Musings on TBEX Dublin

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

TBEX Dublin 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.

TBEX Dublin 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.

31 Comments

  1. Good summary. I was in Dublin and also experienced some of the same feelings. I agree that there should be a session for new attendees so that you can meet people as well as tracking for new and experienced bloggers to have more focus on pertinent info. In Toronto, as it was so large, it was a bit easier to connect with many new people on the day tours or as you were standing room at the sessions. In Dublin, i did feel a bit on the outside looking in as well and ended up on my own for the most part- sorry i didn't get to meet you, hopefully, at the next event.

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  2. You were surprised by their egos? Take it from a former journalist: ain't nobody got bigger egos than writers, no matter how small or fleabit the publication they work for.

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  3. Ah, Madhu, you always have a way with words. Suzanne, I am sorry we did not get a chance to meet but you said it so well "on the outside looking in." That was it exactly! Hopefully we will meet at an event in the future.

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  4. I love this – "what happens in Vegas stays in Vegas, what happens at TBEX gets tweeted to the world." How true is that!! Very nicely written post and great review of the events and presentations. Thankfully Lisa and I blog together so when we felt a little outside, we had each other. Last TBEX we often found ourselves sneaking away and promised ourselves this year we would not sneak out the backdoor! We will most likely be at the next TBEX, let's make sure to connect.

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  5. I agree with everything you said. I loved the conference and came away with lots of ideas, BUT although I met some great people and gathered a few business cards I didn't feel that I connected as much as I hoped. Like Amber, I am used to going to professional conferences (I was also a tax professional, Amber) where it is very easy to get to know new people. At TBEX I felt that some of the more established people were willing to talk to me until they found someone more interesting! I too felt that some sort of session for new people would have been interesting.

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  6. We actually sat together for lunch two days. The first day we didn't talk much, but the second day we had a great conversation and since I picked up your blog info kind of in passing , I followed you as soon as I got home.

    Anyway, I felt the same way you did that most of the people seemed to have cliques that were impenetrable. So after one or two efforts, I kind of just stopped. To give people the benefit of the doubt, I thought that maybe the big bloggers were just as shy as I tend to be. They're known only to the small community of people. They don't get a lot of chances to see each other, or learn how to deal with just being kind to others. But, I'd assume they should already know common courtesy so I'll go back to maybe they're shy.

    I've heard at blogging conferences (not specifically TBEX, but generally) everyone is all about meeting people that can do something for them, so maybe that's what it was. It's a shame.

    Anyway, being outgoing, interested in others, and willing to talk to people standing next to you in line are all good signs. I hope to apply your approach the next time I go to one of these things.

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  7. Thanks for the shout out Amber! It was so great to meet you and spend time with you. I love your energy and sass. I actually don't even remember how it is we started talking to each other (blame it on the drinks), but I do know that it was refreshing to meet someone I didn't know before. As someone who walked away from the conference with a ton of business cards, and only one of them being from a brand, I can tell you that it is hard. SO HARD to meet new people. I also found that there are people who spend so much time traveling and in their own worlds that they are weird socially…whether it be shy, or unable to converse normally or whatever. It is easier to find someone you know, or sit in a corner somewhere and tweet alone…but then what's the point, right? I like your idea of mentorship programs/session. I think that even for those of us who have been at it for a bit longer, the rewarding experience that meeting someone we never met before and listening to their stories and insights can be a learning moment for all of us. Yes, there are egos. But that's just the BS part of it. There are a lot more people who are happy to meet you, or like me, just happy to be there. A platform for those people to all come together would be great, and I think it would be wonderful for you to email the TBEX coordinators with your idea. Also, if you get any sh*t from anyone because of your opinions, just let me know. I have your back and am happy to set them straight. xoxox See you online and hopefully in person again soon!

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  8. It's so nice to read this post; I wondered what it would be like to have so many 'voices' coming together.

    A lot of people spend a lot of money to travel to tbex – you all the way from KL. You'd really think that something so large and formalized would think to cater well for newcomers – especially considering you're paying for your experience.

    I also think it's unacceptable that those who are now 'known' have no real time to pay forward the support and camaraderie they received from others in the past. What goes around comes around and those moments of being snubbed are never forgotten…

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  9. Hi Amber, thanks for the post – it's always interesting to hear people's impressions of the event. "TBEX is clique-ish" posts always surprise me, because I've found TBEX to be an incredibly supportive community, and even the "big names" have been friendly and approachable. I'm hardly a big name, but I've attended TBEX twice and learned some lessons, so if I may, a few observations that may be helpful:

    To me, getting 90 seconds with someone doesn't sound like much of a snub. I don't know how many people were at TBEX Dublin, but in Toronto this year there were about 1300 bloggers. If you gave 90 seconds to every blogger in attendance, you'd never get through the weekend. A lot of people like to stay on the move to meet as many people as possible, which can result in short conversations, so I wouldn't view that brief convo as a personal insult.

