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How Can Bloggers Stay Truly Honest
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How Can Bloggers Stay Truly Honest?

I started blogging for several reasons, but one reason, in particular, is that I value accountability. I’ve been a Yelp Elite for almost 8 years now. I love it because I can write often harsh but honest reviews about services that truly don’t live up to par. I don’t have to account to anyone. I feel it’s my duty to both praise and hold businesses accountable.

Entering the world of blogging, or more specifically travel blogging, somehow things just don’t feel the same for several reasons. For one, it feels more the norm to post about positive experiences rather than negative experiences.

Bloggers are here to promote and often sell people a reason to go somewhere. It’s very seldom that I actually come across blogs that express the same level of straightforward insight as a Yelp review.

I read an excellent article today by The Points Guy. It was about a tour company that honestly didn’t deliver the best service. And of course, he paid for the entire trip himself. And it was a lot of money.

It got me thinking that I rarely if ever see travel bloggers give this side of the story. I’ve become so used to reading and even putting out my own positive feedback that I never noticed the fact that a lack of criticism isn’t always a good thing.

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In some respects, I feel it’s the culture. Positivity is the norm. But this review was refreshing and honest and for the first time, it wasn’t singing the praises of a company or a place.

The best thing about self-funding your travels is that you are able to fully express your opinions without any constraint. I take pride in that in some respects.

But in reality, professional blogging feels inherently biased. Companies are always sending products or offering sponsorships. Travel bloggers who get hosted somewhere will almost always write something like “all opinions are 100% honest” etc.

But it seems that honesty and unbiasedness are often confused.

You can remain completely honest, but still inherently biased. And the readers see through it. I’ve listened to readers openly complain about how hard it is to trust any recommendations on the internet from a lot of bloggers now. 

How Can Bloggers Stay Truly Honest
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But of course, I understand us bloggers too because we need to make a living and working with brands is simply a part of that.

Generally, I still feel all sponsored posts should be read with a grain of salt. Here is Why

If a company gives you to a free stay or a free product, your evaluation of your experience will always be different and inherently biased because you’re paying for less or nothing at all.  Even if you are being honest, your inherent standpoint of evaluation is skewed.

A free stay at a $300 hotel will almost always turn out more positive because you’re not expecting to get your money’s value for anything in return. It’s that return that isn’t realized which prompts us to write negative unbiased reviews in the first place.

For example, I recently stayed at a hotel in Scotland for $450 a night. For two nights. This was not a sponsored stay and we paid for it ourselves. The stay was completely underwhelming, so much so that I left a scathing but incredibly helpful and accurate review on TripAdvisor.

Had this hotel sponsored this stay, even partly, my feelings would have been inherently a lot less bitter, thus far less likely to prompt me to leave truly helpful feedback for future travelers. When money isn’t an issue, your entire baseline for evaluating a product is skewed, or biased. This is why companies love working with bloggers.

Sponsored stays or products aren’t the devil, but I think it’s important to keep in mind that blogging should be democratic and more like Yelp. I think we owe it to readers who take our advice to keep this in mind the next time we recommend a place.

Thoughts on how to remain unbiased as a blogger?

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6 Comments

  1. August 2, 2016 at 1:22 am — Reply

    I reckon a big part of honesty is letting people know the context of your writing. IF you tell people who is picking up the dime, we can put your comments in perspective. If you don’t, then the results are inherently dishonest. That said, I wonder if these resorts object to inclusion of information about freebies.

    • August 2, 2016 at 11:07 am — Reply

      Pretty much all bloggers who write sponsored content are required to disclose it’s sponsored. Yet you always see the same line “I have the right to remain honest and all views are my own.” I think my issue is that even when you have so many disclosures, you rarely see anything negative to counter-weight the sales pitch being made. So it’s really not 100% unbiased which can be a bit misleading. It’s a fine line pleasing a company and pleasing your audience.

  2. July 18, 2016 at 12:22 am — Reply

    Unfortunately, if you are blogging as a means of making money to sustain your travel lifestyle (like most travel bloggers do), you just can’t write negative things in your blog. Never. No travel related businesses will willingly engage with “nasty” bloggers with no strings attached. Who would pay someone to come and risk running his/her business down?

    Me… I read travel blogs for places to visit, but I rarely care about those hotel/restaurant recommendations.

    • July 18, 2016 at 8:28 pm — Reply

      That’s interesting to know. Yea, it’s a sticky situation because I know a lot of readers complain about sponsored content. I think it’s important to strike a balance with sponsored content. I’ve had to turn down places that I knew I wouldn’t enjoy staying at, simply because I don’t want to be put in that position of advocating something I don’t love. I’m basically referring to bloggers who have essentially become mouthpieces for companies, though. My aim though isn’t to get free trips to places, but to grow my site and maintain a sense of trust which is more profitable in the long-run. In the end, sponsored content is inevitable for professional bloggers so I’m hoping it won’t do too much harm to my site…

  3. July 15, 2016 at 2:06 pm — Reply

    I think I give honest reviews of the places I have been but there is a difference in a paid/sponsored post vs paying on your own. Since the brand is compensating you to promote their brand it is normal to accentuate the positive just as an advertising agency does when they receive money to promote a brand. You don’t see ads for coca cola saying it tastes great but we want to warn you the drink is all sugar, bad for you, causes gas in a lot of cases and you’re better off drinking water. I point out things I don’t like and I try to lay out reasons why I recommend a place. There have been times when the experience was terrible. In those cases I tell them before publishing, saying I will lay out any positives and also the negatives and ask if they want to go forward. I think the difference with Yelp is most people that post on Yelp consider themselves investigative journalists and look for negative things whereas most bloggers approach the review as brand ambassadors. Of course you could always market yourself as a mystery shopper telling the client and your readership you are there to point out every flaw and every positive thing.

    • July 16, 2016 at 6:51 pm — Reply

      Yea there’s a fine line to walk when recommending sponsored content. But with Yelp, I do find it easier to express any bad experiences. There’s always that obligation to sell as the brand ambassador, but at the same time, I try never to accept items or sponsorships from brands that I wouldn’t be interested in the first place. At least that helps keep things more honest.

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