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On Sponsored Posts – A Quick Chat About Biznass

by Tony · 22 comments

Meg during photo tour of sydney

OK people… confession time.

We have noticed it.

You have definitely noticed it.

And we promise to be better.

I’m talking about the onslaught of sponsored activities we have gone on in the last few months and all of the articles they have generated. Our sponsored articles are generally written about fun activities, but also include some focusing on epic meals and even a hotel stay or two.

Hotel Room Dance Party

As travel bloggers on a budget, we are always looking for fun things to write about so that we can share interesting stories. Occasionally, with a big emphasis on the budget part, we will do a sponsored article on a hotel or hostel. But even in those cases, our biggest priority is being honest about our experience.

Because we want to be as transparent as possible with you, let me first give you a rundown of our general rules when agreeing to a sponsored activity. Then I will tell you how we will modify our current rules going forward, based on some of the great feedback we have received from you already.

LandingStanding’s General Principles Regarding Sponsored Posts

  • Every article is always in our words and never written by a marketing person.
  • As much as possible, we try to work with smaller companies.
  • The ultimate goal of sponsored activities is not to do something for free, but to be able to write about something interesting that we otherwise could not afford.
  • We will never work with a company who is poorly rated on TripAdvisor just for a free stay or activity.
  • Most activities and stays have been a good experience. Not because we feel obligated to write nice things, but because we reach out to highly rated companies who are confident in their ability to provide a worthwhile event.
  • If a sponsored activity is bad, we will either not write about it at all or be very up-front about what we didn’t like in our review.

Some people will never be happy with the fact that we do accept occasional free accommodation and activities in return for an article. For that, we are sorry. The only reason we are comfortable with it is that we are confident in our ability to remain unbiased and that we carefully pre-select everyone we work with.

However, we are not happy with the recent frequency of our sponsored articles and are adjusting our schedule in the future.

Our Commitment Going Forward

  • Any week we have a sponsored activity/stay, we will have at least one non-sponsored article as well.
  • We will do a better job of telling the story of our sponsored activity, instead of sounding too promotional.
  • We will continue listening to you. So keep emailing us with any thoughts on what we’re doing, how we’re doing, and what we should do next!

Your Turn: Based on a few well-written emails, we know at least a few of you have been unhappy about the recent stretch of sponsored posts. Are you comfortable with us still occasionally posting an article about a sponsored event?  Are there any general principles you would like us to add to our list?

About Tony
Quit his job to try actually following his dreams for once... and is currently loving it. He is working hard to to make this life-style permanent by writing about his adventures and brainstorming money making opportunities with his partner-in-crime, Meg.

Kieron February 3, 2013 at 7:35 am

No need to apologize guys – without sponsored activities/stays you’d run short of content and the money to travel.

So long as you’ve got strict guidelines in place and promise to be honest (even that involves a negative review), which you do, then most readers will be more than understanding.

Tony February 3, 2013 at 2:12 pm

Thanks, Kieron.

This post had been long overdue as we wanted to outline for everyone how we go about working with sponsors and our own personal guidelines. We won’t stop doing sponsored posts, but we had become aware that the sponsored to non-sponsored ratio had gotten a little out of whack over the holidays (catch-up work). Need to be better about that!

Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) February 3, 2013 at 8:47 am

I am really glad you wrote this. As a fellow long-term traveler & blogger, I totally understand wanting to keep an eye on the budget, but I admit, I really dislike sponsored posts. The occasional one here and there doesn’t bother me — we are all looking for ways to make ends meet — but when I start to notice that a blog is predominantly putting up posts sponsored by others, or only writing about activities that they haven’t paid for themselves, I lose interest and check out. I want to know about the aspects of travel that money can’t buy, but also the ones that the bloggers thought were intriguing or worthwhile enough to spend their own hard-earned savings on.

