Social media is a blurred, confusing world that started off fun but is increasingly just a cost-effective way of generating internet content, links and page views for many companies; a medium where success is measured as a return on investment, like any other business.
Witness the latest, very successful, recycled Best Job In The World campaign from Tourism Australia. Nowhere else do travel organisations get such bang for their buck. Or such little public resistance for what in other media would be known as “Cash for Comment”.
Latest cab off this crowded rank is Exodus Travels and the Navigate Media Group. They have announced an arrangement where four of Navigate’s “team of digital marketing experts” will take an Exodus trip and promote it.
Navigate spokesperson and blogger Lisa Lubin says the idea is to drive “traffic to their trip giveaway contest, creating a buzz on social media channels of Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest and ultimately raising awareness of their brand to a new audience around the world.”
For these services Ms Lubin says: “We are not taking payment from Exodus, we are being hosted by them.”
However, Navigate members normally charge for their expertise.
“In most cases, we do charge a project management fee as we do not consider our work ‘press trips’ or ‘blog trips’, it is more of a marketing partnership that goes above and beyond press/blog coverage with unique initiatives and digital marketing strategies. “
So it’s like advertising, advertorial, pay for comment or whatever?
“No, this is not advertising, it’s marketing,” she explained.
“Like I said: we are not paid by our clients to blog about them; we are paid to manage the entire campaign.”
This qualification or distinction I found a little blurry because I assume that blogging would be part of the entire Navigate package, something I was unable to clarify in our email exchange.
In any case, Lisa says that the Navigate bloggers always offer full disclosure and pointed to past campaigns for Samsung and Visit Finland.
But that doesn’t always happen.
For example, two of the four Navigate bloggers have written trip previews that also included straight promotion for Exodus products but no direct acknowledgement their upcoming trip was being paid for by the company.
Michael Hodson of Goseewrite.com wrote:
“In a couple of weeks, I am headed to Costa Rica on behalf of Exodus Tours (sic) to do a 14-day trip all around that Central American country.
“I am really excited to be working with Exodus, though (sic) the Navigate Media Group that I have told you about previously.
“It is a great company and they have dozens upon dozens of incredible tours all around the world. First class stuff, to be sure.”
Then followed some offers from Exodus.
His colleague Ayngelina Brogan, Baconismagic.ca, offered no disclosure that I could find in either of two stories I read on her pending trip to the Galapagos Islands.
Instead, she explained a dilemma she’s been wrestling with.
“As brands write to say they want to work with me I have been asking them what I can do for the people that read my site.
“Everyone is so supportive that I want to share more than just news -which by the way I still have not figured out, but I am committed to decide by the end of the week in my newsletter.
“Until then I wanted to share two things…”
The first was a marketing offer. The second a link to a competition Exodus is running.
Nowhere did she say Exodus Travels was paying for the trip and that perhaps she has obligations which may influence what she writes.
Not that her readers or those of Michael Hodson give a damn.
Both have lots of readers and plenty of likes on Facebook.
People appear envious of their lifestyle and back stories: chucked in glamorous career, boyfriend, girlfriend whatever to live a life of freedom on the road.
Only it’s not quite like that, because there’s no such thing as a free meal – or trip.
So I ask the question: is what these bloggers do travel writing?
The answer, according to Lisa Lubin, is no.
“It’s marketing,” she says.
Keep that in mind when you read the next social media press release or post.