— Jenny Neill

Social Media 101 for Travel Writers: Get Real

November 1 marked more than the beginning of my blogging challenge. That evening, an eclectic assortment of writers, editors, and PR specialists gathered to discuss the latest trends for travel writers seeking to build their brand online. This was no stuffy, formal presentation. Myrna Oakley, chair of the Pacific NW Travel Writers Conference, included panelists and attendees alike in a dialogue about what’s hot and what’s not in social media.

Oakley kicked off the discussion by asking the panelists to define the latest fads. Their answers covered a broad range of topics, touching on tools and tactics in equal measure. The crowd acknowledged the primacy of Twitter and Facebook while debating the relevance of Pinterest, Foursquare, and Google+.

Streamline Your Streams

For content creators, building an audience online means being genuine and sounding like a human. Readers and fans respond much better to seeing real reactions than nothing but a stream of automated self-promotion. This prevailing wisdom triggered further debate about which technologies are worth investing time in using. The more experienced social media jockeys in the room shared their tips for trying out helper apps like Hootsuite, BufferApp, or Tweetdeck.

While talking about such practicalities, another theme emerged: No solopreneur or small business can be on all channels at all times. Oakley sought agreement about which tools matter most to writers by asking panelists to pick only one to keep. Her next query, about which one to toss out, stirred up a bit of controversy.

To Pin or Not To Pin

Arguments for and against Pinterest resulted in perhaps the most spirited discussion of the night. For some, this app being fun was reason enough to invest time in using it. However, those looking for evidence that pinning brings new traffic noted that their web stats simply don’t show that it does.

Most agreed that nabbing your name or brand on the latest, greatest social media platform is a good idea if only to prevent someone else from doing so. From there, determining how to maintain a presence on any given site or service really comes down to what your goal is.

Go Where the Target Takes You

Are you looking for sources, readers, or both? Once you define that, you have something against which to gauge how you spend time on a given social media network. But don’t be surprised if those people you are trying to reach don’t stay active where they are now. For example, Facebook introduced a new Page feature this week. Such a shift could change how people use the site or even result in a move to use other networks more.

This event was nominally for writers. However, the mix of professions represented included those that concern themselves with keeping tourists and customers happy. Though each pro in attendance had different reasons for being online, one theme rang true throughout. If as a travel writer you want to develop a following online, be who you are. Be real.