Written by Shannon Davis / Photos by Steven Reinhold
The inaugural Content Creator’s Camp hiked into the woods with ENO hammocks and hiked out with stories to tell and the skills to do it well.
Summer is my favorite. The list why is long, full of the obvious (everything’s so dang pretty!!), the practical (pack weight is minimal, cold beverages are even more refreshing), the wardrobe-related (less need for pants), and the adventure-based (mountain bikes, fly fishing, hammocking). But after one helluva trip in July, I’ve added a new reason: The Appalachian Adventure Company’s Content Creator Camp (CCC), supported by Eagles Nest Outfitters (ENO) and MadeXMtns.
I’ve been in outdoor media a long time, most recently serving as Editor-in-Chief of Backpacker, and, with “content” bombarding us all day, every day, and from every angle, I know we need more of the good stuff: Those stories and photos that make you need to go pack your pack and get moving. So we launched the CCC and planned its inaugural offering in the misty, dreamscape hills outside of one of America’s coolest towns: Asheville, North Carolina. Our participants ranged from guidebook authors to social media managers to climbing club founders—and everyone brought an open and energetic mindset to learning adventure photography and writing skills while on a killer little backpacking trip. All of us walked away buzzing.
Whether we were discussing gear content or longform, our conversations kept coming back to one thing: What is it we want to achieve with our content and why? Here’s my longview: At its heart, what outdoor content needs to do is inspire people to get outside more, remove barriers to entry, and empower folks to do better, more comfortably, and more often. To have more fun out there. This is the stuff that makes your life better.
To me, this makes content creation a service. Great content connects with people in relatable, useful, and human ways to light a little fire inside. Our service is to gather tinder and fuel and light a match together. That’s what a content creator should strive to achieve.
Why? There's the KPI’s and revenue to worry about, but beyond the metrics, we do it because we believe in the power of the outdoors to change lives. Stress goes down, smiles go up. Friendships deepen, and your cardio gets a kick in the pants. But we also do it because folks who get outside grow to care more about the land and to learn more about it. They care more about nutrition and how best to fuel an adventure. They care about how their gear is made. This stuff that happens in the backcountry all translates to myriad frontcountry purchasing and ballot-box decisions that can change the world.
Here are three ways to start, whether you are managing content for a brand or even your own social media:
- Know Your Audience. Who do you want to attract and why? What excites them? What types of content would they benefit from? What actions do you hope they take? These are questions to ask—and have good answers for. If you’re working on a freelance project, know the same for the brand who is trusting you with their voice. Pro-tip: When I’m in doubt, I remember that—in most cases, at some point in my outdoor life—I’ve likely lived within the target audience, too.
- Have a Purpose for Every Piece. Be it a simple social post, a blog story, or a meaty video series, know exactly why you’re doing it. Maybe it’s to shine a light on the best weekend backpacking loop you’ve done in the past year so others can experience it too. Maybe, because you know your audience, it’s a new trend in thru-hiking that you want to broadcast to a wider audience to help them hike more efficiently. Maybe it’s a skills series to demystify backcountry cooking? Or a rich narrative about overcoming obstacles? These are cool ideas to have in your mix, but be sure to fill a purposeful content plan, so you continue to work toward a bigger goal.
- Have a Bigger Goal. That sounds daunting because it probably is. But, there are no wrong answers. If you are on staff somewhere, that’s likely traffic, engagement, and revenue. If you’re freelancing, it’s establishing your voice and personal brand (and also revenue). Zoom out from those metrics and understand your brand’s mission (or state your own mission). Start by MadLibbing this basic sentence: “I want my work to [phrase] because [phrase].” For me, that’s always some version of, “I want my work to inspire people to get outside because outdoor adventures make people happier and healthier.”
On our last morning of camp, our crew woke early to catch the sunrise and work on the tricky task of composing a shot just right, of getting the light to hit their subject just so (not easy after being socked in for 24 hours). Then we gathered under the porch of our cabin basecamp, laced with hammocks, and continued our conversations about life and world-changing content ideas.Author Bio
Shannon Davis is a former Editor-in-Chief of Backpacker and Climbing. He lives in Lyons, Colorado with his son and doggo and has a hammock strung between two ponderosas outside his front door.