On blogger bias

Recently, Leslie from Trips with Tykes had a great post on truth in travel blogging. She pulled the curtain back from media trips a little bit. I’ve learned a bit about hosted trips myself over the past year and we had a fun discussion about how sponsored trips or posts affect how we write about things. I encourage you to give it a listen when you have a chance (embedded in Soundcloud below, or on the web here, or on iTunes at Saverocity Observation Deck). We also got some Disney nerd talk in about Pandora and the new Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Breakout ride in the second half, if you’re into that sort of thing.

Anyway, I had a few lingering thoughts on travel blogging, so I decided to…blog about them. Happy to hear everyone’s thoughts on the podcast or my thoughts in the comments!

Influencer is an apt term

Like we mentioned on the podcast, I only started personally hearing the term influencer in the last year or so, but it’s a great descriptor for what bloggers/vloggers/social media people do. A lot has been made of how social media can be a huge echo chamber in the past year, but I (foolishly) didn’t make the connection to influencers until the podcast.

A simple example is Jetsmarter. A lot of people in my social feeds have been flying private via Jetsmarter trials. Just seeing that all over my feed makes me feel FOMO and wish I had the time to join up myself.

Coincidentally, today Forbes released a list of top influencers. Some of those influencers have been paid quite a bit of money to help various companies market their products. So you have this weird space on the internet where we’re all influencing each other in our echo chambers but some people are getting paid to do it, so who’s opinion do we trust?

Objectivity is near impossible

I’m past the point in my life where I worry a ton about what others do; people are successful and I don’t need to get mad about it. So the discussion of travel blogging bias really has helped me to turn a mirror on myself.

One thing I didn’t get to adequately express on the podcast is my belief that full blown objectivity is impossible. We are all a product of complicated experiences which have led to more complicated belief systems and will always write with bias.

For example, I still don’t love cash back. While I’ve learned to appreciate its value more, I’m never going to write as excitedly about cash back as I might about a premium cabin redemption. Random tweets people write will be a product of their bias. So while I aim to be as objective as possible, I view pure objectivity as a golden standard that I will never reach, but will always strive for.

Concessions make objectivity even more difficult

Of course, when you throw affiliates, money, or “freebies” into the mix, objectivity becomes even more difficult. It’s human nature, it’s harder to be critical of someone you who has given you nice things. Even harder if you’re financially tied to that entity. This is pretty straightforward.

Drawing a line

So obviously, Disney has been very kind to me this year. I got the chance to attend the Social Media Moms Celebration (discounted off full ticket price) and the Pandora World of Avatar media preview (completely hosted). I thoroughly enjoyed both events, in part because Disney exerted absolutely no editorial control over how I covered them. (An exception was NDA stuff, like I saw the Pixar short Lou but wasn’t supposed to talk about it, but that’s “leak prevention” not editorial control in my mind).

But I know some affiliates or sponsors will dictate what you can or cannot write about in an editorial fashion. Disney could have easily said “don’t write or talk about how Flight of Passage can sometimes break down”, but they didn’t. (It can, btw. Monitoring early previews I had serious concerns it wouldn’t be able to handle the loads when Pandora opened, but it’s actually been running quite well, better than I expected for sure.)

I’ve never been in such a situation, but I remember Matt got put into that kind of situation a few years ago, and he told the affiliate to go pound sand. I’d like to believe I’d do the same in a similar situation.

Keeping myself honest

Let’s be real, nobody is pounding down my door when they see my Twitter following. But still, I want to keep myself honest, and that means not taking every free thing offered to me. I’ll be in Orlando for work next week and will likely visit Disney with my coworkers on my own dime.

I also think I need to keep myself honest because if I don’t I’ll be doing the tens of people I do influence a disservice. Which leads me to my final point.

Who’s opinion do you trust?

When it comes to the echo chambers, I’ve learned to be very selective about the people’s opinions I truly trust. And I’d like to be someone whose opinion is valued by others.

