Monday, 28 August 2017

Thoughts On Bloggers Selling Out And Faking Lifestyles.

When I first started blogging over six years ago, it was a special place filled with people who just wanted to share their life with others and share their favourite new dress, lipstick, restaurant, travel destination, or whatever. The reason blogging grew so quickly and became so popular, was because it was so refreshing to read impartial reviews from real people, rather than magazines filled with adverts and articles by journalists who are incentivised by companies to give their products coverage. Not only that, but it was suddenly an opportunity to really see how other people lived their lives, and make us all feel a little more normal and relatable.

Photo by Posh, Broke, & Bored.

99% Sponsored, With A Thin Slice Of Integrity

Over the past year I've seen an increasing number of bloggers (including bloggers I used to love) only post content filled with freebies and sponsored content. At first I still read these blogs weekly, just on the off chance one of those posts might be interesting and a little bit unique. But then I noticed that almost was sponsored or the product/stay/meal was provided complimentary. And every single one of them bored me senseless, so I stopped reading, and I stopped commenting, and I stopped bothering to support said bloggers.

And I feel TERRIBLE. So terrible. The blogging community is such a brilliant place and so supportive, yet here I am being unsupportive and refusing to give these bloggers more pageviews and engagement. But I needed to ignore that type of blogger for my own sanity, because it was (and still is) driving me mad, and making me feel really disenchanted with the whole blogging world. Not only that but that type of blogger is also the exact type of blogger who gives the rest of us a bad name as 'blaggers'. 

Don't get me wrong, I think it's *incredible* that we as bloggers are able to work with brands and strike up partnerships, collaborations, and sell advertising space. I mean, I do it too! But, there's a limit, and if we don't limit ourselves we end up being just as bad as the magazines who sell 60%+ of their pages to brands as advertising space. 

Who Can We Trust?

The entire blogging industry grew because we didn't do this, because we were different and honest and our readers trusted us! But now we're even worse than magazines. Instead of 60-70% of a magazine's content being paid, bloggers are now giving away 80%+ of their space and influence away to advertisers. And yet bloggers are being completely hypocritical towards the magazines, and still expect their readers to trust their opinions and views, but still slate magazines and the journalists that write for them. 

And so there are many bloggers out there who I used to trust, and just can't anymore. And therefore I no longer book a restaurant or hotel reservation based off their blog review, or buy a new foundation or eyeshadow palette because they raved about how great it was. I sometimes read glowing reviews of restaurants and hotels that I know - from both my own and friend's multiple experiences - are actually pretty awful, only to see that their visit was comped, and I just roll my eyes and add their blog to the growing list of those not to trust.

It's funny because I've actually always done bits of blogger outreach as part of my real-life job (over five years now), and every time I've worked with a blogger I've encouraged them to be completely honest in their review. This is because I know how maddening it is to see blogger after blogger review the exact same restaurant, and all write the exact same glowing review...only for you to visit and be completely disappointed by it.

The thing is I would trust bloggers opinions so much more if they filled their blogs with personality, and honesty, and reviews funded by their own money and genuine love for a place or product. When I came to this realisation last year, I made a promise to myself to never be one of those bloggers. I realised that I was *so* close to becoming one, so when I moved to Australia I took a step back and really looked at what made me happy when it came to blogging.

Quality Over Quantity

This year I've made a conscious effort to only have a maximum of 20% of my content being sponsored by a brand or a complimentary experience. I've turned down Mediterranean cruises, luxury trips to Bali, numerous restaurant reviews, and sponsored content opportunities. 

When you start turning down these opportunities, the FOMO gradually disappears and you take back control of your online space. Every brand I partner with has to be on-brand with not only my audience, but with ME, and my online space! I'm no longer afraid to politely tell a brand I don't think they fit what Lux Life is about. 

