[Adventure Girl Stefanie Michaels]
I don't pay much attention to celebrities in social media. I don't condemn them, but overall they just don't much interest me. Usually they lack many characteristics--authenticity, conversational approach, transparency that have made me such a champion of social media, particularly Twitter.
Stefanie Michaels, who you may recognize as Adventure Girl in Twitterville is among the very few notable exceptions. She clearly is tweeting herself and is remarkable up close and personal with many of her followers. She participates in community events and causes and is obviously informed on conversational issues in Twitter. This may explain why she has more than 1 million followers.
Her book, Adventure Girl’s Guide to Adventure Travel…without
Breaking a Nail, was released earlier this year and she seems to be trending toward more adventeros excursions. Earlier this year, she braved sub-zero weather to participate in the Alaskan Iditarod dog sled race.
One month later, Michaels defied gravity when she, along with astronaut Buzz Aldrin, participated in
the inaugural flight of Las Vegas’ Zero G, an airplane ride that lets
passengers experience zero gravity.
Here are her answers to my questions:
Obviously you were bitten by a travel bug early in life. Did you start young?
YES! My first plane trip was at 6 months old and everyone said I squealed with joy and giggled the whole flight to Chicago. My parents said they knew I’d have a career on a plane… little did they know, I’d practically live on them.
What experiences got you addicted to travel?
Meeting new people, seeing new places, touching unique things- nurturing my senses. Addiction is only part of it! If I am home too long, I get antsy and grouching. I always say that the jet fuel I smell when I get to airport gives me butterflies. I am off to have an adventure filled with diverse people, places and experiences.
It’s an addiction because it’s my “book” in life- it’s how I learn about the world. If I am not traveling, I’m stagnant in life in a way, I’m not learning or growing. It’s my passion to ever change, grow and evolve.
[Seeing the pyramids the old fashioned way.]
When, how & why did you decide to make travel an essential component to your career?
Really, they say if you do what you love, it will come to you. I didn’t go out seeking travel as a career, it found me.
I did however know the moment I wanted to be a journalist, the night in 1989, when the Berlin Wall was torn down. I was a kid, glued to the TV and I wanted to be there telling people’s stories. I also dreamed of being a war correspondent. I guess I’ve always wanted to be where news happened and where the action was. Travel encompasses all that.
You came to social media from the celebrity business model. You were a model, then a TV personality before stepping into Twitterville, blogging and video.
My parents were in the entertainment business. My uncle was an actor. He took me in when I was a toddler to his agent and they signed me on the spot. I was so hyper, and bouncing around and dancing, that the agent thought I’d be great for commercials. Within a month I had booked my first car commercial. From there I moved into modeling and television. The modeling I hated, but used it as a launching pad, thus using my name to create my own promotional company.
When I was modeling, I developed an idea I called, "Travel Partners," which used email to take my fans with me on locations, where I was doing all this great cool stuff as a spokesperson.
I'm told I launched one of the first 1500 commercial websites on line- , and began bringing people along with me to cool locations around the globe with my film crew. We aired the snippets online. I was “blogging” daily from location at the time, but then the term was not “coined”- we called it daily updates from location. That’s also where my fans called me "Adventure Girl" for the first time. It stuck, so Travel Partners eventually became AdventureGirl.com.
I guess I’ve always done it, shared my experiences, so falling into social media was the next step in my techno-geek-ism. (My secret dream is to write code) After trying MySpace, then Facebook, I found Twitter most gratifying. It’s just brilliant all around, and especially if you “get it”.
[Getting sized up by Burmese refugee women in Chiang Mai village, Thailand.]
Why did you decide to try social media?
I’m a journalist at heart, so I am always reading and looking for ways to communicate. I have been writing online for several years, but fell in love with Twitter because of it’s simplicity and “now” real time media advantages. It took me about six months to get @AdventureGirl out of a squatters hands, so when I got it, I was all about communicating and learning about it at warp speed.
