Thrill-seeking backpacker uses the Internet to help conquer his fear of the world. What comes out of it is an inspiring new perspective in traveling and a growing number of followers online and in real life.
Interview by Dan Willersdorf
Young adventurer Jamie Bowlby-Whiting’s inspiring thirst to explore the world started his website “Great Big Scary World,” eventually pushing him to publish his book, entitled The Boy Who Was Afraid of the World, which were all based on his rich experiences in the many towns, cities, and countries he’s been to—through hitchhiking.
But his works doesn’t just come across as a mere personal outlet on the Internet; Jamie has initiated a movement that is motivating other individuals (or fans online) to not be afraid of living a little dangerously. In time, the website grew organically from family to friends, to receiving many hundreds of visitors a day.
Here, Jamie gives Social Media Success Magazine the pleasure of an interview on the power of Social Media and the World Wide Web to promote his stories about the world as he continues his exciting journey around it.
SMSM: You use Social Media to spread your vision, “anything is possible,” as the first priority, and your product, your book, as secondary. Why do you do this?
JBW: I started writing my site as a way of updating my family on my hitchhiking journey through Europe. Strangers started reading out of interest, and I soon realised that more and more people were reading because either they wanted to do what I was doing or they wanted to live vicariously through my stories.
Thus, I continued sharing stories, advice, and thoughts, and when people agree with what they read, they seem to pass the posts on to others. If I was to change the topics of my posts, the current audience would no longer be interested and they would not visit the site anymore.
Writing my book was something that I had always wanted to do and as the site is related to the book, I use the site to promote my book when I feel it is appropriate. If I was to focus solely upon promoting my book, however, it would turn readers off and they would not come back.
They don’t come to the site to be sold products, they come to the site to read stories, watch videos, and learn how to change their own lives. If I pushed the book too hard, they would go to a site that didn’t do that. Instead, I slip the book in where I can and a tiny percentage of readers will buy it.
SMSM: What made you decide to use Social Media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.)?
JBW: It is an easy way for people to access and distribute information that costs nothing. I added share buttons to the site and made a Facebook page and Twitter account.
SMSM: Why do you think photos are important for Social Media?
JBW: Photos are vital. A photo on Facebook with a decent caption can be viewed thousands of times. With Facebook insights, you can now also see exactly how many people see each post and how they interact with it. I enjoy taking photos, so it is something I do naturally. But it means that when I go to write or share something, I have an instant visual image for followers to see. Because my photo-taking is natural, it seems a natural part of the site.
SMSM: Why do you use both Facebook and a Blog? How do you use them differently?
JBW: I use the blog for sharing what I want to share and Facebook for pointing people in the direction of the blog. Most people use Facebook every day and by posting material, it is a little reminder to people to come back and visit my site. Essentially Facebook is just a tool for getting people to my site.
SMSM: Why did you use Amazon to publish your book?
JBW: Amazon is the biggest seller of books in the world, and by using their KDP and Create Space services, I was able to easily publish a book myself without spending anything. The other route would have been to try and get a book published through a regular publisher, but this takes a lot of time and may never have happened. As I had the blog to promote my own material, I decided to do it myself.
SMSM: How many book sales have you made, and how many do you estimate have come from your Social Media efforts?
JBW: I actually don’t keep track of this, but I know at the end of each month, I’ll get a payment representative of how many sales I have made. It’s not huge, but it ticks along and I have plans to start some advertising and work on other books. I did offer the book for free on Amazon for two days and during this two day period, I had around 1,200 downloads. This was largely due to sharing the promotion on Facebook, then the book rising quickly through the charts as a result of this. I wouldn’t recommend giving the book out for free to people who aren’t interested in it, because you then suffer as a result of reviews.
In the future, I will offer it for a very low price when on promotion, meaning that only people who are interested enough to fork out some money will actually read it.
“They don’t come to the site to be sold products, they come to the site to read stories, watch videos, and learn how to change their own lives. If I pushed the book too hard, they would go to a site that didn’t do that.”
SMSM: What were the other things that you learned as you went along?
JBW: If you post genuine articles that people are interested in, users will read and share. Also, scheduling posts means that you don’t have to be at the computer everyday. Statistics allow you to see what it is that people enjoy and share, helping you to tailor future posts.
SMSM: Do you think about getting “engagement” when writing your Facebook posts?
JBW: I mostly post whatever I feel like posting, but I do think about whether or not people will engage. If they don’t engage with a post, it won’t be seen by many people. There are multiple different types of engagement though, and they can be interpreted in different ways.
For example, I posted a picture of a sign about hitchhiking that was liked / shared 87 times, clicked 1,300 times, and seen in the news feed by 2,300 people around a similar time to posting a quote that reached 7,500 people, was liked / shared 517 times, but only got clicked 214 times.
Which was more successful? It depends how you measure success. A big part of these particular cases was that people may have been clicking the hitchhiking image to read the text because it was too small to read in the news feed. Also, the caption I wrote encouraged people to click the image.
I think about how many people will engage with a post when I click it, but I don’t get too hooked up on it because it is hard to tell. Sometimes I post something that I thing is amazing and no one engages with it, while other times, the ‘likes’ start pouring in unexpectedly on something that I thought people wouldn’t care too much about.
SMSM: How did you handle if there were negative comments?
JBW: Respond to the issues raised when appropriate, or when dealing with trolls, simply ignore them and allow your own audience to respond for you.
SMSM: Do your self–publishing efforts prove your own message that “anything is possible?”
JBW: I hope so. I am not an author, because writing books does not support my life, but a combination of writing books and articles has supported my life for a long period of time. I aim to continue this and develop my writing, and I think this is in line with the ‘anything is possible’ ethos.
Ten years ago, it would have been much more difficult for me to write and publish a book with zero budget. I am making it happen because I want it enough and if I focus on it – which I plan to do – I hope I can look back in a few years time and say, ‘I did it. I made it work.’
SMSM: What’s next for you?
JBW: I have written a book and plan on writing more in the future, as well as delving into the world of video production. I intend to use Social Media to promote these.
Jamie’s Great Big Advice Corner
What are 3 tips you can share with business owners & authors still contemplating using Social Media?
- It’s free and the response you get is invaluable.
- There is no more powerful way to reach people than ‘word of mouth’ recommendations.
- See what people like and don’t like, then tailor future posts accordingly.
Tips for new authors who want to use Social Media to promote their book:
- Don’t oversell. It turns people off.
- Post passionately about interesting topics. That will create a reader base.
- Be sure of your topic. You can’t post about everything, so pick a niche and stick to it.
- Scheduling posts means you don’t have to be at the computer every day.
- Statistics allow you to see what people enjoy and share, helping you to tailor future posts.
Words to the Aspiring Author:
“Plan exactly what you will write and why you are writing it before you write. Otherwise it is word splurge. The do your best, get feedback, and edit heavily before publishing.
When you get feedback after publishing, don’t feel too proud of each 5-star review and don’t feel too sad at each 1-star review, and when you learn to do this, please tell me how.”
Reading Recommendations for Wannabe Authors:
“If people are looking to build their own site, I recommend checking out this step-by-step guide to build your own website. If people are looking to self-publish, I also wrote some advice for self-publishing. I think the videos on my site capture the essence of what the site is about and the message I want to promote – particularly in Pedal and Paddle. They also bring in new viewers from Vimeo and actually got played on UK TV last year.”
Final words: “Social Media is great in general for businesses it is the most powerful way to reach a large audience without the need for investment.”
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