In case you missed it, this week has been rather a controversial one for the world of social media after a company’s Facebook post publically criticising a Youtuber/Instagrammer went viral.
If you haven’t heard about it, the Youtuber sent a private email to a very popular lodge explaining that she was heading to their region for four days and enquiring as to whether they would be interested in collaborating with her. She offered to provide social media coverage via her channels (87,000 YouTube subscribers and 76,000 instagram followers) in return for free accommodation. The email in its entirety (other than her name being blocked out) was then shared by the establishment on their Facebook page with an open letter from the owner. In essence he called her out for having no self respect and told her to pay her way ‘like everyone else’.
A flurry of comments to the Facebook post followed in support of the company. They all followed a similar theme, commending the lodge owner for taking a stand against ‘freeloaders’ and denouncing this particular Youtuber as a ‘self entitled millenial’ who just wanted a holiday for free.
Unfortunately if this wasn’t bad enough, things escalated pretty quickly.
Here’s a summary of what happened next:
- Someone worked out who the influencer was and directed her to the Facebook page, where she was able to read all of the comments criticising her and the wider blogging community.
- She took to Youtube to record a response to the company, whom she claimed publically ‘outed’ her private correspondence in an unneccssary manner. She also criticised the company and the commenters for judging others life choices and for shaming rather than supporting young entrepreneurs.
- In amongst her off the cuff, clearly unscripted counter attack, she also made some of her own generalisations, citing that anyone over thirty did not understand the industry.
- Most bloggers entering the debate read her initial email to the company and saw it this way: The blogger was reaching out to the brand to pitch a potential collaboration and suggesting initial terms which would then be followed up and fleshed out in further discussion emails if the brand responded with interest to the proposition.
- Most non bloggers (and even some bloggers) saw it another way: An embarrassing demand for free accomodation from a ‘blagger’.
The email has been disected into minute detail by those both for and against the influencer and massive assumptions have been made on both sides. For example because the blogger mentioned the dates of her visit and was not specific in what she was requesting lots of people have assumed that she was asking for her whole stay to be covered. This may or may not be the case. More likely she was intending on a one or two night stay before moving on, although of course this is conjecture on my part. On the other side, most in support of the blogger have assumed that those making judgements against her do not work in or have any knowledge of the industry themselves and are of a certain age.
Much has been made of the influencer’s followers. Those in the blogging industry see the numbers as sizeable – 180,000 followers across two platforms is an impressive feat and and takes time and effort to build. Others see the numbers as ‘tiny’, with the view ‘I’ve never even heard of her, so who does she think she is?’ or worse ‘well anyone can buy followers and fake their way to being seen as influential’.
The Cafe also turns out to be notorious for being outspoken and regularly calling out behaviour it does not agree with to its substantial social media following, which is actually larger than the blogger’s own numbers (likely numbers gained due to the promise of controversy based entertainment such as this). When comments began to be added in defence of the influencers saying that he could have privately just said no his response was: “Well it wouldn’t have gone viral then would it? Silly girl.”
It has to be said that the pitch from the influencer wasn’t very well worded in this case and thus at a first glance if looking at it sceptically it does read badly. For example, it doesn’t explain how her coverage may benefit the company, nor does it state what that coverage would be. This led many to surmise that she was offering a guaranteed favourable review in return for the free stay and therefore her review wouldn’t be trustworthy. We shall never know whether she would have followed up with clearer terms and conditions in the next email, or whether she would have demonstrated the value she could provide in return for the stay.
Now I tell you all of this not because I want to debate whether either party was right or wrong. What I really want to talk about is how shocked I’ve been at the level of general hatred and anger directed towards the blogging industry as a whole following the post going viral and the assumptions and stereotypes made not just about this influencer but against every blogger/Youtuber.
When the news first broke I sent a tweet to the girl on Twitter expressing my disappointment at the comments regarding blogger ‘freebies’. I told her to keep going, by which I meant: Learn from it and move on (it was hard to fit it all into the number of characters allowed in a tweet!). I came home yesterday to find that other Twitter users had been going through all of her tweets (and thus replies), had picked up on my comment and decided to reply to me on it.