That means I owe it to myself and to readers to cut any B.S. and give my honest opinions. That means if something bad happens even if I’m #sponsored, I need to write about it. Otherwise, what good is my opinion?

So my goal is to be as honest and real about my travel, my family, and my life as possible. And hopefully that helps readers as they make decisions on where and how to travel. Like I said, it’s impossible to be completely objective, but I’m committed to doing the best I can. Hopefully that’s good enough! 

Give the podcast a listen and let me know your thoughts in the comments. Apologies for the inside baseball, back to your regularly scheduled programming tomorrow.


Just an average joe trying to fly his family for less

5 thoughts on “On blogger bias

    1. I think that’s a fair opinion to have and one that many people adopt. Unrelated, did you know Amazon sends free stuff to people to review? I had no idea!

    2. So, by your logic, you shouldn’t trust any movie or restaurant review, either, because the reviewers are paid. Granted, they are not paid by the restaurant or the studio, but the fact remains that you SHOULD have the expectation of some degree of objectivity, whether the reviewer is paid or not.

      It’s nigh on impossible to be completely objective about anything, as Joe points out. Which is why, rather than using a criterion like: got it for free/reduced cost = biased, it’s better to get a feel for the general belief of the blogger about the purpose and the rules inherent in what s/he writes.

      Many bloggers have, as a goal, to make as much money as possible, by any means. Others make a conscious choice that, if they are to make money from their blogs, they’ll do it with integrity and create, rather than pass on unattributed knowledge from others. And most, (I would consider Joe to be among them) write because they feel they have something of value to say to others with their interests. And earning money is a bonus, not necessarily the objective.

      Maybe it would serve you better to be more discriminating in your own beliefs about how to judge content.

  1. As a fellow “family travel with the help of points” niche blogger, I can relate to what you are saying. It’s ridiculous to expect a blogger (any blogger) to remain totally, 100% unbiased. We filter all the information through our life experiences and preferences, and yes, financial incentive certainly comes into play.

    Even those who are fortunate enough to have a large audience and can monetize exclusively through AdSense can be biased. They are incentivized to draw clicks, so they are more likely to take a more controversial position, just for controversy sake. Obviously, that doesn’t apply to everyone, but there is a tendency to push the envelope.

    That said, you come across as extremely sincere individual in your posts, and I find your opinions trustworthy. Maybe I’m naive, I don’t know! To me, the most important angle to blog monetization is how relevant the product you are promoting is to your audience. You love Disney and you focus on family travel, so accepting a hosted trip to see Pandora ride is completely appropriate. Given all my rants about Disney, it would be odd for me to do something like that, so I probably wouldn’t. Emphasis on “probably.” 🙂

    For those who complain about bloggers accepting freebies/hosted trips and making money, period… Where do I start? These guys live in an alternate reality. They go to their jobs where they earn wages and then they come home to relax with their family, and maybe read a post or two written by their favorite blogger. What they fail to realize is that this very blogger spent hours working on his/her material. We sacrifice our time and energy to create something that we hope will be of use to readers. There is no way for bloggers to get those hours back, ever. What’s wrong with trying to get compensated in the process?

    Obviously, accepting $ just to make $ is not the way to go. I’ve turned down many sponsored posts where folks were offering me $50 per post. At this point in my business, that’s a lot of money. But they didn’t fit in with my overall theme, so I had to (reluctantly) turn them down. On the other hand, I have no issue promoting credit cards because that’s how I am personally able to afford so many trips. It’s relevant to my audience, though there are pitfalls, of course.
    Oh, and if someone asked me about it, I would tell them that it’s a terrible, absolutely terrible way for a small blogger to monetize a site at this point in time. But it brings in a little bit of money each month, something in return for al the hours I pour into this business.
    So, my long-winded point is, as long as you can maintain integrity, accept opportunities thrown your way. You’ve earned it via all the years you’ve spent on this blog. I’m glad your efforts are paying off, and I think Disney was right to sponsor you.
    End rant.

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