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As our blog has changed from a hobby to an online business, we’ve started to feel like we’re held more accountable for what we write. People actually read this blog now, and we actually do have some influence on travellers and the places we visit. No, we’re not Lonely Planet, we don’t have millions of followers, we’re not famous and we don’t have the most popular travel blog online, but even a few people can sway the majority when word of mouth starts to spread.

You may have noticed that we have some “reviews”, “accommodation spotlights” and “promotional tours” on Goats On The Road. This relatively new aspect of the business comes with its own challenges.

How it Works:

These types of partnerships are usually referred to as blog sponsorships and they basically go like this: companies offer bloggers free accommodation, tours, gadgets, gear, flights etc. and in exchange, we write an article about our experiences and share it with our readers and social media followers.

A few months ago, we were at a restaurant with a couple of travellers who had contacted us through our blog. Shortly after sitting down, we started talking about their travels and about our blogging life and we were delighted to be talking to people who were genuinely interested in our situation. But then one of them asked us something:

“If you’re getting tours and hotels for free, how can your opinions be unbiased”

press trips mexico
Our First Press Trip! Partnering up with the Riviera Maya Tourism Board in Mexico

Of course, this wasn’t the first time that this idea had come into our heads, but it reminded us of how important it is to be honest to our readers, despite any free services or products offered. The traveller was absolutely right and I think it’s a huge issue for people who look for honest information from travel blogs (as opposed to the increasingly income-driven opinions of guide books and travel magazines).

The way we do things is that when we come to an agreement with a company that is wishing to sponsor us, we tell them outright that all thoughts and opinions will remain our own. We also write that at the bottom of the articles and in the videos that we make in exchange for the services.

That’s not just something we say. We literally stick to it. If we go on a tour, or stay in a hotel, or try out a travel product and it absolutely sucks, we’ll say so. We’re not out to slander companies that have offered us free services, but if the hotel is awful, or the tour was overpriced for what was offered, we’ll speak to the company about the issues we had in the hopes that they will rectify the problems. However, we’ll still publish the article listing the cons.

You’ll notice in nearly all articles about our sponsored experiences we have a pros and a cons section. This helps us to fairly convey some ups and downs of each tour, transportation or hotel we are reviewing/promoting. If there are no cons, we search for them harder and very seldom (especially in hotels) do we write an article without giving some impartial downsides.

We even had some cons about this 5-star resort in Mexico
We even had some cons about this 5-star resort in Mexico…

I’m not saying it’s a  perfect method. In the ideal, honest business partnership, we’d have enough money to pay for all of these cool hotels and trips and we’d just write about them and not have the added pressure of pleasing the company who took us in for free. But as travel bloggers, part of the way that we’re able to share such great experiences with readers, is that they are comped in exchange for the online exposure that we are able to offer.

I think, as bloggers, we have a huge responsibility to readers. We need to be honest about the places we visit, the gadgets we use and the companies that we partner with… no matter how much those companies pay us (or give us).

We also need to be very careful what we write about countries and destinations as a whole. Dariece and I frequently travel to some of the least visited regions on Earth and we always express how safe and amazing they are, but even in positive press we need to be mindful. We must ensure that we’re not leading travellers into a war zone or giving them false assumptions about places that they visit based on our descriptions.

Note: Travel blogs are inherently flawed as a resource for travel safety during political unrest. Old posts are left and forgotten and therefore may be out of date. ALWAYS check the current situation before planning a trip.

women in iran
Although we have travelled to Iran and believe it’s safe, the situation could change

In the same way, we are very careful about any negative comments we make about destinations. Making brash, broad statements like “the people in Morocco are not nice”, is not constructive or accurate. We personally had some bad experiences with the people there and we were careful to express that in a responsible and unbiased way.

“The people can be coarse, rude, and even aggressive. But they can also be nice, generous, and hospitable.”

Goats On The Road – 2012

If bloggers visit a destination on a tour, we shouldn’t portray it as the only way to see the country. Perhaps independent travel is still possible. We should research all aspects of travel in that region and report on it accordingly.

Are we promoting good or evil?

Another aspect of our growing responsibility in the travel industry is eco-friendly and sustainable tourism promotion. At a recent TBEX conference in Cancun, bloggers were criticized for promoting dolphin rides. This is, of course, not an eco-friendly activity and by writing about it, we are endorsing and advocating the mis-treatment of these animals (albeit this is a subjective assessment of their living conditions).