One thing I found interesting is that you say you only accept sponsorship for activities that you wouldn’t otherwise have the funds to enjoy. This is a somewhat puzzling stance, I think, because if you legitimately can’t afford this activity, then I wonder how many other unsponsored people also could? I know long-term travelers often talk about how you don’t really need very much money to travel the world, but the reality is that most of us have saved a substantial chunk of change to do so. I know that I personally find myself wondering when I read posts in which the activity was completely sponsored whether the blogger would have really enjoyed it or bothered with it if they had had to pay full price.

Anyway, despite all of the above, I honestly don’t mind about sponsored posts so long as they don’t form the bulk of a site’s content. One sponsored post per week is about the max I can handle. I really love your original content and am looking forward to reading about what you have been up to!

Tony February 3, 2013 at 2:35 pm

Thanks for such a thoughtful response, Steph!

It really helps to hear what people are personally looking for and what their tolerance is on sponsored posts.

For us, we normally try to keep a fair balance between sponsored and non-sponsored, but things got way out of whack over the holidays.

Good point about not being able to afford the activities. What I was trying to say was that we couldn’t afford to do every activity throughout the year without sponsorships. We would have to pick and choose just a few. By getting these activities sponsored, we can afford to do them all and share our experiences with readers who can then pick and choose for themselves. Definitely a fine line though.

At the end of the day, it is our job to tell an engaging story. Period. No matter if the post is about a sponsored activity or a funny story from our travels.

We definitely don’t want people to check out due to the recent amount of sponsored posts, so we are recommitting to do better in 2013!

Steph February 3, 2013 at 10:36 am

Ugh it’s such a hard line to walk isn’t it? On the one hand, I simply can not afford to do the things I’d like to write about without help from companies, on the other, I know some people get their panties in a bunch about it (I got some recent comments on my survey telling me the same thing). I think that as long as you are transparent and honest, it’s not really fair of people to begrudge you free stuff (unless they are willing to start ponying up for reading). Money has to come from somewhere.

Tony February 3, 2013 at 2:39 pm

We definitely won’t stop doing sponsored activities.

I do think we need to do a better job of balancing the content, but that was driven by the holidays slowing down our travels and having a backlog of sponsored stuff.

I also think we could do a more engaging job of crafting sponsored activity posts. Sometimes we get in the habit of just telling what happened instead of crafting a good story around our adventure. For me at least, I think it would make a difference.

Michael February 3, 2013 at 10:43 am

You shouldn’t have to apologize.

What I think many people don’t get is that taking on sponsored trips doesn’t really mean it’s all fun and joy. Sure, it’s great but we still have to actually WORK and about 99% of the time, we don’t get paid to go on the trip. I hear the argument from non-bloggers, “how hard is it really to write 600-words” but what they don’t get is that it’s much more than 600-words. It’s everything. It’s having the hat of two dozen positions and owning a business.

I could make more money as a manager at McDonalds with the amount of hours I put into my blog. Taking on a comped hotel stay for three nights doesn’t really add up to the amount of hours I’ve worked.

What matters to me is the quality of the content. I don’t care how many sponsored trips someone goes on. I want it to be honest and I want the article and pictures to look great. Basically I’m describing what you guys do already.

The problem really lies I think with bloggers having issues coming across as authentic. You however do not have that issue.

Tony February 3, 2013 at 2:43 pm

So true about the work aspect… Sponsored trips take up a lot of brain cells. Constantly taking notes in my moleskin, being professional with any marketing people/business owners, finding angles for the story, taking pictures, and trying to still have fun.

I appreciate the super kind words. The one thing I want to focus more on this year is trying to incorporate our normal story telling into sponsored posts. You can’t do it for every article, but I definitely think we could make some of the sponsored articles more engaging.

We can always improve!

JR February 3, 2013 at 11:38 am

I don’t mind sponsored events at all. It provides another level of discussion and view into opportunities when we travel. I understand that folks don’t want to read only sponsored event blogs. However, as folks look at traveling to certain destinations it is great to gain additional insight into what you have experienced. The assumption being that your readers appreciate your honesty and trust your views. Which I do :) So continue to provide honest feedback on your sponsored events and continue to provide great articles on all your activities and travel adventures.

