Mid-July, I took a deep breath and headed to Stockholm for TBEX, widely regarded as the travel blogging conference.
I’ll admit to slight nerves, mainly because my blog is fairly new and I wasn’t sure if I should be better established before mingling with the travel-blogging elite.
(Also, ahem, because it followed the Worldwide Festival in Sète – one of my highlights of the year – a seven-day music festival that finished at 4am on Monday morning, with the official opening party for TBEX Stockholm taking place that Thursday evening. Ouch!)
So was I glad I attended and what did I learn from the experience?
TBEX: A Quick Background
TBEX is a staple on the travel blogging calendar. It’s a gathering of people who share a passion for travel, creating and promoting travel-related content, and running travel businesses. It takes place a few times each year in various locations – usually Europe, America and Asia, though TBEX International in Jerusalem has just been announced for 2017.
Over three days, there were 3 keynotes, 30 breakout sessions filled with information and inspiration to help us improve, learn new skills and monetise our blogs, 2 speednetworking sessions where bloggers market their services to potential sponsors, several official parties, and lots of time to network, eat and drink.
It’s a fantastic opportunity to mingle with travel bloggers, industry experts, and brands to discuss potential partnerships and business relationships. And to talk about travel!
Here are my key takeaways…
You’re Never Too New to Attend TBEX
This was one of my biggest concerns before buying my ticket, mainly because I’d read about brands checking analytics before accepting speednetworking requests. And I haven’t really started promoting my blog.
I needn’t have worried.
I met heaps of TBEX first-timers, many with blogs a similar age or younger than mine; some people even attended who were only thinking of moving into travel blogging. Many of the breakout sessions are aimed at newbies (my biggest challenge was deciding which ones to attend as there were five running at any one time, all filled with interesting, useful information), so I’d argue it’s possibly more beneficial to go when you’re new to the game.
There were many experienced bloggers there too, but their focus was on networking and marketing to potential sponsors. It resulted in a great mix of new and experienced, with lots of people happy to share their knowledge and give advice.
Network, Network, Network
To make the most of TBEX, attend all official events and talk to as many people as possible. Because of the festival I couldn’t arrive early for the pre-TBEX tours, which was a shame, and I missed applications for the post tours. I won’t make that mistake again – they offer a fantastic opportunity to learn about the location, giving you some wonderful content material to boot, and the chance to make connections with fellow bloggers.
I did, however, rock up to the official parties. And boy do TBEXers know how to throw a party! The opening event was a 1920s extravaganza in the Haymarket Hotel, once a department store where Greta Garbo used to work. On the second day there were two parties, the first in the Vasa Museum and the second at the home of Sweden’s most famous and well loved pop group – the ABBA museum.
Plus throughout the conference there were plenty of breaks with a constant supply of Swedish food including some delicious homemade ice cream, and lots of opportunities to mingle.
You Need a Niche
OK, I already knew this but it was emphasised heavily throughout the conference.
The web is saturated with travel blogs, so to stand out I need a unique angle that fits my passions and appeals to my target audience. I know what I’m passionate about, but I’m still searching for an interesting angle and trying to work out who my target audience is.
However, I was filled with inspiration after meeting a wide variety of bloggers – luxury travel, budget travel, backpacking, solo travel, couples travel, female travel, family travel, video, travel photography, lifestyle and travel, blogs that focused on particular destinations, food travel, cultural travel, nature travel, eco-travel – you get the picture! I even spoke with a blogger who focuses on film tourism. So many possibilities, I came away buzzing with ideas. Expect more on this soon…
Branding, Influence & Community
In my hunt for a niche, I found two talks particularly inspiring: Ian Cleary’s opening keynote on building your personal influence, and Anton Diaz’s session on building a real and thriving community.
Social media expert, Ian Cleary of Razor Social, started the conference with a healthy dose of Irish charm and fun, while highlighting the importance of building influence in your niche and establishing a community around your brand. He encouraged us to build relationships with top influencers in our niche and to be strategic with our content, as it performs differently on each social media platform.
He concluded by emphasising that success comes from knowing your niche and being clear on who you are and what you stand for. Quite simply: in the world of social media, be yourself.
Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet led a session that continued the concept of community building. Know your audience was his message, specifically their life stage (I was less than impressed to find he classed me as an oldlennial!) as that influences the type of content they prefer. He recommended running annual audience surveys and keeping an eye on analytics to see which type of content performs the best.
Anton also emphasised the importance of knowing your core values, and ensuring that all content you deliver is congruent with them.
Tell Great Stories
Spud Hilton, travel editor at the San Francisco Chronicle, gave an inspiring keynote imploring us not to get so carried away with the moneymaking aspects of blogging that we forgo creativity. Honour readers by crafting compelling content and continually improving your skills were his main messages.
