If you’re running a small business, especially one that’s new, and you feel you could benefit from some social media promotion, here’s some tips on what NOT to do. A particularly unpleasant exchange with a brand on Twitter reminded me that many new brands are not sure what it is bloggers do, and are even suspicious of them. You are likely to be contacted by bloggers and other types of social media ‘influencers’ (yikes, hate that word), especially if, like Saint Aymes, you make beautiful and very Instagrammable products (they make chocolate with gold bits in). I thought their pink chocolate looked really pretty and that I’d love to write a post on this, excitedly planning creative photos I could take to accompany this. A non-blogger might ask why didn’t I just buy some for this purpose, but bloggers who work with brands will know there’s many network-building benefits in reaching out to a brand initially, and not just the money saved by not purchasing the product. As someone who also organises blogger events and runs giveaways on a Twitter account with over 18,000 bloggers I’m always interested in making contacts with brands. I sent a polite, professional email introducing myself and asking if they’d like to work with me, and didn’t get a reply. Much to my bemusement I ended up on their mailing list instead. I sent a not-at-all aggressive tweet (it even had a sad face to show them I wasn’t mad) saying I hadn’t had a reply, just an add to their email list, and did not expect the furious backlash to this. They thought I was being aggressive (huh?), when I was merely stating two facts, I said I’d gladly have bought from them but was now put off by their customer service (as in the way they talk to people online). They went absolutely mental on Twitter, saying I wasn’t a customer. Being angry on Twitter is not a good look for a brand, when people find you online and check out your social media, this is the first thing they’ll see.
The key problem with these tweets from Saint Aymes is that instead of emailing me directly they are being angry in public, they even say they’re glad ‘everyone can judge for themselves’ as if this is an issue that requires judgement – bloggers versus non-bloggers about ‘who’s to blame.’ This is sly as hell, to try and make a drama when I’ve done nothing wrong. They say that they didn’t have time to respond to my email, they only respond to customers, yet they have time to write a dozen tweets. I said isn’t everyone who contacts you a potential customer? They are separating bloggers and customers in to two different camps. They also want ‘genuine customer reviews’, suggesting blogger reviews are untrustworthy or inconsequential to their sales. It also shows they don’t understand how social media reviews work as these can be found through Google searches and come across on Instagram and Twitter, etc. Customer reviews can only be found from their platforms. Blog links can also strengthen their SEO, something their marketing person should know. They are on the attack – saying my tweets let me down, suggesting I’ve stepped over some kind of boundary when all I’ve been is polite, then saying I’m put off being their customer after they’ve been rude. They end every tweet in a passive aggressive way – HAVE A GREAT DAY, TIRESOME BLOGGER!
As if being patronising is not enough, they come across as childish, saying they ‘accept my apology’ (wat) and want me to stop replying to their tweets (they gotta get that last word). Reader, I really should have ignored their nonsense. But for all the bloggers out their who suffer unprofessional things like this, this one was for you. Not a week goes by without a blogger saying some PR or brand has been rude to them, and it’s frustrating that most brands really get it, but some swat at bloggers like we’re disgusting flies hovering around their lovely products.
When I mentioned to Saint Aymes it’s not great to be doing this in public, they tweeted the above comment. ‘You tweeted, we responded.’ All I had said was they didn’t acknowledge my email, it’s well known that Twitter is a good way to get in touch with brands who don’t respond to your correspondence. Not that I’m a precious little snowflake who needs a reply to everything, of course brands can ignore who they want at will, but there’s no harm in doing a follow up email or tweet – if you’re a blogger and get ignored a second time, or get the polite ‘no-thanks’ response you can move on. I remained perfectly calm throughout our tweet exchange, but they were accusing me of being a blagger who was now trying to ‘smear’ them (their word choice). I’m guessing they misjudged my tone on Twitter and thought me saying I was put off shopping with them was an attempt to make them look bad, but I was merely responding to their tone, and I was replying directly to them the whole time. A ‘smear’ would be saying “don’t work with this brand (tagging them) they suck!” and sharing this to everyone. It went on and on, and they kept pushing the angle of me being the angry blogger-blagger who was blasting them on Twitter for daring to refuse me a freebie. I’m not at all angry, but I do think critical examinations of brand-blogger exchanges like this can help make working relationships between us improve.
The angry influencer is a thing – we might remember the blogger who asked to review Anges de Sucre and when they didn’t give her the amount of product she thought she should have, she wrote an angry review about them. Everyone on Twitter talked about it for ages, everyone agreed they both came off badly, and it could have been avoided if there had been better communication between the two from the start. Whilst this is an extreme case, and most bloggers would never dream of blackmailing a brand, the horrible perception of bloggers being after ‘freebies’ abides, and so does the idea that they will destroy you if you say no. If you see every request to work with you as an entitled demand for free product with little in return, then of course you will be defensive about the role of bloggers. I’ve given many talks to household name brands on working with bloggers, worked as a consultant for startups, and I’ve done blogger outreach organising for big brands. I’ve even met with the owner of Anges de Sucre to discuss what happened and she kindly sponsored a workshop I ran to help bloggers work better with brands. There’s so much to be learnt on both sides, and these kind of face to face dialogues I’ve had are valuable; there’s no need for any kind of animosity.
