I’ve been chatting with a lot of other bloggers recently and, while I’d rather talk about travel, the discussion inevitably turns to metrics like traffic, subscribers, Twitter followers and the like. Is anyone actually making serious money doing this? Andy Jarosz recently wrote a very thought-provoking piece on his blog, 501 Places about whether travel bloggers are looking for fortune in all the wrong places. Judging by the quality and quantity of the comments on this post, this is clearly a topic on everyone’s minds.
I’ll be completely frank: we are not looking to profit from our travel blog. Yes, we have some sponsors this year and will gladly accept advertising dollars, donations (shout us a beer, anyone?), press trips and the like. But this is not the primary (or even secondary) reason we have started a travel blog. If I’m being completely honest with myself, I am interested in some compensation for our travel costs, the hosting plan, the many hours spent building this site, writing articles, etc. At the very least, I’d like to break even. But I never thought this would come in the form of dollars, euros, pounds or yen. If the major news media are struggling to stay afloat, I don’t need to do too much financial modelling to know that blogging is not a millionaire’s game.
No, I’m interested in another kind of currency - currency that can be just as valuable as an additional column on our bank balance. It’s called social capital and it has been written about by many new media geniuses, including Brian Solis, Laurel Papworth and even the Yale Law Journal. South Magazine posted a great article on the topic last year. Money is simply something, a good or a valuable item, that is accepted as a medium of exchange. If social capital “buys” you a desired good, service or benefit, then it is essentially as good as money.
Online social capital can come in many forms and should be sought out by all media professionals. But it is especially useful for travellers and should not be overlooked by travel bloggers. A fair amount of social media snake oil is for sale out there on the interwebs – gurus, experts, get rich quick schemes, “follow me and I’ll make your dreams come true” and the like. If you’re getting frustrated with your balance sheet, consider some other potential benefits of becoming a well-loved travel blogger. Here are some things that are very important to me as I continue my work:
Information: We are all constantly trading information whether we realize it or not. Every post, tweet and comment conveys something about our real-life experiences on the ground. If you’ve made an effort to connect to other travellers, you’re likely ingesting large amounts of information daily on where to go, where not to go, how to get there, what to see, what to do, what brands to buy, safety tips, etc. You’re probably surprised by how much of it you take in and remember when it’s necessary. This information can save you time and money.
Conversation: Who doesn’t love a little of this? Never has it been so good for you to talk to strangers. My favourite tweeps are the funny and interesting ones who keep the banter going and don’t ignore my @ messages. I’m starting to talk to my Twitter friends more than my local friends. I love exchanging blog comments and appreciate it when someone sends me an email about something I’ve written. You need only look at the fantastic campaign Travel Talk on Twitter (#TTOT) to see how much people enjoy a good exchange. If it makes you feel good, it’s valuable.
Local hook-ups: Chat to enough people and you’re going to have a vast network of contacts around the world who are keen to show you around, have a drink with you and offer you a place to sleep or some much-needed assistance with your plans. I don’t need to remind this group how valuable local knowledge can be. Knowing someone in every major city in the world has long been a goal of mine and travel blogging has only expanded my network and chances of achieving this.
Reputation: Do your readers feel like they know you? Do they trust you? Don’t abuse this power because it is one of the cornerstones of social capital. Likewise, you can build trust and grow your relationships online. This may lead to opportunities beyond blogging such as freelance writing and other paid gigs. One of the qualities mainstream media are now looking for in their writers and other staff is the ability to build a following online and develop a persona that people like and trust. Worry about this first and the rest will come.
Community: From what I’ve seen so far, I love the travel community. Everyone seems to be interested in being doers, improving themselves through travel and, most important for me, having fun. I already feel a part of this and I’m a newbie blogger (alas, not a newbie traveller – I wish I’d thought to start a blog sooner). Community is especially important to me because I don’t really have one in my offline life. Almost all of my friends and family members are desk jockeys who don’t really travel that much and don’t even read the blog. Everyone has a “hometown” (I do not). Most of them think John and I are pretty nuts for moving around the way we do. From talking to others in this group, I know that we’re not alone.
None of these are new concepts. One of the chapters in my masters thesis discussed the value of ‘weak ties’ in relation to online communities. Mark Granovetter’s network theory of the strength of weak ties claims that weak ties between individuals are more important than strong ties for providing people with a broad variety of information from diverse sources. While you may know some of your fellow bloggers personally, most of them are probably strangers and would fit the definition of a weak tie. You are getting more and better information by participating online than you would if you just stuck to conversations in your geographical area. Good information is extremely valuable. You are also probably finding tertiary benefits such as social support and friendships.
This post is not intended to discourage people, nor is it a manifesto against capitalist enterprise through blogging. I merely wish to suggest that perhaps it is time that we focus on some of the other positive benefits we receive from spending a great deal of time and effort making our blogs great. The thought that we can monetize them is appealing and will go a long way towards protecting the quality of what gets produced. But we should never forget that other good things come from blogging as well.
What do you think?