Silicon Beach: Travel Writer Uses Twitter to Explore Miami

Categories: Silicon Beach
Andrew Nelson (center) surrounded by new Twitter friends at Scotty's Landing.
Andrew Nelson (@andrewnelson) found a new way to explore Miami that didn't involve a glossy brochure or lengthy travel guide. Instead, he crowdsourced his travel plans on Twitter, relying on the advice of locals to plan his five-day itinerary, almost all of it spontaneous.

Nelson, a contributing writer for National Geographic Traveler Magazine, would be a natural for Twitter; he also conducts social media campaigns for Peter A. Mayer Advertising in New Orleans.

Yours truly met Nelson at a tweetup in Coconut Grove, which she heard of just hours before on Twitter from Florida travel expert Hilda Mitrani (@hiddenflorida). November 29 was Nelson's last night in Miami and was a great example of how Twitter can bring complete strangers together in a real-life social situation. Several local Twitter accounts were represented, including @edibleSoFla, @lizawalton, @mango_lime, @hiddenflorida, @BAWLSGuarana, and @ktchntrvwr (who also freelances for Miami New Times).

Nelson's crowdsourcing assignment for a National Geographic Traveler Magazine article was inspired by the fact that locals already use Twitter to find out where to go and what to do. "Our thought was to extend that to travel," he said post-trip in an interview over the phone.

Before his visit, Nelson spent some time building an audience in Miami. "That's key," he emphasized. "Start following people from the area. See who's interesting. See who writes about food and culture. Find people from the area that resonate with you."

With Twitter connections and a hashtag (#andymiami) established, Nelson would begin his day in Miami with a hunch about what he wanted to do but always received some kind of recommendation via Twitter to confirm that hunch. About 50 people engaged him during the trip, and half of them replied with at least one suggestion. One Twitter user translated some of Nelson's tweets into Spanish. Another, @fathergator, even set up a Google map of places to visit.

"It was spontaneous," Nelson explained. "One day, I tweeted, 'I'm near the Wolfsonian, should I go?' And someone replied. 'Yes.' I loved the museum. It was about technology. We weren't the first generation obsessed with technology."

Nelson was impressed with the digitally savvy folks of Miami. "I don't know if people understand that Miami has got a lot of digital stuff going on. It's the gateway to Latin America.  It's Silicon Beach."

Recognizing that South Beach is a great draw, he wanted to experience something less touristy. Twitter helped Nelson explore Miami off the beaten path. For him, it was a great confirmation of the power of crowdsourcing.

"I explored neighborhoods like the Design District, Wynwood, and Little Havana. I saw an Afro-Cuban dance performance that I would've otherwise never found. I heard about Jimbo's, although I didn't get around to it."

Nelson enjoyed a visit to Books & Books in Coral Gables, which is a good thing -- had he stayed on Miracle Mile, he would've thought the Gables was all bridal boutiques. "It was a lovely bookstore," he fondly recalled. "You could spend hours in there. I ended up buying Gerald Posner's book Miami Babylon after reading some of it in the stacks."

Nelson's crowdsourcing experience seems to have been positive, with the bonus of almost instant, real-time fact-checking from local sources. Twitter, which is typically used for micro-blogging, served as a micro-travel forum in this case, catering to one particular traveler -- something perhaps comparable to a custom concierge service.

There are places Nelson didn't see that he'd like to come back to in the 305, thanks to all the input he got on Twitter. "It's a great way to help people get around town," he said. "People are passionate about food and different things. They like to share."

Nelson's article about his Twitter crowdsourced Miami trip will appear in the April 2010 issue of National Geographic Traveler Magazine.

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