TBEX Dublin, the travel bloggers conference, was a three day bender. A seemingly endless supply of free drinks and late nights. It’s similar to Vegas, only instead of what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens at TBEX gets tweeted to the world. During the conference, travel bloggers blasted approximately 10,000 tweets with over 12 million impressions. And that is the power of social media.
You may assume from reading this that TBEX was loaded with irresponsible and immature tech addicts whose lifestyle involves nothing but parties, but let me share that the conference was eerily familiar to many a tax law conference hosted by my former law firm. I certainly felt equally hungover as I begrudgingly dragged myself to the first session of the day. I learned a lot, and met a lot of people, but also similar to a tax conference, by the end of it I was left wanting.
TBEX and Social Media
It was only in 2009 that TIME magazine wrote an article about Twitter. I read it poolside in Bali during our first RTW, when we traveled with a simple netbook, shared between the two of us, and nothing more. Ever the skeptical and jaded elder of a younger generation I could not grasp what exactly Twitter was. Only 140 characters? Followers you don’t “know.” Ashton Kutcher used it. I am sure my reaction was similar to older generations at the introduction of the remote control (what’s wrong with people these days that they can’t even get off the couch to change stations) or cable television (why do we need so many stations and why is there a channel dedicated to weather).
Now, not only have I embraced it, I am part of it. I follow travel bloggers with similar interests, engaging in conversations with them, and often assume I understand their personalities despite the fact that we’ve never met. A few of them I have met in person and we formed instant bonds over our shared lifestyle. Now, I have attended a conference focused exclusively on social media, and Twitter was front and center.
At TBEX, we shared ideas and inspirations about travel, writing, and personal connections, and then tweeted them to anyone listening. Inspirational words were spoken by both Chip Conely (“you are where you sleep”) and Dan and Audrey from Uncornered Market (asking how we, as bloggers, can motivate people to act). I came up with an epic sized to do list as I received plenty of tips on how to engage my audience, use technology to my advantage, and create better video content. I will most likely attend more TBEX events in the future, although I was disappointed in a few aspects of the conference.
Presentations such as Ian Cleary’s 21 Powerful Social Media Tool and Technology Tips provided concrete, practical advice aimed at newer bloggers who are looking to take their blog to the next level. I was left craving more such concrete suggestions. Perhaps I chose the wrong break out sessions (the schedule was daunting and I often did understand the topics as described). Perhaps these more basic topics were covered in prior TBEX conferences. Perhaps the most successful bloggers don’t want to share the formula for the secret sauce. An idea might be to offer a track specifically to cater to newbies, a basic set of presentations offering suggestions on how to engage in Twitter, how to use Instagram effectively, and other such topics.
The TBEX Community
I was nervous about being new to the TBEX community. I did not have any true blogger friends – people that I had met in person before – who planned to attend. I was starting from scratch, just like I did at my first American Bar Association Tax Section meeting, over a decade ago. I am a decent networker and connector, but I continue to struggle when it comes to going up to a stranger and starting a conversation, particularly when those people are already talking up someone else. I figured it would be easier at TBEX because it is easier to talk about travel blogging than complicated tax provisions.
Instead, it was extremely difficult. I attempted to strike up conversations with some of the more successful bloggers. Occasionally, I was welcomed with open arms, and made good connections, like with Carol Cain of Girl Gone Travel. Other times I felt like an interloper, particularly at evening activities.
I understand that many people wanted to use this opportunity to catch up with old friends, but I thought the community would be more, well, more of a community. I found myself on the lunch line with one successful blogger and tried to open a conversation with a joke. They looked at me, looked away, and found someone they already knew to speak with. I sought out another blogger, who I follow, engage with on Twitter, have quoted in my blog, and thought I had created a connection with. That blogger gave me about 90 seconds of time and walked away.
At times it seemed the conference was filled with cliques and “blogger celebrities,” much the same way as my tax conferences, which were attended by the likes of the Commissioner of the IRS, Federal judges, and other high-ranking government officials as well as some of the most highly paid tax attorneys in the country. I expected the ego from the tax attorney world, but was bothered by seeing it in the travel blogger world.
Perhaps there is a way to encourage to more celebrated bloggers to engage with the newbies in a productive and personal way. An idea might be to introduce a mentoring program, or to simply remind them of their origins. Everybody has to start someplace. I spent a great deal of time chatting with some of the newest bloggers at TBEX, who were amazed at how far I had come in a little over a year, offering them advice and encouragement.
I will continue to support TBEX and will most likely attend more conferences in the future. I will continue to develop my community. I even hesitated to write anything negative about TBEX, for fear of a backlash, but many a blogger has made a name for themselves with controversy. Perhaps this is my chance to shine.