We had a similar response from a reader when we wrote that petting tigers was a highlight of Thailand. We wrote the article back in 2012 (and experienced it in 2009), but recent media coverage has revealed that the tigers are often victims of animal trafficking, physical abuse and sedation. We have since removed this paragraph from our guides, but it shouldn’t have been there in the first place.

Laying With A Tiger In Chang Mai - backpacking thailand
Laying With A Tiger In Chang Mai (Not something we should have promoted, ever)

There’s a lot of pressure on bloggers to help travellers out!

These days, travel bloggers are in heaven. There are literally thousands of companies around the world, from small start-ups to industry-leading giants, all trying to utilize the relatively new-found power of blogs. This means that bloggers are making better connections and thus, more money than ever before… but we all need to be judicious in our approach.

Luckily, most bloggers take their responsibilities very seriously and some even turn down money all together to avoid their opinions being swayed by financial gain. (Hats off to them)

Before we started this blog, we were increasingly looking to blogs for useful information to help us on our travels. Our guidebooks were starting to spend more time zipped in our bags, and our research was slowly moving online.

location independent

Now that we have a travel blog of our own, we know that it’s important to honour that tradition of good, honest content no matter how much money is in it for us. We feel that the motives in guidebooks and travel magazines are becoming increasingly corporate and travel blogs offer some of the only reliable independent content that can be found these days.

These days consumers are being bombarded with shameless advertising everywhere we go. We can’t even watch our favourite TV show without having the contestants of Top Chef say: “Wow, I really love the easy-to-use GPS system in this new 2015 Toyota Corolla!”

Companies with huge budgets can pay big bucks for promotions.

Big Brand Value
Chart By: Statista

Worst yet, it’s in our movies. We recently had to turn off the movie Sex Tape with Cameran Diaz and Jason Segel because of the blatant, Apple brand product pushing throughout the entire film. At one point, one character drops an iPad from the window and when Jason Segel’s character picks it up he says: “Wow! I can’t believe the construction of these things!”

B.S.

As people who don’t appreciate this type of subliminal brand promotion, we surely don’t ever want to have our blog come across that way.

We do our best not to force-feed tours and services down our readers throats. We just offer ideas that they may enjoy when they’re travelling, like: “Hey, we stayed in this awesome hotel, if you’re in the area… check it out!” Sometimes, we work with brands to help them promote online. We only work with them if we think that they provide a service or product that our readers might be interested in. These articles usually just have a quick mention in the middle of one of our story articles, or Top 10 lists – pretty passive I’d say. This type of advertising has a very small impact on our blog, but aside from freelance writing, it’s a good source of income and helps to keep us on the road, and to keep this blog running.

 

We also have some banner ads to help pay the bills, some affiliate partners who we’ve used and are happy to endorse, but outside of that we really don’t try to push anything on people who come to this site.

For example: we promote Trusted House Sitters and World Nomads Insurance…why? Because we use their services and think they’re excellent 🙂

living in grenada
Thanks to Trusted House Sitters, this was our property for 7 months!

We’re very happy that the travel blogging industry has made it to where it is today and that large companies are finally starting to find the value in our content, but we are also aware of our responsibilities as providers of useful information.

 

It’s similar to the responsibilities that reporters have when the cover a topic. They should be honest and do their best to convey every side of the story. We, as travel bloggers, all need to be careful about what we write and how we portray destinations, activities, hotels, events and products.

When we write “All thoughts and opinions remain our own” at the bottom of our articles, we should all stick to those words.

Our readers and the future of the travel blogging industry depend on it.

How do you feel about travel blogs as a whole? Are they a reliable resource for researching travel? Please share your thoughts in the comments below.

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Why We As Bloggers Need To Be Careful About What We Write

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Goats On The RoadWritten by

Nick & Dariece started this website to encourage others to do what they love. For some it’s travel, but happiness comes in many forms. It’s all about lifestyle design.

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34 thoughts on “Why We As Bloggers Need To Be Careful About What We Write

  1. Wow this is a great post! I think you are definitely correct in saying travel bloggers are now more accountable for their actions. But as long as you remain consistent and transparent, people will continue to trust you. There is a huge advantage to having a face and personality behind a blog as opposed to general guides on books or Internet. You can only provide your honest opinion and feedback – what more can we do?

    1. Hi Michelle,

      Thanks for the comment. I totally agree. It can be difficult sometimes to keep that line between honesty and income-earning from loosing focus, but as long as we’re always transparent with our readers and only promote things WORTH promoting, then we’re making the cyber travel niche a better place to surf.