I only have so much spare time in my week, and I've really enjoyed using that time to visit places I actually want to visit, and then telling you all about them if I really genuinely enjoy those places! Not only that, but over the past year or so I've enjoyed having actual holidays, and prioritizing my wants and needs for a trip instead of it being dictated by moving hotels every 1-2 nights to make sure I saved as much money as possible/got the most amount of free stays. Let's face it, every single one of us travel/lifestyle bloggers has done this once or twice, and I'll be one of the first to hold my hands up and say I'm guilty.

'Luxury' Blogging & The Blaggers

The thing is, when it comes to luxury blogging, it can be very easy to feign a lifestyle with free drinks, meals, hotel rooms etc. A fashion or beauty blogger suddenly turns into a 'luxury travel' blogger, and claims they have always lived this life despite never blogging about travel or luxury at all before suddenly landing a random press trip. All of a sudden they know about the best way to book business class flights when they've taken one (free) business class flight in their life, or maybe none at all. How can you give advice on booking something you've only experienced once, and at the expense of someone else? 

True luxury blogging is a mixture; it's working with these brands, and paying for these things yourself out of your own hard-earned money. It's also staying humble and being human. Yes I spend $$$$ on business class flights sometimes, but I'm also perfectly happy flying Easyjet and sitting in economy if I'd rather spend my money on something else that month - and I will always be open about it and never ever look down on that way of travelling. Those cheap flights allow me to travel far more frequently and spend the money on a luxury hotel instead. I've also bought a £900 designer handbag one month, and then a £10 Primark one the next. It's about balance, and owning it, rather than lying just to try and show that you 'belong' in that lifestyle.

Full-Time Bloggers 

I understand that for some people blogging is a full time job and they have to earn money from somewhere, and that's OK. But it's still so important to choose brands and campaigns based on the quality of them rather than the quantity, and if you're going to post three sponsored posts a month, at least give your followers and readers 5-6 posts that aren't sponsored. A blogger I love who is amazing at this is Hannah Gale, she's brilliant at getting the perfect balance between sponsored and non-sponsored content!

Please Don't Hate Me?

Lolz jokes, do/think what you want. I know this post is likely to get a lot of hate and backlash from those who take offence to it. But if you're taking offence, step back and ask yourself why. After all, if the shoe fits. I also know that all of the above doesn't apply to the majority of bloggers, but just to a handful. I just had to get all this off my chest, as I know from speaking to other bloggers that everyone is fed up with all this, but most people are too afraid to speak out about it.

In journalism, blogging, and content, integrity is everything. Too many have succumbed to the allure of freebies and sponsored content, and forgotten why they started blogging in the first place. 

So please can we go back to being trustworthy and creating unique content? Please can we give readers and brands an actual reason to invest their time and money in us rather than the magazines?

I just want to finish this on a high-note, by leaving a few links to my absolute favourite 100% honest bloggers who have never 'sold-out' or tried to blag a life that isn't theirs and are the loveliest people! (obvs I can't list everyone, so apologies if you're not included - you can see more of my faves on my About Me page which has a little blog roll)

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  1. Really great post. I started blogging over 8 years ago and yes, very much remember the excitement of simply being able read content from regular consumers, people like me, honest and raw opinions that were not poorly disguised rehashes of press releases! And that's what I loved about blogging too, and still do. I have always been very honest in my reviews, which means including the negatives as I see them -- most PRs and brands understand that this is actually far more useful because readers can see for themselves that I'm being truthful and appreciate that when I do say something is fabulous, it's because I mean it. But some PRs and brands get very arsey about it -- my response is too bad, if you don't want to work with me again, so be it. But there are too many bloggers I know who are too scared of being blacklisted to be honest and objective. It's rare for me to really dislike somewhere I've been invited to review, mainly because I'm very selective about the invitations I accept (whether that's a restaurant, press trip, hotel or product) and do my best to avoid those I feel aren't a good fit. But of course, sometimes one gets through, and it's unmitigatingly awful. Since I don't get any joy out of those excoriating reviews that rip someone a new one, I choose instead to write my feedback (in the same detail as I would for a published review) and send it back to the PR or brand as (hopefully constructive) feedback. I know I do experience FOMO but I stamp down on it pretty hard because I am also very stubborn! I don't set myself a rule on how much content in any given month is comped reviews / paid versus organic, but I think I keep it reasonable most of the time. It helps that my day job is well paid and so I am not pressured into accepting work with brands I don't think are a good fit or which don't interest me. Great post!