One of them, from a complete stranger had gotten over 100 likes and been retweeted several times. It basically said that she was asking for a free five night stay and that I shouldn’t be supporting her, before explaining to me (or should I say mansplaining?) how a ‘genuine marketing professional’ would guarantee sales through traditional advertising whereas a ‘niche blog’ never could. That led to more strangers jumping on the bandwagon to tell me that the industry I’ve chosen to work in has no value and that I, as a blogger, also have no value or anything to offer. Here are just two of the tweets I received:
“As a blogger your bottom line is to get what you can get for free…free is the bottom line not anything else you and everyone else knows that is the truth of the matter…”
“She wanted a free weekend away with her boyfriend. We’d all love one of those. And a photo/blog on her SM of which the demographic is young teenage girls with low disposable income & not able to jaunt oversees would give the hotel how much in additional bookings? Very very minimal.”
Let’s take the comment on her demographic being ‘young teenage girls with low disposable income.’ Well I am a 36 year old woman with a full time career alongside my work as a blogger. I own my house and with no children have a reasonable disposable income each month. What I like about social media is that unlike traditional reviews and advertising, you get a more personal insight into people’s experiences and I follow people from their teens to their sixties. A well done blog post or YouTube video takes you on a tour and shows you what you can do during your stay too, all fleshing out why you might want to stay there so that you can make a decision on whether it appeals to you or not. That’s why I, as a consumer, find it a useful tool when looking for ways to spend that disposable income of mine!
Thus these tweets sum up my frustration with this whole debacle. Yes, the individual Youtuber may have made an mistake in contacting a brand whose marketing strategy is certainly not in line with her proposal and yes the pitch is flawed. I take no issue with that. This brand didn’t WANT to utilise Bloggers, it didn’t fit their strategy and they had every right to turn down a proposal that wasn’t right for them. However by sharing the letter publically and then later stoking fuel on the fire with later posts and comments, the focus has shifted from the one blogger who wrote the letter, to every single blogger whether part time, full time, paid or not. The view of us being ‘only after freebies’ has been picked up and repeated in parrot fashion thousands of times.
Where it gets even more complicated is that some bloggers have made matters worse by rallying others to join them in leaving fake, negative reviews on the cafe’s site, or else leaving horribly offensive comments on the cafe’s Facebook post, all of which the cafe owner shared on Facebook to illustrate his point that bloggers are awful human beings!
As the furore rages on and the comments pile up I have had to keep reminding myself of a couple of things:
Whilst everyone is entitled to an opinion, it doesn’t mean that it’s anything I should concern myself with. My job is to keep writing my blog because I love to do it, and to act with a code of ethics if I do post reviews that may encourage others to spend their hard earned money upon my recommendation. I also know that despite the comments, there IS value to be had from brands working with bloggers in the right circumstances and it is NOT a bad thing to approach a brand with a well thought out pitch if you are offering a valuable, mutually beneficial service. Not every collaboration is about guaranteed sales, a company may be looking to increase brand awareness, engage a new audience or simply to utilise the skills of the blogger to create beautiful content which they can feature on their own channels too.
However even knowing these truths about the industry and also telling myself that the opinions of complete strangers are just that, the very idea that people are judging me in a bad light merely because I identify as a blogger has still really gotten to me.
For 3+ years I’ve been creating content I love and sharing it with the world for no greater purpose than enjoying myself and hopefully entertaining some of you along the way or providing reviews that are useful. I don’t earn money from my blog and I pay hundreds of pounds each year to host it and keep it running, investing my time and money into creating content and purchasing photographic equipment and supplies, self funded competitions etc. I know my blog isn’t life changing and won’t help find a cure for cancer, but I never started my blog for that reason. The thought that even with the best of intentions and using a VERY stong moral compass that I’m construed by some as greedy, worthless and ‘just after freebies’ just because I blog in my spare time is hard to reconcile.
I think a lot of the blogging industry feels the same hurt, confusion and frustration right now.