Your Friends Support You, But They Still Won’t Consume Your Content

If you’re my friend and a creative the reality is that I probably don’t listen to your music, haven’t read your book, am not regularly reading your blog and probably haven’t subscribed to your podcast. It’s not because I don’t like you. It’s not because I don’t respect you.  It’s not because I don’t believe in your talent and it’s not because I don’t want to help you succeed. In fact, you’re probably exceptional at what you do and applying your skills to create something amazing.

As a content creator, this is something that will frustrate you, leave you feeling concerned that you’re not good enough or that I don’t respect you. You’ll probably feel a bit betrayed and you’ll feel a bit hurt. I know these are all still emotions I feel regularly as a fellow content creator.  But, the reality is, it doesn’t make me a bad friend and it most definitely doesn’t mean your content isn’t good enough.  As a content creator, this was a hard lesson that has taken me a long time to come to grips with, and even longer to internalize.

It doesn’t matter what type of content you create – perhaps you’re a journalist, a photographer, a musician or book author. One of the most difficult things to come to terms with, and something that leads many creatives to abandon their projects while feeling a deep sense of hurt, is the reality that the audience you expect to be the most passionate and automatic – that of friends, family and colleagues will, more often than not, disappoint you.

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison

This blog includes a lot of advice. It includes a lot guidance, materials and assets which have taken me hours and a considerable financial investment to assemble. I’ve been running VirtualWayfarer since 2007 and post on a daily basis about the topics covered here – travel, photography, study abroad, videography etc. – and yet, not a month goes by that someone I know, usually fairly well, reaches out with a message to the effect of, “Hey Alex, you travel a lot right? Do you have any advice about X-Y-Z?”.   For most of my blogging career this left me exasperated. After all, I’d spent years spoon feeding that very information to them, doing everything in my power to make them aware of it, and expecting that they’d be interested, curious and support me. All of which was, by and large, utterly ineffective outside of triggering a vague association.

It hurt. It pissed me off. It was disheartening.  To make it worse, it also made an already difficult process a hell of a lot more difficult.

Why? Because getting content out there, discovered, and adopted by other people is hard. Like, really, really, freaking hard. The easiest way to leapfrog some of that is through the amplification of your social network. I have roughly 2,370 Facebook friends and an additional 400+ people following me. The vast majority of these people are people I’ve met in real life, know personally, or are travel bloggers themselves. Out of those nearly 3,000 folks how many follow VirtualWayfarer on Facebook? 379. On YouTube? No way to tell, but probably fewer than 50. If even 500 of those nearly 3,000 folks engaged with and shared one piece of my content a week, it would have a radical impact on the exposure and visibility of this blog. Especially because they’re very diverse people, spread around the globe, with very multi-faceted social networks.

But, there in lies the catch 22.  They’re very diverse people, with very diverse interests, with very diverse priorities, tastes, and commitments. They’re already busy in the midst of what they’re doing and they have pre-existing preferences which, at any given point, will only overlap with what I’m creating and doing periodically and in a specific way.

Turning 31 – Reflections on Confidence and Relationships

Over the past few years a tradition of sorts has arisen. To celebrate my birthday, I sit down, put on my thinking cap, and ramble a bit about some of the things I’ve learned over the previous year. Sometimes these are musings still being digested, other times topics I’m more thoroughly confident about. Regardless, today I celebrate turning 31 and in honor of the occasion have focused on two topics. In some ways the two are complimentary. In others ways they’re worlds apart. I hope you’ll enjoy the musings and take them for what they are – just reflections and an attempt to share the world as I see it and how I relate to it. You can see my more detailed 30th birthday post here, my musings on turning 29 here, or 28 here. This year I also stumbled upon a long-forgotten blog post written on my 23 birthday (yeah, I’ve been blogging that long) which you can view here.

Flower Patch

Social Discomfort

A couple of years ago I had a realization. As I sat with several friends, on multiple occasions, we’d arrive in a situation where they were uncomfortable. Before long, they’d get antsy and comments would start to flow. Often it was about the people present, or aspects of the venue. Perhaps the people were too young, or too naive, or acting too embarrassingly American (in several instances it was young college students on their first exchange). In other situations the beer was too warm, or the venue had failed in some utterly trivial and minor but nevertheless comment worthy way.  Visualize the hipster that ends up in a trendy club and is utterly out of place, or the posh southern socialite who ends up in a grungy dive bar. Picture the polished model who regularly is at ease and comfortable in fancy cocktail bars ending up in a grungy little bodega that only serves beer and bitters.