  2. I completely agree! It is tempting to take every free thing that gets thrown our way but 1) there is always time needed to be spent working in return, and time is more precious than money and 2) people definitely trust bloggers less because of those who sell out. Also I think those who jet off on all these press trips become unrelatable because people can't actually afford to live like that! Thanks for putting yourself out there with this :)

  3. What a great post! There are far too many bloggers out there nowadays that don't keep true to themselves. I have been blogging since 2008 and it has changed so much. I believe in blogging with integrity and keeping it real, with or without the luxuries. It's about balance and writing about what you truly love! <3

  4. Couldn't agree more than what you just said hun! Loving the honesty here :)


  5. Amber O'Neill28/08/2017, 14:35

    Absolutely agree when you say Hannah Gale gets this spot on. I still trust her reviews 100% and I still read her blog years after first discovering it because she always keeps it fresh. Just discovered your blog, look forward to reading more x

  6. YES YES YES! I was nodding along in agreement with every word Catherine & commend your honesty. I cannot stand blogs that have abandoned writing purely for passion & where they only blog if they get something sponsored. I rarely pick restaurants based on blog reviews anymore either eg last Xmas, I went to a certain 5 star hotel pop up on the basis of multiple rave blog reviews. I was self paying & the hotel didn't know I blog but the service was so awful that I actually wrote a formal complaint. I've also seen some bloggers who have virtually given up writing & rarely do but every couple of months, when something free comes up, they're back - sometimes the freebie isn't even their niche! I work a very busy job in the NHS by day so have to say no to almost every blog opportunity because of my job commitments so I reckon probably less than 5% of my stuff is hosted & I too am all about the Easy Jet / luxury travel balance & proud of it- it's the reason I've managed to travel more than many professional travel bloggers!

  7. I find any freebie post has to be read with a major dose of raised eyebrows. Unconscious bias, or conscious bias, is misleading to those that actually have to pay. I always scroll to the bottom to see if something was free, I find you can actually tell it a blog when it is paid for and truly enjoyed! Good post, I hope it goes viral!

  8. Great post. I agree to most of the things you've said. We should never forget why we started blogging and avoid getting lured by sponsored stuff!

  9. Love this post Catherine! I definitely agree with people promoting 'luxury travel' when their only experience of it is free stays. I'm fine with things like 'my first experience of...*luxury experience* but it's hard to fully judge a 5* hotel when you've only ever stayed in hostels and budget properties - so it needs to be presented framed with that context. I'm always honest in restaurant reviews - I try to frame it in a way that 'sandwiches' negatives within positives, but I rarely trust full-on RAVE reviews. There's rarely a review I write that doesn't have *something* I think could have been improved, or wasn't great, even if I've loved the majority of an experience - so that's what I'd expect from other blogs I read.

  10. This is such a great post, we all need reminders like this sometimes - and thank you for the sweet tag!

  11. I adore this post. ADORE it. It's like you prised open my head and published the contents.

    I love bloggers. I love blogs. I made it my career after spending 15 years writing for newspapers and magazines. And what I see now are (some) bloggers shooting themselves in the foot. I want to say, look, your very greatest asset isn't that kick-ass theme or amazing photo, it's your authenticity. It's the trust that readers have in the content you're sharing. And you're giving that trust and authenticity away and in the process destroying the very thing that allows you to make that income, when your opinions are so easily and universally bought.

    The very best bloggers understand their product and its USP, and will work hard to maintain that while also being able to partner with the right brands and products without eroding that trust. Great post :)

  12. So SO glad I'm not the only one who thinks this! Totally agree with you - without trust, there's really no point in brands even working with you!

