The Age of Influence
A news story has gone viral about a woman who reached out to a hotel for a free stay (something I do regularly) in exchange for a feature. Instead of just saying “no” the hotel proceeded to share the email on social media (and also ban all bloggers from the establishment). It's created a frenzy of people claiming she, “get a real job” and patting the hotel on the back. This isn't the first time this happened. Just last August a restaurant in Killkenny, Ireland proceeded to do the same thing. It's clear that shaming an influencer brings news coverage so I suspect this could happen more than once. But the issue remains: was she wrong? Was he?
On one side people are claiming she's privileged. On the other people are mad that a business would act this way. To me, there are two wrongs here. One, she should have reached out in a more professional way. But they are using this story to their advantage by plastering it all on social media.
Elle Darby could have reached out in a more professional way. For goodness sake, do you research. If she had, she would have found out that this particular hotel isn't particularly keen on influencers. The White Moose Cafe and its owner, Paul Stenson, often use media firestorms to draw attention to their establishment. This has many bloggers wondering: is it okay to reach out?
The outcome of this discussion tells me a few things: know HOW to reach out. Sending a spammy email makes everyone look bad. Be specific and genuine. And if there's a name, use a name. As for hotels and those seeking a bit of “fame” for shaming influencers, this is the way of advertising these days. Clothing brands seek out influencers of varying follower counts to wear their clothes to encourage others to buy. Why? Because it's a real person and someone others trust. I absolutely buy things or stay in hotels or even visit places because people I follow share about it. I could give you dozens of examples of this. If you don't want to use influencers, bloggers, etc as advertising, then don't. But know that it's one of the best ways to reach an audience.
Brands/Hotels/Companies: do your research. Take a look at their social media (and interaction), and also their blog or YouTube. I love the site SimilarWeb.com to get an idea of traffic. No one is saying you need to say yes. But the idea of “exchange” is the new currency for social media marketing. If that's not your company policy then no problem. But no need to react in such a over-the-top manner. Is a fashion/makeup account going to help promote your hotel? Maybe not. Will a travel blogger? Yes.
Bloggers/Influencers: do YOUR research. Get specific about what services you'll offer. Why should they work with you anyway? What's unique about you? Who is your audience? Include a media kit. Here's my full guide to landing sponsored travel as a blogger. There needs to be benefit on both sides. Share exactly how you can be beneficial and give examples. The woman who reached out mentioned a free hotel stay in Orlando and said, “it was good for them!”. That's not going to work. Sharing statistics on pageviews/YouTube views and specific posts relating to hotel stays is helpful.
Despite all of this hoopla, I think the most important fact is the numbers. On Instagram alone, over 1 billion dollars was spent on sponsored content. There's a huge decline in tradional marketing (aka commercials and TV ads) and an influx on social media. Why? We get everything from our phones and we honestly spend too much time on them. Growth on Instagram is explosive and I believe it will continue to rise. Check out this article from MediaKix with the crazy incredible stats on the number of users, influence, and money spent.
I think what I find the strangest is the backlash this girl is getting. Yes, her email to the company was downright ridiculous. Okay, fair enough. But for some reason people are taking it upon themselves to write nasty comments on her YouTube and Instagram. Things like “fish lips”, “ugly bitch”, “people like you don't deserve to live” and much more hateful speech. To me, this is the most shocking. Why do we all feel entitled to hate on someone in such a public and direct way? Unfortunately, this is the worst part of social media. I really can't imagine going to someone's Instagram and telling them how much I despise them/their looks/ etc.
Social media and influence is power and part of our currency. It's not wrong to reach out. At least, in my opinion, it shouldn't be. As a blogger (and influencer) I get dozens of emails a week – some very silly – that ask me to collaborate. I don't blast them on social media when they ask me to share 3 posts, 5 Instagram photos, and 17 tweets in exchange for a dinky piece of jewelry. I move on.
The question of whether or not a blogger or influencer can help make your brand more well known is up for debate. But in my research and someone with years of experience in the public relations and marketing field, and now a full time blogger, my answer is absolutely.
Take a look at a highly profitable company like Weight Watchers. This year they came out with a new campaign called “Weight Watchers Freestyle.” To promote their new program they used Oprah (a celebrity), advertising, and, you guessed it, bloggers and Instagrammers to post about the new promotion. You know how I first heard about it? An Instagrammer I follow. Influencer marketing is one of the cheapest and best ways to reach a wide audience. Of course, it takes time and effort and it won't always work, but man it's pretty effective.
I myself use influencers to promote my own products and services. Some are total busts and some help me greatly.
Will I stop reaching out to hotels? No. I know that when I blog about a place my readers may very well book it. I always save emails and comments from readers who let me know they stayed there. Not just because I recommend it, but because I try and choose places I would stay and my readers would like to stay. For example, Best Western in Sofia Bulgaria is a budget hotel but is convenient and has all the amenities I need. Canal House in Amsterdam is a bit more luxurious but in the heart of the city and would be great for a once in a lifetime European trip.
I don't expect anything for free. When I write a travel post it usually takes me about 8-10 hours of work. That's mostly because my posts are very long and I take about 700 photos over the course of a weekend. So editing, writing, and publishing, then promoting is usually a full days work and then some. If I stay in a hotel, there's nothing “free” about it. As it should be.
I think this topic is interesting because we don't have rules yet about influencer marketing. It's still brand new. And we're still maneuvering the ways in which it works.