Oct 21, 2020
Written by CJ
Junction Live host and VP of Marketing at CJ Affiliate, Nicole Ron, is joined by Sher, the NYC-based travel and lifestyle blogger behind Sher She Goes, to kick off a four-part series where we chat with content creators to learn more about how they're adapting to the rollercoaster that is 2020. Sher was kind enough to dig into the type of content that's resonated with her audience lately, her predictions for the rebound of the travel industry, and why the pandemic has re-engaged her love for blogging.Image courtesy of Sher She Goes
Junction Live: taking thought leadership off the page and into the studio with some of the sharpest minds in affiliate marketing.
NICOLE RON 00:12 | Hello and welcome to this episode of Junction Live! I’m Nicole Ron, Head of Marketing & Business Systems here at CJ Affiliate. I’m excited to dive into today’s episode—which is part of a four-part series where I connect with a different content creator each time. In this series, we explore how things have changed for each content creator over the course of 2020, how they’ve adapted, and what brands need to know in order to find success when working in content. So, get your notepad out—our next guest has lots of great information to share!
NICOLE RON: 00:50 | All right. With me today I have Sher, founder of the travel blog Sher She Goes, and I'm really excited to have you on today, Sher, to talk to you a little bit about everything that you've experienced over the last several months and get to know a little bit more about your audience, yourself, and learn some tidbits that we may be able to share with our listeners around anything they can do to better work with folks like yourself. So I want to open it up and first just start to see if you can tell me a little bit more about your site, your audience, and the type of content that you focus on and why. And if we could start perhaps pre-COVID and then we'll spend some time talking about that evolution, that would be fantastic.
SHER SHE GOES: 1:35 | Sure! Hi, my name is Sher. Thank you so much for having me on the podcast today. I started my site, Sher She Goes, about eight years ago. At the time, I was still working full time and I kind of wanted an outlet—like a little hobby—to do on the weekends. So I started this blog just to have a place to put up pictures from trips and daily life living in New York City, outfits, all of that kind of lifestyle stuff and over the last couple of years, it's evolved into, I would say, a travel and fashion blog focuses on travel guides, itineraries, things like that—at least it did before COVID. And then over the last couple of months, things have shifted a bit, but it's kind of nice to be at home and talking a little bit more about home and life in the city and how things have changed. So it's been definitely a progression.
NICOLE RON: 2:27 | Great. Thanks for sharing that. I'm really curious pre-COVID, you mentioned that you are primarily focused on travel and the lifestyle around that and suggestions that kind of help people as they plan where they want to spend their time in terms of their world travels. How has that shifted and how have you had to adapt in light of the travel restrictions that have come into place in order to stay connected with your audience?
SHER SHE GOES: 2:55 | Yeah so, before COVID we were traveling pretty non-stop. I'd say every two weeks out of each month we'd travel and we'd come home and write about it. So, it was really exciting to be able to do that. I definitely couldn't have done that with a normal job, but I would say at the end of 2019, I was feeling a little bit exhausted and a little bit burned out. So, when COVID hit, I was actually still traveling in late January, so I could kind of tell that things were shifting. And then during the pandemic, with stay-in-place orders, it definitely didn't make sense to be traveling or promoting travel of any kind. And even this summer, I think some people are starting to take road trips, but we've kind of kept quiet on promoting travel just with how things have been played out. I think travel is—one of the nice things about travel is it's a long-term purchase and it's something that people get inspiration from, months to years in advance. So maybe in a couple months we'll start talking about travel again. And from the perspective of “Here are some places to go when things have recovered.” But for now, I think it's been nice to stay at home and I think that's also more relatable to an audience rather than seeing someone jet off every month or so. And it's been nice to kind of travel more in the city and discover more of my own neighborhood. I haven't really gone out much in my own backyard before this and written about it. So there's always new perspectives on travel and there's always kind of an expanding definition of travel. So it's been a shift, I think, for the better and something different.
NICOLE RON: 4:33 | Got it. What shift in your content focus did you make? You mentioned exploring more in your own backyard and really appreciating the time that you have at home. So talk to me a little bit about, how you went from this world traveler persona to really focus on your local market and an audience. And how has your audience reacted to that? How have you stayed connected with them?
