One thing I love about travel blogging is the community of people blogging about their travels. Over the last decade, I’ve gotten to know hundreds of travel bloggers in person or via the internet. I’ve used quite a few of their blogs in preparing or researching for my own travels, and a lot of travel blogs provide genuinely useful information. There’s something to be said about blogging best practices, though, and this is what this post is all about.
As more people started travel blogs, however, some folks started offering courses or books about growing your travel blog. Who doesn’t hear the term ‘full-time travel blogger’ and want to learn how it’s done?
I’ve seen travel bloggers admit they haven’t visited the places they’re writing about. Others write posts stuffed with affiliate links that offer little value to their readers. Some travel bloggers find themselves making more money from selling the dream of being a travel blogger than actually being a travel blogger. Others that are seen selling the dream aren’t living the dream themselves. If you found a book called ‘How To Make A Million Dollars’, you’d expect the author to have done it, after all. If they haven’t, how do they know their advice works?
When ‘travel blogger’ becomes ‘influencer’
Most travel bloggers writing as more than a hobby want to make money from it (yes, myself included). Once upon a time, you could sell sidebar ads or text links at a monthly rate based on your traffic. Over time, ad revenue went down, thanks to the glut of ads and the reality of ad blockers. Affiliates and sponsored posts were there to pick up the slack. The world went from valuing eyeballs / traffic to valuing conversions and ‘influence’ over your readers or followers, in so many words.
Sponsored posts were written by the company were typically of questionable quality, and those written by a blogger often had to shoehorn in the wordings or links required by the client. Today, affiliate marketing is still alive and well, and bloggers are still selling sponsored posts, though the industry continues to evolve.
In one corner: Are you (actually) being influenced?
Social media opened the door for people to become influencers, where people built (or bought) social media followings and became a mainstream term. People jumped onto the latest platform, only to see that platform fade into obscurity (hi, Ello!) or disappear completely (bye, Vine!). More followers meant more influence to companies, and a cottage industry of ‘influencer marketing’ companies began to connect influencers to businesses eager to jump on the next big trend. I’ll get to them in a minute.
The real question — the 800-pound gorilla, the elephant in the room — is rarely asked: At what rate are influencers actually influencing anyone to purchase a thing, go to a place, or do something? The term engagement rate is used instead of hard numbers related to sales, and combined with an influencer’s reach, a business can calculate a value based on the number of engagements and impressions of those posts. Some magical, mysterious math happens, an ROI is figured out, and a report is written hailing the successes of their influencer program.
That math is far from standardized, however, and the algorithms generating ‘influencer values’ or ‘earned media value’ are usually black boxes that don’t share how they arrive at those numbers. The former term for ‘earned media value’ — advertising value equivalency — was dismissed as being as “amateurish” and “lazy” as early as 2009 by PRWeek. The sort of universally accepted system that was called for in that article has yet to materialize, even 10 years later.
To be sure, some influencers are worth the money they’re paid, or they’re at least good at convincing businesses they are. Other influencers have a tough time moving the needle or proving their worth, and others just aren’t worth working with, period. The biggest problem is a fundamental one: you can’t judge ‘influence’ just by looking at how many followers someone has, and using a vague term like ‘engagement’ is harder to gauge. This New York Times article is just the latest in a long line of places pushing back against ‘wannabe influencers’.
In the other corner: companies seeking influencers
While writing at One Weird Globe, I spent years getting e-mails like these from marketing companies (or subcontractors working for them) wanting me to include a link to their site or to publish their guest post for free. (They usually made an effort to add my name or website to create the appearance of a non-bulk-mailed message.) These marketing companies supposedly lacked a budget to pay the influencer, you see, though they certainly seemed to have one to hire the marketing company and the writer… I never got a solid answer as to why I should give a for-profit free publicity just because they wanted it or asked for it. It’s one thing if they’ve earned it in some way (by providing a good service / product) or if they’re paying for advertising in some way.
Other companies go about working with influencers in… other ways…
Company name blurred / white-out to protect the guilty.
Sure, because as all know, travel bloggers just LOVE to talk about laundry. On their travel blog. Or their social media. If you see anyone suddenly talking about National Laundry Day or a company’s “newest, top-of-the-line washer” between April 15th and 19th, you know what’s going on — and what their soul is apparently worth. Yes, I really did get this e-mail from a company that can’t be bothered to e-mail appropriate opportunities for a travel blog.
Don’t call me an influencer.
It’s great if I influence you or your travel in some way, but that’s not a title I want. Between the backlash against those using the term and an interest of using the most accurate title, I’ll go with ‘independent travel publisher’ (with a hat tip to Bret Love over at Green Global Travel as inspiration).
Independent…. Travel…. Publisher…. huh?
Sure. Let’s break it down.
- Independent: This site is owned by me, and I am owned by no one. No one tells me what to write, or what not to write. I work for myself.
- Travel: Worthy Go is about travel. Not laundry.
- Publisher: One who publishes.
What’s the difference?
My focus on Worthy Go is publishing accurate, fun stories about worthy places, not swaying you into buying an overpriced luggage set or some travel service I don’t use myself. Influencers too often focus on what they can get for themselves, using their followers as the product offered up to companies. That’s lame.
With all that written, that intro leads into the best practices I aim to follow on Worthy Go.
In alphabetical order…
- Advertisements: They’re definitely not the money-makers they once were, and a blogger’s potential earnings have more to do with how much traffic you have and which ad networks you’re a part of. Beyond that, ads slow down sites, might be blocked by ad-blockers, and can be completely irrelevant to readers. As I type this in April 2019, I simply don’t have the traffic to make them worth the time to put in place.
- Affiliates: I do plan to add affiliate links for products or services I use. If you choose to use them as well, I might make a commission. If they’re used, they’re disclosed.
- Blog posts: I won’t write a post about a destination if I haven’t been there. I can’t believe I have to say that, but there are travel bloggers that write about places they haven’t been.
- Books: I’ve written some awesome guidebooks and itineraries. Go check them out.
- E-mail newsletters: I’ll be real honest here – I never found the time to get good at e-mailing people en masse.
- Influencers: I’m not an influencer. Re-read the above.
- Partnerships: Yes, I’ll consider them. If you’re looking to reach people that are traveling , reach out.
- Photography: As a general rule, photos you see on Worthy Go are mine. Photos on collaborative posts belong to the writer unless otherwise credited. Creative Commons photos are credited. I’ll occasionally use a public domain or stock photo, usually because my photo sucks or can’t be found.
- Pop-ups: Blech. If you see a pop-up here on Worthy Go, contact me and let me know — there’s probably an issue with my site.
- Reviews: You may safely assume if I’m reviewing a product or service, it was given to me for free and/or I’m being paid to do so. I’ll disclose that. If I paid for it and am reviewing it, I’ll tell you.
- Social media: Yep, I’m on it, and will post stuff there as well. From most active to least active: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Pinterest. I don’t play the follow/unfollow game.
- Sponsored posts: if a post is sponsored by someone, it’ll be disclosed.