This is a summary of the case studies and resources discussed during our presentation at TBEX Lloret de Mar in late April 2015. Given the time limitations at the talk, we wanted to provide a place to share links and additional information.
There are many ways to work as a travel blogger in 2015. In our session we argue that the most important thing to focus on is to build an engaged community of readers, and then look to them for your next steps in monetization. This is a session aimed at people looking to build long-term sustainable businesses. Not for people looking to blog so that they can travel the world for free.
The goal is always to serve your readers first, and before taking opportunities — paid or in kind — to ask yourself if it benefits those readers in some way. There are great DMOs and tourism boards who offer opportunities to explore a destination with less stringent scheduling and more freedom than prior, but a business model built only on these kinds of trips is not sustainable in the long term.
The emphasis instead is on building a business that showcases unique ways that your voice and background can contribute something of value. And the way that you communicate — be it via photos or video or writing or podcasting — ought to be a medium that you feel excited and passionate about.
It’s easy to lose sight of community when short-term and easier monetization opportunities come your way, but in the session we suggest that everyone look past them to the longer tail goal of a thriving and loyal community and more scalable business options. We include some case studies below, acknowledging that the travel world is different from many other industries in what readers will tolerate and/or desire to see on a blog.
Jodi Ettenberg is a writer, photographer, and food-obsessed traveler exploring the world since she quit her job as a lawyer in April 2008. Jodi founded Legal Nomads to tell the stories of the places she visits, often through food. She is also the author of The Food Traveler’s Handbook, and runs small-group food walks in Saigon, Vietnam during the winter months. She has been featured in the New York Times, National Geographic, BBC Travel, Singapore Airlines, CNN Travel and more. She gets the shakes if she goes too long without sticky rice.
In 1999 Derek left home for a 3-month trip to Southeast Asia and that trip has still yet to end as he has continued to travel, work and live around the world for the past 15 years. He created Wandering Earl in 2009 and has been a professional travel blogger since, by not only writing posts about his life of travel, but also offering a variety of products, including small-group tours to various countries around the world for his readers. He is also the CEO of Plansify, a travel advice-based start-up.
Resources for Community-Building
Turning readers into a thriving community: slides and background from TBEX Toronto.
“Letting your Personality Shine Online“, Buffer blog, April 2015
“What Happens when Platforms turn into Publishers?“, CJR, March 2015
“It’s the Relationship, Stupid“, Buzzmachine, March 2015
“Know what your Audience Wants“, Moz, January 2015
“Sponsored Content has a Trust Problem“, Contently, July 2014.
“The Greatest Misconception in Content Marketing“, Moz, July 2014
“What You Think You Know About the Web is Wrong“, Time, March 2014.
“2013: The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested“, The Atlantic, December 2013.
“How To Influence Reader Response To Your Work.” Poynter, May 2013
“Why I Fear For Tumblr.” John Green’s Vlogbrothers YouTube Channel, May 2013
“This Story Stinks.” New York Times, March 2013
“9 Benefits [and 3 Costs] Of Building Community On Your Blog.” Problogger, March 2013.
“Shifts In Power Visible In Journalism Today.” Pressthink.org, February, 2013
“Effective Community Moderation Tips.” Sprout Social, September 2012
“Visitors, Lurkers, And Members.” Feverbee, March 2012
“Differentiating Between Social Media And Community Management.” Community Roundtable, 2012
“10 Tips for Building a Strong Online Community Around Your Startup.” Mashable, January 2012
“The role of social media in community building and development.” The Guardian, December 2011
“Measuring The Emotional Intelligence of Your Community.” Immediate Future, October 2011
“You Might Not Actually Be A Community Manager — And That’s Ok.” The Community Manager, July 2011
Getting Started with Ideas
- What is unique about what you do or how you see the world?
- How would you want your future readers to describe you, in one sentence?
- What 5 keywords to describe your growing business?
- What can you offer your readers that will genuinely help them achieve their goals?
- Look to niche Facebook groups (e.g. a Shopify group for those with a store on Shopify), accountability Skype calls with others in your same industry, forums, books, and courses in the areas you want to learn and improve. This means writing or photography or coding, but also eCommerce, management, and much more.
Case Studies for Alternative Monetization Streams
As we said in the talk, these case studies are offered as examples only, not as ideas to mimic. Each blogger will have a unique cross-section between their own skills, their readers’ needs and their passions. Here are some of the alternative options for bloggers who have used their existing and thriving communities to do something different.
Tours by bloggers who were asked by their communities to teach them how they travel or what they do. Scaling these kinds of tours is interesting because a part of the appeal is time with the bloggers themselves, but with enough time and solidifying a reputation as a tour in its own right, it is possible.
Creative merchandise built off the platforms of engaged communities.
Among the brand ambassadorships, we want to caution bloggers to focus on those that are seeking long-term and mutually beneficial relationships. One-off sponsorships masquerading as ‘ambassadorships’ are not the kinds of opportunities we were referring to in our presentation.
- Skype Moment Makers
- G Adventures’ Wanderers in Residence programme
- PacSafe Brand Ambassadors
- LifeProof Ambassador programme
- Lonely Planet Pathfinders
These are three examples of writers and photographers who have used their blog to leverage their expertise in the form of workshops.
Services and Expertise
Media companies that offer bloggers-as-services have proliferated, but specific skills set you apart. These three companies were formed on the basis of their skill sets separate from their work as writers or bloggers.
Services that are based within the travel industry, but are not specific to blogging or writing.
- Home-cooked meals: Foodie Backpacker
- Planning: Plansify
- Entrepreneurship: Tropical MBA
- Language: Fluent in 3 Months
Resources for Entrepreneurs
One of the questions we received in the session was about how what we were discussing fell more into the realm of business and less in traditional panels about travel blogging. I promised to put up some existing resource pages about entrepreneurship for those who were interested.
- Quora post that lists out some resources for entrepreneurs and startups.
- Cornell Innovation & Entrepreneurship faculty’s picks for entrepreneurial books and blogs.
- Entrepreneur magazine’s picks for best blogs and books.
- Podcasts for entrepreneurs (Forbes article)
- Derek Sivers’ book summaries. Not all relating to entrepreneurship but many involve startups, business, and innovation. Each book has detailed summaries.