Twitter has revolutionized the way we send and receive media. It’s the “new internet” and I saw this straight away. I wanted to be a part of it.
How has Twitter worked out for you so far?
I was hooked in the first minute. I have never felt more at home online than I do when I am on Twitter. I have made so many new like-minded friends, forged relationships I never would have, had it not been for Twitter. I don’t think you find this with Facebook or MySpace- they are more insular.
With over one million followers, you are one of the 100 most popular tweeters. Who are these followers?
They are everyday you-and-mes. I even have followers who are animals- lizards, dogs, cats, which I love because they make me laugh. Diversity in life, diversity in my friends on Twitter. I love it!
Everyone thinks of me as this celebrity, but in reality, I’m just a girl working, like everyone following me. There is nothing glamorous about me in my pajamas with zit creme and tweeting!
How do those 'everyday you-and-me' folk help you make a living?
Twitter for me is not about “making money.” It’s about passing around knowledge, information and connecting. However, it does open me up to meeting companies and entities that see Adventure Girl-the brand as adding potential value to what they are doing. Indirectly, it is a great source for connections, thus business opportunities may come to me because I am on Twitter.
How has social media changed your image and you?
Social media has given me a platform to share information that was/is important to me. I don’t need to “hide” behind publicists or agents, and I can be silly and show I am this real person.
It also inspires me. People like @drew who I learn from everyday or @invisiblepeople – a former homeless man who is putting a face to homelessness with a video camera and stories. I think that’s what is most important to me and I hope it’s made me a better person just knowing them and passing on their messages.
What is the most important thing you've learned from social media?
To engage, communicate, and NOT sell your agenda. To be pure, show concern, to be a real person who cares. I have also learned that so many people don’t get that. That’s why I love “block.” I don’t want to see your spam. Also, listening. Your followers will let you know what they like, what they don’t and they do it in real time.
You are much more conversational on Twitter than most other so-called celebrity tweeters. Why have you chosen to spend the time and energy. How has that helped you professionally?
What’s the point of “being social” and partaking in social media, if: A. You’re not going to be social; and B. You hire people to do it for you. Celebrities that do this are missing out. It’s “old media,” and that way of thinking is obsolete.
You can see the forward thinking celebs like MC Hammer, who have embraced the power of having their own voice. We as celebs have fought for this for so long, now there is a platform set up where we can have a voice. Why give that power away?
I take the time and spend the energy because like any relationship, it enriches me both spiritually and emotionally, give and take. There was a trending topic recently called #twittercrush. People were naming actors, athletes, musicians… I named “Twitter”.
Professionally speaking, by just engaging, communicating, it indirectly helps me professionally because what you see if what you get, and a lot of companies seem to be attracted to this.
For the benefit of my studio audience, can you share an adventure you've experienced where social media played a role?
Sure, Operation Smile, the organization that helps children with facial deformities receive life-changing surgeries, came to me one day through Twitter. They asked if I wanted to go on a mission with their doctors to help kids who were going for their surgeries. I stepped back, cried A LOT, and then got back to them with a “yes.”
What they did not know is that my brother had a cleft lip and had died (unrelated cause) before he got his surgery. It was a tragic loss for my parents- they grieved quietly, burned his photos and never spoke of him again. I found out via an aunt when I was 11 about him.
Together with Renee Hamilton, their social media guru, we came up with the 140smiles.org campaign- and I became their Twitter Smile Ambassador, raising money for 140 kids in 140 characters- one smile at a time. It gives me the chance to honor my brother and shed a light on this important charity.
Now, TwestivalSF< will honor 140Smiles in the global Twestival event and I’ll be able to help even more children through this social media fundraiser. I am humbled and honored.
What advice do you have for someone who wants to enhance a personal business position by using social media?
DON’T Talk about business. That will come as people get to know you and you them, trust is formed and there is interest. I want to know who you are Mr. CEO of company X- not what you are selling. Are you even a real person who cares? That’s the best piece of advice I can share. Be real. Don’t sell: share.