In Part 1 of my post on attending the Travel Bloggers Exchange (TBEX) conference – an event that bills itself as the world’s largest gathering of travel bloggers, writers and new media content creators – I wrote about why I felt like an impostor by going, and what I did to prepare for the conference.
Now, the fun stuff: what did I learn and what did I do while I was in Toronto by myself (plus 1,300 other attendees) for six nights in late May/early June?
TBEX early-bird registration was $77 and included two days of educational sessions and keynotes, two evening events and a ton of tours and workshops in the two days before the conference and the day following the conference.
Here were my goals, in no particular order:
Goal 1: Learn more about blogging
The conference had simultaneous tracks for content, commerce, community and business. Because this was a travel blogging conference, the majority of the presenters were from the travel industry, yet their material could apply to any type of blog.
In the session Content Strategy: What are You Writing and Why, a panel representing Lonely Planet, Frommer’s and Airbnb talked about why a blog of any size and any niche should have a content strategy … and stick to it. They described a content strategy as much more than just tactics – your blog needs an objective or purpose, then it needs a strategy (formed by gathering data and insights on the who, what & how) and finally that data should drive the tactics you employ.
One panelist made this suggestion: write down 12 adjectives that describe what you are or what you do, and use those as the categories of content on your blog. See what kind of traffic and engagement you get on the various categories, and that might help you determine a more narrow purpose.
There were also several sessions that offered very practical tips. Building Your Audience with Social Media Management Tools suggested specific tools and tips for using them. You can find the presentation along with several others from TBEX Toronto at tbexcon.com/canada/session-slides.
One of the most helpful sessions was Write Your Blog Positioning Statement, which even had an accompanying worksheet to step you through the process. Knowing what makes you different and what you can offer your readers will help you have a better blog and better content. The full presentation also can be found at the link above.
Goal 2: Develop more contacts within the industry that could lead to writing opportunities
I’m a freelance journalist and content creator working mostly in the niches of business and business aviation. During my career I’ve also written about sports and travel for publications, and my goal right now is to publish more travel writing.
TBEX offered 8-minute speed dates between bloggers and reps from sponsors/public relations/industry. The spots were limited and you had to request a meeting. Of about 20 invitations I sent, I ended up with seven official meetings and probably another seven unofficial meetings – like when I stumbled across a Kansas State alumna who works for an East Coast marketing agency representing a number of brands/destinations and asked if I could get her thoughts on pitching travel articles about the middle of the country.
While I didn’t meet travel magazine editors, I did make useful connections. For example: an editor of a travel industry newsletter who uses freelancers, a content director for a brand that could benefit from my experience with writing about business aviation, and bloggers who run some high-traffic travel blogs that accept contributors. I also met organizers from the Society of American Travel Writers, and I found a lot of friendly freelance journalists who write about travel in other parts of the country.
Plus, I met a lot of really fun people who seemed genuinely interested in helping build the blogging community by helping one another. I made friends with several fellow bloggers, and we’ve been staying in touch since TBEX. It’s been nice to get their opinions on travel and/or blogging issues.
Goal 3: Continue learning about the travel & tourism industry
I got a lot out of the educational sessions about blogging. And several of the sessions I didn’t attend (because they were simultaneous) covered trends and statistics about the travel & tourism industry.
But it was talking to fellow attendees between sessions, over lunch, at dinner or on the tours when I really gained some insight into how things work in the industry and how a freelance journalist/content creator based in the Midwest might fit in and have something to offer.
Goal 4: Discover a new city
I took advantage of every activity I could sign up for and then in the few spare hours I had, I did my own exploring in the fourth largest city in North America (about 2.8 million residents).
- I spent my first full day in the city getting out of the city. I took a tour with Parks Canada (the equivalent of the U.S.’s National Park Service) to learn about the trails and other spaces that let Torontonians escape the concrete.
- On Day 2, I took a first-timer bus tour of the city’s neighborhoods and major landmarks, along with a quick history lesson. I also participated in a workshop that was part photography lesson and part tour of the Chinatown and Kensington Market areas.
- I sampled organic beer, cheese artfully wrapped in maple syrup and way too much other locally made food and drink.
- I took a ferry to an Expedia-hosted party on Centre Island, which has an incredible night view of the skyline across Lake Ontario.
- I literally walked on the edge of the city’s most iconic building, the CN Tower, and even leaned over that edge – trusting only the harness I was wearing while 1,168 feet above the ground with no railing.
- And on my last full day in the city, I again escaped the concrete by kayaking over to the Toronto Islands and through bird sanctuaries.
I only had one yahoo at the conference who acted surprised that people in Kansas blog, although I got a lot of “Oh, wow” responses when I said where I was based (whatever that means). Attendees were from around the world with a heavy concentration of Canadian and U.S.-based bloggers – still, I met very few who were Midwest based.
And that is one of my big takeaways from TBEX. Not a lot of people are writing about travel in the Midwest or about child-free travel. I don’t necessarily want to write exclusively about either of those, but being an expert on traveling in this region of the country and having a child-free perspective makes me unlike any other writer/blogger I met at TBEX.
Other takeaways: it’s cool that there are people focused on making their blog their sole source of income, but that’s not me and that’s OK! My blog is a great creative outlet for me, and it’s also a way to share my travels. With the right focus it can also be a way to showcase my writing with the goal of getting some paid travel writing gigs.
So, for me, the conference was definitely worth attending, and I’d go to another TBEX, especially if it’s in a city I really want to explore. I’m looking forward to hearing where the 2014 events are scheduled.