If you’re a new brand and are surprised to be approached by bloggers, you should know that it’s normal. Whilst most of the products I review I’ve bought myself or have been gifted from brands who approached me, I still approach brands to ask them if they want to work together, key word – together – in mutual partnership with mutual benefits, and so do many, many bloggers, big and small. If you don’t have budget to gift items, that’s fair enough, and the blogger who contacted you is probably ready for you to say this. Even if you do have budget but don’t want to work with that particular blogger, an amiable response will help you in the longrun . A polite reply would be “Thank you for your enquiry, we love the look of your blog and hope to work with bloggers eventually, unfortunately as a small business just starting up we don’t have the budget for this right now.” This lets me know that you’ve acknowledged me, but it’s a no go. The flattery (even if it’s not true) is a canny way to sugar the pill, and makes me see you as a nice, approachable brand. Even without a compliment, with a nice response I am very likely to then buy the product and feature it anyway. Not always, but pleasant responses go a long way – catch more flies with honey and all that. Something that you need to know about bloggers – and this is really important – is that we are customers too. We buy, we haul, we review, we have readers that check in regularly, or find our reviews through Google searches. If you do gift something to a blogger for a review, it’s not just their readers you’re reaching out to, you are also starting a relationship with a potential customer who will continue to buy from you.
It’s really frustrating that bloggers are portrayed as ‘on the make’, only trying to get free stuff. There are probably people out there whose sole aim for blogging is this, but for those of us who work hard to build our blogs and readership, and have been doing so for years, it’s disheartening to be accused by brands (especially publicly) of having nefarious motives. Take the recent example of The Reading Rooms hotel in Margate. They took to Twitter to blast YouTuber Estee Lalonde for Instagramming a photo from one of their rooms. She had been a paying customer, but they were angry she had tagged several brands in her Instagram and not them, ridiculously they felt she should have paid them a photo shoot fee. This was astounding, that they felt they had been cheated somehow. Of course the smart thing to do would have been to quote-tweet Estee’s photo and say something like “We recognise this room! Hope you enjoyed your stay Estee, pleasure to have you.” They later apologised, but the damage was done, they’d revealed their distrust of bloggers, shown how little they knew about social influence, and put off people who’d seen their tweets from staying there. That being said, an apology is probably the best thing to do when you’ve been on a social-media rant.
There’s some publicity to be had by showing bloggers up to be blaggers, which I rather suspected Lois (top tweet) was aiming for with our exchange – even though I hadn’t ‘smeared’ them at all by saying I was put off shopping with them by their attitude, and my original tweet and all subsequent ones were direct to her, no one else. I’ve seen some restaurants sharing emails on Twitter where people have asked to work with them, and these get retweeted. Granted, some have not been phrased very well, and it’s those requests for ‘everything on the menu’, that make people laugh at bloggers, but it’s still not nice as a blogger to realise a brand you reached out to could mock or trash you and your blog in public. You’d need to have a think if this kind of Twitter publicity is good for your brand – you might get sympathy from non-bloggers, but how’s it going to make other bloggers feel about you?
Other advice – I think you should be wary of requests from bloggers that promise a positive review in return for gifted items. Obviously that’s what you’re hoping for, but wouldn’t you prefer an honest, organic review that readers will find credible? Maybe this is a fear that brands have too, that bloggers will take the freebie and slate them, or worse that they won’t put any coverage out there at all. It’s worth knowing that any kind of gifting to bloggers is a promotional exercise, not a guaranteed way to get sales. A couple or years ago I chaired a panel at The Southbank Centre on working with PRs that included some YouTubers and brilliant PR Samantha Floren. You can hear the podcast on their website, it’s very useful advice from both sides on working together without kerfuffle. It’s a really good idea to have a social media influencer strategy in place from the start, even if that’s just a copy and paste email to send to everyone who contacts you. Remember that bloggers and customers are not two mutually exclusive groups, and that arguments with bloggers, especially unfounded ones, make you look amateurish because you’ve failed to grasp some business basics about professionalism. Many new brands I’ve reached out to have been really honest about not knowing how to work with bloggers, and there’s nothing wrong in saying that, it’s a great way to set out clear expectations on both sides, and to learn more about how social media promotion can help your brand. It’s better to be up front in a good way, rather than the ranting on Twitter like an ignorant fool kind of way. Brands might not want to work with bloggers, but for the reasons I’ve outlined (mostly that they are potential customers, same as anyone else) it pays to not ignore them or be unnecessarily unkind.