It’s like a train, this Outdoor Blogger Network (OBN). It keeps picking up more and more cars, passengers and cargo, adds another engine and stops in more and more towns. If you’re an outdoor blogger, you should get a ticket (it’s free) and climb on board. Why?
I met Joe Wolf, one of the publishers of the OBN, at SHOT Show, and he sold me on the idea of a team of outdoor bloggers. Joe publishes a great personal fishing blog and works as a sales professional in the outdoor industry. I had known of his partner in the venture, Rebecca Garlock, through her excellent blog and the more I looked into their concept, the more I liked it. Rebecca does freelance design work and marketing. So, for them, creating this network for outdoor bloggers is a natural extension of their day jobs. And, it’s clear that the OBN is already achieving what its founders intended for it to do. Clear and simple.
But, what sometimes seem clear and simple, is often because of passion, sweat equity and many hours. Joe and Rebecca agreed to an interview about their “baby,” the OBN.
Babbs: I’m looking at your About page, and wondering, when did you guys meet on the stream in Oregon and how soon afterwards was the OBN born?
Joe: The way Rebecca and originally “met ” was through a giveaway I did on my blog. She won the fly-fishing stuff I was giving away. We corresponded a little, and left it at that. I actually planned to go to the St. Joes in Idaho for cutthroat trout and emailed her asking is she had ever fished there. She hadn’t, but said the fishing around Boise was really good. I had the opportunity to be in Boise for a couple of days in August so I e-mailed her and asked her to point me in right direction to fish. She happened to be available, and we decided to fish together. Simple as that.
We spent one day on her “Secret River” and one day on the Middle Fork of the Boise. The absolute truth is that the idea and concept for the OBN was born on the riverbank of her secret river. We found out, over those two days, that we A) got along and B) shared a common vision for bloggers. So, after I got back home, we kept talking about it and decided to give it a whirl. She is a website designer / consultant so she did most (ALL!) of the computer work. I helped with the writing, we bounced a lot of ideas off one another, set up the framework for the site, and I did a lot of behind the scenes work with outdoor industry folks. It took a couple months to get it ready for launch, which we did October 18, 2010.
Rebecca: As soon as I got home, I started my research online to make sure there wasn’t something out there that already encompassed what our vision was and the Internet road looked clear. Joe and I spent a lot of time over the next week deciding on a domain name and on August 26, with a click of a “purchase now” button, we made it official. Neither of us likes to do things half way or from the hip, so we took from Aug. 26 until our official launch of Oct. 18 to develop the site, build solid features to offer the bloggers and establish our first relationships with the outdoor industry.
Babbs: What are the goals of OBN?
Joe: The simple goal I had for the site has already been realized – to create a gathering place for like-minded, outdoor loving individuals. Now, since it is obvious that the outdoor blogging public has embraced the site and simple concepts, it’s time to step away and re-examine the goals.
Rebecca: Our goals have remained the same from day one. To create a community and network of outdoor bloggers that can come to one location, the OBN, and head right back out to discover other outdoor bloggers. Add in the ability to connect the outdoor industry with outdoor bloggers, and we have a website that will help the outdoor blogger community.
Babbs: To date, how many bloggers have signed on?
Joe: As of today, April 1, we have 796 blogs on the Directory, and I have at least 30 to add over the weekend so, for the sake of argument, lets say 825. Which, quite frankly, blows me away. I see us reaching 1,000 by June – a number I NEVER thought we’d see, much less in 8 months.
Rebecca: For me the most important point about that number is the fact each and every blogger individually asked to be included. We aren’t a scrapper site that goes out looking for links to throw up. Our site has been built organically and on a voluntary basis and I believe that is why it because an authentic outdoor community.
Babbs: I can glean details about OBN from the site, but are there any you want mentioned?
Rebecca: We’ve never talked about it on the site, but I find that the working relationship between Joe and me a solid match up for the long haul. I believe if Joe and I didn’t work so well together, this project would have crumbled in the first month from the overwhelming administrative factor alone. We established out the gate our general duties based on our personal areas of interest or specialties, and from day one we’ve evolved and figured out which one of us was best suited for specific OBN needs. People may not realize it, but Joe and I talk on the phone basically every day. Nothing goes out on the OBN site that hasn’t been discussed between the two of us. In other words, I can’t imagine having any other partner than Joe on this adventure.
Joe: From the beginning, we had multiple goals we wanted to accomplish. The first and simplest was to have a centralized place for outdoor bloggers to gather – something to be a part of. Part 2 was to keep it active: there is nothing worse than a neglected website or blog. So, early on, we decided that we would have a set of standards to post weekly. These ideas morphed into the Wednesday Gear Review Opportunity, the Monday Featured Bloggers, Friday’s OBN Notes, and at least one writing or photo prompt per week – something to keep everyone coming back on a regular basis. I believe we’ve done this, and more.
Finally, we wanted the OBN to be the central point for the outdoor industry to funnel products for review. This is a longer-term goal, but we are starting to see already the industry being pleased with the results, and the process, in the Gear Reviews. I think there are even bigger and better things on the horizon for the OBN bloggers with regard to availability of products to review. Oh yeah, the formation of the Forum gives us yet another wrinkle to keep bloggers informed and allow them to interact among themselves, utilizing a wealth of resources.
Babbs: What are some success stories from bloggers who joined, as a result of their affiliation with the blog?
