For the past few days I’ve been licking my wounds. Thankfully this happens very, very rarely but the other week a reader upset me. I’d posted a link to one of my recent helpful (I thought) blog posts and someone commented on Facebook:
This sounds like an ad. Unfollowing.
This was hurtful for a number of reasons;
Firstly, because I try to be personable in all my posts and it made me feel a bit icky to think I’d sounded salesy.
Secondly, it smarted because I hadn’t made a penny! The post wasn’t sponsored (or else this would have been stated) and was, in fact, referencing a flight that cost $1500 of my savings.
And thirdly, it got me thinking, what was the problem if it had been? I don’t ask readers for anything. (Apart from your undying love, obviously!) I try to serve up advice and entertainment because it’s what I love doing but I cannot afford to do this indefinitely without monetising. Sometimes I team up with sponsors who host my travels so that I can write about places I might not be able to see on my own and once in a while, because this is my business, I run a sponsored post/advertorial, in order to keep the lights on. I always disclose when this is the case and up until this point I’ve never encountered a reader who unfollowed for this reason.
But this recent encounter made me think that perhaps things weren’t as clear cut to the reader as they are to me. I’d always assumed that readers were happy to read between the lines – that if a post doesn’t say it was sponsored or hosted then they can tell it was self-funded?
Maybe things have got a little confusing as more and more my trips tend to be a little bit of each. Often I’ll plan my own adventures (most recently around weddings, honeymoons and christenings than my bucket list!) and then research places and activities that I think would work well for this audience. Sometimes I get a media rate, other times I might be hosted, and I tend to disclose either in the post or at the bottom which bits I was helped with.
But what about the bits in-between? Do you guys want to know what I did pay for? Do I need to list this?
Should posts end with:
This is NOT a sponsored post.
This trip IS self-funded.
I paid for my flights, hotel, taxi, new outfit, insurance and cakes but had a little help with breakfast?!?
A big part of me wants to resist this. I want my content to be about the destination. I want to end my posts with invitations for people to ask travel questions or share their personal experiences, not a disclaimer about my financial status. (I’m British remember so being this direct about money matters is awkward!)
I’ve spoken to a few bloggers recently though who think this level of overtness is necessary. They are starting to add in disclaimers that they’ve paid for their trips to add a level of authenticity and I think it’s this interpretation of authenticity that really worries me.
Whilst I fully understand and support the need to be transparent, the idea of self-funded travel content being seen as more authentic than that written from hosted trips makes me nervous. As I’ve mentioned previously, integrity in travel blogging means everything to me. I strive to make all my content as authentic as possible and would hate to think that some posts were being viewed differently from others because I was offered a press rate in return for the coverage. (Maybe I’m just massively naïve?!)
Perhaps I’m just splitting hairs here. Traditional travel media have been doing this for years, after all. Just this weekend I read several articles in the Sunday paper and most of them stated the writer was hosted. I read one where it said the writer was self-funded and I didn’t perceive the content any differently. If anything, on the piece that stated it was self-funded I thought ‘how interesting, the writer must have worked on her holiday’.
So I guess my question is how molecular do we need to be? Just how much detail about what I did and didn’t pay for do you, the reader, want to see? And if you’re a blogger, how are you currently handling this? Is it time we laid it all out on the table or is disclosing what we did pay for not essential to the story?
NB: This is not a sponsored post. No money was made in the process of writing this article. I paid for my own bacon sarnie and consumed it while writing. I’m handing out this sarcasm for free!
Update: Thanks so much for everyone’s feedback. I have now created this Disclosure Page to explain the way I work and will also be clearer about what is self-funded going forward. I agree with you all that transparency is key but want to try to avoid massively long and overcomplicated disclosures on every post.