Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Travel blog camp write-up

Yesterday was a full day of exposure for the team at Tourdust (that being Anna and I). Following a long march around the hallowed halls of Excel for the World Travel Market, we were off to the Travel Blog Camp.  Ostensibly an excuse to network with travel bloggers and people in the industry and hopefully learn a bit about blogging. (As you can tell, I've a lot to learn)

The first half an hour was great, an informal opportunity to meet some people.  Met a nice guy, Jared Salter, who is in a similar stage of start-up to us.  An interesting sounding idea, matching travel planning up with events / festivals etc.  and certainly looks like it is well executed (joobili.com) - one to look out for.  (Sorry Jared if I have explained it poorly)

After that there was a succession of speakers talking about blogging.  Alex Bainbridge did a good job of distilling the essence of succesful blogging.  Which seemed to be (1) getting around and adding relevant / helpful topics on other people's blogs and (2) writing your own stuff with your own angle (not just re-hashing).

Karen from Europe a la carte had some interesting things to say about consumer travel blogs trying to make money from a consumer audience.  Which by all accounts is a struggle.  Alex B. made a good point comparing Europe a la carte to someone like worldreviewer.com.  Does make you wonder if a blog is the right format for this kind of information.  If you've got editorial content to inspire and inform travellers, then it makes sense to me to structure it in some kind of geographical & activity taxonomy (so people can easily find what they want), and invest time and effort to monetise the traffic by cross-selling relevant hotels, flights, activities. (which is kind of what worldreviewer do very well).  Both Europe a la carte and worldreviewer.com do this to some extent, but there is no doubt that worldreviewer have put more attention to making the content appear in an inspiring format, and in trying to monetize it.  

The next speaker raised the temperature a little.  A lady from a social media agency talked about STA travel buzz.   In my opinion, having had a little experience of marketing in large corporates, this is a great example.  They are pulling in all sorts of commentary from around the net into one place, so travellers who want to find out about STA can come to one place and find everybody's feedback.  A great and transparent service to their customers, and probably pretty much the extent to which a large brand can engage in social media.   However an argument raged around how involved a brand should get in individual consumer conversations.    From the reactions in the room you certainly get the impression that the blogging community tended to treat large brands' social media strategies with scorn.   I've been on both sides of this fence in various guises, and I do think it is hard for outsiders to comprehend the context in which large brands operate and the internal cultures at play.  For what it's worth, I believe it's ok for a brand to wade in & put things right if someone is really shouting out loud about a bad experience.  After all this is what the blogger is asking for.  In most other circumstances though, the danger is too high.  The online community can turn very quickly on a brand, and the PR consequences can be drastic - which is just not something an individual blogger need worry about in the same way.

The final talk was from Kevin May (Travolution) and he wanted to create a bit of debate. Unfortunately what ensued was a navel gazing circular conversation about the triumvirate of PR, journalism and blogs (must admit I kind of switched off).  The shame was that by highlighting the distinctions this rather poisoned the mood for mutual supportive networking.

Overall though a huge thankyou to Darren from Travelrants for organising the event.  Darren came across as a really genuine guy with little pretentions, and it's no small feat organising something like this.

Anyway my main recommendation for future events (and I personally hope there are some future events like this) is that we should try to create a more open and supportive network. There was definitely a pecking order last night, and in this respect the difference between this event and many of the events I've attended in the tech community was huge (e.g. opencoffee meetup).    Everybody in the room will benefit from a larger online travel community in UK, be it bloggers, startups or established brands.  And you only get a community if the newbies are made to feel comfortable to approach some of the more experienced hats for advice and tips.


11 comments:

Sandwagon said...

Hi
Love your comments about the Blogcamp event. I fely very much the same about the unneccessary debate around blogging, journalism, PR. At the end of the day we work in travel, be in for free, for a company or earning income pay per click. And there is no gospel way of going about this. Infact, the internet encourages diversity of approach.

We need to ensure that the blog world doesn't fall down the same hole as print travel writing - bascially creating an elite that excludes the very people that take to blogging to find a voice.

I'll keep an eye on your blog for comments from other people that attended.

Kelly / http://sandwagon.blogspot.com/

Heather Cowper said...

Hi Anna & Ben

Sorry I didn't get to meet you at the Travel Blog Camp. Clearly there were more bloggers there than I thought & I was sorry not to chat to more people.

Read my write up of the Blog Travel Camp here
http://heatheronhertravels.blogspot.com/2008/11/at-travel-blog-camp-in-london.html

I'm interested to hear what your new website adventure is, but if it's anything travel related, I'd put your blog within the same website.

Best wishes on your travels & let me know if you're up Bristol way - it would be good to meet some more UK bloggers in person.

adfad said...

