The skillset of the on-line travel writer

What does it take to be a successful on-line travel writer?

Regular readers (hello and thank you!) will I hope remember a recent post about how I see travel writing changing. (And I think it's happening increasingly quickly.)

As I explained, I see an opportunity for travel writers to associate themselves with a brand and get paid for doing so.

In return the brand gets credibility and quality content on their website/blog (or even out there elsewhere on the net.)

Here are a couple of interesting live examples:

  • Fiona Hilliard writing the Glove Box blog for Argus Car Hire
  • Lara Dunston and Terence Carter, writing the Gran Turismo blog for HomeAway Holiday-Rentals (screen shot above)

Anyone found any others?

So - what are the new skillsets that a travel writer in the web-age needs?

Here are a few that I can think of:

A blog and a twitter feed - you need to demonstrate that you 'get' web. That you are live in your network.You need to demonstrate too that you get CMS systems like WordPress and would be comfortable writing posts directly into a CMS platform yourself

Comments and followers - you need to demonstrate that the web gets you. People online are following your tweets, commenting on your posts, interacting with you. This is actually quite subtle in my opinion. Or to put it another way... how do you get comments and followers and what does that show about you as a writer? You need to know how to write posts that are opinionated, thoughtful, and encourage others to respond. You need to know how to nurture that discussion by moderating the comments and responding. You need to tweet usefully (an obvious example, don't tweet that you've just eaten a donut or someone on the bus is annoying you if your twitter feed is supposed to be about you as a travel writer. Set up a separate personal twitter feed for personal stuff!).

Connections in the right networks - marketing bods are all about audiences and customer groups. So instead of profiling yourself as say an expert on six different destinations that you've written Lonely Planet guides to or whatever, profile yourself as someone who can interact successfully - with real credibility - with backpackers and independent travellers. Pick an audience and focus on that. I don't know how crucial this one is... but it's certainly interesting. Editors like to be able to think of their freelance writers as having a particular skill or specialism. If someone has a ready made network that targets a particular demographic, wow, that's a powerful thing.

I guess I'd summarise the above points in one phrase: Social Influence

And then as a counterpoint - Search Influence

Page Rank - If you haven't downloaded and installed the Google toolbar - try it! It has a particularly handy Page Rank indicator that gives a rough and ready idea of the relative authority and hence link-value of any website you are looking at. It's a mark out of 10 (Travelblather is currently Page Rank 4). So... a link from Travelblather to your website is worth 4 out of 10 in Google's eyes. Not great, but not too bad either! The higher a site's page rank the more authority the links from it have. If you know a bit about SEO you'll know that links to a site have a huge impact upon its position in search rankings. (Another post on this sometime, but enough for now to say that if your blog has a decent page rank people who know their stuff will want to get you to link to them and this could be a revenue opportunity for you.)

So... if you're a travel writer (be that an old pro or a complete newbie) and you've set up a blog and maybe posted a few times and are now wondering 'why am I doing this?' the answer could be because in another year or two's time it could be your most valuable asset. Print sure isn't dead and it will always be there, but as opportunities for publication in print decline, the alternative will be on-line and in my opinion the winners will be those who demonstrate the qualities and skills I've blathered about on this post.

What do you think? Does this give you hope or fill you with despair?

(Another post you might want to read: The Future for Travel Editors)

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