A short while ago I wrote this post about the emerging online market for travel writing.
I explained how changes in search engine and social media technology were causing commercial travel websites to start seeing themselves as travel publishers in their own right, opening up significant new opportunities for professional travel journalists.
The idea is that commercial travel websites’ long-term success will depend upon publishing content that is so extraordinarily good that visitors will share, comment, Like, Tweet, +1 and otherwise interact with it using social media tools.
In theory this means that travel writers will begin to enjoy a much stronger online market for their trade, as junky low paying content is replaced by the high grade, professional journalism that websites will need to succeed.
But writers will need to prepare for this emerging market by broadening the definition of their portfolio.
Here are some important things that the new publishers will be looking for:
Creating “Sharable” Content
Social media interactions with your content are the publisher’s main goal. The more interactions your contributions generate, the better their site will perform on search engines and social media sites. In principle this doesn’t require a significant departure from the traditional standards of quality writing: after all, a social media share is basically equivalent to an offline share: someone saving a magazine article and passing it on to a friend. In order to achieve both, the content simply has to be worth sharing in the first place.
That means detail-oriented, practically useful, entertaining, witty or controversial writing. In other words, no more bland Top Ten lists and other generic content that has clogged up the web for so long. In its place should be compelling, well researched, engaging travel writing that offers something of unique value to the reader, something they cannot find elsewhere – just like a pro would write for a newspaper or magazine.
But it also means recognizing the different habits of the online reader. Your writing must contend with the fact that attention spans are much shorter and distractions are plentiful. This means grabbing attention early, getting to the point quickly, using short sentences & paragraphs, and writing as concisely as possible.
Accept that most readers rarely finish an online article in its entirety and they will often drop off after the first few paragraphs. But if you can make your impact within that golden zone, people will happily share, Like, Tweet or +1 the article before reaching the end. Aim to inspire that interaction within the first paragraph with bold, attention grabbing introductions that give promise to what the article contains – often that will be enough to elicit valuable shares.
Provide Social “Added Value”
Demonstrating your ability to produce the above is an important first step. Get into the habit of monitoring the shares and interactions that your content generates, and use that data in your pitches and correspondence with editors.
Even more importantly, demonstrate that you can add value to your contributions with your own social media networks. For an online publisher, your article is only half of your product. They are also looking for writers with extensive social media reach and name authority that can be used to cross-promote their contributions.
You can provide this by:
- Choosing a niche and become an authority: post frequently about your subject on your own blog, and in guest posts on other blogs and sites. Aim to become known as “the expert” in your niche, whatever that may be (Peruvian cuisine, SE Asian beaches, French walking holidays, etc).
- Building your blog’s traffic & subscribers. Tell editors that you can link to your contributions from your own blog, to send extra traffic and discussion to their site.
- Developing a professional social media following, especially on Twitter, Facebook and Google+. Demonstrate to editors that you have wide networks on all three, and that you can share your contributions on your own networks.
- Registering with Google Authorship  to develop your position as an authority. Use your profile in your contributions to increase the publisher’s social connections. The more Google+ followers you have, the more useful this will be.
These factors will begin to determine the budget and rates that online publishers will offer for your work. Start to consider them as part of your overall portfolio and work on developing your online and social presence as a central part of your “product”.
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