Before I came to Toronto for the TBEX conference, I wrote on my social media platforms that everyone should look for me with my hat, my white beard and my Hawaiian shirts. I figured that there would not be too many old geezers that had this “look”. Little did I know that my Panama hat would become an institution in my life. This was my first experience mingling with the elite of the Travel Blogger world and I wanted to try and meet as many of my new “online friends” as possible. I encouraged all to introduce themselves, as I wanted photo ops and truly like meeting new people face to face.
I really had no idea what to expect at TBEX or what the experience would teach me. I did know that I wanted to gain as much knowledge about traffic, SEO and building my brand as possible. Looking through the options on the first day I selected all the business topics from the various categories (HHMM maybe my background had something to do with this-Ha!). Of course I waited too long to get to the opening session and was frantically trying to locate the room, when I discovered and icon in the business, Johnny Jet was also a little lost. We teamed our brilliant minds together and eventually found our destination (after I mislead him–not a good start to my first meet up with Mr. Jet)!
The opening keynote by Trey Ratcliff blew me away. This young man of StuckInCustoms is a phenomenal photographer and has vision issues in one eye. When you look at his photography you will be amazed. He was wearing his new Google glasses and told us all the finer qualities and attribute of the glasses. I was in awe! As I was leaving the opening session a young man approached me and said “Hi Mike”. I was a little lost, thinking about my first breakout and did not recognize him at first. Turned out to be Will Castillo a friend and blogger I am trying to help out. You can follow him at IWillTravel and he is a very interesting young man, who loves South America almost as much as I do! Between the opening session and my first breakout no less than five bloggers came up and said hello. One even had me wait to meet her Mother! All because they saw “The Hat” from across the room.
I headed out of the session to my first breakout “Brands, Blogger & Dollars” given by Ted Murphy. I wrote two pages of notes (I am still trying to decipher a few words–my writing is atrocious) and discovered I should have brought a tablet or I-Phone and recorded the breakouts. I couldn’t write as fast as they talked! In essence Ted’s most important factors in dealing with brands or sponsors are the following; 1) Quality of Content, 2) Relevance to Industry, 3) Personality, 4) Engagement and 5) Traffic. Ted also focused extremely deeply on the FTC guidelines and what is acceptable and what isn’t. He stated we all need to read the guidelines for sponsorship. Who knew? I was extremely excited at the information learned and stepped out to head toward my second breakout. This time it was six or seven bloggers that came up and introduced themselves and I got a few photo ops. They saw “The Hat” from across the room again. See the pattern starting to develop?
My second breakout was with William Bakker of “Think! Social Media” and his topic was Lesson Learned: “Working with Bloggers & Destinations”. This young man energized everyone in the room, even though his dutch accent was pervasive, we could interpret his talk. He gave a myriad of facts and again I couldn’t keep up and write fast enough. Did you know the #1 social media platform for determining travel is Facebook. People trust their friends feedback more than any other source.
William stated that bloggers are “Content Creators” or Story Tellers and we must be authentic, and honest, if we desire credibility in the profession. He gave us Think’s blogger requirements on their selection process for press trips: 1) The blogger has to value the destination of Think’s trip, 2) What is your reach-Size of Audience, 3) What are your audience demographics, 4) What is your influence in a niche (Twitter & Facebook Activity), 5) Do you have a connection to other Influencers 6) What is your Quality & Style, 7) What is your speed of communication, 8) What is your level of technology & tools use, 9) Do you have a Personality. I could have listened to him all day, but had to grab a bite to eat.
Will had offered to buy my lunch and I am not one to turn food down! I told him at lunch that he needed to find an item like “The Hat” and establish his brand. We talked about various travel topics and it was time to get back. After lunch I had pre-selected my friend Stephen Oddo of Walks of Italy breakout and thought I would give him a hard time. His title was “Where’s my ROI? Campaign & Strategies in Digital Marketing”. Stephen stated “Marketing is the practice of creating a name, symbol or design that identifies and differentiates a product from another product”. Prior to the start of the third breakout, one of my closet online friends Jill of Road Warrior, came running up to where I sat and gave me a hug. She saw “The Hat” from the back of the room. So my design or symbol became “The Hat” without any conscience effort on my part. It just transpired!
Stephen stated you do this with 1) Personality, 2) Set standards and follow them, 3) Be Consistent, 4) Develop a Positive Reputation. He also said that blogs are the third most influential digital resource for purchasing travel. He stated 50% of travelers changed their minds based on what they read on trusted blogs. Wow! Had no idea “The Hat” had this much responsibility!
Time was flying by and my first experience in Speed Dating was staring me in the face. Was I ready. Had I gathered the correct statistics. How hard could it really be? I soon discovered. We had 10 minutes for each date and it became a whirlwind of activity and discussion and just as you got to know the vendor it was time to change and move on. This was one of the two hardest hours I have ever worked in my life. Not physically, but trying to give my presentation and communicate my niche and brand was extremely difficult in under 10 minutes. I was worn out and the night hadn’t even begun, for “The Hat”!