Rebecca: There are a lot of them! So I’ll pick one that stands out … A month or so ago, one of our bloggers who had received a piece of gear through our gear review opportunity feature emailed Joe and me, thanking us profusely for multiple reasons. As he explained, he had been online for over 14 years, extremely active on outdoor forums, and then his blog and not once had he ever received anything for free or received any attention from the industry. Furthermore, after he had posted his review of the gear he tested out, the company itself contacted him directly, told him they appreciated his review style and could they send him more products to test and review for them. He was extremely grateful and we had smiles from ear to ear because it proved our concept of connecting the Outdoor Bloggers with the industry was successful to both the Industry and the blogger.
Joe: Well, success is defined by exceeding expectations. So each individual blogger will approach the OBN with his or her own pre-determined set of expectations. The only thing we explicitly offer any blogger is a spot in our Directory, which we hoped would become the central place for anyone on the web to look for and find outdoor blogs. (We believe it has!) A natural result of the increase in members is the organic growth in all the blogs readerships. The other bloggers are readers, too, and they are all now exposed to so many more great reads, on a weekly basis. We’ve found that most of the blogs in our directory are simply diaries for people who love the outdoors; these folks like having more readers and followers, and the OBN facilitates that desire. In addition, the Gear Review opportunities afford these folks the chance to get gear that many of them would not be able secure themselves.
Babbs: I have to ask … Have you had to cut any bloggers for offensive material?
Joe: Not yet, but that day will come. And … we have a very clear-cut ground rule: NO TOLERANCE for questionable behavior. There are innumerable places on the Web that anyone can go to do and say whatever they please. The OBN isn’t one of them. That said, we’re not prudes, either, and normal behavior and language from adults is OK.
Rebecca: Well, we haven’t cut off any bloggers we’ve already approved for the OBN, but I will admit that we have rejected a lot of submissions since we started. Typically the submissions we reject are so spam-like in nature that we can’t even find where the “blog”aspect is located. The bigger issue has been submissions by clearly outdoor bloggers, that we don’t have a designated category for. We don’t reject those submissions, instead we expand our directory or have a discussion with the blogger on where to place them for maximum exposure.
Babbs: What has the response been so far from the industry?
Rebecca: Joe is the front man for our Industry relationships so he’ll be able to provide a detailed answer beyond what I would say which is … It’s been extremely positive!
Joe: The outdoor industry is a funny place. Some companies are leaders in Social Media marketing and go after their branding via the web aggressively. Others have no idea what it’s about. A lot of companies proclaim the desire to get involved, but don’t have the wherewithal or resources to do anything about it. All that being said, establishing yourself as a viable, productive resource to the outdoor industry will take anyone a long time. You need to both prove your effectiveness AND show that you will be around for a while and can be relied on for the long haul. Over all, the industry has embraced our concept, but there are still quite a few companies who either don’t get it, or have no interest in working with bloggers.
Babbs: I also remember talking to Joe about the OBN’s reviewing opportunities while at SHOT Show. It seems like you two thought of everything (am extremely impressed here), and how has that response been? Both from reviewers and the industry?
Rebecca: Again, Joe’s department with the industry, but I work a lot with the reviewer side of the opportunities and the outdoor bloggers who have gotten gear have all come back with positive feedback. (I always ask them if it was positive experience.) The bloggers themselves have set a high bar on the quality of their reviews and I can’t tell you how impressed I have been by their photos, attention to details and the informative reviews they write on their sites. Joe and I discussed how outdoor bloggers can and should be viewed as quality media sources for the outdoor industry on the river back in August and in short order, the bloggers have proven our concept.
Joe: So far, so good. At first it was a huge task to come up with the items for a weekly offering – often coming down to the last minute. I have actually used a couple things I had at home because I hadn’t gotten confirmation from factories OK-ing their products. Now that we have a track record, and people can see the Weekly Offerings and the ensuing reviews, it has been a little less painful to gather up the items for the weekly offerings. Still, it is one of the more difficult and time-consuming parts of the OBN for me.
Babbs: Anything else?
Joe: There is an old saying that rings more true today than ever: “Lead, Follow, or Get Out of the Way.” We’re not really following any other plan. And we’re certainly not getting out the way. I guess that means we need to lead. I’m not sure where we’re going, but it ought to be interesting!
Rebecca: I can’t say it enough, but I am beyond grateful for the support, encouragement and participation of all those that have made the OBN what it is today. It’s been 5 months since we pulled the trigger on the OBN and what it has become today far exceeds any hopes we had on that first day. I look forward to seeing what the next 5 months bring to not only Joe and me, but to the outdoor bloggers as well!
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Great interview Barb! What a superb way for outdoor bloggers to share and learn from each other and develop friendships! I’ve spent most of my “rest period” perusing their site and have enjoyed every bit of it!
I am so proud of Rebecca and Joe ! I don’t know Joe but sounds like a great guy and MUST be if he is partners with Rebecca 🙂
You have earned every bit of success you get because you actually get out and do what you talk about on your bloggs ! Nothing worse than a bunch of made up garbage on the internet. What you guys do and talk about is REAL !
Great job, keep it up !
Great interview. I for one am extremely grateful for what Joe and Rebecca have done with the OBN. The number one takeaway that I have received from the OBN isn’t traffic, or free gear (though those things are nice), the number one takeaway for me is a great community and some good friends.
The entire blogging crew, the WON Guns, have signed on to become members of the OBN and we are pumped about this move! Just really looking forward to being a part of the network.
Thanks for the comment and popping into this blog!
So WONderful! 🙂 I’m so excited to see this Q&A session, Barb! As a member of the OBN, I had no idea about the background of it. It’s definitley a great way for all members of the outdoor blogger world to connect and a “one stop shop” for those who like to read about everything outdoors!