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The Young Adventuress on working with bloggers and influencers

We asked Liz Carlson, who has nearly 200,000 Instagram followers, how you can make the most out of a relationship with an influencer.

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Liz Carlson grew up in Virginia, but the millions of annual visitors to her blog, Young Adventuress, know her better for her life in New Zealand and her travels around the world. Since she started the blog in 2010, Carlson has become a powerful influencer. She knows from years of experience how brands can capitalize on relationships with travel bloggers to promote their gear. She’s worked with The North Face, Danner, and Osprey—companies she loved long before partnering with them—and many others. She recently co-founded a conference called The Travel Bootcamp, which teaches other people how to break into the travel field and become successful influencers.

Liz Carlson, Young Adventuress
Liz Carlson, founder of the wildly popular travel blog Young Adventuress.Eric Johnson

1. Why should gear brands work with travel bloggers?  

A big part of it is brand awareness, and creating a personal touch between a brand and a consumer. The way that I see media these days, what worked even five years ago doesn’t work now. Cheesy staged hiking photos and obvious sales pitches for clothes, that’s not what sells me stuff. I want to know the story behind it, I want an epic photo, I want to see myself in these places. I think you have to incorporate product placement really organically and really naturally. If I get briefs from a company explaining exactly how they want their stuff to be shown, I’m out. Or, we have to come to a better conclusion and meet in the middle somewhere. It just doesn’t work when a company tries to take control like that. I see my readers as friends and they see me as a friend. Everything I write and share is something I would say out loud or say to a friend. And I would never say to a friend, “You should get a Visa card because there are a million ATMs worldwide.” I have to tell the story my own way.

2. What advice do you have for brands looking to work with influencers? 

How do they pick the right person? a You can’t just look at someone who has 100,000 followers and assume he or she will be great. Look around and see who their clients are, and who they’ve been tagging to see if it lines up with your brand’s vision. You can buy fake likes and fake followers, which is a huge problem. Scroll through the comments on their posts. Are they spam? Are they all in Turkish? Are they clearly bots? Ask around. I think the PR world is really small; if an influencer is good, his or her name gets passed around. Those first email communications can be really key. I make sure that with every company I work with, and every campaign we launch, it is a collaboration. There are influencers who take, take, take, and are like “Give me this, and give me this trip.” They act quite entitled. That’s a sign to steer clear. It’s important to have a good relationship. As soon as you start to get bad vibes, things go downhill. When you’re first reaching out to an influencer, make sure it’s clear you’ve done research on them. And make sure they have a media kit. If they don’t have one, that’s a bad sign. 

3. What are the dos and don’ts once you’ve set up a partnership with an influencer?

Don’t tell them what they have to do. That’s a journalism thing, as well; you don’t tell a journalist, “You have to write like this.” I think communication is a big part. Be clear before the trip or the campaign: What are the deliverables? When do they need to be done? Don’t be pushy, either. I worked with an agency once that was calling me at all hours and kept asking for more stuff. It was unprofessional and so off-putting. I love working with the same people again and again, and it’s always important to me to deliver above and beyond what’s expected. You have to really vet the influencers you work with. It’s not that hard; maybe it will take 20 minutes of looking through stats. But it’s important.

4. How do you figure out what your audience wants?  

Maybe five years ago I really figured it out: My ideal reader is me, basically. I don’t know what that says about me in terms of narcissism, but they’re college-educated women in their 20s and 30s who don’t want to go on a group tour, and who are willing to spend more on quality. It didn’t take that long to figure it out; Google Analytics is amazing. I listen, as well. I do annual reader surveys and I read all the comments I get. 

5. What’s the best trip you’ve ever been on?  

The biggest one was definitely in Mongolia. Two years ago, I traveled to the ethnic Kazakh part of Mongolia, which is incredibly remote. I spent a month riding horses and it was the cliché trip where you realize how much you have. We were building fires out of yak dung, but the people were so kind and generous. It was the kind of thing you’d read about. But once I saw it firsthand, it really had a profound impact on me. 

I think travel is incredibly self-indulgent. But at the same time, I love to do trips that challenge me to be a better person.