Bloggers Requesting Freebies From Businesses Come Under Fire

The notion of bloggers requesting freebies from businesses in exchange for reviews and “exposure” is the focus of a new controversy in the blogosphere these days.

Let’s be honest here: how you feel about bloggers demanding freebies from businesses might depend (at least somewhat) on whether you’re a blogger who might contemplate doing such a thing or a business owner who might contemplate receiving such a request.

In this particular case, as a blogger, I tend to side with the business owners, not the bloggers. Imagine that.

Hotel lashes out after blogger’s proposal

An Ireland hotel posted a proposal from a self-described “influencer” who wrote to them suggesting a review and exposure for the hotel in exchange for a complimentary stay for her and her partner the weekend before Valentine’s Day.

First off, let me go ahead and say it: titles like “influencer” and “thought leader” ought to be the kind of labels others put on you, not the kind you put on yourself. You can’t claim to be an influencer unless others are actually being influenced by you. And it’s difficult to know whether they really are. Referring to yourself that way makes you look pompous.

Now on to what is purported to be the actual message.

As the hotel tells it (via a a post on their Facebook page, the letter stated that this “social media influencer, mainly lifestyle, beauty & travel based,” has more than 87,000 YouTube subscribers and 76,000 Instagram followers.

She wanted to have a stay at this hotel (and she states on her YouTube channel that she reached out to multiple hotels in Dublin with the same proposal) from Feb. 8 through Feb. 12.

The note posted on the hotel’s Facebook page says, in part, this:

“As I was searching for places to say, I came across your stunning hotel and would love to feature you in my YouTube videos/dedicated Instagram stories/posts to bring traffic to your hotel and recommend others to book up in return for free accommodation [sic]. Last year I worked with Universal Orlando in Florida and it’s been amazing for them.”

Aside from the spelling error, which should have been caught before the note was sent, I have major problems with this paragraph.

Actually, I have three. The first of which is that she’s asking for a handout because of personal time she’s trying to convert into business time. Mixing business with pleasure seems to be a conflict of interest right off the bat.

The second major issue I have with this is her last line: she attempts to demonstrate what the TV marketing business might refer to as a “proof of benefit:” a past “collaboration” that was successful. There’s nothing wrong with that, per se, except for the fact that all she says is that it’s been “amazing” for them. If she’s such an influencer and if posts on her social media channels can provide such “amazing” results for so large a tourist destination as Universal Orlando, she surely should be able to go into at least some detail about those results. If she knows they’re “amazing,” she must also know why they’re so amazing.

If I were a business owner who received that pitch, I’d immediately dismiss it as an empty claim.

Did Universal Orlando see a 30% jump in booking after her social media magic? Or maybe 20%? Or maybe even 10%?

What was so amazing? What did she deliver?

But the biggest issue I have with this proposal comes square in the middle. It’s what’s actually being proposed as trade: if they give her a free stay, not a discounted stay, not an upgrade to accommodations she pays for herself, she will do social media posts that recommend others to book up. That implies that she’s going to do, essentially, a commercial for this hotel, not a review.

What happens if she gets there and it’s not as good as she expected? Is she going to come out on the first night of her stay with posts that blast the property? Maybe, but that’s not how she proposed it. But what we have from what the hotel posted did not suggest an “honest, impartial review.”

Maybe that’s what she assumes the business would understand. I’m sure that’s not what the business, if it accepted her terms, would understand.

But how do bloggers who are in business to promote other businesses rather than simply review other businesses make that clear to their audience? That’s only fair, after all.

The hotel’s Facebook post, however, gets a bit more piercing, stating, in part, this:

“If I let you stay here in return for a feature in your video, who is going to pay the staff who look after you? Who is going to pay the housekeepers who clean your room? The waiters who serve you breakfast? The receptionist who checks you in? Who is going to pay for the light and heat you use during your stay? The laundering of your bed sheets? The water rates? Maybe I should tell my staff they will be featured in your video in lieu of receiving payment for work carried out while you’re in residence?”

Yes, it’s a snarky response, but it raises an interesting point.

I’m sure the hotel is generally pretty booked around Valentine’s Day. To make such a request for free services, not even suggesting merely discounted services, is definitely, as the hotel puts it, “bold.”

Ironically, one of the people who responds to the post in an attempt to defend the blogger ends up explaining, after multiple responses to her post, that she made a trade with a hotel for a free stay in exchange for a website design. In that case, presumably, the hotel was in control of her final product, which was paid for by the hotel. That’s a totally different situation than what the “influencer” proposed since the hotel, presumably, wouldn’t have editorial control over her work.

Bloggers have an obligation — in some cases, the obligation may be legal as well as moral — to disclose what they have received in exchange for a post. But if you receive completely free service and then write a glowing review, can you honestly trust the post’s integrity? Maybe you can. But maybe you can’t.

And it’s one thing if you’re doing a review and receive a discount of some kind. But when you ask up front for a freebie for a personal desire, then you’re not putting your audience first.

That, in itself, ought to be a problem for any blogger.

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 27 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.