SHER SHE GOES: 4:58 | Yeah. So we've done a lot of home stuff: home improvement, cooking, gardening, that kind of stuff. I had all these little house projects that had built up that I never—it was always on my to-do list. And now that we've been home for so long, I've been slowly tackling them and kind of sharing organization stuff, a lot of cooking. I think also as I've gotten older in the last couple of years, my hobbies have changed a little bit. I used to go out to eat all the time and now I've been cooking a lot more. So, we've been sharing pots and pans that we bought, recipes, all that kind of different stuff and I think it helps to provide a more, I guess, holistic view and it's not just so focused on travel. So that's nice and it's definitely something that our audience has responded well to. I think there was definitely a period where everyone was making banana bread and sourdough and it's nice to have something that you and your audience can share at the same time and in the same kind of way.
NICOLE RON: 5:56 | Yep. 100%. I'm right there with you and everybody else in the bread-making craze [laughter]. Definitely went through my every other day sourdough making phase and probably gained an equal share of weight from that new hobby. So it's wonderful that you found other ways to stay connected with people in a way that felt really relevant to the times and also allowed them—it sounds like—to connect with you on a more personal level beyond what they were originally coming to you for help on. So that's great. I'm really curious to hear, as someone who works in affiliate or as well as other digital industries, how has that change adopted who you work with or how you work with brands who are seeking to work with content creators like yourself?
SHER SHE GOES: 6:47 | Yeah, I think in the beginning, I would say in March and April—we do do a lot in the affiliate space—so, in March and April, we started to get a lot of emails that various affiliate programs in travel but also in other industries were closing or permanently on pause and I think that was definitely a surprise. It was a little bit scary to kind of see those emails roll in every hour or so. And for a while, definitely, things were up in the air. But in a way, I think that was a good thing because it kind of reinforced the reason I got into blogging and what I liked about it and even if there isn't a monetization aspect, right then and there, would I still blog? Would I still take photos of everything? And the answer was yes and I started to do kind of these monthly recaps on my site that people really liked and it wasn't really part of a monetization strategy because there was nothing necessarily to buy from these posts, but I think fostering that connection and reinforcing why you like to do something helps you to kind of stay grounded when everything is so uncertain and up in the air.
And then this summer, we started to see things rebound. Travel was picking up from the perspective of home stays as opposed to hotel. We saw our fashion side picking up with comfy clothes as opposed to travel, swimsuits and getaway dresses or anything like that. So there's been a shift over time, and it's been interesting to see the different trends. And I would say affiliate is definitely still a core part of our monetization strategy and thankfully, definitely things have picked up. I would say, starting from August.
NICOLE RON: 8:39 | That's great. I'm really curious to hear, in light of that, as things have rebounded and you've found other ways to forge relationships to help your monetization strategy in light of all of the changes, what are you anticipating over the next couple of months whether that's through holiday or even into the early part of next year around how you plan to work with brands and continue interacting with your readers, etc. And if you have a point of view on it I'd be really curious also to hear about how do you see the emergence or re-emergence of travel coming out of this and the role that you may play in that?
SHER SHE GOES: 9:23 | Yeah. So I think our monetization strategy will probably stay relatively the same. I would say we have a pretty balanced mix between affiliate, sponsorships, and advertising on our site and I've definitely seen that things have rebounded almost—I wouldn't say back to normal—but definitely rebounded significantly. I think for a while, budgets were on pause in Q2 and then it kind of seems like brands are rushing to get back into this space with sponsorships for Q3 and Q4. So from the content creation side, that's obviously nice to see. On the affiliate side, I would say we've shifted more and more to talking about the products that we buy on our own and monetizing them on the back end I would say from the affiliate side and that's done very well for us. That way we can pick a lot of brands that we think our audience would like and pretty much every brand nowadays has an affiliate program so that's a very kind of convenient way to marry our interests and still make it profitable.
And then from the travel perspective, I think things are still slow for now, but I think when things pick up it won't be a gradual pick up. It'll be kind of an overnight boom—whether that's summer of 2021 or the year after that. I think things are still up in the air in terms of when it'll pick up but I kind of have a feeling that it won't be gradual and it will be kind of like just this overnight boom where everyone wants to travel and everyone feels safe enough to do so.
NICOLE RON: 11:09 | Got it. What about travel over holiday—are you thinking that people will be more likely to do domestic sort of road trips? I know you mentioned that you saw a higher incidence of people with homestays and things along those lines or small vacations that are all within driving distance and feel relatively safe. Do you have any thoughts around that in terms of what you might see people doing as we enter into the holiday season?
SHER SHE GOES: 11:42 | Yeah. I've definitely noticed since late July, early August that the road trips and the kind of homestay bookings are increasing every single week. I feel like September is going to be interesting to see because you know families are going back to school and a lot of New Yorkers who have gone somewhere else for the summer are coming back. So when schools open at the end of this month I feel like we'll have a better idea of if there will be another wave and how things are going. I think it's definitely hard to predict in advance and what we try and do is just look at our metrics every day and see how things are changing from week to week. To be honest, I'm not so sure how holiday travel is going to pan out or if people are traveling so it's really hard to say.