In these instances their comments were often somewhat embarrassing, in no small part because they’re typically made fairly loudly or at the expense of those nearby. That sense of surprise though also got me to monitor my own behavior and, sure enough, I started to discover I had the same coping mechanism. I also suspect it’s a mechanism that is particularly prevalent within academics as it’s often the easiest and safest defense mechanism for discomfort. Ultimately though, it’s also something all of us do and on a fairly regular basis. Those that are best at conquering the impulse, are those that also seem to be exceptional at integrating into foreign cultures such as the photographer who magically befriends locals or the social butterfly that drifts effortlessly from group to group.

Read Travel Blogs? Be Careful.

It’s no secret that many bloggers have been able to monetize somewhat through the sale of links to search engine optimization companies and digital brands.  This has led to a sort of dance between bloggers, Google, and SEO professionals which is utterly confusing and complex. Are they any different than traditional ads? Does the intent matter? Are they misleading readers? etc. and the reality is that several high profile bloggers have come out and talked a bit about how they were funding their travels using this approach (on high volume) until it started to undermine their relationships with their readers, incurred the wrath of Google, or a bit of both. Others have established secondary sites that essentially serve as dumping grounds for these links and content. Yet others have been far less scrupulous and completely forgone the wall between paid content/endorsements/links/disclosure and genuine written material. What I find particularly disturbing about this is that it seems to be an increasing trend, particularly as rates for other forms of advertising/compensation decrease.

Backpacker Research

Discovering Innsbruck

Some of you may have noticed that I’m behind on updates this month.  I apologize for the gap in content, and promise to dive back into things with lots of exciting new material in August.  As some of you know, in addition to authoring VirtualWayfarer I’ve been a full time masters student over the past two years in Communication and Cognition at the University of Copenhagen in Denmark.  The experience of living expat life, and pursuing a two-year masters program abroad has been an incredible one.  As with all great adventures, this one is winding down.  On August 1st I’ll be handing in my masters thesis and completing my program.  As you might imagine, that August 1st deadline means that I’ve been up to my neck in journal articles, research data, and writing deadlines.

It’s going great, but I’ve still got lots of work to do before my final deadline.  It hasn’t left much time to breath, let alone sit down and write new updates here.  The flip side is, however, that the thesis is an analysis of Facebook’s influences (both positive and negative) on hostel and backpacker culture.  Through it, I’ve put together a wealth of incredible research which really helps delve into the role social networking sites like Facebook play in changing our behaviors and enabling our relationships. Once completed, I’ll be sharing highlights from my research and the final thesis here on VirtualWayfarer.

If the topic sounds particularly interesting to you, and you’re antsy to learn more, you can read my paper, Exploring the Influence of Facebook on Backpacker’s Social Experience in Hostels. Published earlier this year, it is my first peer-reviewed academic article and was co-authored by Dr. Cody Morris Paris.  Cody is at the forefront of backpacker research and has done some fantastic work.   The journal article is based upon a survey of backpackers and served as preliminary research for my masters thesis topic which covers a similar area.

Independent of my current thesis project, I’m teaming up with Cody once again, for a second look at backpacker behavior. If you are interested in participating, we have three questions that we are collecting responses to.

1. Share a story or experience about how technology (mobile or social media) has disrupted or separated you from the ‘travel experience’.

2. Share a story or experience from traveling in a ‘technology dead zone’ where you were disconnected from your online social networks.

3. Have you ever ‘unplugged’ by choice while traveling? Why? Please share a story.

If you want to submit your answers, you can either e-mail them to me privately [alex *at*], or leave them as a comment on this thread.  While it is not necessary that you answer all three (it is great if you would) please answer the questions in-depth while using specifics.  Basic information about you is also appreciated. Cutoff for submitting your answers is August 1st, 2013.

On a completely unrelated note, I recently switched VirtualWayfarer to a new hosting company.  The site is now hosted on an account by itself.  It is my hope that this should improve site performance, speed and reliability.  If you notice any issues (or improvements), please let me know!

Time for me to get back to work on the thesis!  As always, thanks for reading and your ceaseless support!

Announcing the 3rd Arizona Travel Blogger Meetup!

Grand Canyon at Sunset - Boots

The time has come for the 3rd Arizona Travel Blogger Meet (and tweet!) up. Bring your stories, pictures and self for an hour or two of travel talk, stories and bonding with other members of Arizona’s local travel community.

The goal is simple! Get to know each other while developing a more aware/active travel community in Arizona. We’ve got a ton of talent/experience in Arizona and it’s about time we started helping each other!

The meet-up will be this Saturday, October 23rd at 1:30PM. We’ll be meeting at Boulders on Broadway which is located just west of Mill Avenue off of Broadway in Tempe. All you need to bring is yourself.

