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Why I Started Unfollowing My Favorite Travel Bloggers

I used to look up to travel bloggers. How can they amass such a large following, given that all that they do is travel, eat, drink coffee, and take photos of their adventures? I would scour page after page of travel blogs, drooling over the places that these lucky few get to visit. How I wish I were like them, I thought to myself. Who wouldn’t want to travel the world for work, right?

Where it went downhill

But as time went by, I noticed the trend of brand hashtagging, wherein as the blogger is soaking under the sun (with sandy toes in tow!), he/she will thank the sponsor with the brand’s hashtag at the end of the post. I noticed this trend on almost all social media influencers, and then I realized how mainstream this strategy is.

Turns out, as I read this article, partnership with influencers is now a new marketing tactic that many companies have started exploring. It works in many ways, although how to determine its reach is still being fine-tuned, so companies do not end up losing their investment.

Travel bloggers, therefore, had to upsell themselves to companies for an exchange in the form of products, services, or a fee. It can work both ways: (1) If you have already established your brand online and you’ve gained lots of followers, companies will approach you; or, (2) You will approach companies and market your brand.

Going into this partnership takes a lot of responsibility from the blogger. Can you really stand up for the brand? And do you agree with how the company operates? Some influencers may take ambassadorship lightly, but there’s a whole lot of responsibility that goes with this role.

I used to look up to these travel bloggers, and how I envied the lifestyle that they had. However, many bloggers these days do not offer anything of value any longer. Many simply talk about the things that they did for the weekend, thanks to XYZ company; or how they celebrated their birthday, thanks to their hundreds of sponsors.

I used to love reading these bloggers work, but advertising has increasingly taken over. Not only do brands overpopulate their blogs, but more so their social media platforms.

I don’t mean to judge bloggers for being at the mercy of brands. We all have to make money somehow, right? I respect the fact that it takes a lot of courage for these bloggers to do the things that they do. I can never in a million years flaunt my body and pose in front of a camera. So, the level of confidence that they exude is just incredible.

However, I still believe in the value of a blog, which is, simply, a journal. Anyone can put up a blog these days and share whatever they feel like. If the blog gets too staged, though, I unfollow immediately because I’m so overfed with advertisements online, on TV, on the radio, and along Philippine highways. I see a blog as an extension of the blogger’s self, so to get even more ads on blogs I follow is something like irony when all I want is to detoxify my online life.

Why I choose to keep my blog the way it is

I have been keeping a blog since 2011, but it is mostly for personal use. I don’t do for-profit brand ambassadorships and marketing. I simply write, edit, and hit publish. Thanks to WordPress’ auto-post feature, I also get to automatically publish my posts on my social media pages. I don’t have a wide readership, and it’s in my wildest dreams for companies to even consider approaching me.

Raizel in Ilocos

The perk of blogging for myself: I don’t have to pose for a brand. I can simply choose to be me. (Taken while traveling around Badoc, Ilocos Norte)

I admit I’m also guilty of this brand partnership trend when I accepted affiliations from Booking.com, Languages 101, Onlinejobs.ph, and Zalora and started blogging about them. At that point, I wanted to get brownie points from these brands so I can reach the point of where I can get invited to their events, or I can start receiving more other than from commission links. But it didn’t feel right, and I stopped doing this immediately.

I see this blog as an extension of myself. I only wish to share what I see, smell, hear, taste, and feel. Even though I don’t receive as much compared to other bloggers, I don’t get the pressure of doing this and that post for a company that I am not sure I would want to speak for.

I foresee this blog staying as a personal one for a long time. And in the end, my only readers may only be my family, friends, and their friends. But that’s fine. In this online world full of BS and false advertising, at least I know I can still speak from the heart.

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Why It’s Been Difficult to Write Lately

First off, I love reading. And, I think, it’s but natural for anyone who loves reading to also love writing.

I love writing for myself. When I wake up, I usually scribble some words and reflect on life in general. I can’t really say exactly what I write about, but it always gravitates towards making sure I keep my ground intact. It can be difficult to keep grounded in this day and age with an overabundance and exposure on sights, smells, hears, even feels, so I do my best to make things work out at least internally.

I started this blog back in 2011 with a “Wow now I can write online!” feeling being first exposed to Multiply, then moving on to Blogger. My posts back then were very far in between as I only published anecdotes I felt were not too personal, but not too encyclopedic as well. I didn’t know about stat check until I stumbled upon it on my portal. It was a big shock a few people would even take the time to read disconnected and inconsistent posts. It was an awesome feeling for sure, but it also scared me. From journalling, my random work, upon hitting “Publish,” would now be critiqued and judged by people I know and don’t know about.