    What if you had emailed him or her before the event and said, 'Hey I'd really like to connect at TBEX and I know things will be chaotic – can we make plans to grab lunch together while we're there?' I bet you would have gotten your face time. These events have gotten so big that you really do need to make specific plans with people to guarantee yourself a chance to chat.

    One other thing to consider: People often get into travel blogging on a whim, and they don't last. It becomes harder to get genuinely excited about meeting new bloggers when you know that many (most?) aren't going to stick around. It's unfortunate, but that sort of perspective makes sense when you've been around for a few years and seen so many people come and go. What some people interpret as a snub by a big name blogger could just be healthy skepticism on their part and a desire to turn their attention to other folks whom they know for certain are in it for the long haul. Maybe that behavior isn't ideal, but when they have to prioritize their time and they have tons of newbies approaching them, I can see why they would act this way.

    Ultimately, you just have to keep plugging away. I had much better conversations at my second TBEX because by then I had made genuine online connections with more bloggers, and my site had grown enough that most people knew who I was.

    I'm glad you otherwise enjoyed the event and I hope those who felt slighted by anyone won't take it personally. Perhaps I'll see you at the next one!

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  10. Thanks everyone for comments. As Cheryl does, I generally travel with someone, and it was rough to be solo, but forced me to talk to someone new at every corner, although sometimes I found myself tweeting in a corner too. Karen, another former tax professional, how did we NOT meet?? Let's make it a point.

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  11. Ann, I definitely enjoyed our lunches together, and felt that our little group from lunch day 2 had a great covo! Carol, I kind of agree on the socially weird part, for people use to traveling solo, and spending so much time in an online world. The socially weird part also applies to the tax attorney world, surprise surprise? I always wondered whether tax attorneys were born strange and driven to practice tax law, or they were once normal but after so many years in the tax world they became strange. A chicken or the egg sort of thing. Perhaps it is the same with bloggers…And, I will consider reaching out to TBEX organizers (who I did not meet at all) and recommend a newbies track. I would be happy to be involved in organizing. If any other newbies out there have suggestions on topics let me know! Thanks Carol for having my back to, that is so "Jersey" of you!

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  12. Hi Amber,
    I wish we had the opportunity to meet! I'm a lawyer too and this was my first tbex. I had the same feelings you did pre-conference– I even wrote about it in my own tbex post (except I used the word dilettante instead of interloper, lol). But I found everyone to be super nice and friendly. I wasn't familiar with a lot of "big" bloggers so I wasn't seeking anyone out to meet specifically, I just tried to say hello to anyone standing near me. Maybe you just got a few folks on an off day? I agree though a semi-formal mentor program would be fantastic!

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  13. Wodara, I definitely find myself thinking differently when I see the little tiny Twitter profile pictures pop up from some of the snubs. And, Kristin, perhaps I did catch people at an off time or an off day. Perhaps we need to have a post-lawyer blogger track too? There seem to be a few of us….

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  14. Hey Amber, it was lovely to meet you in person at tbex despite almost not finding each other! I hope you enjoyed the rest of your time here in Ireland. It is too bad we won't be here when you make your way back over here. But Alex will be at WTM and I know he'd like to catch up!

    I also attend research conferences where we have mentor/mentee sessions, which are so great when you're a newbie… I wondered with Alex as to whether something like that would work with tbex 🙂

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  15. Hi Amber,
    I wasn't at TBEX so am reading through all the summaries.
    It's so interesting to hear your point of view, not only because it stands out from the others in that it's not gushing about the conference, but because it's almost exactly how I felt at my first blogger conference.
    I was so disappointed. The conference program itself was great and I picked up a lot from it I could put to good use, but I was there to connect with other bloggers, especially travel bloggers. I had no idea how cliquey it would be! I was really looking forward to meeting a few bloggers in particular, people who I'd commented religiously on their blogs, even wrote guest posts for (and spent bloody ages on them!) only to be snubbed time and time again. The first few times I gave them the benefit of the doubt – it was a big conference with lots of people who they would have wanted to speak to, so didn't expect special treatment… just common courtesy. It was sadly very lacking and has put me totally off going to another one.
    By the way, at this particular conference there was a big thing about bloggers being introverts – maybe that's why so many seem to have one personality on their blogs and another in real life. I'm the complete opposite to introverted so I do wonder if I came across too strongly, too eager… still, it's a shame, it would have been lovely to get to know these people a little more.

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  16. Linda, thanks for you honest comments. Yes, it is true that the stereotype of bloggers is an introvert sitting behind their laptop or iPhone, but there has to be some sort of personality there to be a successful travel blogger, making their way around the world. I would not say I was disappointed, though. I was happy I went, there were good parts and bad parts, like any conference. They can't please everybody.

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  17. Bell, it was nice meeting you too! And, I look forward to seeing Alex at WTM.

