Back in June I had the honor of being asked to speak on the “I am a Blogger in Your Neighborhood” panel at Healthy Living Summit with Holly (The Healthy Everythingtarian) and Clare (Fitting It All In). Please keep in mind that even though I’ve been on the planning committee for Healthy Living Summit since its infancy, this was the first year my name was actually attached to a session on the agenda (besides the first year, which I’m not sure really counts since we didn’t really have sessions that year).
I’m not the best public speaker (I can get up there and gab about anything, but tell me to write a speech and actually have a point to my ramblings, I tend to freeze up, talk fast, and stumble over words), but I liked the topic that Holly had presented.
You see, I LOVED blogging and networking when I lived in Orlando. I made a lot of great friends, had a lot of great contacts, and really got to know the scene. Then I moved. When I came to Tampa I knew nothing about the area. I didn’t really have any friends, didn’t know many Tampa based bloggers, and had zero contacts for any sort of gigs in the area. I was a small fish in a big pond. So I drove to Orlando. A lot. I kept my Orlando contacts in tact and exhausted myself trying to keep up with all of the Orlando happenings while still trying settle into Tampa. It was exhausting and I completely wore myself out. Eventually I knew I couldn’t keep up with all of the Orlando stuff like I was hoping and decided to build from the ground up in Tampa. I didn’t sever all of my Orlando contacts completely, instead I used them as a guide to build up my connections in Tampa.
A year and a half after moving to Tampa – and four years after starting my blog in Orlando – I’d like to think I learned a thing or two about both of the local blogging communities and the amazing connections I’ve made along the way.
So that’s what I wanted to share – some of my experiences with working on the local blog scene and why it is important to connect with your local blog community. I think sometimes bloggers are so focused on the bigger brand, national picture that they often forget there are so many awesome opportunities waiting in their own back yard. You want to blog locally, grow nationally.
Holly, Clare, and I made a great team. Holly share a little on how to reach out to local publishers – or businesses – in your area regarding potential work and Clare shared some great advice on networking in your local community. I pretty much just blabbered on my own experience somewhere in the middle and hoped I made some sense.
Since I had some requests on that blabbering, here’s a not-so-brief breakdown on what I covered in my portion of the presentation. (that rambling? yeah, it’s not specific to just speaking – transfers to blog writing too. )
Think Outside the Blog
Remember my series with Izon Orlando? In case you’re new, Izon Orlando is an online channel that focuses on the local scene. It’s created locally, produced locally, and features local talent (see all of my episodes here). Izon Orlando’s creator approached me when I was still living in Orlando (but just about to move) with the idea of doing some sort of fitness focused show. After many brainstorming sessions, we decided a show that featured out-of-the-box fitness adventures would work best. Each week I would try a new fitness trend and we would film it for the show. It was my job to locate the different fitness studios I wanted to try, contact them, and coordinate the filming schedule.
It. Was. A. Blast. Not only did I try a lot of new workouts, but it made for some great content for the blog. Readers (locally and not-so locally) were interested in what the workouts were all about and it was a great way to make connections with local businesses. Some of those contacts even transferred to bigger things (example: I connected with Drink Chia during the TRX episode and they ended up being a sponsor for Healthy Living Summit).
Eventually I decided to drop the show when I realized driving back and forth to Orlando every week was too much, but I still love the idea. And you don’t have to have the backing of an online channel like Izon to have some of the same success. Think about it. What are some local activities you would like to see featured on your site? Why not create your own web show featuring them? Yes, businesses love being featured on blogs, but I think they love appearing in video even more. Contact them directly, let them know what you’re doing, and I know they will be more than happy to work with you.
Yelp <– falls under thinking outside the blog
There are other Yelp-like community review sites out there, but Yelp is what I’m most familiar with.
Let’s just say I <3 Yelp! If you’re a local business – Yelp is very important to your bottom line. Potential customers pay attention to reviews posted on Yelp, so businesses like to pay attention to Yelpers posting those reviews. I’ve had companies contact me via Yelp in reference to bad reviews I’ve posted (hoping to make amends for the previous so-so experience by offering a free meal under their “new management”) and for good reviews (thanking me for what I’ve written or eventually finding my blog through my Yelp page).
Yelp is free to join and open to everybody. Once you’ve been “Yelping” consistently, you have the opportunity to become a Yelp Elite and earn a nifty badge on your profile, as well as invites to exclusive Yelp Elite parties (and I’ve gone to some pretty cool ones).
Attending the events have led to some awesome contacts with local Yelpers (even a well connected food blogger who has kept me in the loop with events in the area), as well as a friendship with the local Yelp Community Manager (my advice – befriend your local Yelp Community Manager, they’re an awesome resource on what’s happening in town and the community manager is usually an awesome person you couldn’t help but be friends with anyways).
You never know when some of those connections and relationships may help you in the future.
See? A connection through Yelp led to a potential cool blog opportunity.
Start a Local Blog Group
Can’t find a local blog group in your area that fits your niche? Start one!
When I was living in Orlando, a few blogging girlfriends and I started meeting every other week. (I think J. was the one who first pulled us together ). After I moved, the group sort of exploded and the Central Florida Lady Bloggers was formed. The concept was genius. Once a month the group would get together at different locations around Orlando, with each member taking turns planning and executing the meetings and each meeting set-up almost like a book club discussion.
I kept in touch with the group and was sad there wasn’t anything similar over in Tampa. After sulking for a good year that there wasn’t something similar in my new town, I branched out and decided to create my own. Thus, the Tampa Bay Lady Bloggers group was formed.
Turns out, I wasn’t the only one craving a group like this – plenty of other lady bloggers in the area were craving it too. Once word about the group started to spread on the local blog scene, our little group grew.
What’s the secret? Keeping the group an open and honest place AND having more than one person in charge. I think there are currently 4 or 5 of us that have administrative control over the official page, but we trade off every month, taking turns planning the monthly meet-ups and topics.
We also share local opportunities and have partnered with a few local companies when they needed local bloggers. We use the page to seek out blogging advice, spread news for local events, and share what ever is on our minds. The group has allowed me to connect with local bloggers I otherwise would not have known existed.
Oh, and there was a question in my panel about having problems picking a date for group meet-ups that work for everyone. My advice? Don’t pick a date that works for everyone – just pick a date and hope that is works for the majority of people. If you wait to find a date that fits everyone’s needs – you are going to be waiting for a LONG time. Unfortunately this has backfired lately, as I haven’t been able to make a few of the meetings because the dates didn’t work in my favor, but that didn’t stop everyone else from getting together and having a great time. I just hope I can make the next one!
Again ramping up the local touches on a blog is something that a lot of bloggers tend to miss out on. Repeat after me: blog locally, grow nationally.
Make sure your website is SEO friendly for your area. You’d be surprised how many people google “where to run in Tampa” “places to eat in Tampa” or “best burger in Tampa” and end up on my blog. Thank you, SEO. Including those specific phrases in your blog posts – and emphasizing the city name – will draw in those who are either researching trips in your area or locals looking for something new to try or explore. Think of your blog as a travel guide for the area and make it easy for people searching to find it.
Create a “My Town” section with all of your local-based blog posts. I have a “My Orlando” section and I’ve had it on my to-do list for ages to create a “My Tampa” section. When visitors come to town, it’s a great resource to point them to on what there is to see and do in the area. I’ve also had a few local businesses contact me after doing their own research, landing on my page, and wanting to be added.
One last thing: Eat Local. Shop Local. Blog Local.
Be proud of your community! Get involved, attend local events, and network, network, network – you’d be surprised how many awesome opportunities are out there in your own backyard.