When it comes to travel blogging, what does that even mean?
When I started as a travel blogger in 2007, I was very keen on the idea of community (how hilarious that I felt the need to explain what RSS was!). Over time, I saw something akin to a travel blogging community grow. Over the years my blogging life has been enriched through real connections with other travel bloggers. But I’m also reaching a point where I feel like I’m drowning in noise and with two eleven-month-old babies in the house, I really need to make firm decisions about where to focus my attention and energy.
Some writers are pretty hardcore about saying they are not part of a travel blogging community – they write for an audience and that’s that. Other writers seem to spend a lot of time on Twitter complaining that the first bunch of writers are “cliquey”. For some people, it’s all chat all the time, even at the expense of the actual writing and blogging. (Note, if you don’t recognise yourself in that description, then I’m probably not talking about you, so don’t take offence).
I guess I am trying to chart a middle way here. I am deeply appreciative of the connections that I have made through travel blogging. Some of my most longstanding travel blogging friends were formed on the TravelWriters.com bulletin boards and then shifted to Twitter, back in the good old days when I only followed a couple of hundred people. I’ve since made meaningful connections with more of you through reading and commenting on each other’s blogs and connecting through social media. I have found so many people have been generous with their time and their knowledge, sharing everything from technical expertise to editor contacts. I can’t agree with Tim Leffel who advocates spending a maximum five minutes a day on Twitter - genuine networking takes more time than that! As a freelance writer, Twitter has paid dividends for me over and over again – I have gained freelance writing work through Twitter several times and awesome travel advice more times than I can remember.
It still amazes me away that you guys paid for me to go to New York so I could meet you all at the 2010 TBEX conference! (That’s the Travel Blog Exchange set up by Kim Mance). My friends and family didn’t donate to the Kickstarter fundraising – other bloggers did. If that’s not community, I don’t know what is. I am grateful for all of this and I have never for a minute presumed that I’m entitled to that generosity.
One of my favourite examples of community is my annual participation in Passports with Purpose. I have been involved since the very beginning when I hosted a Lonely Planet book prize and we raised over $7,000 for Heifer International. We have now well and truly outgrown those humble beginnings and it’s been such a joy to watch. The opportunity to do some good in the world is one of the best reasons to blog as far as I’m concerned.
I try to give back but the truth is that my time is finite. It always was but now that I have a family I need to be even more protective of my time and my productivity. My babies are almost one and I am ramping up my freelance writing career. I still want to maintain my blog and I want to write an e-book and I still have an unfinished novel. Oh yes, and exercising and eating well and seeing my husband and friends are important too.
Social media has a role in my life but I don’t want to sink into what Chris Brogan calls the “chitty-chatty web”. I think I have been guilty of that in the past and I want to trim back. I have been inspired by Christine over at Almost Fearless to continue with my digital housekeeping. She has written a great post about how being productive means you have to cut out the noise and that can mean some pretty ruthless decisions about who to follow on Facebook and Twitter. Sing it, sister!
It blows me away that Christine is only following 77 people on Twitter. I don’t think I want to pare it back that much but I’m trying to trim a little every time I visit the site. If I unfollow you and you don’t notice then it was the right decision. If it was the wrong decision then I’ll probably add you back in time.
I’m also making judicious use of the newish ‘subscribe’ function on Facebook. Instead of leaving everyone on ‘most updates’, most people have now either been promoted to ‘all updates’ or demoted to ‘important updates only’. I’m hoping this means I see more of my family and close friends on the site. I would rather travel bloggers – at least ones I haven’t met in person and count as actual friends – connected with me on my Facebook page rather than my personal profile, but the truth is that I’m not good at saying ‘no’ or unfriending, so the ability to control the level of subscription is gold. I wish I could do the same for all the pages that I’ve ‘liked’ but for now I either get all updates or no updates.
Here’s what community doesn’t mean to me. It doesn’t mean that I am obligated to follow every travel blogger on Twitter. There are too many of us and I find the whole prospect somewhat enervating. I already only follow a fraction of the travel bloggers out there and it’s too many already! I am looking for meaningful connections and good stuff to read, not just a reciprocal numbers game.
I am not a snob and it’s not about whether you’re big or small – I won’t follow ‘big name’ bloggers out of any sense of duty either. I hope you’ll always find me approachable and open to conversation – the @reply function still works regardless of whether I’m following you or not. If you ask, I am happy to add you to my ‘travel’ list instead and occasionally dip into that.
Community doesn’t mean endless chit-chat. I treat Twitter as a cocktail party and I will dip in and have conversations with people while I am there. But I won’t put a Twitter travel chat event in my diary and turn up at the same time of week to take part. I don’t judge you if that’s what you want to do but I don’t have time. I feel weary even thinking about it. I have wasted too much time getting sucked into pointless stuff as it is.
Community doesn’t mean that I want to engage in reciprocal pimping of each other’s work or reciprocal link exchanges. I had to stop using StumbleUpon because I just felt as if I were being spammed by other travel bloggers every time I went on there. I didn’t have any sense that people were actually reading my blog – they were just wanting their own content promoted in return. Here’s the deal: If I like your post, I will promote it of my own accord, in the social media channels of my choice. If I like your entire blog, I might even recommend it to my readers or nominate it for the Bloggies. Or I might ask you to guest post - it was a big help when the babies were first born – or find the time to do the same for you.
Community doesn’t mean that we travel bloggers are a monolithic bunch who think the same on every issue. Please don’t presume to speak for me when talking about how PR people should deal with travel bloggers, or (groan) what makes a travel blogger different to a “traditional journalist”. Also, disagreeing on any given issue isn’t a sign of some great schism in the “community”. It’s not our job to be cheerleaders for each other – it’s far more productive to challenge each other. I find unthinking consensus far more troubling than debate. Pam at Nerd’s Eye View says we should all learn to take criticism and I quite agree. But we’re not very good at it.
I guess what I am looking for from other travel bloggers is not so much community as friendship – and inspiration. It’s time to sort the wheat from the chaff.
What does ‘online community’ mean to you? If you are a travel blogger, do you feel part of a community? How do you balance social media with getting stuff done?