Hi Ben,

Great meeting you on Tuesday night (don't worry, you didn't butcher the explanation of Joobili). I just got back to Budapest so I'm a little late in responding to your post. I picked up on the same negative vibe you described and I agree it was unfortunate. For me it was interesting speaking with Kevin May after his speech because the negativity vanished. He was really helpful to me and offered some good suggestions for my start-up. We even discussed the important role PR plays in new media. So I was left thinking that some of the speakers were trying a little too hard to be controversial, somehow thinking that would make the discussion more interesting. Not for me.

Sandwagon said...

Hi everyone

Here’s my take on the fun and games we had on Tuesday http://sandwagon.blogspot.com/

Travolution Blogger said...

Apologies for 'poisoning the mood'. This was never the intention.

Some indeed might argue that the debate about journalism, blogging and PR was - as Sandwagon suggests - unnessary.

however, i believe it was worth bringing it up on the night simply (as i said) so many PRs in the audience and the travel media is heavily influenced by the actions of the public relations sector aligned with travel companies.

some have even said in the past that much of the editorial content in the mainstream media surrounding travel is 'poisoned' by PR.

what i was trying to understand is what is the motivation for PRs to get involved with an event such as that.

it's pretty obvious, in some respects. blogging is becoming a hugely influential form of media within the travel purchase funnel, so travel firms need to understand more how to influence bloggers.

anyway, to your last point: if the event was supposed to be "mutual supportive networking" surely that then becomes similarly navel gazing.

but then maybe i'm just a cynical old hack (sorry, content producer!), who likes a debate rather than people telling one another how wonderful everything is.

keep up the good work!

and thanks for the comments. :-)

Anna said...

Hi Heather
thank you for your comment and feedback about our blog. We are just working on bug fixing the site at the moment, hope to launch in January, so will keep you posted, it's a very exciting time!
We are based near Tring, north of London, so not often down in your neck of the woods, but hopefully we will bump into eachother again at another blogging do....

Ben Colclough said...

Hi Kevin,
Thanks for your comment. I think you are right, there is a healthy debate to be had about the relationship between PR and blogging, although (if I can say this without being too cheeky) maybe it might have benefited from some stronger moderation. The shame was that the conversation somehow migrated to the difference between journalism and blogging - which does seem like an exercise in defining nomenclature alone.

I think there probably is a danger that "mutual supportive networking" can become similarly navel gazing. But surely there must be something we can learn from the collaborative culture at play in technology (open source, APIs etc.). The only travel company I can think of who truly embraces that approach is probably Dopplr.com with their attempts to build a "distributed interwoven system". It's a shame for us all that they seem to be far more involved in the technology community than the travel community? I think I will blog about the potential for a more collaborative open garden approach to travel in the future.

As a start to this spirit of collaboration I agree wholly with Mark and Anna's comments about PRs and larger corporations being able to approach established bloggers without fear of reprisal / humiliation (http://www.roamingtales.com/2008/11/12/travel-blog-camp-in-london/#comments). Instead (and at danger of coining a terrible and probably hugely exaggerated analogy)it seemed more akin to a gathering of daily mail readers welcoming fallen hedge fund managers to a jobcentre meetup.

Matthew said...

Finally written a ‘Travel Blog Camp in quotes’ post on my blog…
http://matthewparsons.wordpress.com/2008/11/13/in-quotes-travel-blog-camp/

Was a fascinating evening, but I think it's still too early to comment on the PR/travel industry isues.

I'm new to blogging, so I was there to dip my toes in the water, and I think a lot of PR companies are doing the same at the moment. The way they were 'outed' though did make me laugh! (is that wrong to admit?)

PR firms in the US tend to use Twitter now, and are creating blogs as an outlet for their press releases. This is simply an effective use of software, not blogging in its purest form.

Katchooo said...

Hi Anna & Ben, it was good to meet to and to share eyebrow raisings over the journos vs bloggers (vs PR) debate! And I'm a journo so I should have been more interested ;)

I think trying to define terms just ends up being prescriptive. I liked Alex's presentation for example but don't necessarily think it works for me to 'opinionate' my whattowearwhere.wordpress.com blog. My aim isn't to provide a personal slant (though that happens to some extent because I'm the main poster) but to collect many points of view in one place as a potentially useful resource.

Is that a blog? Or just use of a blogging platform? And does it matter?

Paul Bradshaw of the Online Journalism Blog tweeted recently 'what is a blog'. Cue a tonne of perspectives.

For some it is 'purist' and personal, but why should we limit it to that?

jeremyhead said...

As one of the more vocal contributors about PR that evening... I've been meaning to write my 'Rules of Engagement for PRs on blogs'. Took me a while, but it's now done. Do feel free to comment. Thanks Jeremy
http://www.travelblather.com/2008/11/prs-on-blogs---some-rules-of-engagement.html

Sujan Patricia said...

As Ben Colclough said..."relationship between PR and blogging".

I think, in its widest sociological sense, public relations (PR) can be seen as a mechanism for the promotion of understanding and creation of beneficial relationships. And as per me, blogging is also as above.

Thanks,
Sujan
my site