Friday, January 15, 2010

Blurg, indeed!

Interesting what the universe feeds back when you put stuff out there.

Following last week's slough of despond, and totally separate from this blog, I got two contacts from the past, one personal and one professional. Both were nourishing.

The personal one came from a woman I'd lost contact with inadvertently. She'd actually tried to contact me a couple of weeks ago by posting a comment on one of my other blogs. For whatever reason, I hadn't noticed there was a comment to be moderated, and when I did, there she was. We linked up by phone, and it was great to hear her voice. She's always been really supportive of me -- even when I wasn't supporting myself -- and the affirmation is much needed right now.

The professional contact was a bit of a surprise: the Princeton tour lady. Given her hectic schedule, she and I never did get back together last fall, but I became a fan on her company Facebook page to keep up-to-date on the business. Early last week someone flamed one of her posts, and I commented back in her defense, without giving it much more thought than it being a nice thing to do. A few days later I found a reply to my November e-mail to her in my mailbox, thanking me for the defense and asking me for a few dates when we could get together for lunch. Wow! It appears this social networking thing can really work.

We got together yesterday for a quick bite and intense conversation. I learned a lot in an hour! Some of what she said supported what the ranger had covered at the NPS training the day before: sheer facts and figures might interest us geeks, but the vast majority of our guests want to be entertained. You've got to make the location and the history come alive for them. She also offered up some potential alternatives to supplement the day-in, day-out uncertainty of whether people will show up for tours.

She also advised me to keep start-up costs low by not going too crazy with tchotchkes right up front. My thinking exactly. Invest in logo treatment and maybe get staff shirts (like one, for me) through Zazzle or some other on-demand business. I've never been one for giveaways, so if I can sink the money elsewhere (like a good website), I'd rather do that.

All that said, she didn't seem very optimistic that people would want to explore New Jersey when New York and Philadelphia are so close. Acknowledged. But don't'cha think the state could be doing a better job of creating a narrative of the state that doesn't start with the shore and end with Atlantic City casinos? There are an awful lot of really lonely people staffing historic sites in this state, and they'd love the company. Somehow we didn't get much farther in that line of discussion.

She did get me thinking more about blogging as a way to position myself as the guide for quirky New Jersey destinations. Let's face it: I can write, and I do have a little bit of a backlog of material already, given the jaunts I do when I'm bored. There are an awful lot of people who are covering the state in various ways, so who knows, maybe I could cross-link with them. My posts would have to be a lot punchier, but I could probably then get more mileage out of a given hot spot. She told me that she's getting up to a million hits on her site per month, but it doesn't translate that quickly into tour traffic.

I didn't mention this to her, but I've also been thinking of doing some sort of New Jersey book through an internet publisher like Because they print on demand, it's not like I'd have to sink a lot of money into inventory; I could promote it via the blog and leave some samples with local indie bookstores for consideration. Granted, I'd make more money marketing it myself, but I'll get it figured out.

Lots to think about, lots to consider. I was thrilled that she's willing to keep the dialogue going, and perhaps even to cross-market when I get something up and running.

This networking thing sure beats sitting and ruminating in my apartment on a blustery January day.

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