Should Bloggers be Asking for free stuff?… The Story of the Influencer vs the Hotel Owner

This post is based on a recent story about an influencer’s negative response from asking for a free stay at a hotel, that’s gone slightly viral (so some of you might be aware already). I also just released a podcast episode on this where I go into more detail that you can find linked here.

What caused me to discuss this issue?…

I actually found this story on Reddit, about an online influencer called Elle Darby (if you’re interested in finding out about the story just type in her name on Google), who emailed a hotel asking for a free stay in return for marketing on her social channels. This story exploded as the hotel owner had quite a negative response, thus leading to this influencer posting about it on YouTube. It turns out, this hotel owner is quite a controversial figure and probably the worst person that she could have emailed, hence the over the top response. Long story short (and the story does go on from both sides…), this influencer was frequently referred to as a ‘blogger’, and bloggers have been dragged into this debate. So this made me think, should bloggers be asking for freebies?

My experience contacting a company

I recently myself emailed a company operating tours in Iceland, asking if they worked with travel bloggers in this sort of way. The reason for this, is that I’d actually discovered this company because of a blogger. I was researching Iceland and stumbled across a post doing similar things we wanted to do, in the post, this blogger put at the bottom that she had received a tour in return for writing about the company and her tour on her blog. As someone who has written about and reviewed tours in the past (none of which were for any financial gain and I would write honestly and in the same way either way), I looked at this other bloggers stats, and it seemed like if the company offered it to them, they might be interested in working with me. So I emailed them referencing this other blogger as my reason for getting in touch and asking if they were interested. In the end they politely declined, and that was that.

This was the first time I’ve made any sort of contact like this as I’m the first to admit, my blog is still very small, so don’t worry, I’m not deluded in thinking there is massive value yet in this type of thing for companies. The only reason I did reach out, is that I saw a similar sized blog (if not smaller), had worked with this tour company (and also if any of you have been to Iceland, you’ll know how expensive it is…), so I thought it could be an option. The answer was no, but they were polite, nice to deal with, and I’ve booked with them anyway and will write about my experiences using them as honestly as I would have done otherwise, sponsored or not.

The big question… Should bloggers be asking for free stuff?

So should bloggers be asking for freebies? Are we as bloggers or social ‘influencers’, sometimes too ‘entitled’ in asking for things in return for exposure on our online channels? Or is it merely a marketing transaction, where one person is offering to market a company in return for something of monetary value? Do you think that responding in such a negative fashion to such requests is the right thing to do?

I know what I think about all of this, and I talk about my views in the podcast episode, but I’d be genuinely interested in hearing other people’s views on this issue and any experiences you’ve had in similar situations. So what do you think?…

18 Replies to “Should Bloggers be Asking for free stuff?… The Story of the Influencer vs the Hotel Owner”

  • I haven’t been blogging for very long and the idea has never crossed my mind, so I can only give my personal opinion.

    The principle is tried and tested. Film critics aren’t usually charged to watch a film they review, book critics are provided with free copies of a book, a travel writer for a national publication will likely have all expenses paid for. Taking it one step further, Nike actually pay Roger Federer millions of dollars to use their product.

    However there are clearly defined boundaries, Nike aren’t going to pay a film critic to wear a pair of trainers and Roger Federer isn’t going to be sent a free copy of the next Jack Reacher book.

    But what is a blogger? What do they write about? Who actually reads the blog posts?

    Some blogs have a very clear focus and target audience, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know what Nomadic Matt will be writing about and who is going to be reading his material. But for every blog like this, there are countless others where the focus is not so clear. Our influence can also very difficult to measure, are 50,000 people following a particular blog because they respect the opinions of the blogger him/herself or because they find the blog posts an entertaining or light read in-between work.

    I’d never heard of Elle Darby and I doubt this hotel had either.