NICOLE RON: 12:33 | Makes sense. I know it's such a crazy time with—and we just don't know if things are going to look up or if we're going to be in a similar situation for the foreseeable future. So I know that it's like a moving target at this point, so I appreciate you sharing what you have seen so far. I'm interested—do you have any advice for brands who are looking to partner with content creators like yourself?
SHER SHE GOES: 12:58 | Sure. I think it always helps when brands have a clear vision of either the kind of content they're looking to get out of a partnership, or the kind of results that they hope to see. I think being clear with what their objectives helps the content creation side so that we know this is how they're benchmarking things internally, this is what success would look like to them. And I think it's also a difficult time, but it's exciting and that we've seen a lot of brands because they can't shoot product on a model and have that kind of traditional office environment. So they've been doing really kind of different experimentation. A lot of brands have been sending product for content creators, influencers, whatever you want to call them to shoot on their own. I think that's exciting. I think there's always going to be change. So it's fun to kind of see how things evolve.
NICOLE RON: 13:58 | Great. And help me understand how have you had to educate brands on the needs of your audience?
SHER SHE GOES: 14:09 | Can you clarify what you mean by that?
NICOLE RON: 14:11 | Sure. So to your point about brands needing to come to the table with a clear understanding of what it is that they're trying to accomplish, but I also understand that as a blogger integrity of content and something that feels very authentic—is truly authentic—is very important. And so I'm curious how you strike a balance between those two things. When a new brand is looking to work with you or seeking an opportunity to collaborate, what things do they need to know in terms of your audience and what to expect in order to set you and them up for success?
SHER SHE GOES: 14:49 | Got it. Yeah, I think that's always a conversation. We always like to be able to test out a product first to see if we like it and if it would be a good fit. And so if brands have a little bit of flexibility in their timelines so that that kind of testing phase can be incorporated, that's always really helpful. I think having upfront discussions about the kind of deliverables, the budget they're working with, that's always helpful to discuss before so that if they have certain images that they want or certain image styles that they want, that conversation can be had. It's always trickier after you've shot all the content for them to say, "Oh, well, we were hoping it would look like something else." I think from our side, we always try to provide as much info as we can. We usually try to send a media kit, send past examples, and say, "It would look something like this." I think just communication is really key.
NICOLE RON: 15:47 | That's great. A great tidbit. Have you seen your monetization strategy have to adapt during COVID? And I guess we're not post-COVID, but as we're in the thick of it.
SHER SHE GOES: 16:02 | Yeah, definitely. I think in March and April it was a really difficult time every day. We usually start the morning by checking how our stocks are doing. And it felt like every day it was just going lower and lower. I think part of that is because we are primarily in the travel space. But I think it's when you're self-employed there's always going to be seasonality and highs and lows. So we kind of took a longer-term approach. We started brainstorming what kind of content would be popular during a time where people have to be indoors all the time. That means people being on their phones more often, so people are more interested in content, but at the same time, you have to make it relatable and interesting and just as valuable as things were before. I think for us, we shifted—like I mentioned previously—to talking about products that we would buy on our own. And I think before, in New York especially, we'd constantly have events where you're meeting with brands and getting kind of a first look at things. And that's shifted to Zoom meetings and Zoom calls which is interesting. But I think for us, we realized that even though it was a time to create more content it was important for us not to spread ourselves too thin. There's definitely a lot of work that goes behind the scenes into content creation and so we did have some new brands reach out that wanted to work together, but understandably their budgets were reduced with COVID. And I think for us, we made the decision to pull back on sponsored content because at the end of the day it's still the same amount of work. But if budgets are reduced it's just you're spreading yourself kind of thin. So we focused on content that we wanted to create and kind of just rode out the difficult period.
NICOLE RON: 18:03 | Great. I mean, that's I think the beauty of the space, and this monetization style to your point, is you're really connecting with people that are at a certain place within their lives, or have similar interests, or desires, or hobbies. And to be able to adapt to that very quickly in light of something as unseen as a global impact of a pandemic, I think is really telling that content creators like yourselves have a lot of flexibility and dynamism in being able to adapt to the times and affiliate is a strategy—to the point that you said—it sounds like allows you to really pick the things that you authentically want to use in your own life and then ultimately monetize based on that without necessarily changing the editorial integrity of what you're looking to do. I'm really curious, have you seen a shift in who your audience is now that you are focusing more on in-home lifestyle or even a local lifestyle? Have you gained more readers? What does that change look like or meant in terms of the folks that you're connecting with?
