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For good reason, the role of the social media influencer has come under close media scrutiny over the past year. According to the mainstream media narrative, social media influencers are narcissistic and, well, a bit superficial. However, is that really the case?
As the recent example of UK influencer Elle Darby shows, how you view the role of the social media influencer depends a lot on how old you are. If you’re a member of the young millennial generation, then getting rewarded for your Instagram photos and YouTube videos is almost expected these days. However, if you’re older (basically, if you’re over age 30), then it’s a lot harder to see the value that social media influencers can provide your business.
The case of Elle Darby and the White Moose Café
That clash of generations was at the center of a recent controversy involving a young UK social media influencer, 22-year-old Elle Darby, and a prestigious upmarket hotel in Dublin, the White Moose Café. For young Miss Darby, the idea of getting “comped” a few nights at the hotel in exchange for a few Instagram posts or a longer YouTube video was part of the way things get done these days. However, from the perspective of the hotel, her request for a few free nights was a classic case of an entitled freeloader trying to get thousands of dollars worth of value for (what they saw) as nothing.
Predictably, things did not go well – mostly because the hotel completely misjudged the world of social media and blogging. The hotel manager decided to put Miss Darby on blast – they cut-and-pasted her email asking for “possible collaboration” and put it all over Facebook, together with a sarcastic response. The goal, quite simply, was to embarrass and humiliate Miss Darby and all of her peers. The hotel in Dublin accused her of having no respect or dignity and clearly attempted to make her a symbol of “what not to do” when dealing with powerful brands.
The hotel thought it was being clever by redacting out her name, but again, this just shows how clueless the hotel was about social media. On the Internet, everybody knows who you are – and if they don’t, it only takes a few taps and clicks, and they will. The whole social media world first turned against Miss Darby, mocking her and calling her a “disgusting freeloader.”
Cyberbullying and the social media influencer
But then Miss Darby turned the tables on the hotel, creating an epic 17-minute YouTube rant for all of her “angels.” She called it her “story time” – and truth be told, she managed to spin things to her advantage. She framed this as a classic case of cyberbullying, with the hotel maliciously trying to shame her on the Internet in front of thousands of people as retribution.
She also played the generational card, saying that “people over 30” just don’t get social media and blogging, and described how people like her are making a career out of it these days. From her perspective, she was a harmless, 22-year-old ingénue, just trying to make her way in the world with the “purest intentions.”
So, again, the way you feel about Miss Darby probably says a lot about your demographic. If you view her as a childish, rich girl brat, then, hey, odds are that you don’t have 87,000 YouTube followers or 76,000 Instagram followers like she does.
Lessons for brands
Herein lies the biggest lesson for all brands – either realize that the game of marketing has changed forever due to all these social media influencers with more fans and followers than your business has, or risk the wrath of the Internet when you show that you don’t understand the game being played here.
So what are the takeaways? For one, you don’t put people “on blast” unless you’re willing to handle the consequences. Secondly, there is no place on social media for Internet bullying, ever.
Finally, as a brand owner, you might just want to consider how “affordable” a little social media influence might be. The cost of a three-night stay at a luxury hotel in Dublin, let’s conservatively value that at 3 x $300 per night, or about $1,000. For that kind of money and guaranteed positive promotion, do you really think that you could find a better use for your marketing dollars these days?
If just one person sees the post on social media and decides to book a stay, you’ve already broken even. Anything else is pure profit. So the next time a social media influencer contacts you about a “possible collaboration,” don’t be so quick to dismiss the offer!