  2. Great article and I completely agree about being totally transparent with readers no matter what you get from any company 🙂 I always also make it a point to ONLY work with companies that I would normally work with myself and I always make sure to disclose when I am working with someone 😀

    1. Definitely a wise choice to tell your readers that you’re working with the company and choosing the company based on your own preferences. Have you ever had a company that was terrible and you were supposed to write about them? We haven’t run into this issue yet (luckily) but many readers and forum posters online have expressed concern about this aspect of sponsorship. We just warn the companies before working with them that “all thoughts and opinions remain our own”. Hopefully our thoughts continue to be positive about the companies we work with!

  3. I agree with what you say. People will judge others based on what they say and write – whether they are bloggers or not. There is always a balance between various factors and in writing a blog pointing out potential conflicts of interests is worthwhile but I think some people make too much of being impartial. None of us are impartial. We bring our biases into everything we do.

    To me as a blog reader is being able to judge what I can take away from the posts. Some people are innately positive about what they say, that can be useful but you also realize this isn’t the person you count on to point out the problems and risks. It is good to point out what advantages and disadvantages readers may find. But I think pointing out the situation (if you got free lodging or whatever) is plenty. If those posts seem overly promotional readers will be disappointed I think. But overall providing good posts is what matters to readers.

    1. Hey John,

      Totally agree and I’m the same way when reading articles. I expect some bias from the writer and I take what I want from each piece. We try to keep our articles from sounding too promotional, but we’ve been called out before for making a post sound like a commercial. We now have strict guidelines with sponsors that we will have full control of the final draft.

      It’s important that bloggers earn money and keep the business alive, but as you said, the content and those who read it should always come first.

  4. “In the same way, we are very careful about any negative comments we make about destinations. Making brash, broad statements like “the people in Morocco are not nice”, is not constructive or accurate. ”

    Some travel bloggers use that as a cheap way to get traffic. They know that citizens of the country they maligned would speak out. I wish they could read this piece and learn something from you two.

    1. Hey Aleah,

      Thanks for commenting. I’ve been noticing that a lot too lately. Some bloggers have some pretty aggressively written titles that definitely draw in readers. It’s unfortunate if the title is negative and the article is written without any contrast, but I do like a title that is gripping. We’ve noticed that on our article: “Are Iranians Really As Nice As People Say”, we’ve had dozens of Iranians commenting. Luckily the piece is very positive (how could it not be, Iranians are awesome) and we’ve had a great response from it.

      Have you ever accidentally upset a reader with something you said in one of your articles? It happened to us recently and it was totally out of the blue. Didn’t really make sense but we made some edits anyways.

  5. I agree with Aleah. Writing negative articles has gained popularity among some bloggers as a way to gain traffic. It’s easy to write an article about “Why this place sucks”. In doing so you can drive lots of traffic to your article but in the same time it is a cheap way of doing business. Transparent, showing the good and the bad is the way I like to approach things. Although I never had to a sponsor once asked me “What if you don’t like it and write a bad article?” I told them in that case, if that were to happen I would run it past them first to show them. Not to change anything, just give them a heads up and if it was bad I wouldn’t write anything at all. That didn’t happen and the place was great.

    1. Hey Bob,

      As I wrote above, I totally agree with Aleah as well and I have the same mentality as you when it comes to the warning. We’re not out to bash the companies that we work for and unless they’re completely ripping people off, we’re not in the business of slandering brands based on our, highly personal, experiences.

      Have you ever had to write something negative about a sponsor or cancel the article altogether?

  6. Great post! In my case, I’ve always focused on writing on the positive aspects of my reviews and give constructive criticism. I also wrote on my disclaimer that “my blog may seem like rainbow and unicorns but I only write about things that I love”. I also make it a point to let the management of the places I’m collaborating with know where they need to improve. Thanks for the other tips as well!

    1. Wow, I just wrote a really long comment back to you and the internet went out and I lost it. Now I’m going to write it out again and if the internet goes out, I’m going to throw Dariece’s computer (I’m on it now), into Lake Atitlan.

      Anyways, love your disclaimer haha. Maybe we’ll steal that one from you. We didn’t say anything about bloggers being careful about plagiarism did we?

      I like what you said about telling the companies where they can improve as well. We’ve been having companies ask us this question lately and I think it’s very business-smart.

      Have you ever had to tell them that they need a massive improvement in one area, or do you usually just keep it to rainbows and unicorns?