    Thanks :)

    C x

  13. Thanks Emma! No worries, keep being awesome :) x

  14. Thanks so much Milly! Agreed, I don't understand how you can confidently review something you've only experienced once. If that's your ONLY experience of a luxury hotel or business class, then obviously it's going to seem AMAZING, even if it actually isn't when you compare it to other hotels/business class products.

    I'm the same, I always try and balance it out with both the positives and improvements/negatives. On the rare occasion I do give something a rave review, it's because they truly deserved it!

    C x

  15. Yep, definitely. I've always been super honest, and sometimes it's annoyed the PR's and they've never invited me to things again, but it's been worth it not to be a fake and lose my integrity!

    C x

  16. Thanks Shikha! So happy I'm not the only one haha. It annoys me SO much when I go somewhere because heaps of bloggers raved about it, only to be REALLY disappointed (happened with Sexy Fish, what a let down that was).

    Similar to you I have a full time job as well (not nearly as commendable as working for the NHS though), so have to be very careful with what I choose to accept as my free time outside of work is so precious.

    C x

  17. She's brilliant, isn't she? I love all her posts so much!

    Thank you! Hope you enjoy it - I tend to post on Mondays and Fridays, and have a coupla cool posts coming up ;)

    C x

  18. Thank you, I was so worried to post it in-case everyone hated me for it haha! So true, it's changed so much and not always for the better unfortunately.

    C x

  19. Definitely, you have to really step back and access whether it's *actually* worth it or not!

    Also the issue with press trips - especially group ones - is you often experience things members of the public can't even experience or book themselves, which is totally ridiculous!

    C x

  20. Thanks Kavita! Same, that excitement was awesome and I just loved being able to read everyone else's content and get an insight into how they truly felt about things.

    Yep, I'm always super honest, and a couple of PR's have gotten really nasty about it and I've never had any opportunities from them again. But it's worth it to keep your integrity and not lie to your readers!

    C x

  21. Yessss! You've hit the nail on the head 100% with this. I feel like over the past few months, when I was working full-time, I hardly had any time to do the creative blogging and writing that I wanted, which led to almost consistently working and writing solely sponsored content. Which felt a bit 'meh' to me, even with working with brands I really enjoy and love talking about. It's such a fine line to create the right balance of personality, organic content and sponsored content all into one blog. I'm really looking forward to getting more creative with my writing now that I've left my work... :) Again, such a spot on post! xx

    Kelly |

  22. Yes, same here. Ironically, those have been cases where the "negative" has been one teeny tiny part of an otherwise really positive review, and I can't help but think they've lost perspective. Where I've had much worse experiences, and sent the honest feedback back via email, those PRs have been understanding. Interestingly, I had one last year for quite an expensive restaurant, and it turned out to be a bit of a disaster, and the PR responded by telling me she'd had another reviewer in that evening and they'd said it was brilliant. I remember another person there, incredibly young, I heard her and her companion at least twice crow with delight about it being free, and simpering at the staff, it was a bit uncomfortable to hear actually. I suspect she had no basis for comparison of anything at that level and wasn't really judging against the prices at all. But hey ho. As you said, I'd rather maintain my integrity and lose any future work from a PR who doesn't respect that than to lose respect for myself and my readers.

  23. You are such a cutie! I read the whole post sitting and nodding and then got to the end for an extra big treat!! Thank you, means a lot as I bloody HATE reading other people's reviews of restaurants I KNOW are not that great where they say vague niceties or just miss out dishes they didn't enjoy entirely because the experience is being comped. Big love and extra respecta points for staying true to yourself. We all need to take a look in the mirror regularly! Lots of love, AP xo

    Andrea's Passions

  24. Kelly Michelle29/08/2017, 19:44

    One word Catherine - Yip!
    As my dad says; you can't gloss a turd and unfortunately that is what the blogging industry has become over the last 12-18 months...a giant turd that folks try to cover with glitter and fake instagram filters to show an unrealistic lifestyle that they generally can't afford and something that has frustrated the hell out of me for over a year.
    Strangely enough, my magazine subscriptions have gone through the roof this year - I actually prefer reading travel / lifestyle magazines over blogs as they are more realistic and their advertising ratio has improved unless your magazine starts with the letter V...weird how the tide is turning.

