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.
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.
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.