The story, widely reported across the media, centres on UK-based Elle Darby, who emailed the owner of The White Moose Café, saying: "I work as a social media influencer, mainly lifestyle, beauty & travel based.
"My partner and I are planning to come to Dublin for an early Valentine’s Day weekend from Feb 8th to 12th to explore the area.
"As I was searching for places to stay, 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."
In the email, Darby stated her social media reach – 87,000 YouTube subscribers and 76,000 Instagram followers – and said a previous collaboration with Universal Orlando in Florida was "amazing for them!".
The email was posted on The White Moose Café’s Facebook page. Darby’s identity was concealed, although she was later exposed on social media as the author.
In a Facebook post, The White Moose wrote a withering response, asking the YouTuber how her proposal would pay for the running of the hotel:
The venue later stated on its social channels that it was banning "all bloggers from the business".
ALL BLOGGERS BANNED FROM OUR BUSINESS pic.twitter.com/DQVjAtDnW8— White Moose Cafe (@whitemoosecafe) January 17, 2018
Darby posted a video on YouTube in which she is seen crying as she discusses how her business works and talking about her embarrassment at the White Moose episode.
The episode has generated much debate on social media, with some criticising Darby and others saying The White Moose went too far.
Seems the only ones who think that what @elledarby did was OK, and that she is being treated harshly are fellow bloggers and freeloaders. @whitemoosecafe is completely correct in my opinion, if you have the balls to ask this, be prepared to be outed. Easy fix - pay for services— Andrew Donohoe (@andrewhdonohoe) January 16, 2018
Hi @whitemoosecafe I was wondering, if I'd ask you for a collaboration would you reply with a simple "yes" or "no, thanks" like decent people do, or would you humiliate me publicly, because that's how you do business? #standwithelle— Captain Bobcat (@evakatona) January 16, 2018
The White Moose has gained a reputation for being outspoken on social media. In 2015 it caused controversy when it banned vegans.
Dan Neale, co-founder of PR agency Alfred, said the incident shows that influencer marketing "can only continue to work if it matures".
"All parties (agencies and brands, to influencers and agents), need to support that development and are responsible.
"There is a need for this space to become far more professional, and in this example, that is from all sides of the debate. Bluntly, this is becoming an issue, from the way brands or agencies interact with influencers and agents, through to deadlines and deliverables."
Neale said transparency "is key to this form of marketing". "If audiences don’t trust the authenticity of what they see, the impact will be null and void. Followers need to understand the nature of the relationship between and brand and influencer, and this is beyond simply using #AD."
Kaper MD Chris McCafferty said: "What a sad story – there are no winners here and I have sympathy for both sides.
"If influencers and their representatives can’t clearly and simply explain the benefits of being featured on their channels, we will see more rejections and more public outings. Smart influencers will continue to thrive. Blaggers might need to find a thicker skin."
Vikki Chowney, director of content and publishing strategies at Hill+Knowlton, said the episode highlights "the differences between professional influencers and those trying to see what they can get for free".
"To give this ‘blogger’ the benefit of the doubt, there also might be an experience element to factor in; she may just be learning her trade.
"The vast majority of influencers behave far more professionally than this, and don’t go out courting free stuff with no sense of the benefits for the partner in question, or even an outline of what they can provide in return. For me, it would be unfair to tar the industry with the same brush."
Collaborations can be successful
However, Philip Brown, head of social influencer marketing at agency Come Round, said the incident doesn’t necessarily mean that such collaborations, when handled correctly, can’t work for both parties.
"There are several hotels across the world that have built successful relationships with influencers in exchange for exposure. If the hotel does their research and finds that influencer and their audience is a good match for the hotel, they will often consider the opportunity, and when done right, it can often lead to a win-win situation for both parties.
"This news won’t change this practice being beneficial and occurring often in the future: it’s a part of influencer marketing that has been around for longer than most Instagram influencers have, dating back to when blogs were the main focus point of influencer marketing. As long as there is a good match between the hotel and the influencer (and their audience!) – this is a form of influencer marketing that will continue to be used actively going into 2018."
Anita Gryson, London-based associate director at US-headquartered travel, luxury and lifestyle PR agency Relevance International, suggested the incident shows the need for brands to have a strategy around such requests from influencers.
"Hotels regularly receive requests from influencers for four or more nights for little in return, which is not commercially viable. Traditional media, on the other hand, are aware that a one- to two-night stay is the norm.
"We have constant conversations internally about cases in the travel industry. The general consensus is; this is still fairly new for hotels and influencers. However, social influencers are here to stay and it is important for brands to evolve and have an influencer strategy and accommodation policy in place.
"Each influencer-case needs to be considered on a case-by-case basis. If the accommodation request is not in line with the strategy, it is common practice to offer a meal at the restaurant or a show around instead. Communication from both sides is key, as is making sure you (as both an influencer and as someone from the travel industry) understand the mindset and requirements needed to collaborate successfully. A direct dialogue is particularly important to ensure both parties are protected."
The White Moose later posted an unusual response to the media queries that it had been receiving: