SXSW – the Glastonbury of conferences

SXSW badge pickupA little SXSW diary catchup… It’s the halfway point of SXSW Interactive and I’m still gearing up into this festival to end all web festivals.

Here’s my personal/business mission statement for this year’s event – slightly different from last year as I’m being part-funded to attend by the UK’s Digital Mission along with about 25 others from the West Midlands. See the Heart of Austin site for more on who we are – but with a trade show stall the size of the UK’s stand and no other UK region represented here, you can see how much Birmingham UK values the digital dollar and I think is also representative of what a digitally connected hub the Midlands is.

SXSW Diary: from Miami to Austin
Arrived into Austin on Thursday at 9.30 am after 22 hours of train travelling from New Orleans and 25 hours of no sleep – you can see the state of me in this ‘Let’s look at the brewery’ video as I fail spectacularly to be a tourist guide to San Antonio from the train.

There will also be content going up on my travel blog, Tourist vs Traveller,  about my Amtrak train and Greyhound road trip from Miami to Austin via Atlanta, Birmingham and New Orleans. But mainly about the 24 hours this Brummie spent in our namesake city, Birmingham Alabama.

I’m also adding to my Flickr picture set as the days go by: SXSW2010 and USA2010 – if you want to see the trip that led up to the festival and see what Birmingham, Alabama looks like.

Thursday/Friday saw badge pickup – where I learnt that it pays to be late. Never to turn up at the listed time but at least two hours later if you want to avoid the queues.

First panels: mobile UX and improv lessons

Watching a keynote simulcast
Watching Danah Boyd's keynote simulcast in an empty hall because all my panels were oversubscribed

My kick-off panel was the UX of Mobile, which is a whole new world of design, dev and content and one that may lead website design in future rather than the other way round. In future, mobile design will be a key driver in all digital design, was the expert view, because shrinking down website to fit on a small screen (surprise, surprise) doesn’t work.

I spent most of this panel, however trying to track down a certain Bharath Kumar who had left his memory stick on a corridor floor by a power socket. It was like trying to solve a mystery. You’d think everyone at SXSW would be easily findable on the Web, but I tell you, Bharath Kumar is a VERY common name. In the end we found his mobile number somewhere on the stick and texted him. And he lived happily ever after.

The afternoon’s best session was Improv Lessons for Freelancers – and has inspired me to take up improv if there are any such sessions in Birmingham UK… This is not just about how to be charming to your clients but how to, for example, say yes positively to their ‘Make it pop’ requests without actually committing yourself to a bad design decision – or extra unpaid work.

How to network at SXSW
Over a margarita, of course. Thursday evening was the SXSW West Midlands networking dinner at the Iron Cactus, the social and business bonding oiled by the drink of SXSW: the margarita. Parties are another major feature of SXSW.

I’m a relative new arrival into Birmingham’s digital scene – see September 2009’s Why I am moving back to Brum – so it was good to cement a few friendships and to let people know that I’m a web writer, web editor and content strategy person who can plug into the commercial scene in Birmingham and create content for clients/agencies that need a professional web writer/editor.

The serendipitous Glastonbury effect

Why Keep Blogging panel
Why Keep Blogging panel

Saturday was a frustrating day. Every panel I chose to attend had a mile-long queue to get in.

But this is where SXSW reminds me of Glastonbury in that it’s all good. If you can’t get to something you want to see because it’s over the other side of the site and four floors up, or it’s oversubscribed, then there are some great little gigs right next to you. It may not be your subject but you can still take away something from it.

Critical Tits, for example, was an interesting one – a conversation where the Burning Man festival was being called to account for its new and tight restrictions on photography, where they see anything shared to a wider audience as ‘commercial use’. I think the move has stemmed from people snapping naked female artists and those shots appearing on porn sites. But the clamp down seems excessive and controlling being applied across the board as it is. I may be wrong on this, I didn’t get the full lowdown as the session was interrupted by an emergency fire alarm and evacuation of the whole Austin Convention Center.

I also attended Why Keep Blogging by some of the original superstars of blogging (SXSW is great for attracting big names) and How to Create a Viral Video – which was (possibly) more fun than useful but made by the attendance of Damian Kulash of OK Go viral video fame.

How to create a viral video
I think OK Go’s music has become secondary to their videos, but, OMG, This Too Shall Pass is a damn fine video. It starts with domino toppling and ends in the most astonishing series of pop music Mousetrap that you will ever, ever see. Ever.

An incredible idea if you can afford the 60 engineers and six months it took to make. Although the point was made that the record company couldn’t afford it but commercial sponsors State Farm Insurance could – and got very positive comments from the millions who have seen the video. And the only product plug was their logo on the side of a truck that sets the first domino falling, plus a credit at the end.

Now that’s what I call marketing 2010!

Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson
Kristina Halvorson presents Content Strategy FTW!

Kristina Halvorson’s Content Strategy FTW was the highlight of my day. I received a major info download that is currently swirling around my head so will post another time on that.

Over the next year, I’m looking at employing content strategy for We Are Fierce in Birmingham and helping them to bring their festival, consultancy and training arms all under one unified web presence over the next year.

I’m not sure what will result, but it’s going to be interesting as few organisations pay this much attention to the haphazard and messy world of content. We shall bring order! And the basic premise is ‘Less is More’.

Will also be attending CS Forum 2010 – an entire conference devoted to the growing discipline of Content Strategy.

Daily Strangeness from Dorkbot to Kick-Ass

Dorkbot with dorkhat
Dorkbot with dorkhat

Finally, last night was fun. After a brief stop-off at the Dorkbot tent to twiddle some knobs (here I am with a BleepLabs Thingamagoop), we were hijacked on Sixth Street into a cab for an interview for (I think) DVD bonus features for a new superhero flick. SXSW Film Festival saw the premiere of Kick-Ass – a superhero movie based on a comic book of the same name – we signed our Hollywood movie waiver and proceeded to be drilled about what type of superhero skills we would have and who’s ‘ass’ would be like to kick and why, as we were driven around the streets of Austin in a cab emblazoned with Kick-Ass all over it.

It was one of those mad, interstitial Glastonbury moments that is tertiary to the main event but one of the things you remember most. After all, the slogan and ethos of this city and this festival is ‘Keep Austin weird’.

Off now to enjoy Tuttle at SXSWi, an inaugural Content Srategy meetup, Fray Café tonight and see what else Sunday brings. It’s going to be fun.

My first video interview ends in a Midlands Today fantasy

This is quite exciting, to me anyway, because I’ve done print interviews and I’ve taken video – now I’ve finally put both together. There are lots of mistakes but on the whole I’m not unhappy with it, especially as it runs uncut with no major hiccups.

Video interviewing feels kind of like driving a car. You can steer perfectly well but then you have to learn to duck-paddle your feet at the same time. Ie, you can ask questions but you also have to be thinking about the shot, and the directional mic (oops), and a good final line, and what they are saying, and what you might ask next, and oh dear, did I not even mention the name of the shop or who Chris and Pete are. (Well, it was spontaneous.)

In digital journalism, you’ll also most likely be holding the camera, too – fortunately, it was an easily manageable Flip in this case – but it can be hard to hold it steady when you’re gesturing with the other hand to keep on talking or trying to direct Pete Ashton back into shot…

Then you’ll need to write up a traditional news intro for your BBC Midlands Today presenters (or whoever), something like:

‘Retail is hard!’ – that’s the view of two local bloggers who have become shop managers overnight after opening the BullRing’s first-ever pop-up arts shop.

Local artists in Birmingham will be competing alongside big names such as Debenhams and Selfridges, after Chris Unitt and Pete Ashton were offered the chance to turn their arts blog into a retail opportunity in one of Europe’s largest shopping centres.

Called Created in Birmingham, after the blog, the shop aims to sell everything from paintings and prints, t-shirts to local photographs, all made by Birmingham artists. Shoppers are even being encouraged to come in and have a chat on the sofas to find out more about the artworks and how they are made.

It opened last night [25.02.2010] and we went along just as they let out their last customer…

Created in Birmingham shop opening night from Katchooo on Vimeo.

Then simply finish with a few quick voxpops with local grizzled shoppers, a cheesy chat between Nick Owen and Suzanne Virdee, and that’s a wrap.

Ok, well maybe I need a bit more practise first.

For more on the CiB shop, here’s the lowdown from the CiB blog.

A dozen Twitter tips for 2010

The ‘cool, shiny new thing’ that sent marketers crazy in 2009 was Twitter. (This year, it’s mobile apps by the way.) Why? Because although Twitter launched in 2006, it exploded into the mainstream in late 2008/early 2009. And brands were champing to get a piece of that action.

Having just spent three days at Search Engine Strategies London, Twitter is still clocking up a lot of mentions from SEOs and businesses, etc, who worry about how best to involve with it. Well, you’ll see a rise in this engagement, especially now that it is being crawled by Google for real-time search results and because marketers are realising the value of a recommendation on Twitter.

So rather than regurgitate whole speeches, here’s what SEOs and marketing types from SES London are saying about Twitter for 2010 – at least in the sessions I attended:

1 Real-time search: be wary of the value of Twitter
230 million pieces of content are published per day by user. 40% of searches have a real-time component. Potential $40 billion market. But:

  • 90% content is created by 10% of the people (Source: Harvard Business Review)
  • 74% of Twitter content is produced by 5% of the users.
  • Is 5% really representative of everybody?

Aaron Kahlow opening keynote: Is Social Media the Future of Search

2 How McDonald’s operate their Twitter

CoTweet allows people within organisations to use the same Twitter account – as used by McDonald’s.

Aaron Kahlow opening keynote: Is Social Media the Future of Search

3 Should you spend time and money on Twitter?

Who is my audience? Are they on Twitter, if not don’t spend (time) there.

Aaron Kahlow opening keynote: Is Social Media the Future of Search

4 Has Twitter peaked?

Twitter is not accelerating as fast now, it has peaked on the growth rates. The vast majority have less than 5 users.

Rand Fishkin, Social Media Best Practices for Marketers Inside the Brand

5 Can Twitter drive traffic and sales?

Social network profiles (including Google Profile) drive traffic. Active Twitter users, Dell, also reported in excess of $3m in sales in 2009. Its Twitter is essentially just a promo shop, eg, 15% off at any Dell Outlet – which leads to direct click-thu sales.

Rand Fishkin, Social Media Best Practices for Marketers Inside the Brand

6 What are the biggest problems for marketers using Twitter?

Analytics, KPIs, how does it impact the bottom line. Also, getting followers in the market you are going after.

Mike Lewis, Business Tweeting: I think Twitter is working, but I can’t prove it!

7 How many Twitter accounts to set up?

One brand Twitter stream can include: PR, service, sales, crisis, recruitment, product.

Mike Lewis, Business Tweeting

8 What’s the ROI of Twitter?

ROI of Twitter = traffic to site, buzz, inbound links for SEO, reduced service costs, leads, sales. (All trackable ROI.)

Mike Lewis, Business Tweeting

9 Twitter – trend towards automation

Fact – individuals are adopting Twitter, but what about brands? Great thing about Twitter is that brands can connect one to one. But there is a trend of moving towards automation.

Mike Lewis, Business Tweeting

10 Check your bounce rate from Twitter traffic

When analysing your online stats, compare traffic from different sources. Eg, from blogs, it usually has high context, expectancy is there, users know what they want to see, and spend more time on site. Twitter – may generate high traffic but can also have a high bounce because it lacks space to create context.

Matthew Bailey, Introduction to Search Engine Optimisation

11 Twitter 101 for brands

  • Don’t overthink it, be personable
  • Share info/links
  • Listen
  • Use hashtags to organise and search
  • Twitterlists are useful if you are following hundreds and want to discover new people
  • Tweetdeck – organises your Twitter use
  • Scheduling tweets – Future Tweets – good for client use

Lisa Myers, Social Media 101

12 Tools for monitoring social media

Free Social Monitoring Tools:

  • www.socialmention.com
  • www.tweetbeep.com
  • www.tweepmeme.com
  • www.klout.com
  • www.blogpulse.com

Paid Monitoring Tools:

  • www.trackur.com
  • www.radian6.com

Lisa Myers, Social Media 101

Find your social media champions – but how?

Rand Fishkin, CEO & Co-Founder of SEOmoz.org, hit the nail on the head for me when he said: ‘Find a social champion!’

Speaking on Social Media Best Practices for Marketers Inside the Brand at Search Engines Strategies London marketing day on Monday, he said, ‘You need someone in the weeds, someone who gets it in the same way as the kids do who spend 5% of their lives on Facebook.’

This was is his favourite stat by the way: If you’re under 25 and live in US, 5% of all the time you spend alive is spent on Facebook.

Rand admitted it was illegal to hire by age, but also shrugged – by implication those deep in the weeds of internet culture will be recruited. [UPDATE: see comments for his further take on this.]

Which slightly annoys me, being deeper in the weeds than all my teen nieces put together and not half as deep in as many friends in their 30s and 40s.

Yet it is also true that it can be totally time-sucking for commercial digital or social media hirers to feedback to those who ‘don’t get it’. This goes back to an earlier post on my sub-editors’ blog called Journalist, train thyself! Online needs you… desperately! [Out of interest, training budget seemed to be on the up at the Search Engine Strategies conference, for some anyway.]

And when looking to hire or commission someone as an SEO writer, a breadth of online presence is definitely desirable (as well as on-the-job experience and SEO training).

Having a blog or a Twitter account or a Tumblr or a Posterous (ie not just a Facebook profile) is not just an indicator of ability and engagement, but shows a basic understanding of internet culture and who they will be writing for. After all, you can’t kid the kids.

The next question of course is how do you hunt out these social champions within your organisation?

It’s something I’m processing in my freelance blogging work right now.

10 expert tips on email marketing

Rough of an e-newsletterIf you’ve ever had the job of putting your marketing email, ezine or e-newsletter together – whether designing the format, writing the blurbs, testing different subject lines or segments, sending it out to subscribers, dealing with unsubscribes – 7 Proven Tactics to Increase Response for your Email Campaigns seemed the session to attend at Search Engine Strategies 2010 London.

Having spent much of last year producing a monthly email across nine segments for a major car insurance and breakdown company, I was interested to hear latest best practice and get some inspirattion. After all, we tracked KPIs, tweaked designs, improved clarity on calls to action buttons, yadda yadda blah blah, and saw a leap in click-throughs. But what else could we have done?

Tamara Gielen, Independent Email Marketing Consultant, who ran email programmes for eBay among others, had some ideas. She promised seven tactics in the presentation but instead, I counted 30. So there’s lots to know, too much to reproduce here.

Here are 10 bulletpoints.

  • Sell your email programme on the website – don’t just have a button asking them to subscribe to your email but clarify the offer on the button, eg, ‘train me to profit’, ‘be the first to know our special offers’, ‘free email tips’, and so on. Agencies may need to advise the client to do this if emails are outsourced.
  • Tell them why you are asking for their info on the sign-up form (perhaps add a ‘why are we asking this?’ button on the page). Be transparent, it builds trust.
  • Welcome your new subscribers – send a welcome email within 24 hours, when they are highly engaged. Let them know, ‘This is what we are going to be sending you.’ Ask them to do something (of benefit to them) and send them back to your site.
  • Listen to your unsubscribers – they will tell you what they don’t want. Maybe they don’t want to fully unsubscribe but are fed up of your monthly email outs. So give them the option of getting less emails on the unsubscribe page, eg once a week/month. Or just email seasonally, even just once a year, when they are likely to be shopping for your service or product. Better this, than losing them altogether.
  • Give ‘unsubscribe’ alternatives – eg if emails are unsuitable, ask them to sign up for an RSS feed, suggest a ‘follow us on Twitter’ option or to become a Facebook fan, would they like to sign up for the catalogue – offer alternative channels for you to communicate with them.
  • Use social networks to grow your list – eg, encouraging your customer to become a fan on Facebook means other people see that in their newsfeed. Why is that interesting? Make it interesting, eg, Papa John’s on Facebook offered a free pizza if you become a fan and won a million more subscribers to their email  as a result.
  • Allow subscribers to share your content via share buttons to help acquisition. First figure out where your audience is, eg, B2B is great for LinkedIn. B2C may be on Facebook, Twitter, etc. But remember people will only share links if there is something of value in the content.
  • Emails do not have to be weekly or monthly – use triggers, eg, a Birthday trigger, such as ‘Fiona, Birthday greetings from [brand], here’s a [discount/freebie/offer] to celebrate.’
  • Subject line length/content – include the most important message in first 4-5 words, ask questions, sell benefits, and include an urgency.
  • When should you send your email? – think about when your customers are likely to be browsing and when buying, eg, a retail email may do better at the weekend when people are free to click through and buy. But test your timings. Tamara sends hers at 9.30 on a Monday morning – because few send at this time (the bulk of emails is sent on Wednesdays/Thursdays). Stand outs from your competitors. Also she notes that many have a 9am start and are going through emails at this time – her email then pops up on top (she has 50% open rate by the way).

Images: © Maxpower/Flickr

Two simple ways to justify online spend to the boss

AVINASH_KAUSHIK
Avinash Kaushik gets ready to speak at SES London

There’s a lot of talk at Search Engine Strategies 2010 London about ‘doing it right’. SES London is a three-day conference and expo that brings together the superstars of SEO and SEM to reveal the latest ways they are dancing with the search engines, each side locked in a teeth-gritting tango and dancing each other across the floor in order to win the eyeballs and clicks of users, and present user targeted (marketed?) search results.

At least that’s how I understand it. You got love a metaphor.

But ‘doing it right’ –monitoring analytics, refining strategy, making informed decisions about whether to spend on SEO work (to boost presence in organic search results) or PPC (paid for results) – well, that takes resource and budget, aka time and money. There may be a lot of explaining here, by the way, as I get to grips with marketing buzzwords and attempt to translate it into words and concepts I understand, being from a journalistic background and thinking of B2B verticals as something smutty.

The ‘number one bitchfest’, as keynote speaker Avinash Kaushik put it today is : ‘I can’t get my company to pay for an analyst.’

And why don’t we get the love from our execs? Because they just don’t get it. It’s a rare CFO or purse-string holder that gets internet culture and what they should pay and where.

Without this, you don’t have an SEO strategy or, if the consultants at SES London are to be believed, a hope in hell of getting your brand/product seen.

So how do SEO’s thought leaders suggest you deal with this?

Here are two lovely anecdotes from their SES speeches:

Aaron Kahlow, Chairman & Founder, Online Marketing Summit

‘I was once asked, “If you had to, would you rather give up your laptop, mobile phone, social networks, etc, or would you rather cut off your left hand?”’

[short pause]

‘So I answered “my left hand”, right.’

And he said: ‘Gotcha! You didn’t say laptop, etc, – but you thought about it!’

Lesson: Tech is ubiquitous. Email is ubiquitous. Social networks are ubiquitous. Being disconnected is, for some, like having a left hand cut off. So try this question on your friends, colleagues, even the CFO – and convince your business people through their hesitation how important and embedded online has become.

Avinash Kaushik, Author, Blogger, Analytics Evangelist, Google

‘I can only blog at midnight. I have a job, I have two small kids so this is the only time I can blog. But my wife she loves me; she says, “Go to bed!”

‘Still I want to blog so I tell her, “I am kind of a big deal.” And she says, “Go to bed!”

‘Why? Because it is irrelevant to her. It is the same with executives.

‘So I hit her with data: last month I had 73,000 visits in 176 countries, even Somali pirates visit my blog. But still she doesn’t care. It’s not important to her and it’s not important to the executives.

‘The third time I quantified the goals of his blog (number of feed subscribers, conversion to speaking engagements, my about page which has tracking codes on all the links). I say, “Honey, you should let me blog because last month, I made $26,000 fake dollars!”

‘And she says, “Work harder”, because finally that number means something to her.’

Lesson: to transform your site, blog, etc, you need to compute the economic value to the financial people in your company. Talk to them in language that they understand.

That is all.

I am attending these keywords in 2010: SES, SXSWi and CSForum

Somehow I’ve lined up a conference a month for the next three months. Here are their taglines, blurbs and what I’m aiming to do at each one:

Search Engine Strategies 2010
London, UK, 15-19 February

Tagline: The Original Search Engine Marketing Event.

Blurb: Three days of sessions covering PPC management, keyword research, SEO, social media, linking building, duplicate content, video optimisation, usability and more!

Me: Blogging (right here) points of interests – particularly interested in conversion rate optimisation stuff for websites and emails (esp after being RAC ezine’s online editor last year), information architecture, business tweeting and happy hour cocktails. So I’ll try to throw up (!) some posts on these from the event.

SXSW Interactive
Austin, Texas, 12-16 March

Tagline: Tomorrow Happens Here.

Blurb: Five days of compelling presentations from the brightest minds in emerging technology, scores of exciting networking events hosted by industry leaders and an unbeatable line up of special programs showcasing the best new websites, video games and startup ideas the community has to offer. Join us March 2010 for the panels, the parties, the 13th Annual Web Awards, the ScreenBurn at SXSW Arcade, the Film and Interactive Trade Show and Exhibition, Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator at SXSW and, of course, the inspirational experience that only SXSW can deliver.

Me: There for the margaritas, parties and crazy games naturally, but also to meet interesting contacts, learn best practice on content-related stuff and bring the skills back home. Also looking at finding some connections doing interesting stuff in the hotel/conference/travel line of work maybe. And generally promoting the digital side of the West Midlands region, which is part funding me to go on their digital mission. Should also be blogging a bit from the event as per last year. And hoping to hook up with the Tuttle 2 Texas crew somewhere around New Orleans for the last leg of their trip – more about what that’s about on the Tuttle2Texas Posterous. Oh and finally hoping to work out what distributed storytelling is all about from last year’s Microsoft BizSpark Accelerator MC and tech journo prof, Brad King.

Content Strategy Forum 2010
Paris, France, 15-16 April

Tagline: Vive la communication!

Blurb: Where business analysis meets user experience and content development – two exciting days of workshops, presentations and discussions led by leading experts and practitioners from the emerging field of Content Strategy. Whether you are already a content strategist, or looking to break into the field, this exceptional event will put you in touch with inspiring people and new ideas.

Me: Content strategy is what I’m most interested in right now and this is the only major conference featuring all the big names that doesn’t involve flying to the US. Looking to pick up skills in this area as I’ve just started working with the wonderful WTF! Fierce Festival to help get their content strategy ducks in a row in 2010. Also hope to finally meet Kristina Halvorson, content strategy queen. And will also be bringing an artist along to document Paris in an experiment of travel journalism for Tourist Vs Traveller – more of that in a future post.

That’s me sorted for the year, I think. Unless anyone knows of any interesting travel journalist conferences…

Transparent journalism – the Web 2.0 way to compile a Top 10 list

Been having fun over on my travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller with exposing the messy inner blood and guts of how I put together two Valentine’s Day features on the ‘top 10’ romantic places in the UK and around the world. The main mashup was an experiment using TravMedia for the big callout for suggestions, Google Docs as a collecting funnel and Twitter as a refinement option for feedback from the non-PR world.

It was going to be a short exposé but in the end turned into a five-part series, culminating in the Creative Commons release of all the PR source material, featuring 101 romantic places around the UK and the world.

I think different people will be interested in different links depending on whether you’re a journalism student, a social media or digital journalist, or a reader in lurve, so here they all are:

  1. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 1: transparency and the trouble with top tens
  2. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 2: the commission
  3. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 3: the seven tools of feature research
  4. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 4: the results of the Google Docs experiment
  5. Behind the scenes of a travel feature – pt 5: 101 romantic places around the world

NYE at Birmingham Coach Station

NYE2009_Birmingham_Bus_stationApologies for the cross-posting but my new travel blog Tourist Vs Traveller is now up and running, and has some nice, shiny new content on it so I’m shouting about it a bit.

It being that time of year, I’ve just posted up my 10 New Year’s travel resolutions for 2010 on there and also ticked one of them off by writing up a picture post on the recently opened Birmingham Coach Station, where I spent a rather entertaining New Year’s Eve.

PS Can you spot me in the Christmas bauble?

I’m launching a new travel blog

It’s been two years since I started my first travel blog, What To Wear Where, in an effort to answer the niche packing question: ‘What do you wear in trendy Reykjavik in below-freezing December?’ While I still think the idea of packing help for any destination/event still has legs, and the blog still brings in a fairly steady stream of traffic, without a community to fuel the ideas, What To Wear Where sort of got stuck in the doldrums.

So I’m going back to basics. I’ve set up a new blog as a playground for my travel journalism. It’s called Tourist Vs Traveller (not for any deep and meaningful reason but because it was free) and you’ll find it at http://touristvstraveller.wordpress.com/.

Playing with travel journalism…
Playing with travel journalism…

Crowdsourced and client-led content
The first experiment is that I hope the content will be led by others – and my opening post is asking for your input. I’m soliciting views about what kind of content to publish because I don’t want the content solely to be defined by me as a journalist. It could be anything, I am open to suggestions. What I do want to do, though, is use it as a place to experiment with lots of lovely Web tools. With a background in digital client publishing, I’m also interested in travel companies who want me to create online content for their offering – not marketing fluff, but the real stories behind the PR, the kind of content that DOES help people decide to buy your product – or not! Y’know, useful stuff.

The problem with travel writing
So what travel writing is out there right now? On the Web, we have trip blogs, review sites and an avalanche of whinging UGC that is rapidly becoming meaningless as a way to make buying decisions. There are also some nice up and coming blogs from travel journalists and bloggers – I’ll be adding them to the blog roll as time goes by. In print, we have standard travel narratives and a limited number of news items published by newspapers and magazines and written by a rather exclusive club of commissioned travel journalists (or staff writers on a freebie). And on TV, we have an increasing amount of celebrities and comedians being sent off around the globe in the name of entertainment.

What is harder to find is a middle-ground between Jo Bloggs naming and shaming their hotel and the angled/subjective narrative of the commissioned travel writer/presenter.

Finding fresh ways to tell the story
Where I do find decent content, I’ll be linking to it though. I suspect that, for now and for a while, it will be possible to aggregate good examples of experimental travel journalism.

But I think there is also room for journalistic content that goes behind the scenes of a travel product, that tells stories that the newspaper doesn’t have room for, or that revisits classic stories from new angles using audio, video, slideshows, aggregated content and social media. It would be great to break out from the form – after all, traditional travel writing is itself rather stuck in the doldrums, in style and structure, in privileged points of view, and because collapsing print budgets mean fewer outlets and options for travel journalists

And I think that the travel industry could potentially pay for this content now that their outlets for print editorial are shrinking – to explain, here’s my earlier posting on a potential new business model for travel journalists.

So that’s it for now. Please visit the blog and post your comments. I’ve got the first couple of posts up – all about the nonsense of tourism slogans inspired by two days spent at the World Travel Market (WTM) in November.

And especially for Brummies, there’s a winning marketing slogan from St Johns Hotel, Solihull at the end of Around the world in 44 tourism slogans.