If your goal is to make a living as an influencer, then you’re probably familiar with the Bloggergate scandal that’s taken the internet by storm over the past few weeks.
If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a quick rundown – Elle Darby, a social media influencer, messaged the Charleville Lodge asking for a free hotel stay in exchange for promoting the hotel on her social media channels. She received a brutal response from Paul Stenson, who runs the social media accounts for the hotel and the White Moose Café.
Stenson made Darby’s original message and his response public, but he blocked her personal information. However, Darby later posted YouTube videos talking about the incident and confirming that she sent the original message.
While the internet remains divided on the right and wrong of this scandal, there are a few things influencers, bloggers and authority figures stand to learn from the debacle.
(For the record, the hotel’s response left a bad taste in my mouth, and I’m a firm believer that a simple ‘no’ would have sufficed. Publicly shaming someone always crosses a line for me, and I’m highly suspicious that the hotel was just looking for some free PR by taking the whole thing public.)
But, personal opinions aside, here are five things you can learn from this situation, about growing as an influencer, without pissing people off.
- Do Your Research
Had Darby done her homework on this hotel, she would have realized that it had already posted content disparaging influencers and wasn’t a good choice for a pitch.
Before you get in touch with a brand, at minimum, check its social media pages and search online to see what you can find out about it.
An even better approach, is to personalize the offer, or give a personal touch, such as making a phone call. Ryan Stewman, a well known influencer and head honcho at HardcoreCloser.com, suggests, “The bloggergate lady should have called and spoke to someone higher up, not sent an email. I [get deals by] using my Instagram status but I need to have my numbers right and work my charm.”
This goes back to the old marketing adage, “know your audience”. A little research can go a long way to avoiding awkward conversations (or in this case, public shaming).
- Only Make Claims You Can Back Up
Darby mentioned towards the end of her message to the hotel that she worked with Universal Orlando in Florida and that it has “been amazing for them!” This raised the eyebrows of many commenters who made jokes about the alleged impact her influencer campaign actually had on Universal Studio’s popularity.
The lesson here is to avoid general statements with no evidence behind them. These make it hard to trust you because you’re claiming something without providing any proof. If you make a bold claim, you better be able to back it up. The internet is full of people just waiting to call you out if you can’t.
- Present a Reasonable Offer
Bloggergate is the prime example of someone asking for too much without offering much in return.
In this case, Darby asked the hotel for a free stay from February 8 through February 12, which would be a four or five-night stay. A free stay for that long would be very expensive for the hotel, and she just didn’t have a big enough audience to back it up.
“It’s perfectly acceptable for a blogger, or anyone, to ask for something for free by providing something of equal value in return. And, conversely, it’s perfectly acceptable for someone to decline a trade. Therefore I do think that the hotel owner’s reaction is more of a self-marketing tactic, which yielded very positive results…The actual problem is two-fold: her approach was rude and doesn’t seem to give value to what she is asking for, therefore antagonizing a potential partner, and secondly what she offered was not particularly valuable in itself,” explained Felix LaHaye of Open Influence.
If you ask for too much upfront, you run the risk of frustrating brands and appearing entitled. Carefully consider what would be fair based on your current following and the results you can offer. It’s also okay to simply reach out to a brand and see what they are willing to offer you.
When it comes to influencer marketing it’s all about creating a MUTUALLY beneficial campaign.
- Don’t Bite the Hand that Feeds You
In her response video after the initial controversy, Darby claimed that she had been victimized and that people in their thirties just didn’t understand social media. That’s not going to endear her to the many brands run by people 30 or older.
You aren’t doing yourself any favors if you disparage people, as your reputation is everything as an influencer. Stay professional at all times and don’t get drawn into any drama.
Getting along with brands is a huge component to your success as an influencer. While it’s okay to alienate some people who aren’t in your target audience, you should always tread lightly, because things can spread like wildfire on the internet.
- Personalize Your Messages
Besides not doing any basic research on the hotel, Darby didn’t address her message to anyone or even include the hotel’s name, making it look like something she blasted out to every hotel in the area. Stenson called her out on this in his response.
Remember that pitching your services is about quality, not quantity. A small number of personalized messages are much better than dozens of copy and pasted emails. (This concept is something I also preach in my PR and media relations blog posts). People can spot a mass email a mile away, and no one likes to be treated like a number or a dollar sign.
- Don’t Be Shady
Last, but certainly not least, is the fact that Darby, the influencer involved in this scandal, outright offered a positive review in exchange for a free stay.
Not only does this violate some truth-in-marketing laws, but it also severely undermines her credibility.
If you’re an influencer or blogger who gets paid to write reviews, that should not only be disclosed to your audience, but you should also strive to write honest, authentic reviews and not just peddle crap to your audience in exchange for compensation.
At the root of every successful influencer marketing campaign is a mutually beneficial outcome and a clear value to the brand being pitched.
Jacob Tempchin of Tidal Labs stresses the importance of communicating value every time you reach out to a potential brand partner, “Influencer marketing is notoriously hard to measure, but so are TV ads and people still shell out big bucks for those. The hotelier assumed ahead of time that there was no possibility of return on investment.”
Use the lessons of the Bloggergate scandal to help you be more authentic with your audience, and to grow and build strong relationships with the brands you promote.