Ross Borden @ Matador Network – Interview

by Brett Borders on January 5, 2009

Ross Borden is the owner and content director at the Matador Network – an online travel magazine that has recently exploded in popularity with well-written, beautifully illustrated travel articles and lists. Matador’s content is very appealing to social media and social news site participants… earning thousands of links from all over the Web. He recently took some time to offer some of his hard-won insights on viral marketing and web publishing to Social Media Rockstar readers.

Tell us about Matador Travel?

“We are the world’s first interactive travel magazine. As a traveler, I didn’t like going through a bunch of travel sites and wading through thousands of reviews written by people who were essentially on vacation there – people who didn’t know a thing about the place. Matador is a place where you can read professionally written content by people who live there, speak the language and know everything about the place – and we have a social networking linking the whole place together. It’s a community where you can reach out to people and ask questions. It’s a really interactive way to get the best travel information on the Web.”

Ross + a friend high above the clouds in Columbia.

How did you get into social media?

“I had been traveling for a year and I came back to San Francisco and got a job in sales at Oracle. I really didn’t like being stuck in a cubicle and making cold calls all day. I had been away from the Web cause I’d been traveling in South America. When I got back, so much had changed and it all really dawned on me. What really inspired me to write the original business plan was that we were entering into an era where the unknown little guys could take on the big guys. Where if you created compelling content and cool applications – you could literally steal market share from the huge companies that had been running things for the past 50 years. That excited me.”

Seth Godin talks about building fresh new organizations that fit the social media culture and vibe. Any thoughts on this?

“Seth is a marketing genius and a visionary – I agree with him on that. The old media giants are getting a lot of things wrong. That’s because they didn’t start from scratch. They’re trying to not only trying to apply a “2009 social media” aspect to what they do, but a lot of times they fight what’s happening on the internet. It goes way back to when Steve Jobs had the infamous meeting with the music executives and they told him to “Go fuck yourself!” – and… just look at iTunes now. And look where the record industry is! I think it’s the same thing with all the big, old media gaints. It’s important to look and see what’s really working on the web – and to build your social media organization (by) harnessing what’s already popular.”

Where do you get your story ideas from?

“I try to expose myself to as much news and media as I can. It’s a crazy world we’re living in, in 2009, and there are certain things that just blow me away. Anything that really makes an impression on me right away is going to make an impression on other people. I go through hundreds of RSS feeds and headlines in social news, and I look for something that catches my eye and really makes a strong impression on me.”

What are some of the essential elements for crafting a great linkbait / social media story?

“The no brainers are stuff like lists, ya know, ‘Top 10 Superlatives.’ Deeper than that, you either want to shock someone or you want to give people value. Teach someone. Give people resources so that it’s not just a time waster or attention grabber… but so they’re getting some insight into something that they care about by reading your article.”

Ross living on the edge @ Yosemite National Park, California, USA.

What quirks do social news site users have?

All web users have really, really short attention spans. They have they world at their fingertips, but a lot of time they are at work when they are consuming social media. I’d say that social media users have the shortest attention span of any web user. That’s because there’s 100 other popular stories they’re trying to check out. So an important insight for being successful is you really have to grab users of social news sites with something riveting – like a great photo – right in the beginning of the article. You don’t want to lose them right after they get to your site.”

Who you you admire as some of the most successful viral content creators out there?

“I would say that Green Options Media does really well – and so does Weburbanist. Those are two of my favorite sites to visit. Then there’ the classics like Cracked and Holy Taco. Those guys have a really good grip on how to succeed on Digg. That kind of content is not as compelling to me because it’s more of just the shock and entertainment factor, where something like Green Options and Web Urbanist is showing you something you’ve never seen before or providing insight into news. I get more out of those sites.”

Have there any side-effects of having content go popular on a social media site?

“Since we’ve gotten into viral marketing, I’ve been initially surprised by a lot of the super cynical comments that get left. But I guess that’s to be expected when 100,000 people read your article in the same week.

One of our community members, who teaches English in Japan, posted a photo of a hilarious essay that one of his 3rd grade student had written. It was popular, but there were a lot of people who were very critical, saying that it was wrong to post a Student’s essay. I was floored that people couldn’t find humor in that.”

Funny Engrish = Viral Ignition

What were your greatest travel adventures?

“Hitchhiking through East Africa for a number of months. I did a stint working in some African primary schools. It was great working with the kids. The ultimate, all-you-can-handle adventure was hitchhiking by myself through Kenya. I would note that I never felt any danger and I think African people are some of the nicest people I’ve ever encountered.


After graduating college, I went with my friend to South America, and we climbed some of the biggest mountains on the continent. That was another great adventure.”

What other amazing travel sites should we check out?

“I set out to make a travel site because I didn’t like a lot of the other travel sites out there. They’re overly monetized – I mean it’s like spam – almost all of it. You’re trying to get pushed into buying a cruise package or getting a flight deal. Elevate Destinations is a great outfitter – they give a lot of money back to the communities and they support conservation. iExplore is another leader. Wend is another great online + print magazine many people don’t know about.”


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