The January 2010 Blogger in the Spotlight is Sheila Scarborough who writes the Family Travel Logue blog for the BootxnAll Travel Network.

Blogger in the Spotlight is a monthly series where Newstex turns the spotlight on our publishers with in-depth interviews that give you a glimpse into the stories, tips and secrets of successful bloggers and content producers.

This month’s interview is with Sheila Scarborough who is a writer and speaker specializing in travel, tourism, the social Web and NHRA drag racing. She is the co-founder of Tourism Currents, an online learning community site that teaches tourism professionals how to use social media in their destination marketing.  She’s been blogging since February 2006 and can be found blogging for the BootsnAll Family Travel Guide and Tourism Currents as well as on her personal blog, Sheila’s Guide,  where she writes about tourism, tech and social media.

Newstex: How did you get started writing your current blog?

Sheila Scarborough: I retired from the US Navy in early 2006 after 22+ years, and launched a new career as a travel writer.  A long-time friend and journalist told me, “If you’re going to be a writer, you need to have a blog.”  Knowing that a general travel blog would probably just get buried in the online noise, I chose to focus on the family travel niche since I have two kids. The BootsnAll Travel Network offers free blogs for travelers, so I started mine there to have a built-in audience.

Newstex: What makes your blog unique?

Sheila Scarborough: My blog is based on my own travel experiences with my family, so I don’t do that many product/site/service reviews or travel news posts.  As my kids have gotten older, I find that I do a lot of posts featuring ideas and places that are good for preteens or teens.  There are other blogs that do a better job of covering travel with babies and toddlers, although I do occasionally still write about that because I haven’t forgotten how to wrestle with a diaper in a strange place!

Newstex: To what do you attribute your blog’s success?

Sheila Scarborough: Persistence and useful information.  When I left the Navy, I didn’t know any travel bloggers and had no idea what I was doing, but I hung in there, built a network, responded to my readers and their comments, and met other bloggers in person at tech conferences.  BootsnAll has also been very supportive over the years with design changes and support.

Newstex: What are the top 3 tips you can give to bloggers looking to develop successful blogs?

Sheila Scarborough: One.  Decide ahead of time what your blog is about; don’t wander in saying, “I’ll write about anything on my mind.”  I mean, sure, you can do that, but no one but your Mom will read it.  Focus, focus, then keep that focus over the long haul.  If you find yourself talking about your gardening a lot on your business blog, then start another blog just for the gardening. People come to your blog expecting certain types of content; they’ll certainly forgive occasional wanderings but will dump you if you can’t keep focus.

Two:  Do your homework and learn your craft – there are a ton of blogs out there to help you, so read them. Go to a couple of blogging conferences or workshops. Read great stuff on sites like Copyblogger.com and ProBlogger.net, then try some of the recommendations.  Put in the effort over an extended period of time (at least six months.)  Don’t start whining at Week 3 that no one’s reading your blog, and then quit.

Three:  Grow your blog OFF your blog.  Solid, useful content published regularly is a given. If you can’t do that, forget it.  If you can do that, then do it, but remember that people also have to be able to FIND your content.  Make it easier by doing a little self-promotion and marketing: put your blog URL on your business cards and in your email signature.  Make sure it’s in your Twitter profile, LinkedIn profile, Facebook profile, YouTube channel, Flickr photo-sharing account, etc. Let people know about some of your best posts (if you squawk about every one, you’ll just be annoying.)  Learn about SEO (search engine optimization) so that you can craft content with the keywords that people use to search for information on that topic.  Link freely to other great content, and say “thanks” when possible to those who link to you.

Newstex: What is the best thing that has happened to you as a result of your work on your blog?

Sheila Scarborough: I’ve become a geek in time for the next iteration of the Internet Age.  When I started blogging in February 2006, I thought I was late to the online party, but now I see that my timing was just right.

Newstex: What inspires you to keep blogging?

Sheila Scarborough: Nowhere else can I have such complete control over my content and how it is presented.  My kids are getting older so finding good family travel blog post angles is getting more challenging, but I write for another (multi-author) travel blog plus have a new blog and business tied to social media and tourism, so I’m never lacking for creative outlets.  If a subject doesn’t fit any of my own blogs, I try guest posting on someone else’s blog where the subject would make sense for its readership.

Newstex: What are your favorite blogs and why?

Sheila Scarborough:

Newstex: What effects do you think blogging will have on traditional media?  How about on your industry?

Sheila Scarborough:

Blogging gives everyone a voice for little or no cost.  It personalizes my interaction with media.  For example, I actually know Liz Strauss and Chris Brogan mentioned above; they are not faceless, one-dimensional magazines. I love print, but there’s a connection with blog authors that I don’t have with print publications. Traditional media will either figure out how to replicate that connection and make me care about them, or they’re toast.
Travel and tourism are seeing tremendous changes based in part on this heightened consumer expectation of personal interaction and two-way communication (which will rapidly escalate as more and more Web-enabled smartphones come onto the market and everyone has the Web in their pocket or purse.)  Those in the travel and tourism industries who are good communicators and “get it” will thrive.  Those that keep thinking maybe they don’t need a Web site, blog or Facebook Fan Page, or that billboard buys and brochures are the wisest use of their marketing money, are going to wonder what hit them.

Sheila Scarborough: I syndicated a few years ago as another way to promote my blog OFF of my blog, as I described above.  Newstex seemed to target some researchers and information professionals who might not otherwise discover online content without a little focused assistance.

Newstex: What do you think are the benefits of syndicating your blog through Newstex?

Sheila Scarborough: Beyond increased readership, I do like the fact that I am paid by Newstex; it’s not a lot, because my blog is not highly-trafficked enough, but even the small monetary compensation for my content is appreciated.

Newstex: What’s next for you and your blog?

Sheila Scarborough: My daughter heads to college soon but my son still has more years with us, so I’ll keep writing the Family Travel Guide based on what I learn from my own experiences.  At some point I’d like to work with BootsnAll to turn the blog over to another parent, but I’ll always keep writing about travel in some way.  I like to keep moving and trying new things too much to let my passport get dusty!