A story which caught my attention last week was that of social media influencer, Elle Darby, who was refused a free five-night stay at one of Dublin's popular hangouts.

The White Moose Cafe and Charleville Lodge Hotel in Dublin shared their response to her message on their social media pages and Elle outed herself by posting a 17-minute long video of her tearful reaction to the statement. Take a look at the full story on The Independent.

As a tourism PR, I'm often caught in the middle of businesses and influencers. Those who work with me at Rural Roots know I'm very selective about who I work with and I also insist on paying my way when writing The Rural Travel Guide because, as I state on the site, we're all in this industry together.

So, what can we learn from #bloggergate as The White Moose Cafe has dubbed it?

What businesses can learn:

White Moose Cafe statement.jpg

I have to admit, I applaud The White Moose Cafe for sticking to their guns as this story unfolded and the PR they've got out of it is incredible, if a double-edged sword. They have had a lot of support from other businesses and tourists but also faced backlash from the bloggersphere who have all taken offence to being told to "get a real job".

Instead of being bullied into backing down, they went a step further and banned all bloggers from their businesses. And having read some of the responses, I can't blame them at all (see my tips on professionalism below).

It's a bold step but one that the travel and tourism industry should not be afraid to take. Don't feel that because an influencer has wowed you with their stats, they're right for your business. Their influence might not actually be over your industry at all. Always do your research and check that their audience is one you're trying to reach and that they're professional in their conduct of it. It's about quality, not quantity. Do you really want your brand associated with an influencer whose approach could land them in hot water and impact your reputation? If you feel that they're not right for you and your business, say no. If you'd rather work with someone who has a small but loyal following in a certain sector, do that instead. It's what works best for your business.

I'd probably not recommend posting your response on social media but I'll talk about why it worked for The White Moose Cafe a bit later. Instead, be polite, be professional and explain to them why you don't think working with them is right for your business at this time. And above all, be careful. Most bloggers don't understand defamation laws (which goes back to my point about being careful about who you work with). Granted, most have good intentions as Elle states, but the last thing you want as a small business is to be firefighting against outraged bloggers, so be polite in your response. The White Moose Cafe has built a large following by calling people out and insulting them, which again, I'll come back to, so unless you take the same tone, I'd recommend that you don't follow in their footsteps.

As The White Moose Cafe points out, it still costs money to host people for “free”, so if you want to think about working with influencers in the future, set a budget as part of your PR strategy.

What influencers can learn:

I know influencers work hard to build and maintain their following so that they can grow their business. Social media is a huge commitment. So my first piece of advice to influencers is to use social media to your advantage. Do your research.

The White Moose Cafe has built a reputation by calling people out; vegans, breastfeeding mothers and now bloggers, so Elle really shouldn't have been shocked when they did the same to her. Every written word from them oozes with sarcasm; from their website to their social media accounts. They're very confrontational in an Irish, tongue-in-cheek way and therefore it really should not have come as a surprise. It's actually Elle's response that blew it out of the water.
Before approaching a business, find out the name of the person you're trying to approach and use it. It's very obvious on all of The White Moose Cafe's pages that their accounts are managed by the owner, Paul Stenson and it was unprofessional of Elle not to contact him officially. Something Paul picked up on immediately.

Professionalism should be at the forefront of your mind at all times. As an influencer, you are your brand so every post, message or video you send will impact on your reputation and your PR. I can't blame Elle for posting her video as she was reacting to the post from The White Moose Cafe, despite the fact they didn't name her (and who, by all accounts, seem to be thoroughly entertained by the entire situation). She's unwittingly given them a lot of publicity regardless.

Remember that if you're approaching a business, they're a business. They're trying to make a living and as The White Moose Cafe stated, who's going to pay for the visit? I tried to go on their website to work out the cost of a five-night stay at the hotel (always book direct if you can) but it's down due to the amount of traffic this story has gained them. Just remember that if a business offers you anything, it will still cost them and more often than not, unless they've got a strategy in place and are actively seeking people to work with, businesses won't be able to track your influence so won't know whether you've had an impact. It's a huge PR and financial commitment for them.

So if they turn you down, don’t retaliate on social media.  Especially if they’re a small or independent business.

Elle's biggest failure here was to assume that The White Moose Cafe would want to work with her. They reacted the way they did and in the manner they did because they don't need the publicity. They've built a huge following themselves by having a great product and a witty personality behind it. They're influential in their own right and knew that by posting their response on Facebook they were doing nothing out of the ordinary and their followers would most likely support them.

Instead of going in all guns blazing and sprouting figures, if you are a blogger look for opportunities to work with brands that are actively engaging with influencers. Use Twitter hashtags such as #bloggerswanted or services like Response Source to find businesses which want to work with you. And above all, stay grounded.

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The irony of this situation is that both businesses have got a lot of free PR out of it, which will benefit them both in the long run I am sure. Whichever side of the fence you sit on, I am wondering whether this is the start of something much bigger to come.