    Taking a quick look at her YouTube channel, a random sample of her videos include “BF + GF REACTING TO EMBARRASSING OLD PICS!”, “I BROKE MY BF’S CAR !!! | TEETH WHITENING ROUTINE | VLOG” and “TESTING POUNDLAND MAKEUP | ELLE DARBY”

    If Nomadic Matt was writing a piece about my hotel asking if he could stay free of charge, would I say yes? Of course, I know his target audience and I can make education assumptions around the reasons people follow him. Providing I am satisfied with quality and service of my hotel, it can only be sensible business decision and hopefully increase custom.

    But I wouldn’t like to second guess the demographics of Elle Darby’s followers (at least not publicly), but I’m pretty certain her viewers aren’t going to be looking to her for travel advice or a hotel recommendation. I would actually be a little concerned if Elle Darby was making a video about my hotel, let alone allowing her to stay free of charge to do it.

    My answer, it depends.

    If you have a clear focus and an obvious target audience, then I see absolutely nothing wrong with asking. The blog has a commercial purpose and there are obvious benefits for both the blogger (who doesn’t like a freebie) and the company (increased publicity, trade etc).

    If, like Elle Darby’s appears to be, a blog or Vlog doesn’t have a clear direction and the focus is more about the blogger themselves, then I do think there is an issue. It would be little different to an actor walking into a restaurant and demanding a free meal just because he is famous, the principle at least. Even if the restaurant may see an increase in trade, the actor just comes across as spoilt and self entitled.

    Phew!

    • Thank you so much for leaving such a detailed comment! I totally agree and I’m slightly embarrassed to say, I didn’t actually think of that angle as it didn’t seem like the anger was at the content being relevant more her asking in the first place.

      But I do totally agree, I think it really does depend doesn’t it. Yes looking at her channel if her audience is completely irrelevant then it looks like a much worse proposition for the hotel and seems a lot more cheeky her asking. But on the other hand the response still seems a bit much.

      I think what you say is really important, if the request is for a targeted audience as you say, then it would be a lot more reasonable than just using levels of fame or general reach.

      Thanks again for responding though and adding to the discussion, I think you’ve made some really valid points and come at it from an angle I didn’t!

  • I actually spent three weeks at the hotel in question before this situation blew up. Great place, great staff and a very quirky sense of humour. I did not ask for free accommodation or even a discount. I wrote a couple of positive articles on my blog about my stay (unbeknownst to the owner) and when he found out he paid for my last meal at the hotel as a show of appreciation without being asked (I didn’t ask for it or expect it). As a blogger and professional photographer I never ask for free stuff. NEVER. I’ve received discounted services and even free services but I’ve never asked for them, they’ve always been extended to me as a thank you. I don’t use my blog for business, it’s a personal creative expression that I do for FREE because I enjoy it. My business is conducted through my website (not my blog) and is a commercial transaction between two parties. I am not a big fan of so-called “Social Influencers” on YouTube … and I personally think the phenomenon of earning money with a vlog will go away when YouTube (Google) realises they’re not getting a big enough bang for the buck. Just my opinion of course. Monetising blogs and vlogs is working now for those who got into it early but it’s like a pyramid scheme and will eventually collapse under its own weight. YouTube personality will never replace valuable content, hard work and persistence (at least in a business sense). Before I retired to pursue my photography and writing I spent 30-years as a bank VP advising businesses … my opinion is that the social media superstars are making money now but that it’s not sustainable and newbies will find it almost impossible to make a living on social media. Again, just my two cents worth. Best regards, Steve

    • I really appreciate that Steve, and it’s interesting to hear your opinion especially having stayed there. A lot of the reason I think the story shocked me was the extent of the negative response from the owner, not just the email but going on to send them the sarcastic bill, linking to videos, even creating t-shirts about the issue. A lot of which does seem tongue in cheek however, and the whole situation has probably massively benefited both parties publicity wise.

      I also agree, this type of influencer isn’t really my cup of tea, and providing content and writing for me is much more enjoyable. That’s also really interesting to hear your background and those views, it does seem like you could be right in that sense, which amplifies even more the importance of putting the content before money and having a passion about what you’re writing about.

