Vlogger debacle offers an important lesson in influencer marketing to local businesses

It would have been difficult to miss the vlogger debacle that kicked off this month when YouTuber Elle Darby, with 99,000 subscribers, was exposed for asking the owner of a Dublin hotel for free accommodation in exchange for some social media publicity. Contrary to how many local business owners might have responded, hotelier Paul Stenson, of the White Moose Café and Charleville Lodge Hotel, refused to oblige and instead decided to name and shame her on Facebook, from which a firestorm has ensued.

The most recent development within the saga (which has been widely documented), is the hotelier publishing a ‘fake’ invoice online for the amount of €4.3m plus tax, for the subsequent publicity that she’s received. Within it he writes “mentions in videos will not qualify as payment”. This comes despite the latest video published by Elle a couple of days ago, which talks of the death threats and torrent of abuse that she received following the controversy, once her identity was revealed.

Stenson has also “banned bloggers” from his establishment, writing “the sense of entitlement is just too strong in the blogging community and the nastiness, hissy fits and general hate displayed after one of your members was not granted her request for a freebie is giving your whole industry a bad name.”

The entire saga has been a valuable lesson in influencer marketing for the local businesses community. Historically, social media-born influencers have fallen into the trap of expecting freebies or gifts in exchange for an ‘honest’ review, but increasingly their followers are seeing through this, and demanding greater in the way of authenticity. They want to feel that the influencers they are following are writing about a brand our business because they truly champion the establishment, product or service, and share similar core values; and not because they have been presented with a nice gift. As one individual on Twitter wrote:

As influencer marketing enters a new year, it’s crucial that local businesses are carefully researching the social influencers who they choose to partner with, to ensure it is a professional and well thought out collaboration. While it might be tempting to entice a group of influencers with something free, this scattergun approach is often ineffective, where the influencer recipients have been very poorly targeted.

Far better to work with a select handful of niche or emerging influencers who don’t demand the astronomical price tag, but who are authentic and likely to show longer term loyalty. As an alternative to gifting, better practice is to include the influencer within the creative process, from start to finish, and compensate them properly for their time and quality of content produced. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, and in any other industry, the exchange of services is often a risky game to play.

As a result of taking a strong stance against unethical blogging, Stenson has had to face a backlash of abuse from some across social media, who have attempted to slate the hotel with one-star reviews. But this has been balanced with a fairly equal level of support and is unlikely to cause any long-term damage. The manner in which he responded to events has been risky and provocative, and is not necessarily a style for others to follow. But the fundamental message he wanted to convey has no doubt shaken up the influencer community this month, and businesses would be sensible to take note.

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