  25. YAAAAAAAAAS! Such a brilliant post Catherine. I think it is important to maintain integrity. Coming back into the blogging world I thought to myself I wouldn't want to be responsible for someone parting with their hard earned cash for something based on a review that's not true.

  26. Great post - and you should get kudos for posting it. Tbh you have helped me a lot writing this, I'd started moving myself to too much sponsored content, and its nice to be reminded that blog are "ME, and my online space" not a holding page for adverts. Thanks :)

  27. I totally agree with what you've said here. I've also been getting a little fed up with reading blogs that are only sponsored content. I also feel that many of the big bloggers have gone from blogging about things we would all want to buy, places we would all want to visit to only blogging about the most expensive clothing, holidays and experiences and it just gets to be a bit much for me. I feel like there's so much waste too - I want to buy a piece of clothing or handbag that I will wear/use lots of times rather than having a huge wardrobe full of things I will wear once that have cost a fortune. Some of it's just so unrelatable now, I find x

    Jenny | LuxeStyle

  28. Fantastic post well said!
    I have relaunched my blog last year, no sooner had I done this when I was offered all sorts of freebies. I did a few things and then felt entirely false and a tad desperate!
    I am lucky enough to be able to do more luxury things and holidays anyway so I would not except something that I would not pay for myself.
    I want my blog to be about me and what I do not about sponsoring other products I wouldn't necessarily use.
    Saying that I reviewed a great restaurant off of my own back which I love, to find the next time I visited I was disappointed. I ended up complaining which I hate, and gave them my card. I thought I am promoting you and it's quite embarrassing! Thanks for the honest post.

  29. Such a great read Catherine! I've been guilty of accepting a few invites to things which I've later regretted because I got so excited by receiving an invite as opposed to thinking about whether it was in line with my blog etc. It's definitely something I'm conscious of now and would never want any readers to buy a product or book a hotel / restaurant based on my review if I didn't stand by my own post xx

  30. THANK YOU for posting this. I literally just googled "why are bloggers so unrelatable now" in hopes that it wasn't just me feeling this way. My favourite bloggers that I followed for years are now just promoting and "reviewing" completely ludicrously expensive products and haven't posted a decent blog post about something that can actually help someone in years. It's so, so infuriating! They've completely sold out and it's such a disappointment, so I completely agree with all you've said here. Thank you for being honest enough to say something about it!

  31. When I started out blogging (3 years after you did and a lot of bloggers actually already turned into "blaggers"), I really was like "free stays at luxury hotels here I come". Now the harsh reality is somewhat different and landing a press trip might have gotten a bit easier with each little hostel trying to jump on the influencer bandwagon.
    But in a way, getting the chance to go on a press trip is, in a way, still a sign of trust. It sort of says, this blogger has the kind of reach and influence, to convince a hotel to pay for his stay. That being said, I totally decided against even trying to go on press trips, simply because it is such a bother.
    I mean, you sorta have to prostitute yourself for instagram and fake social media stats, then prostitute yourself for landing the press trip, and so on.
    All that being said, there is one unbeatable argument (wrote a whole post about it, in fact): If you get sponsored your relationship between the product/hotel and you changes from customer to assoicate. And there is no fucking way your opinion will stay the same, even though all blaggers will ultimately write something along the way at the bottom of their posts.
    So, while before you might have complained about the bad breakfast, you will now write something like „for some the breakfast might be a little bit sparse, but I wasn’t hungry anyway“…
    And this will always happen, just like you won’t even tell aunt Sue your real thoughts on that home knitted sweater gathering dust at the back of your closet.
    Right now, I am only endorsing products I bought or paid for myself. And i’ll tell you a secret: That way I can focus on page impressions instead of faking #instafamous and still earn enough to support my true hobby – luxury traveling.

    There is a way out, bloggers just need to realize you can earn just enough money with honest reviews and ads, as with sponsored posts.


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