'Blag-gate' shows that influencer engagement will get out of hand if brands don't take back control

Last week the topic of influencer engagement, or more precisely gifting, was thrust into the spotlight.

The interaction between professional influencers and brands is an intricate process, argues Emma Usher
The interaction between professional influencers and brands is an intricate process, argues Emma Usher

An email that YouTuber Elle Darby sent to a Dublin hotel asking for a free stay went viral, along with the owner’s scathing riposte about her 'embarrassing' request.

The exchange has given us an insight into what is happening within the industry right now, and should be a wake-up call for brands.

While there are lots of professional influencers who understand the complexities of the business transaction that occurs between themselves and a brand, this year we’re only going to see more new micro influencers on the scene, blogging for the freebie lifestyle it provides without understanding the intricacies of the exchange afoot.

Successful gifting is far more than the equation 'influencer with profile' + 'brand that wants exposure' = 'perfect match' to work.

In the case of Elle and the Charville Lodge Hotel, her approach was way off for two reasons.

Firstly, influencer engagement is like dating; it’s got to be a two-way thing.

You wouldn’t just walk up to a stranger, ask them out on a date and expect them to say 'yes' just because you’ve asked them.

But that is exactly what she did.

You wouldn’t just walk up to a stranger, ask them out on a date and expect them to say ‘yes’ just because you’ve asked them. But that is exactly what she did.

Emma Usher, director of RunRagged and founder of The VIP Suite

She assumed, and we all know the saying about assumption… which is exactly what happened, very publicly.

An influencer is also a brand and, as a brand, they should conduct themselves as one.

I’d hazard a guess that most of Elle’s followers aren't the hotel’s target demographic.

On this occasion, Elle stumbled across the wrong brand - one with strong views about the influencer scene - yet clearly this approach has been working for her, and others, or she wouldn’t still be doing it.

The industry has got to a stage where too often brands are gifting to influencers just because they ask.

They would rather not risk irking someone with a large audience - relevant or not - for the cost of a few freebies.

Another reason is because influencer marketing is such a hot topic that many brands just want in. They know they should be doing it but often don’t know where to begin.

It is not their area of expertise and so they don’t have the time or resources to give it the attention that it requires on top of all their other priorities.

And so they say 'yes' to requests, setting a standard and opening themselves up to other influencers who get in touch, but may not be right for the brand or delivering results.

Done right, gifting and influencer engagement has fantastic results and should definitely be part of most brands' marketing strategy.

But that’s exactly it - there needs to be a strategy.

Brands can take back control and ensure that influencer gifting and engagement is handled as professionally as every other part of their business, and delivering great results, too.

Emma Usher is director of RunRagged and founder of The VIP Suite

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