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Bogged down by blogs

Vijay Verghese, Editor, Smart Travel AsiaBlogger blackmail is rife, but what can hotels do about it? Wringing the hands and turning the other Christian cheek is not an option.


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by Vijay Verghese/ Editor

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How bloggers blackmail hotels

Far better than 1 million fake pals on Twitter or Facebook

NOBODY can spell these days – nor does anyone read – but everyone wants to be a writer. A gr8 writer. There’s something about prose that makes people believe they can instantly transcend the prosaic to reach that proscenium spotlight in front of an adulating audience.  Various apps and platforms coyly promise to get you there in one flick of the finger. It’s called ‘blogging’.

The first time I heard the word I thought it was a pejorative. ‘You silly blogger, get lost…” The word sounded limp, clumsy, damp, and weedy, a useful addition to any modestly colourful lexicon. It is a profession, apparently. The Oxford Dictionary describes a blogger as, “a person who regularly writes…”

But hang on a minute. Just because you have a platform or a website on which you generate a certain amount of wordage weekly, unchecked, unverified, with no apoplectic editor hurling invective at you for your rampant split infinitives, does that make you a writer? Many would argue not, and rightly.

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An app is no substitute for long years of experience and training. I have Excel on my computer but that does not make me a chartered accountant or a financial whiz. I proudly remain a dullard at math. You may have a calorie counter on your iPhone but does that make you a professional nutritionist?

I have interviewed people applying for senior journalist positions who argue they have amassed a great body of work. One told me, “I regularly write letters to my grandmother.” Charming as that is, it is not journalism and will matter not a whit to readers unless you happen to be a George Orwell or an Anais Nin.

{Researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli have pointed the finger of suspicion too at big brands like Mercedes-Benz, Pepsi, and Louis Vuitton...

But bloggers can do something mere mortals – and journalists – cannot.

They can blackmail hotels into coughing up free rooms, meals and spa treatments. A few hundred thousand Instagram or Twitter followers is not to be trifled with. And demands can be brazen. Free room plus lavish upgrade, or else I’ll wipe the floor with you.

Clearly, most bloggers are well meaning wannabe writers intent on exploring the human condition (and getting to sleep free at luxury hotels). They are keen to write about the confections of top chefs (while getting to eat and sleep free at luxury hotels). Some are very good, and some are even journalists moonlighting on the side. But, as in any unregulated fringe industry, a few bad eggs can make all the difference.

An audience, be it followers, ‘likes’, or readers, confers power in the hands of a writer. A blogger has a constituency and he can point it in the direction of deserving products or sway it against them.

Yet, fake followers are a big business on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Bloggers want instant celebrity status with hundreds of thousands of followers – the sort of clout that opens hotel doors and fast tracks a night on 500 threat count cotton sheets. So they buy followers. Problem is that many top brands are playing the same game, bulking up on fake followers and likes. It’s all good natured make believe until a company tries to actually move a product in the market and the fakes come home to roost.

A couple of years back, Italian researchers Andrea Stroppa and Carlo De Micheli pointed the finger of suspicion at big brands like Mercedes-Benz, Pepsi, and Louis Vuitton. They also sniffed out fake followers on Twitter accounts for Russian Prime Minister Dmitri Medvedev and US Republican politician and former Speaker of the House of Representatives, Newt Gingrich. I've heard of fake LV bags, but fake LV followers...?

Blogs have a magical aura like a lottery ticket and it is every marketer’s dream to hit pay-dirt with the right combination. As with any lottery, there is always one winner for all the millions who got nothing. But it’s enough to keep the hope alive.

In an earlier study, social media giant Coca-Cola (now with 97 million Facebook followers), found that social media buzz did not translate into short term sales.

So, whatever happened to sensible old fashioned advertising? Ah, it happens to cost money. Well, bloggers cost money too – to be flown first class from Beijing with their hangers on, lubricated with champagne, toured and feted. Some bloggers need to be paid to attend functions and then paid some more to feature a Christmas menu or event. Others pose as divas with coy Instagram shots and demand ever more cosseting.

I wonder sometimes if, as a rookie newspaper reporter 35 years ago, I could have got away with suggesting to top brands that they pay me to attend their press conferences and, perhaps, gift me a television or a car. How times have changed. And hotels lap up this rubbish and permit themselves to be blackmailed all the while wringing their hands in despair and turning the other cheek.

Hoteliers – and any others being blackmailed – can, and should, fight back. The simplest way is to just say, “Get lost.” The entertaining and easy to use Twitter Audit shows what number of followers at any particular account are fake or real. The authors admit this is not entirely scientific or failsafe but it can provide useful clues. Then there’s Fake Follower Check. And Social Bakers.

It’s smart to check whether the massive likes are accompanied by a reasonable number of sane comments, always a clear indication of follower engagement. So, do we like blogs? Some, yes. For the most part? No comment.

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