Tony February 3, 2013 at 2:46 pm

Thanks for the support JR!

Getting feedback on what you all are noticing and what you like definitely helps us craft better content in the future.

Our biggest focus is ensuring that we maintain our level of honesty and trust with our audience. :)

Toni February 3, 2013 at 1:39 pm

I think this is a GREAT post Tony!

At the end of the day, the fact that you recognise that you *might* be putting out too much sponsored contest means that you’re doing the best thing possible; being honest with yourselves and your writers which is one of the key principles of blogging/writing.

Michael makes a good point that non-bloggers don’t understand that for many of us our blogs are either a fine line between hobby/business or solely a business and make can’t always make the distinction. They see you as fun people and can’t then separate you when you’re ‘working people’ which is where part of the problem lies I think.

If you keep being honest with yourselves and consistently ask if you feel comfortable with your position/writing then that’s all the matters because whilst you’re currently going through a lot of sponsored content, you might have huge periods where it’s just YOUR content. It’s all swings and roundabouts :)

Tony February 3, 2013 at 3:00 pm

There will definitely be swings in the # of sponsored posts… so true. We know we’ll have some big down periods this year as we will be doing some pet sitting in the wilderness. Get ready for lots of LandingStanding being lost in the woods stories!

It definitely is a good exercise to try and look at your site and content from an outside perspective. It is also has been pretty illuminating when we ask readers these questions as we get many unexpected responses.

Thanks, Toni!

Katie February 3, 2013 at 11:02 pm

Thanks for addressing this guys. I arranged some comped activities/stays during my trip, but tried to limit it to things I would do otherwise. I did one high end hotel stay and I felt miserable about it because it was so far removed from what my style of travel had been that I was really afraid readers would be turned off.

As Steph mentioned, I also lose interest if all I read on a blog are sponsored activities. There are some blogs I don’t even bother reading anymore for that very reason. I’ve also been turned off by bloggers who started out being all about budget travel and then are suddenly writing about all these luxury hotel stays and activities they got comped. It feels hypocritical. (not saying that’s you at all…)

I like that you have set out principles regarding what will you accept. I wish more people did that.

Tony February 3, 2013 at 11:30 pm

Thanks for the thoughts, Katie!

We have definitely done nice hotel stays. Even though we typically stay in hostels and B&B’s on the road, it is always nice to treat ourselves to a nice hotel every once in awhile. Since we would do that in our normal travels occasionally, if we can get it sponsored we don’t mind too much. But if we only stayed at nice hotels it would totally change the perspective of our site.

We definitely don’t want to go overboard with the sponsored posts and drive readers away. Such a fine line to walk, but one I’d look to be better at!

Adventurous Kate February 4, 2013 at 11:50 am

First of all — there is NO NEED WHATSOEVER to apologize! I generally think “I’m sorry you feel that way” apologies are a bit jackassy, but that would work fine here. There is nothing wrong with accepting sponsored content. Some people aren’t going to like it, but they constitute a small minority, and if they stop visiting your site because of it, that’s just too bad, but it’s not the end of the world.

I’m happy to see that you guys wrote this post. I have noticed that your sponsored/nonsponsored balance has seemed to be tipped in favor of the former.

You guys have done so well so fast — probably faster than any other newer travel blogger I’ve seen. And it is a tough line to walk, but you’ll continue to learn along the way. Your guidelines are fantastic. Maybe you could make a page with them and could always link to them at the bottom of your sponsored posts.

One thing you can add to the list: “We strive to entertain you above all, and will only choose sponsored activities that will result in posts that you will enjoy reading.”

