Silicon Beach: Travel Writer Uses Twitter to Explore Miami

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.


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.


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


"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."


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.


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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Miami native Maria de Los Angeles currently journeys in northern latitudes but is a correspondent for the Magic City. A community advocate, she pens stories about art, culture, good folks doing good things, women's issues, and only-in-Miami moments.