One of the first travel blogs I began to follow on a regular basis was written by an English chap named Joe as he traveled around the world for 12 months. Excited at the thought of having similar experiences, I left the occasional comment on his blog, and he usually responded, though on at least one occasion, he confused me with a guy named Dave he knew back in England. Otherwise, it was a very one-sided experience. He wrote, I read.
As I began to develop this blog in 2007, I wanted to ensure there was a more interactive atmosphere for my trip. I thought it would enhance the whole experience for both the readers and me.
Here are a few of the ways I and others help involve readers to keep them coming back for more!
Responding to Comments and E-mails
Blogging is about more than you as producer of content, and readers as consumers of content. It is about the dialogue which occurs between the two sides.
In an effort to strike an acceptable balance between time spent traveling and time spent blogging, I adopted an insular (borderline defensive) approach on my trip, ensuring I responded to the majority of comments on my blog and all the e-mails people sent me. I recommend this approach at a minimum. If people are taking the time out of their lives to leave a comment on top of reading what you wrote, they should be recognized for that effort and interest in being involved. On most occasions, a public response works perfectly.
If you start to notice regular contributors who comment frequently, a private e-mail to them directly, thanking them for their support, is a more personal way to show your appreciation (and reinforce the behavior).
Going a step further, if contributors have a blog or website of their own, which they include when leaving the comment, check it out. You help boost their traffic by simply clicking the link, and if it seems up your alley, subscribe. Even if you can't read it while you're on the road, you've bookmarked the site for future reference. Again, this indirectly helps them by increasing their number of subscribers, an important marketing statistic.
Lastly, if you really want to aggressively grow your blog's traffic and build online relationships while traveling, then pick a handful of travel blogs and continue to read and comment on them consistently. The more popular the blog, the more visibility you stand to gain by associating yourself with it.
Asking for the opinions of your readers is a simple way to involve them. As a consumer of media, be it online, print or TV, it always feels good to know your opinion is taken into consideration. Why else would American Idol generate millions of votes by phone each episode?
The power you give readers over your decision-making process can be a fun dynamic to play around with while traveling. On this topic, I'm reminded of Jeremy David's travel blog, Choose My Adventure, in which he opened himself up to the unknown by allowing readers to vote on where he went (mostly in Europe) and how long to spend in various places.
On my trip, I wasn't so willing to give up control, however I always created polls which were relevant to my locations and future plans, and addressed curiosities. They are a great tool for interaction – simple to implement from the blogger's perspective, and simple to use from the readers.
You can see the results of all my polls in the archive.
My invitation to have readers dare me to do weird, gross, embarrassing, and adventurous things abroad was especially fun. Those readers who bet me a beer or money to do something then had a vested interest in continuing to read. After all, they had to see if I would be successful. On my end, I was pushed to do things I might not otherwise try, like eating dog or getting in the ring for Muay Thai training.
I adopted the premise from Challenge Steve.
Opportunities to Donate
As a travel blogger, you've got nothing to lose by throwing up a PayPal donation button on your blog. Unless you're going for an especially professional appearance or money is not an issue, it leaves the door open for the occasional generosity of visitors who want to show their appreciation for your efforts.
Contests and Giveaways
A long time ago, when I was first getting started with the GoBackpacking domain, I recall having a contest or two where I gave away a free guidebook or gift certificate on Amazon in exchange for people subscribing to a site e-mail list. Around the same time, I had also created a fan page for one of my favorite bands. I ran a contest there for a gift certificate to Amazon.com, seeking concert reviews from readers. The investment on my part was small – no more than $25 in each case, however the contests were always received well and it felt good to offer something for free.
I haven't seen many contests on personal travel blogs, however Gary over at Everything Everywhere has been running them successfully. For example, on May 31, he offered a book giveaway in exchange for users leaving a comment with what they like about China. In two weeks, he's tallied 118 comments!
Social Networking – Facebook, Twitter, etc.
The ever-increasing popularity of social networking sites is leading to some interesting changes. They are becoming increasingly open with one another. For example, my blog posts, Twitter updates, and YouTube uploads all automatically post to my Facebook account, making the publication of micro-updates a lot easier.
Heck, my primary reason for joining sites like MySpace and Facebook were to publicize this blog and gain a few easy backlinks! I still have a lot to learn in regard to leveraging these networks, however at the least, you can consistently remind your family, friends, and coworkers about what's being posted to your travel blog.
What other ways do you use to interact with bloggers or readers?