How to find your adoring travel blogging audience (and keep it)

Editor’s note: This is part five of my series on becoming a successful travel blogger. Here’s the first one, the second one, the third one and the fourth one. I’ll have the final installment tomorrow.

You’re missing a key ingredient to your super-successful travel blog: your audience.

Notice that I said “your” audience. Not “an” audience or “the” audience. When you become a travel blogger, you will make a deep connection with your users that goes beyond anything you had in old media. These aren’t simply readers, viewers or listeners; they are members of your extended family.

Earlier in this series, I mentioned that the best bloggers put themselves into their work — all of themselves — and if you want to find your audience, you’ll have to do that, too. Don’t hold back.

It used to be absolutely fine to be an objective, dispassionate observer of the news. But that’s so 20th century. It doesn’t work online, at least not in travel blogging.

Travel blogging is about big personalities and exciting destinations. It’s about oversized, emotionally-charged photos, jaw-dropping destination videos, drop-dead gorgeous women with cameras, handsome guys with Indiana Jones complexes and leather jackets for added authenticity … it’s about being there, and if you’re not there, dreaming about being there. Travel blogging is the most exciting thing you could do, and once you find your passion you’ll connect with your adoring fans.

Alright, I have to make a confession: As someone who deals with consumer issues, I get to mostly watch these beautiful people go on their trips. Occasionally, they let me out of my prison here in Stepford to take a little trip with my family, but I would hardly call most of my travels exciting.

But you … you! You are about to join an elite group of writers and photographers who don’t just dream the dream, they do it. I’m so jealous.

That said, there are ways you can amplify your voice online to attract new followers. Let’s go over them now.

The good

Facebook – This site has become the primary driver of traffic to my site in the last year. I recommend a one-two punch of a personal Facebook page and a “fan” page. Here’s mine. I think Facebook works because it’s all about conversations, which is essentially what a good travel blog is — a conversation.

Twitter – This is my number-two traffic source. Here’s my account, in case you want to follow me (of course you do). Twitter is great for securing instant feedback on your posts and interacting with readers in real time. A few months ago, I dismissed Twitter as yet another social network, but it is the real deal, and it will bring you serious eyeballs.

Google+ – I included this fledgling social network because it shows a lot of promise, and it does deliver visitors to your site. With one hundred billion users — well, that may be something of an exaggeration — Google+ has the potential to send lots of new followers your way. You need to be here, even if there’s not much to see.

The bad

I won’t mince words. These networks are useless. Don’t bother. I’ll explain.

Digg – By the time you’ve figured out how to push your “Digg” story to the front page, you’ve wasted countless hours trying to persuade your friends to vote your stories up, and in the process have become a Digg drone. Besides, the clicks you get from Digg are useless. The visitors don’t stick around and convert into loyal readers.

Reddit – Another online popularity contest with equally fickle users. Although it’s a lot easier to get Reddit “love” (meaning attention) than from Digg, the outcome is basically the same. They melt down your server and then leave. They don’t click on your ads or provide any meaningful or coherent comments. Skip it.

StumbleUpon – This is the least offensive of the social networking sites, because you’re less likely to see bullies and other miscreants, and occasionally, the StumbleUpon audience will appreciate your travel blog and stick around for more. But only occasionally. SU requires some participation on your part. Like other social networks, you can’t just parachute in. It’s not worth your time, in my humble opinion.

The ugly

Stay away from these networks.

MySpace – You mean, there still is a MySpace?

Delicious – It’s lost its flavor. At best, it only rose to the level of “bad” for bringing in travel blog visitors in the past. Now … don’t bother.

Hi5, Bebo, Tagged – huh? My point exactly.

Look, I’m not knocking these networks. I’m just saying that for your purposes, you probably won’t find much there.

An honorary mention goes to LinkedIn, which is a terrific social network for finding a job, but will not turn on a firehose of traffic to your travel blog. Try it. You’ll see.

Eating what you catch

I haven’t forgotten about the importance of search engines to this equation. You’ll get lots of traffic from Google, Bing and Yahoo when you have a well-coded site that uses one of the themes I recommended earlier in this series, like Thesis or Genesis, and when you’re writing interesting stuff, the search engine traffic will come. Don’t obsess over it. If you do, you find yourself trying some funny SEO stuff, which could get your site blacklisted by one of the search engines.

I speak from experience. One of my sites was recently hacked by someone who placed malicious links to his site in one of my directories. Google responded by completely ignoring the blog.

The trick is to capture all of these new visitors and keep them. But how?

An email newsletter – Some folks still prefer to get their information by email. Humor them. Offer a “subscribe” button on your site.

An RSS feed – Another way of getting information (stands for Really Simple Syndication). No travel blog should be without at least one RSS feed.

Get them to follow you – Ideally, your new friends will “friend” or “follow” you and become part of your social network. Don’t put all of your focus on one network. Spread the risk. Trust me, it’s better that way.

Be fascinating

You can do everything right, which is to say, you can actively participate in all the right networks and have a nicely-designed site, and still fail. Why? Because you’re forgetting the main ingredient: Your irresistible, charming, irreverent, adventurous self. Come on. Don’t be so modest. No, you are.

Seriously, if you don’t have the ability to be your passionate self in all this, people won’t follow you. Your newsletter subscribers will drop off a cliff, and your travel blog will wither and die.

Here’s a litmus test: If you can’t fall asleep at night because you’re so excited about what you’re going to post to your travel blog, you have that missing ingredient. And you’ll be successful.

Next, I’ll wrap up this series on travel blogging with some tips on keeping your audience engaged.

(Photo: Ancie ntHisto ry/Flickr)

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