The growth of social media as a promotional tool has given rise to a new profession, that of the 'influencer'.
These are bloggers who are self-proclaimed 'experts' in a particular sector or industry and who have attracted a significant online following – maybe in the tens or hundreds of thousands or even more.
Influencers then attempt to extract compensation (in kind or otherwise) from businesses or brands in return for giving their seal of approval to the product which hopefully will motivate 'followers' of the blogger to purchase the product or service.
So, how much are such influencers worth?
Not very much, at least, according to one Dublin hotelier who was contacted by a blogger requesting a free stay at his hotel in return for promoting the property to her followers.
Elle Darby, a 22-year UK-based blogger, who claims to have over 87’000 YouTube subscribers and a further 76’000 Instagram followers, contacted Paul Stenson, the owner of the White Moose Café and the Charleville Lodge in the Irish capital, to ask about a "possible collaboration", stating that, "My partner and I are planning to come to Dublin for an early Valentine's Day weekend. 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."
The hotel owner responded to her via his Facebook page, but blocked out her name and contact information.
His answer read, "Dear Social Influencer (I know your name but apparently it’s not important to use names),
"Thank you for your email looking for free accommodation in return for exposure. It takes a lot of balls to send an email like that, if not much self-respect and dignity. 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, [etc.]? 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?"
He finished off the message with a simple: "P.S. The answer is no."
However, some social media users were able to uncover her Facebook identity from a screenshot, thus outing her.
In the following days, Darby was mobbed by online critics, which prompted her to issue a peevish video on YouTube bemoaning her predicament and insisting that she had contacted Stenson with "nothing but the purest intentions."
In the video, she claimed people who are over the age of 30 have "no idea how social media works these days" and got visibly emotional as she defended herself.
Addressing the trolls who allegedly sent her negative comments, she said that, "I feel disgusting having to say this. As a 22-year-old girl, who's running her own business from her home, I don't feel like I did anything wrong. These were all 30-years plus people internet bullying a 22-year-old girl who is just trying to run her own business and raise awareness of what appeared to be a stunning Dublin hotel."
He has denied intentionally revealing Darby's identity, noting that, "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.
I never thought that we would be inundated with negative reviews for the simple reason that somebody was required to pay for good received or services rendered. The girl in question was never identified in my original post, but she herself went on to create a video explaining how she was 'exposed' with 'malicious intent' for asking for a freebie.
This kind of victimisation is very prevalent in the blogging industry and is in keeping with their general modus operandi of wanting everything for nothing."
Stenson has sent a bill for services rendered
But the story didn't end there.
In a final episode, Stenson has sent Darby a bill for €5’289’000 'for all the publicity it’s given her' after she accused him of bullying for refusing to let her stay in his hotel for free.
While online bullying is never a desirable occurrence, it must be said that Ms. Darby took a certain risk when she requested her free stay and was obliged to accept the consequences.
Furthermore, given her comments about "people over 30", she can be accused of ageism.
Finally, it is questionable what value such influencers actually add to a hotel's promotional strategy.
Having 100’000 or 200’000 social media followers spread around the world of unknown profile (maybe some are 14-year olds) does not necessarily add up to an interesting target audience for a hotel, as compared to say an OTA, which directly captures a much higher level of demand specifically targeting the destination.