Think you’re just a little guy and incapable of competing with the big guys? Think again.
Gary Arndt is an award-winning blogger, whose travel blog was named one of the top 25 blogs by Time magazine in 2010. At New Media Expo in January, Gary will be leading a session called “How To Compete Against Billion Dollar Media Empires And Win” which you won’t want to miss. In the meantime, check out the transcript from when Gary joined us for our weekly Facebook chat.
Gary Arndt Hello from Barcelona, Spain!New Media Expo Hi Gary! Thanks so much for joining us – especially since you’re traveling and I know time is tight. Tell us, what was the one thing you did that made your blog stand out from all the rest and receive such awesome recognition?Gary Arndt In the travel space, there are many big brands: National Geographic, Lonely Planet, Travel Channel and every newspaper in the world.
Yet, no one can remember the name of anyone who writes for any of those outlets. People know the brands, but none of the people.
The single biggest thing I did was share my personality and my story. I did things at a personal level that big brands were incapable of doing.Gary Arndt In addition to the content I was creating, I also had a meta-story. People could learn about my background, where I had traveled to and it made the entire experience much more rich than just a series of articles in a magazine.Gary Arndt 1) I meet with my readers all over the world. There isn’t a major city I don’t visit where I don’t sit down and have drinks or dinner with someone. I usually get one to a dozen invitations from my readers in any city I visit. Mainstream journalists never do that.Gary Arndt 2) I’m extremely open and transparent about what I’m doing and what I’m feeling. Other than producing an article, there is little you know about who created a post and the story behind it. I’ve posted my phone number on twitter many timesTBEX Don’t you see a shift in the way print journalists approach their audience, though? I feel like I see more & more journalists using social media & being more “personal” with readers (& potential readers). Is being “personal” really enough to set us apart these days?Gary Arndt Two question I often pose to people when I speak is:
1) Have you heard of National Geographic?
2) Can you name a single person who has ever written for them in their 125 year history?
Most people can’t. They follow the brand, not any 1 person.Gary Arndt TBEX, to a point. Everyone is trying to jump on the social media bandwagon. At the end of the day, they aren’t paid for social media and they have no vested interest in growing an audience.
There was a great article I read today from the past editor of the Washington Post. His biggest regret is pushing the brand, not the personal brands of the writers.
He is correct.TBEX That’s true, I just wonder whether being a personality is going to be enough in the future to set individuals apart, since brands & the people behind them have as much access (if not more) to social media & other personality-driven media. What will set individuals apart then?Kerwin McKenzie It’s tough though Gary; I just saw a major airline share a link of a story that was done on them from two major U.S. TV stations. I don’t see them doing that for bloggers as often.
It’s changing though as I do get my posts shared by the airlines I mention as they like the content that I provide.
So I guess it will take time for bloggers to compete with big time media.Gary Arndt TBEX, the problem is what happens when the personality becomes too big for the media outlet? Ultimately, at the end of the day, they are employees. If they get fired, the benefit they had from being associated with the brad can disappear.
Witness what happens to the NYT Frugal Traveler after they get replaced. Working for the NYT is very powerful. Formerly working for them isn’t.Gary Arndt New Media Expo, I’m not sure it is an issue of topics per se. It is broader than that. Any given newspaper or magazine might take on any given issue. That doesn’t give them personality. It is the little stuff inbetween the posts that can help create personality. It is the voice that the post is written in as well.New Media Expo It’s Oprah’s personality and the personal way she interacts with her community that makes them want to buy into the brand, though, isn’t it? Once more brands figure that out, bloggers may have to find a new angle.Gary Arndt Rick, they buy into the brand because they like Oprah as a person. The person came before the brand. Again, this is all semantics about what you call a “brand”.
There is something qualitatively different about Oprah vs ESPN.Gary Arndt Emily, there is no magic bullet. It has taken me 6 years to get where I am. I’ve built my audience by traveling full time and doing things that other people want to do. I’ve been engaging with people the entire time.Gary Arndt TBEX, have an interesting personality I see too many bloggers that are trying to duplicate what magazines do. Don’t play their game. Give them the “6 Great Things To Do In London” space. Anyone can write that.
Be funny. Be sarcastic. Be vulgar. Be inspiring. Be something that you don’t see the big media companies do.Gary Arndt When I made the decision to make a business out of this, I realized i had to do what the mainstream writers weren’t doing.
I travel FAR more than any traditional travel writer in the world. I’ve committed myself to a lifestyle and I think that is reflected in my audience.