SHER SHE GOES: 19:22 | Yeah, I think our audience is very similar to who we are in terms of age, in terms of most of our audience lives in cities, so I think seeing home content designed for smaller spaces was refreshing for them. We've also during the downtime tried to shift into creating content in new verticals. So we started a YouTube channel, we've been trying to teach ourselves video, so that led to a new audience which is nice. And I think you're always trying to balance creating new things with maintaining the audience that you do have. So definitely a tricky balance, but hopefully it's going in the right direction.
NICOLE RON: 20:08 | Got it. And are you still finding that you're gaining new readership or viewership through your previous travel content, but they come to stick around because of the lifestyle angle that you're adding to the mix now?
SHER SHE GOES: 20:23 | Yeah definitely. I think with travel content, generally, people are interested in a destination that they want to go to or that they're about to go to. And if you're writing about destinations that they have already been to or don't necessarily have on their bucket list just yet, then that travel content can be either right on the mark or it can be tabled for the future. And I think by integrating more lifestyle content that's more personable, it's more relatable and that's something that people might be interested to read whether or not they live in the same city or same space or are the same age. We started an indoor garden and we saw a whole new kind of audience from that, from different age ranges, and surprisingly a lot of male gardeners are interested in the gardening space. I didn't realize—I thought it would be more female. So it's kind of interesting seeing the hobbies that you're into and who relates to them.
NICOLE RON: 21:25 | Yep. That's a great segue to another question that I have for you which is—what is a COVID hobby that you picked up that's kind of surprised you? [laughter]
SHER SHE GOES: 21:38 | Yeah, definitely gardening which is funny because I think everyone could try to pick up gardening and I think it's a nice, like, zen kind of hobby to help these plants grow.
NICOLE RON: 21:47 | For sure.
SHER SHE GOES: 21:48 | Yeah.
NICOLE RON: 21:49 | I have so much appreciation for your interest in indoor gardening. My team is probably gonna laugh at this but I am an avid plant collector and—
SHER SHE GOES: 21:58 | Oh, are you?
NICOLE RON: 21:59 | —and have gotten not just into your traditional house plants and trying to keep them alive but really COVID kind of pushed me over the edge into rare and collectable plants, so. [laughter]
SHER SHE GOES: 22:10 | Oh cool!
NICOLE RON: 22:11 | Besides the bread making hobby which is very cliché, I've also gotten into rare and unusual house plants, so. [laughter]
SHER SHE GOES: 22:19 | It sounds like you should start a blog and an Instagram.
NICOLE RON: 22:23 | Maybe.
SHER SHE GOES: 22:24 | I feel like that'd be interesting.
NICOLE RON: 22:25 | Yeah, there's definitely a community for it. [laughter] Well, I really appreciate the time and you sharing all of this. I think it's really fascinating. I love that you are so adaptable as an individual and have been able to so dramatically shift from one lifestyle into another and still manage to keep your readers engaged and interested. And, so thank you. I really appreciate it.
SHER SHE GOES: 22:55 | Yeah, it's been great talking to you and it's nice to know that it's not just—I think blogging can be very isolating because you do it on your own. So it's always nice to chat to other people about marketing and the whole influencer marketing space.
NICOLE RON: 23:10 | Awesome. Well, thank you. I really appreciate the insights and your willingness to share, and I'm truly really interested to hear about the rebound to travel. So once things start to open up, I may be back in touch with you just to hear like, what are people researching? And what's hot? What are people thinking about it? And are they starting with domestic, or are they going big and going international? So I am sure this will not be the last time we talk about that. I know that travel's been something a lot of folks are keeping an eye on to see where it goes and how it recovers, so.
SHER SHE GOES: 23:17 | Yeah, that’d be great!
NICOLE RON: 23:46 | All right. Thanks so much, Sher. I really appreciate you taking the time out of your day to talk to us about this, and I think it's especially interesting to hear how a travel blogger like yourself has adapted during this time to continue to meet the ever changing needs of your audience as well as attract new members who are interested in learning a little bit more about you. So thank you again for joining us. I really appreciate it.
SHER SHE GOES: 24:11 | Thanks so much for having me.
OUTRO: 24:13 | If you enjoyed this episode and are curious to know more about this topic and many others, check us out at junction.cj.com or find CJ Affiliate on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, or Instagram.