He encouraged us not to simply generate content, but to create stories. Everybody has access to the same destinations; the trick is to look at them with fresh eyes, defy expectations, use all the senses, and always put your unique stamp on a story. The aim is a powerful piece of writing that makes readers want to jump on a plane and visit that location.
He also poured scorn on an often-mooted argument about tourists v. travellers. Sure, some people prefer to stay off the beaten track and seek out adventure while others like to sit on a beach and sip cocktails. But ultimately, they’re all travellers, so stop labelling!
Louise Bastock from Lonely Planet gave me food for thought with her session on editorial calendars. While planning content for Lonely Planet is vastly different to scheduling content for my blog, her advice can be adapted to any size blog to aid organisation, provide content inspiration, and to give you a killer social media and marketing strategy.
She suggested using a simple tool like calendars, spreadsheets, or something like Trello, which is my planning tool of choice. Lock in your definite dates – trips for work and play, events, launches, plus anything important for your niche, like festival dates, openings of art exhibitions, etc.
This gives you a framework around which you can plan when to publish certain content for maximum interest. It also provides inspiration for new content. You can use it to check you have a good mix of different types of content, and to ensure you maintain a clear, consistent tone of voice – something brands like to see before working with you. It puts your planning strategy on a par with pros, therefore upping your chances of earning a great commission.
Take Plenty of Business Cards
I’d read that business cards were essential, so I swallowed my perfectionist tendencies (I originally wanted to finalise my niche before printing mine), designed a card with basic information and committed them to print (thanks Moo!). Great move!
I incorporated some super-useful tips: include a picture as you meet so many people names and faces get confused, and print your cards in matte with some white space on the back so people can make notes.
As for the number to take, I think that depends on how much networking you want to do, how sociable you are, and whether you’re doing any pre or post trips. I took 100 and used about half, but I didn’t do any tours or speednetworking. I’ll probably take the same next time, as I’ll be more established and more proactive. I did speak to some social butterflies that dealt out many more though!
If you do run out, save one or two so people can take pictures – it’s better than nothing!
Get Involved with Speednetworking
Hands up, I chickened out of speednetworking. I was daunted as my blog is new, plus I used the opportunity on the first day to go home and rest, because the conference was tiring and I was still recovering from seven days of dancing on the beach and into the early hours!
However, I hung around on the second day and learned an important lesson. Yes, some brands are searching for the most popular bloggers with the biggest audiences, but that isn’t true of everybody. Some don’t have big budgets for promo trips; they’re simply looking for interesting bloggers for certain projects, or trying to meet as many people as they can. So don’t instantly assume you don’t have anything to offer just because you haven’t got a big following yet. I didn’t make any appointments but I had some promising chats and I learned this is the best time to sign up for affiliates because you can start adding links to your blog as you go, rather than have to go back through hundreds of old posts adding them in.
Finally, once the networking, partying and exploring has drawn to a close, ride the momentum, nurture the inspiration, implement all that useful stuff, and follow up with all your new contacts and friends.
I loved my first TBEX. I came away full of inspiration for things I want to do with this blog, and with a warm fuzzy feeling from chatting with so many interesting people. I already have my ticket for TBEX Jerusalem in March 2017, and I’ll be working hard to move my blog and business forward by the time I meet this wonderful crowd again.
Accommodation can be pricey in Stockholm, though I found an amazing Airbnb with a lovely, generous family so there are bargains if you look around. (If you haven’t used Airbnb before, sign up via my link for a discount off your first stay.) Alternatively, check Agoda for the latest hotel prices, and see TripAdvisor for the latest accommodation reviews.
If you were at TBEX Stockholm, what were your main takeaways and TBEX tips? And if you’re thinking of heading to your first TBEX conference and there’s something you’d like to know, get in touch and ask me anything – I’d love to help.
Fantastic post, Jo. I especially like the emphasis on knowing your values and building your brand organically around that. Lots to think about!
Thanks Sophie. Yes – I came away with my head buzzing, and there’s a lot of mind-mapping and brainstorming going on at the moment!
We are getting ready for our first TBEX in Huntsville in May so your article really spoke to me. I was worried about many closed invitation meetings but it sounds like there are many things to do there. So many, in fact, that Jenn and I will probably have to split up and tag team. Did you work on your elevator speech? How did it go? What would you do different.
Hi Ed & Jenn. Thanks for your comment. It’s brilliant if you can attend in a couple, especially as there are 5 talks at any one time. I was envious of couples who attended TBEX because they were able to split up, attend different talks and feed back to each other, and had the potential to meet more sponsors! It’s definitely a good way to meet more people and spread the word about your brand. I didn’t have an elevator speech this time – I went there so new to it all, and I was more interested in meeting other bloggers and learning the ropes. I signed up for some affiliates and had lots of general conversations. I will prepare something more specific for Jerusalem though. Maybe I’ll see you there 😉 If you have any other questions, let me know or drop me an email 🙂