You can’t fake that level of commitment and I think people respect it.TBEX Is the online travel space any different from any other market in this regard? In other words, is the “be personal” advice applicable to every industry? Or do you see some areas where it works better than others?Gary Arndt Women on the Road, Everyone has to set their own boundaries. I’ve talked to many female bloggers who, understandably, have different limits that I do.
As a general rule, however, the more open the better.Gary Arndt Megan, not necessarily. Saying repulsive/racist things will get you attention, but it wont get you fans.
You have to have an opinion and be able to defend it. People will respect you even if they disagree.TBEX Women on the Road Speaking as a woman, when I travel by myself I’m fairly public about where I am (country, city) but I don’t check into Foursquare publicly, for instance. In some cases, I don’t even check into Foursquare until I’m leaving that place – especially if it’s the hotel I’m staying in!Gary Arndt New Media Expo, several things:
1) I’ve put a lot of emphasis on my photography. I knew nothing about photography 5 years ago, and today I’m an award winning travel photographer. I think the quality of the images makes a difference.
2) I made a purposeful emphasis on visual content. It is easy for people to digest and consume. I also think travel is fundamentally visual.
3) I got lucky. I was an early blogger and the Time Magazine thing didn’t hurt, but that was a result of the other things I did.
4) I also worked my ass off. I’ve posted a travel photo every day for 5 years straight. I’ve spent half a decade living out of a bag, going to places that people would love to visit. I think that is reflected in the WOW factor that people have when they discover me.Gary Arndt New Media Expo, you have to really make a splash. You have to do something really different. How you do that is up to you.
You also have to network your ass off.
I’m amazed at how few bloggers in the travel niche for example have never bothered to contact myself or other successful travel bloggers.
I know many people are intimidated by bigger bloggers, but the reality is, I answer all my emails and am gald to talk to almost anyone.Gary Arndt If I was starting a new blog today, the first thing I’d do is make a list of all the top bloggers in that space and try to get to know them.
Get them to mentor me, learn what they do, and just be friends with them.
Most of the bloggers I know, I know because they just happened to start blogs at the same time I did.
Everyone starts with an audience of zero. If you are going to have a small audience, at least have the right people paying attention.TBEX You are a good resource, Gary, but trying to “be the next Gary” probably isn’t the right goal for newer travel bloggers. The space is changing, & trying to emulate the people who’ve already done it seems like it will put you behind the curve instead of ahead of it, no?Gary Arndt James, at a certain level you can’t. You can’t compete with an 8 figure advertising budget.
The closest thing you could do is run Facebook advertising, which can be done surprisingly cheap if you do it right, but even that has its own drawbacks.
If you work hard and hustle, you can carve out your own niche.New Media Expo Not all the top bloggers are very forthcoming, they don’t want to give away their “secrets” for free or they simply don’t answer their email. Are there any resources – books, webinars, classes, etc. you’d recommend to bloggers?Gary Arndt New Media Expo, other than knowing how to set up wordpress, there is little you are going to get out of these webinars.
Most blogs about blogging know nothing about the problems I’m discussing. There is no problogging channels on TV. There isn’t a marketing section in newspapers.
Whatever you see online is usually the pinnacle of that media for those niches.
I think the best teacher is experimentation.
I seldom talk about business just because I don’t want to bore my readers with talk of business when I can talk about more interesting things I’m doing around the world.Gary Arndt Also, if you don’t have the budget big brands have, you have to replace that with time and work. Almost every big blog I can think of in any niche has been around for years. It doesn’t happen overnight.
You have to be in this for the long haul.Gary Arndt The entire reason I submitted the proposal for this session at NME was because I was so frustrated with the blogging gurus that never addressed this problem because they didn’t know it existed.Gary Arndt I’m currently in Barcelona where I”ll be speaking at an event on the Yahoo campus on Friday.
After that I’ll be back in the US for December to write a book.
I don’t have any webinars or ebooks to plug
If you would like to follow my adventures as I travel around the world, feel free to follow along on my Facebook page: Everything Everywhere!
New Media Expo Thank you, Gary Arndt. I’d like to encourage the NMX community to continue to ask any questions they have – if Gary would be so kind as to check back from time to time. And please don’t miss Gary’s session “How to Compete With Billion Dollar Empires and Win” at New Media Expo ’13. http://nmxlive.com/2013-lv/speakers/gary-arndt/
We hope you can join us for this week’s Facebook chat featuring Jay Baer. Jay’s NMX session is titled “Youtility: Why Smart Companies Focus on Helping, Not Selling” and he’ll be giving away lots of great information on the topic during the chat. Join us this Wednesday at 10am PT/1pm ET to ask Jay questions about how to avoid selling–and start helping instead.