A lot of my sponsored stuff lately has been in the “sh*t only the 1% can afford” category, particularly my South Africa trip. Some people are offended by that, and I understand. But I try to counter that with 1) including primarily nonsponsored posts and stuff I’ve done on my own, 2) covering activities that are free or cheap, and 3) covering the super-expensive activities from a wide-eyed, “holy crap this is amazing” perspective more than a “this is why you should stay here” perspective.

I also started an “essential info” box at the bottom of my posts with information about pricing and how to get there, both on sponsored and nonsponsored posts. I’ve actually received no comments on it yet, but I like it. It adds more transparency.

Keep doing an amazing job. :-) Oh, and let me know when/if you come back to Boston — I’ll be here for a few more weeks!

Tony February 7, 2013 at 8:34 am

Thanks for this AWESOME comment Kate! So much goodness in it.

The ratio had definitely gotten a little out of whack in the last month or two, which is why we wanted to write about how we handle sponsored posts. I love your suggestion about adding a page on the site with these guidelines and then linking to it at the end of every sponsored article.

It is definitely a bit of balancing act when you do high-end sponsored stuff, but I really don’t see a problem with it. We travel on a budget, but we will also splurge if the activity is great enough. I would definitely want to read about awesome activities in case I am tempted to try it. For instance, after reading all about your South Africa trip, we seriously want to go!

We also have been discussing adding some kind of info at the end about pricing… love the concept of an info box.

Thanks again!

PS… love this: “We strive to entertain you above all, and will only choose sponsored activities that will result in posts that you will enjoy reading.”

Naomi February 18, 2013 at 7:13 am

Well done for being so honest about your motivations for doing sponsored posts and what your standards are. I understand the financial argument, but do people want to read accommodation reviews or budget related posts? I’d say maybe, occasionally, but mostly people want to read about the blogger’s personal experiences. It’s voyeurism after all!!

I’ve followed alot of blogs that start off really interesting, with something really unique about them, then degenerate into just another list of sponsored activities. If the bloggers reduced the amount of sponsored posts, I’d continue following them, but too many and they’re kicked off my favourites list.

Less is definitely more!

Lana February 21, 2013 at 8:11 pm

I guess for me the sponsored content posts make me feel like I’m doing something wrong because I’m spending all my dimes and no one is asking me to stay at a nice resort or do a fun activity all for the sake of a blog post, which I’m writing anyway. I would love that sort of opportunity, but not being ‘professional bloggers’ they don’t come our way. That said, I’m curious about how these opportunities come about. I read a lot of sponsored content posts but no one ever says how the opportunities come about except for a “we got an email” vagueness. I guess maybe it’s a trade secret. I don’t mind these kind of posts per se, but I would say it’s important to think about your audience, at least to some extent, when choosing sponsored content activities.

I guess my main point here is that I’m jealous! But also if your opportunities come about because of your traffic, then the ones you choose shouldn’t turn those readers off because they no longer identify with you. Hope this makes sense and is helpful!

Tony February 22, 2013 at 12:59 pm

Super helpful! Thanks, Lana.

I am emailing now with some more details that might be helpful. Love your site by the way!

Ali February 22, 2013 at 9:45 am

I definitely get turned off by blogs with too many posts about sponsored activities, but since I myself have a blog and I have done these same things, I can totally understand where you’re coming from. I try to make sure whatever it is I get sponsored is something I would want to do and pay for myself. We’re in the very early stages of planning a big trip for a few months from now, and we’re willing to pay for all of it, but if we can get some help on a few things, it would help with our budget, plus I know I’ll feel more comfortable writing about those sponsored things. But it’s important to me that my site doesn’t become all about sponsored posts. I love how up front you guys are being about this and putting your readers first!

Tony February 22, 2013 at 1:05 pm

Thanks, Ali. Sometimes it helps to look at our site from a reader’s perspective, which is what we tried to do here. Can be a little painful to judge yourself like this, but helps in the long run.

We have the same rule as you. We try to only do sponsored activities that we probably do on our own anyway. This is also a great rule because writing about something you aren’t that interested in is so hard!

Can’t wait to read about your big trip!

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