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Bloggergate Stirs Controversy Over Influencer Marketing

January 19, 2018

There’s an escalating war of words happening on social media over the issue of influencer marketing. After a UK fitness vlogger named Elle Darby contacted Irish hotelier Paul Stenson asking for a free stay in exchange for publicity, Stenson publicly shamed her in response. Although he blacked out her name in screen shots of the conversation, people reportedly identified Darby as the source of the request, leading her to post a video response. Stenson then doubled down by declaring that all bloggers would be banned from his hotel.

Regardless of which side you consider to have been more in the wrong, I hope we can all agree that neither Darby nor Stenson comes out of this #bloggergate controversy looking particularly good. Although influencer marketing is a legitimate form of advertising and an increasingly familiar part of social media company’s operations, it’s difficult to read Darby’s request without seeing it as little more than an entitled grab for free stuff. Meanwhile, Stenson appears to be denigrating an entire industry and perhaps even an entire generation based on one questionable interaction.

Perhaps the lesson in this is that pitches for influencer marketing should be channeled through social media companies, in order to avoid the risk of these sorts of misunderstandings and this sort of bad blood. Apart from minimizing the risk of any individual brand being dragged through the mud, the use a professional go-between increases the likelihood that influencer marketing requests – whether initiated by the client or the social media personality – represent a good match.

Stenson wasn’t wrong for rejecting Darby’s request, partly because he had no way of knowing whether her posts would reach his target market. But his blanket rejection of influencer marketing is misguided, if it’s sincere. However, the Irish Times called that sincerity into question on Thursday when it pointed out that the website for Stenson’s hotel includes an apparent pitch for influencer marketing.

The same article also says that Stenson “is no doubt laughing all the way to his Facebook analytics page,” having generated 8,000 Facebook reactions for himself and 125,000 views for Darby’s video. So it’s entirely possible that the controversy was prefabricated to go viral, but it’s worth noting that influencer marketing can create equally valuable outcomes without making anyone look bad in the process.

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