While on the road this year, I've come upon long-term social media road warriors such as Mark Simonds of the Twitter Road Trip, brand ambassadors such as Sara Lopez and conference-hoppers such as Dave Delaney. I think we've all heard about Tara Hunt's widely publicized karaoke/book promo tour. There's even a SxSWi session about the phenomenon this spring. For folks intent on packing up the hardware and hitting the road, here are ten tips for success.
These road trips are great for making new connections with interesting people and forming mutually beneficial relationships, as my RoadTwip gang did in Nashville. They're great for finally meeting up with longtime (or not so longtime) online friends in real life, as we did in Toledo. They can give a person some perspective on tech "scenes," especially in terms of engendering respect for non-Silicon Valley communities.
Even better, it's great for brands, as our friend Sara Lopez has learned this year while tripping around for soymilk company 8th Continent. Ford recognized the public's fascination with road trip-related media with its highly successful Fiesta campaign this year, which involved mini-trips and missions documented on YouTube. These trips capture a great audience, both regionally with one-on-one interactions in communities and internationally as curious and amused Internet users stumble upon and share related content. More on that later.
As promised, here are ten must-haves for planning and executing a successful social media road trip.
1. Get sponsorship.
Remember the part where I told you that social media road trips are great for brands? These days, brands are often more than willing to help a geek out with gas money, hardware, goods and services in exchange for a little light plugging now and then. If there's a good fit between your trip and a brand, from soft drinks to software, don't hesitate to ask for a partnership.
2. Plan for WiFi.
This might be your biggest challenge. Whether you're using Bluetooth, a MiFi device, a USB-connected wireless modem or simply tethering to your mobile phone, make sure your preferred method works and that you have a backup. We also recommend downloading WeFi in case your plans fail and you need to find emergency coffee house WiFi in a strange place.
3. Have a mission and destination.
One great piece of advice my road team got from NorthStar Manifesto founder Duke Stump was to define our purpose before our itinerary. Another important part of these trips can be a geographical highlight, such as a conference, a hometown or a tech hub. It'll solidify your position and help you focus your content.
4. Meet everyone and go everywhere.
Part of the excitement of a social media road trip is accepting unexpected invitations and discovering friends in strangers. Entering into situations with an open mind is the best way to use your trip as a learning experience. While on the road, I met up with just about everyone I could, and I got to see amazing new hardware, apps, innovators and entrepreneurs as a result.
5. Plan for power.
Power is up there with WiFi as one of the primary pain points of being on the road. We recommend packing extra battery units and chargers (you lose them at home, and you'll most certainly lose them on the road). Definitely invest in a 12V adapter so you can charge devices while mobile, but know that one adapter may only charge a certain number or type of device. E.g., mine can handle a laptop, an iPod, and a curling iron, but on two laptops, it blows a fuse. And yes, you'll want to pick up a pack of fuses for your 12V adapter, too.
6. Deviate from your plan, map and schedule.
Some of the best moments of my own social media road trips were completely unplanned. Get curious, pull over now and then, make a few extra stops and definitely get in touch with new people. Although it's vital to have a timeline for your travels, don't forget to smell the roses; great opportunities will present themselves when you allow for serendipity.
7. Make content creation your job.
The biggest difference between a social media road trip and a non-geek vacation is the work you'll put into creating and publishing content. You'll be pumping out pics, videos, tweets, blog posts, live video chats and every kind of app update imaginable while you're on the road. You need to do this well and consistently. Make sure you've got the hardware and software for the job, and since your time on the road is limited, prioritize posting content over lame stuff like eating and sleeping, which isn't really bloggable, anyhow. (Just kidding - but you know what we mean.)
8. Make sure your network works.
This section isn't (only) an AT&T slam. Almost any network can let a user down in the uninhabited wilds of Iowa. If you're traveling with buddies, it can help to have a diverse representation of networks in case one person's cell reception fails in a critical moment. Also, not all WiFi devices will work all over the country; for example, Cricket's wireless Internet connection devices only work in certain major metro areas. Check with your provider to make sure your network is going to be reliable for your entire route.
9. Plan for mobile site and server maintenance.
If you are the kind of geek who runs one or several websites or your own servers, you'll want to keep an eye on your babies while away from home. For this item, it's all about the SSH. Get a client that jives with your mobile, and as with every other tech solution we've recommended so far, test it before you drive off into the sunset.
10. Use an aggregator to push mobile updates all over the place.
Whether you're using a service like PixelPipe or something more like FriendFeed, you're going to want your content to get all over the tubes without your having to duplicate your efforts. Test out some solutions for one-click, cross-site publishing of pics, posts and videos, and be sure it'll be quick and simple from your mobile device.
Those are the words of wisdom I can offer right now, and probably what I'll be sharing at SxSW in a few months. If you've got more helpful hints from your own journeys, please let us know in the comments!
As an eleventh bonus tip, be prepared for failure. Your car will get a flat tire, you'll argue with your road buddies, you'll miss a meetup due to weather or oversleeping - things will go horrifically wrong. And in the end, it'll be just fine anyhow.