more and more brands waking up to the huge opportunities presented by your content and audiences. But it’s precisely the scale of that demand and opportunity that threatens the whole fragile balance, and everything that makes the travel blogger community so important in the first place. It is very easy for a travel blogger to compromise their value and independence in the pursuit of monetization and building relationships with businesses. For us the goal is to find a healthy balance between achieving our desired outcomes from a blogger partnership, while also contributing to and strengthening the individual blogger’s audience, authority and independence. But it’s a very fine line to tread. Thanks for raising and discussing these important questions.

    • Thanks for joining the conversation Matthew. It’s great to hear something from your side of the fence. I think finding a healthy balance is key so that bloggers can retain their individual honesty, and readers can retain their trust in them. We personally only promote things that we truly recommend. Thanks again for contributing.

  17. I’m also a bit late jumping in.
    Been following you for a while, but hadn’t read through all the posts yet:-)

    I’m fairly new to blogging as well. I started last August because I wanted to share my trip experiences with people who share my travel passion and that is still the number one reason I’m blogging today. To share and hopefully help some people in planning their own travels. But I’m not willing to try out things that just don’t feel right.

    In the little time I’ve been blogging I’ve already learned so much about all the ‘stuff’ that comes with it: SEO, social media, css, html… and I’ve realized it all interests me, but at the same time: the more you learn, the more choices need to be made. I try to go with ‘what feels right’, although I know that couldn’t be a more vague criterium. I’m still developing my online voice (which is, of course my voice, but if I’d write like I talk there would be way to many ‘f***’s and ‘woopwoop’s in my texts) and I’m still figuring out where I want to go with all of this.

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