Last weekend I spoke with Annemarie Dooling about audience and community at TBEX 2013, emphasizing that while site traffic is relevant, what matters more is creating a thriving community. By this we meant a place where readers feel a part of your trajectory and are encouraged to interact fruitfully with each other. Given that Annemarie worked for Huffington Post in a community role, we were able to tackle this issue from the brand side and the blogger side. Happily, we were also able to leave 20 minutes for questions and they were great – case studies about specific problems to troubleshoot, thoughtful queries about platforms to use online and more. I wish that our session had been taped so that I could share the video since the audience made the panel that much more enjoyable, but instead I can only offer up our slides and resources for learning more.
Successful Branding and Building a Thriving Community of Readers
The crux of the presentation centred around the idea that readers are great, but community — a group of people who are loyal to and excited by the work you do, and about meeting each other — are more important. The slides were a small accessory as most of the practical parts of the presentation (tips and tools) were verbal, but hopefully they convey the message that we advocated: that it is not just about you broadcasting to a community, but rather you communicating with readers, and then connecting them with each other. (I experienced this firsthand when two readers who met at one of my reader meetups started dating. “I didn’t realize there were likeminded people out there!” they said. Yay, a Legal Nomads love story!) Essentially, we talked about fostering interaction between everyone, something that occasionally gets overlooked in the drive to build a branded travel blog.
The tools you use to do this centre around offering extreme value to your audience. If you’re a narrative writer, improving the writing and trying to listen to the cues you’re getting about what resonates and what doesn’t. If you’re a photographer, valuable lessons in photos posted and a constant desire to get better at capturing moments. You get the idea. As we noted in the talk, it also means not sacrificing your integrity for the sake of short-term gain and focusing instead of the longtail approach. Community-building as a process requires your readers to believe in you, and believe that you also have them in mind. Practically, when weighing opportunities, this means thinking about how these provide value to your readers. Do they get you somewhere you would be unable to go on an independent basis? Does a trip provide a storyline that would otherwise be inaccessible to you? Do relationships with companies in your space provide advantages to your readers? These are all sensitive, tangled questions, but they crop up in almost every other industry where online and offline community-building collide. I think of Steve Kamb (who will be my copresenter for a community talk in Portland this summer). I connected him with Jordan’s tourism board for a potential trip and he declined, saying it was not in the best interests of his readers.
That’s not to say we should all turn down the opportunities that come our way. There are great opportunities — trips or partnerships or promotions — that can make sense with any of our brands. It is merely a reminder to think of our readers and the values that we want our brands to convey when any of these opportunities come our way. This isn’t about ‘anti-monetization’, just about judicious pruning and prudent brand-building with a community in mind.
For those looking for stories about travel, more soon! It’s rare for me to post on the business of blogging, but I wanted to take this opportunity to share because the idea of community isn’t limited to the travel space. The examples we give in our slides include other fields for that reason.
Hope you enjoy, and thanks to everyone who came out and joined us for the presentation. We had a great time.