If you’ll be attending, please feel free to post a quick introduction, including your twitter info/website/blog in a response to this post.

Date: Saturday, October 23rd 1:30PM-3:00PM.

Location: Boulders on Broadway which is located on the North East Corner of Broadway and Roosevelt Street in Tempe. View it on Google here. The address is 530 W Broadway Road, Tempe, AZ.

Coordination: My (Alex) phone number is 480.313.2441 if you want to confirm anything or are having issues finding the coffee shop shoot me a text/call. I won’t be able to check twitter during the event, so make sure to contact me directly.

Spread the Word: So, here’s the challenge. Let’s make sure we don’t miss anyone. Are you aware of travel tweeps, bloggers or industry personalities that might like to join? Make sure to either send them to this post, or get me their e-mail and I’ll reach out to them.

AZ COMMUNITY – On twitter? See the list I’ve assembled of AZ based travel twitter users here.

Any questions? Post them in a comment – or feel free to e-mail me directly via alex ~at~

March and August’s meetups were an absolute blast and I’m really excited/looking forward to round two! Hope to see you all there.

Post Arizona Travel Tweetup Wrapup

Arizona Tweetup Number 2 Crew
(From Left to Right: Kerri, Toni, Patricia, Alex, Jackie)

We just wrapped up the 2nd Arizona Travel Tweetup and I’m thrilled to say it was an absolute blast.  We added three new faces to the group and spent a couple hours exchanging travel stories, wisdom, and doing more than a little brainstorming.   You can see the original event announcement here.

Who made it (make sure you’re following them!):

Kerri who tweets at @khegre and is a passionate travel micro-blogger.

Jackie who tweets at @bikelady, blogs at Bike With Jackie, Arizona Travel and Adventure and is a professional travel writer and published guide author.

Toni who tweets as @SmithTempe and @VisitTempe, blogs on Visit Tempe and serves as the voice of Tempe travel.

Patricia who tweets as @patriciaelenie, blogs on Patricia Lapadula and is an active independent travel blogger and photographer.

and myself – Alex on twitter as @AlexBerger, blogs here VirtualWayfarer and runs the UltimatePackingList and TravelResourceList.

For those looking to connect with fellow Arizona based travel people please make sure to look over my AZ Travel list on twitter (if you’re not on it post here or shoot me a tweet).

What We Talked About

I was really excited by how much ground we covered over a relatively short period. For those of you who were not able to join us – here’s a taste of what you missed:

Travel stories and photos – No surprise here right? We had some great ones from an amazing long duration sailing trip, to stories about culture shock in Africa, crying babies, and the woes of traveling with young children.  @patriciaelenie brought several stunning photos from her recent SEA Semester program where she sailed for several months around the Caribbean while @BikeLady brought several copies of her recently released Backroads and Byways of Arizona guide.

Twitter – It’s not really a tweetup if you don’t talk about twitter and we did! From general discussions about social media, to more specific discussions about how we use and rely on twitter as a tool we had what i found to be a very informative discussion.

One of my favorite tips came from @khhegre who suggested the creation of small twitter lists consisting of category driven favorites. She’s used this as a creative way to overcome the challenges that go with the forced feed sampling approach which happens as you break 200 follows. The creation of lists still allows you to sample general tweets, while making sure you’re able to filter it category or emphasis when the mood strikes.

We also discussed the ways in which twitter has changed how we follow and consume blog content.  The general consensus was that while many of us previously had favorite blogs/blog feeds which we followed, that our general approach had changed.  Now the emphasis was on people, individual articles and information feeds, over the blog feed itself.  Our new approach has evolved into sampling what looks interesting from our twitter feed which if reflective of general twitter users (Which I believe it is) shows a fundamental shift in how bloggers need to position themselves, distribute their posts, and share with the community.   It looks like you’ll need to be even more social and pro-active in the future if you want to put your content in front of people.

We also discussed a few other basics, things like how we choose who to follow, the impact and importance of your following/follower ratio, and the power of twitter as a tool to build new relationships and friendships. Especially for travelers!  I found @SmithTempe/@VisitTempe’s insights into how Tempe has been pushing into Social Media and really re-defining their relationship with the travel community to be really informative and exciting.

LinkedIn, TBEX, Tripitini – As a community focused event, the question of communities came up.  We talked about three of the largest concentrations of general travel discussion.  LinkedIn was a new one for me, but apparently as a very vibrant travel discussion community.  We discussed Travel Blog Exchange in some depth including a break down on the recent TBEX conference which @khegre had been able to attend as well as Tripitini a more recent community on the scene that is very similar to Tripitini and has an active travel community.