  7. Interesting post, and good to hear you are thinking about building a fair, thorough resource online.
    One thing I do wonder is whether you think the experience you have is always reflective of the “real” experience of a particular hotel/tour/activity or do you think there might be an element of them going the extra mile (even little things like a deep clean of your hotel room!) so that you get a different experience of other guests?
    I don’t mean to question your impartiality at all here, but I’m just curious whether you have ever found your experience might have been far better than a “normal” customer would. If so, how do you address that?
    !
    Katie

    1. Hey Katie,

      That’s a really good point and yes, there have been a couple of times that we felt like we may be getting a bit of special treatment. But it’s hard to tell if they don’t just treat every guest that well. During one hostel stay when we were working with HostelsClub.com, we found that the word of our arrival would trickle down all the way to the house keeping staff. We could tell that they were tippy toeing around us and eventually helped them relax by having some drinks with the staff and letting loose a bit.

      Other than that experience and one other, we don’t feel like we were being treated any differently than other guests and we hope that is the case as we continue to work with companies around the world.

  8. Wow, thank you! I started my blog a few years ago and was writing pieces on restaurants and locations I loved simply to share what I like with anyone who was willing to listen. Recently, I started receiving sample products from companies, with the obvious intention that they would like me to sample their products and share about my experience. I, too, am honest about my experience and opinions on the product, but do feel like I need to be blatantly clear as to both the pros/cons and that the item was sent to me for free in exchange for a write up. I truly appreciate your honesty and loved learning more about the concept of being careful what we write and how it is perceived by readers. Thank you!

    1. Thanks for the comment Natalie. That’s so cool that you’re getting products in exchange for your reviews. One of the great perks of the blogging world. We have no real home base and our life fits into about 40 litres, so we have to be picky about what products we agree to test out. This means that we’ve had nothing but awesome products sent to us and we’re definitely happy to promote them (the feiyu-tech G4 stabalization gimbal for the GoPro comes to mind). What’s the coolest product you’ve reviewed?

      Like you said, there’s always some pros and cons for every product and we do our best to point them out.

      Thanks for reading!

  9. Obviously your commitment to impartiality is only to be applauded but the commercialisation of travel blogging has just created huge quantities of bland, generic material whose only reason for existence is to satisfy economic imperatives. When continually searching for income becomes the raison d’etre of a blog material is governed by the demands of SEO, which requires a constant stream of content and it is impossible to produce genuinely interesting material at this rate. Hence overly commercial blogs are rarely worth following, even though they will occasionally produce good content, unless they stick to a narrow field of interest that suits your personal tastes.

    1. Totally agree. No matter how much money we’re offered, it’s important to put out great content that people will enjoy and learn from. That is our goal as travel bloggers and we should be careful to not loose that balance.

  10. A huge Bravo to you both!
    From day-one I noticed your passion has been to Share what you have experienced. Never hoarding or omitting to attempt to gain leverage. Always Giving information and encouragement. Maintaining integrity while letting go of old concepts and expanding to a deeper tolerance.
    Such hard and dedicated work is now ‘paying off’ … ONLY because You held True to your Genuine selves and those you are drawing can easily See this.
    I Thank You and look forward to viewing many more enjoyable moments!

  11. Good to hear guys and I hope you stick to it. Some blogs that I used to love seem to only put up sponsored content or press trip posts these days and it gets boring fast. Have you seen the movie ‘The Joneses’? It’s a pretty scary premise

  12. No matter who you are and what you do, HONESTY for some ‘strange’ reason is a commodity… these days.
    However, I read almost all of your blogs (my time is limited) with trust, open mind, and a smile on my face.
    Thank you for your honest blog, guys!

  13. Well said! Honesty and integrity definitely need to be maintained. It is easy to fall into the ugly trap of over-glorifying a place because it’s sponsored but we should keep in mind that we have the power to influence our readers’ decisions, and that they trust us. Good going goats!! 😀

  14. You guys are great! Thanks for giving us so much wonderful information. Regarding advertising on your blog, do you approach the companies or do they approach you?
    Thanks ever so much,
    Sara

    1. Hey Sara,

      Both actually. If we have a company/hotel/tour in mind that we want to work with, we’ll definitely reach out to them, and we receive invites as well.

      Cheers and thanks for reading!

  15. What a great post! I share many of your views on this subject. I started an “official” blog about 9 months ago after writing many authentic (unsolicited and personal) reviews and trip reports on Tripadvisor for several years. I truly enjoy my travels and then writing about where and what my hubby and I experienced. I write about what we learned and our impression of the culture, venue or even a review of an airline or other part of our travels.
    I agree that sharing an opinions should include pros and cons. I am not earning any income with my blog at this point as I have not pursued doing that ……yet. I freely share the good and challenging parts of traveling- but I try not to be rude and give constructive input to other travelers.
    Thanks for what you “goats” do- I love reading and following you around the globe!

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