      I really appreciate your comments, it’s interesting to hear different views on the issue based on different experience, and all the sides of the debate. From a background where I’ve recently moved into more of a marketing role from sales, I’ve worked for brands who increasingly look to use ‘influencers’ as such, to extend their reach, and it’s an area that’s got a lot of attention as a stream of marketing. So it is interesting to see what a response of a brand would be that was approached rather than doing the approaching.

      From what you’ve said and in reflection it seems to be that if you put what your doing first and create a strong brand for yourself then if any of these situations happen, it will be the way around of companies offering a thank you and not you reaching out to them.

      Thanks again for such a detailed comment and sharing your thoughts!

    • I agree. I have been given a few freebies, I was given free entrance to Fundy trail Parkway, a free night of camping and a breakfast at another and a free wine tasting at a winery but I never asked for anything. I don’t want my blog being obliged to make comment good or bad about what I experienced.

    • I definitely agree, hence I was very surprised when I saw another similar sized blog had been sponsored. Possibly this was due to a previous friendship or relationship with the company I would imagine

  • I would ask, the worst they can say is no. Its how you take that no to be honest, with the story you highlighted, he never named the lady in question and to be honest the original email was how she worked with universal to great success. I think that might of gotten his back up, I also agree that he was certainly the wrong person to ask, she could of taken the very sarcastic response and gone oh well, but then she blew it up. I don’t know a lot about him, but he is a very caring boss from what I can tell (he paid for his staff to go to disneyland.) If my blog suddenly blows up, I shall be asking lego for things that my son can comment on, it will save me a small fortune

    • It’s true, that is the worst they can do. Probably having worked in sales in the past I’m used to people saying no as well! So have less of the fear of a negative response, and the motto of ‘if you don’t ask you don’t get’ has actually benefitted me a lot in the past. Sometimes I think people can be too shy in asking for things for fear of rejection, but obviously not in this case.

      It’s definitely an interesting one, especially with that information on his character alongside similar feedback in a comment above. This does make me even more surprised at the extent of the response and how much things did escalate! Because as someone without personal experience or contact with him, just forming opinions on what was written by both parties, the response did seem quite over the top and aggressive I felt. Thanks for adding to the debate!

  • This is such an interesting topic. On the one hand for some people blogging and youtube is their only job and how they make a living. I get that having a big social platform is good way for companies to advertise their services. But I can also understand how some people may see this as a way for bloggers to get free stuff that they work hard to spend money on. Its definitely a controversial topic and I honestly don’t know how I fully feel about it. Love your blog 💜

  • Great podcast, Giles. I subscribed. But I disagree on this subject. How did this blogger know she would like the hotel? And if the owner were different, he’d probably have told the staff to give her extra attention, so the experience wouldn’t be the same as I’d receive if I stayed there. The hotel owner in this case saw that this youtuber/Instagrammer has no ethics and it annoyed him.

    So Giles, if you were given a free stay and didn’t like the hotel, would you still make them look good on your blog?

    • Thank you. Well, I totally agree that a blogger should be honest about their experiences and shouldn’t change the tone or content of a post just because they have been sponsored. I’m assuming she had researched the hotel beforehand, read reviews etc. I do see your point in that it could come across that way, but still felt the reaction no matter how he felt was over the top. Having worked in customer service and dealt with people who are a lot more rude and obnoxious, you’re job in that industry isn’t to judge or belittle, it’s to represent wherever you work and be polite putting customers first. As I tried to say, if his reaction wasn’t as self indulging, he could have still secured a sale and business for himself. But I do agree that perhaps as a small business owner it’s completely his right to put his own views above his business if he so wishes. It’s just not the way I would go about customer service.

      I try to make clear in my post on the topic also, whenever I talk about this subject and to any potential collaborators etc, that my tone or content wouldn’t change just because I had been sponsored. I’d be honest about my experience just as I would otherwise and always mention clearly if anything was sponsored. I see your point that the hotel or whatever could change their service for you and skew the experience. If the hotel wanted me to guarantee a rave review in return for a free stay I wouldn’t agree.

      There’s a fine line in blogging between making money for the wrong and right reasons and although I’m sure lots are tempted with things like this, I would always want to keep my integrity and honesty first.

      Thanks for adding to the debate!

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