Facebook – We spent some time brainstorming on the way we use and interact with Facebook as well as its potential for improving social interaction, building/maintaining travel contacts/friendships and as a traffic/community building tool.  The consensus?  Facebook has done amazing things for empowering travelers and giving an easy way to meet and stay in contact with friends made on the road. We also looked at how Facebook is increasingly becoming one of the primary traffic drivers for independent bloggers and community sites.  Probably in no-small part due to the same shift we’re seeing in Twitter as people move from individual blog loyalty to a focus on people’s recommendations and individual links.

Hostels and Couchsurfing – We had a fun chat with a few comical adventure stories about what hostels are, who they’re right for, their positives and some of their drawbacks. We also discussed Couchsurfing (with a quick introduction to what it is) and different tools for reaching out to travelers as they visit Phoenix/Arizona.

Lots more beyond that, but those are the highlights that jump to mind! Hopefully they serve as good food for thought for those who were not able to join us.  If they’ve sparked a thought or question, don’t hesitate to keep the conversation going in a comment here on this post.

Thank you again to everyone who came out.  I hope to get a 3rd Arizona Travel Tweetup organized for sometime in late September or early October.  I look forward to continuing to build the community and helping put real faces and names to twitter/blogs/websites.

PodCampAZ 2008

I had the pleasure/opportunity to attend PodCamp AZ this weekend at the University of Advancing Technology campus in Tempe.  For those unfamiliar with it, the event is a once yearly UNconference which is re-produced all across the US in slightly different forms.  The UNconference style is focused around maximizing your experience, keeping the energy creative, and ensuring that everywhere is where they want to be, focused on what they want to be learning and encouraging everyone’s participation.

So what is it?  It’s a free new media conference dedicated to bloggers and podcasters with additional material on all things new media. From information on how to record and edit your podcast to information about what makes a startup work – it’s a wonderful synergy of creative, inspired individuals sharing information and building relationships. The two day event occurred Halloween weekend, November 1st and 2nd.

I had the pleasure of attending the following presentations:

Pamela Slim of Escape from Cubicle Nation’s: How to strike a balance between sharing information freely and making a living using New Media. I’ve had the pleasure of communicating and getting to know Pam over twitter for the past month or so.  It was wonderful to finally put a face with the name. I especially enjoyed her insights into clarifying your blog’s message and goals while working to establish a set niche.

Dan Feierabend of Love Long and Prosper’s: The Audacity of Podcasting: Tips for producing and editing your audio podcast with free software. Dan provided a fantastic crash course on Audacity.  I’ve been using the open-source software for sound and audio recording for several months, but spent almost no time what-so-ever learning it.  In an hour Dan was able to provide a ton of useful information and several fantastic resources.

Andrew Hyde, Founder of Startup Weekend’s: Bottoms Up Leadership- Why are the most effective organizations leaderless? & his Starting it up Quick- How to start a startup and not make the classic mistakes quickly.  Two wonderful sessions.  As a big fan of the Starfish and the Spider Andrews first talk on leaderless organizations was extremely interesting. The power of leaderless organizations and their inner power dynamics are fascinating.  His second piece on startups was an absolute fantastic discussion which provided me with a much better understanding of the startup environment and some excellent food for thought. Some of which will definitely help me with my duties in the M&A Industry.

Chris Pirillo of Lockergnome‘s: Cultivating Community & his off the cuff discussion on new media. Chris’s discussion on how to build community was extremely interesting. He raised some new points i’d been previously unaware of and really touched on a lot of the thigns I learned while leading the Legion of Light (Gaming Guild). Great lessons. I was also extremely impressed by his spur of the moment fill-in/off the cuff discussion on New Media in general. I really enjoyed his energy and animation.

Doug Welch of Welchwrite’s: New Media Interchange. Evo Terra joined Doug for a fantastic look at the role new media can play in personal branding, new media, and our day to day lives.

Clintus McGintus of I Do It Digital’s: Video on the Net – what should you be sending through the pipes? Clintus’s presentation really highlighted the power of quick videos for me. His presentation also helped make me aware of several other powerful video sharing services which I’d previously missed and am now eager to explore.

Brian Shaler of‘s: It’s the Internet. It’s Supposed to be Interactive! Brian’s presentation provided interesting insights into the future of interactive, streaming video, and how the web will continue to develop to handle the increased resource demands.

The above are just the presentations I was able to catch & spend the most time at.  For each presentation mentioned above there were 6 more simultaneously occurring.  A hearty thank you goes out to the PodCamp AZ team for setting up the event, all of the wonderful speakers, and everyone who showed up and shared their knowledge and energy.

I cannot wait to put everything I learned this weekend to work!  Time to go play!  Hope to see you all at PodCamp AZ 2009.