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  18. Hi Amber! I just wanted to say that I enjoyed meeting you briefly at TBEX. It was so fun to meet you and then realize that I already follow you and your blog! 🙂

    I found the schedule to be super daunting as well, but I did feel like there were a couple of sessions I went to where the speaker was definitely giving away "secrets" or at least ideas that were super new to me! Happy to compare notes if you want.

    Hope to see you again at TBEX or WTM in the future! XOXO

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  19. Alison, I definitely felt like I learned a lot, but was still left wanting. Are you going to be at WTM London? We will be there, this time I will be With Husband In Tow. Let's meet up!

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  20. It is SO interesting to read your opinions! We have been wanting to attend a TBEX for quite a while, but the opportunity hasn't arisen yet. One of the things I've always been a bit 'nervous' about though is feeling like I'm the new kid at a new school trying to elbow in with the popular kids haha. From reading your review it sounds like the positive still outweighs the negative aspects though. Maybe we will finally make it to the next one!

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  21. It was great meeting you at TBEX, Amber! I didn't talk to many "celebrity bloggers." But I felt people that were our size or a little bigger were mostly pretty cool. Kash from Budget Traveler was awesome. Great presentation and was really cool to me. Yes the conference was an absolute bender, and it was definitely a buzz kill that Bell got her wallet stolen at 37 Dawson Street at the after party of Get Wilde (we should have just gone home!)…security at 37 Dawson were jerks, saying to hang out and have a good time and that her wallet might turn up after everyone left. A bunch of TBEXer's got their stuff stolen that night. And my Friday got mucked up in the process…Anyways, loved all the free drinks and food! I gotta drop you an email about World Travel Market. I plan to be there too and look forward to seeing you again! 🙂

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  22. Scott, thanks for your thoughts. I don't know that I felt "snubbed" by the amount of time with the blogger, versus the quality of the conversation. I think perhaps, honestly, it was that I felt that I had created a relationship online with the blogger through sooooo many interactions, and they acted like they had never heard of me and promptly bolted. And, I did not take it as a personal insult. I think I understood it more to be the nature of a business where people are more accustomed to being on a laptop or smartphone. You are right though that the events have gotten big, although this one was limited to a little over 500, perhaps because Toronto was so big. There were people I wanted to meet and never did.

    It would be unfortunate if people did not want to invest in new blogger relationships because they assume so many bloggers quit before making it to year 1. Even if that person stops blogging, they are still a person who travels, a person with someone in common. I had the same problem when we first arrived in Ubud, Bali. Many of the expats do not want to bother themselves with relationships with newbies or transients saying that they are not worth the investment. I am the type of person, though, who can hang out with someone for one night at a hostel or bar, have a great interaction, continue to the relationship online, and possibly meet up somewhere else in the world later. I count as good friends several people I have met in this way, and I am thoroughly happy that I took the time to invest in them.

    All that said, I am sure we will see each other at an event in the future, and you are right, I am sure I will feel more comfortable at my next one, just like I was with those tax lawyer events as a new attorney.

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  23. Casey, hopefully we an meet up at a future TBEX, and we can help each other out with being the new kid. Alex, yeah, quite the bender indeed.

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  24. It's a rare writers conference where there aren't insiders and outsiders. Some are worse than others and some are amazing. I've found that the best place to connect is by taking a pre tour or small workshop. That said, I also look around for the lost forlorn ones – band together and you're your own clique. Besides, I love underdogs. I never approach the superstars unless I have something specific to say, yet sometimes they'll approach you. I've never found a pattern – sometimes I'm in, sometimes I'm out. Once I realized this I stopped caring … almost. Sorry I missed Dublin, but Toronto TBEX rocked. Great post, by the way. An underdog after my own heart.

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  25. Carol, Thanks for the support! I will post about my experiences this week at ITB Singapore, where I was, if nothing else, a novelty. And, I don't mind being an underdog, I was a Red Sox fan for years, until they won a World Series, and then I became a Cubs fan living in Chicago. I don't mind being the Sox or even the Cubbies. I will stick with that!

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  26. Hey Amber,
    Great post. This was my third TBEX meeting and the first where I felt really comfortable. I understand your frustrations. I think that because many of the bloggers present are on the road all the time, they are so excited to see friends in real life that they miss out on the opportunity to make new ones. Did you do a pre-trip? I found that made a huge difference for me this year. Being with a few people for a few days before the big conference really helped to give me a circle of new pals to float between. For an introvert like me it made it easier. Hope to see you at the next one or on the road somewhere,
    Heather

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  27. Amber, I've made a note to look out for you at the next TBEX!

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  28. Thanks Karen. I am eagerly anticipating the announcement of where the next TBEX will be. I am hoping for Chicago and Lisbon!

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  29. This is exactly what I’m afraid of! I’m about to attend my first TBEX, Costa Brava – and to say I’m nervous is a understatement!

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    • It can definitely be overwhelming Emma, but come find us! We will be friendly, I promise!

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