In 2015 I upgraded my blog from a free to a paid account. Put simply, I chose to steer away from the .blogspot.com/.wordpress.com eyesore. The biggest reason for this was I wanted a more professionally sounding online portfolio. And as with anyone in the research industry would know, lowly researchers like me hugely thrive on referrals. I don’t get my biggest breaks from regular employment; but, on those one or two publication offers that get my name out there. And for academic researchers like me, who the he** reads my work these days? Instead of reading a 30-page academic journal, it’s so easy to just enroll on Coursera for free. It’s fun, interactive, and straight to the point. So room for cool-to-awesome employment proves to be increasingly slim for researchers, more so for academic researchers.

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Took me two years to publish this. But, who would want to read this when it’s so easy to check on Coursera or YouTube?

Life.

From a cutesy sort-of personal blog, by upgrading to a professional account, I also steered away from the fun in my writing. Instead of submitting a zipped file with all my previous work, I now just give out my blog domain for when I need to send a portfolio. Doing so sure saves me up from having to personalize each portfolio set. However, it also moves me into keeping the blog for portfolio’s sake, making sure I only write on trending topics that would be interesting to anyone except me.

It was okay at first as it proved easier for people to navigate through what I’ve already worked on. But as I’ve realized, having a blog indeed is a double-edged sword:

  1. Since with an online portfolio I can also choose to republish my own work originally published on another site, people have increasingly made it straight that I can never claim my work with them as my own, even if that means using an alias upon publication;
  2. With original work now in the open, it’s been an uphill battle for me to protect my own work. When I check on Copyscape, the “plagiarism checker,” I see bits and pieces of my work reworded, or copy-and-pasted under another person’s byline. It’s really difficult to track this down with more sophisticated tools available to block off plagiarism detection, so to get in the game I also have to up my premium and install expensive plug-ins;
  3. Writing has been greatly commodified with stats and SEO rankings also asked for with an online portfolio. When my portfolio was offline, I never had to think of having to compete with others because all the stats that I knew of was mine.

So for the past three weeks or so, I was just zapped of motivation to publish original work on this blog. Not that it stopped me from writing, I still do that both for fun and for a living, but I’ve decided to just keep my work offline. I send my work via email if there’s a request for it, and this, phenomenally, has made me focus on doing the only things that I have to put my energy into. No more downloading of stat data. No more stressing out on people copy-and-pasting my work. No more wrong judgments of what I do. Moving out of having to constantly provide original snippets for all the world to see definitely freed me from a lot of unnecessary things.

So I’m now seriously considering going back to basics, from where I started in the first place: offline portfolio, and eyesore yet free .wordpress.com domain. There is no need for me to be going with this paid domain when all it brings me is the commodification and mainstreaming of my work, and worse, slashing of my copyrights. With a blog, it seems like publishers want not just a slice of the cake, but also the whole cake, the icing, and the cherry on top, too.

All along I thought finally getting the chance to have an online portfolio would be the best way to manage and market my work. For writers and researchers, based on experience, I think it’s best to opt out of it especially when you thrive on original, creative work. No one in this whole world should be taking our– anyone’s– work for granted.

However, blogging is not that bad if used for the right reasons. Blogging would work if you fall in any of the two categories:

  1. You want to be an affiliate blogger: meaning, you want to earn based on partner company clicks and referrals. Notice the many hyperlinks you see in blogs? Most travel blogs are built this way.
  2. You already have a product and/or service: and you want to use the blog to further promote your brand and make it more personal. So the blog in essence is just a supplement to your brand, not a way for you to directly earn money. One of my favorite sites, Quicksprout, operates this way.

If you’re anywhere outside these two, with how the world wide web operates today, you will just be wasting your money, time and energy unless you’re rich and would just want to build a blog out of passion. Wish I had that liberty.

Anyway, the reality sets for itself and I have to make sure my priorities are in check. I’d like to write without the pressure of having to get by trending topics for an editor’s sake, and without the hassle of having to check through this vast web for any reposts without my permission. This blog was spurned back in 2011 to “make sense of the why behind the what.” And I’d like to keep that mission in check.

If only this world was a kinder place. But well, I just have to accept that people have their unique way of surviving. Hustling and bustling are not mine. And I’m glad for that.