Exactly a year ago, I wrote a column about social media influencers. Much has changed since then, but before I go into details: If, over the past year, you’ve heard low moaning, the sound of heads banging against walls, or even loud wailing across Dubai, it may have been self-styled ‘Zomato bloggers’ or ‘Instagram bloggers’, who suddenly found themselves without a Zomato or TripAdvisor profile.
Let me explain: Over the past year, the amount of social messages we received on behalf of hotel and restaurant clients from people offering blog posts and reviews in exchange not just for free food or a free stay, but a fee has risen exponentially. Now, I’m a social media geek and I value the role that bloggers and social media content generators play in today’s connected market places, but I’m also an odd mix of German precision and British sense of fair play and getting messages that openly suggest that “for just AED <insert varying amounts here>, I will write a post about your outlet, post <insert varying amount of images here> images, and leave a 5-star review on TripAdvisor and Zomato” upsets my finely tuned sense of balance.
At first, we replied asking for links to the blogs in question, audience profiles, etc. — you know, the usual data you’d like to see in order to be able to evaluate whether an influencer fits an outlet or brand or not. Surprise, surprise, there were no blogs. There also were no audience insights. Holy moly, sometimes there weren’t even Instagram profiles. What were there, however, were hundreds of 5-star Zomato and TripAdvisor reviews that, oddly enough, all corresponded with the places they had ‘reviewed’ in the past. Let me be clear: There is no such thing as a ‘Zomato blogger’. My resolution for 2018 is to reply to the next person who introduces themselves as a ‘Zomato blogger’ with “No, no, you’re not. You write reviews, so you’re a reviewer. You’re also probably a moron.”
I expect to get beaten with sticks and have rotten potatoes and manky rotis thrown at me. That’s okay. You’ve got to stand up for the truth, you know. Anyway, I now report every such person who promises to leave glowing reviews in return for a small (or sometimes not even that small) payment to Zomato or TripAdvisor. TripAdvisor has always been very proactive regarding such violations of its terms and conditions and Zomato also recently considerably tightened its rules and, more importantly, active enforcement of such ToS violations.
It’s not that I don’t want my clients to get glowing reviews. But I feel it’s important that reviews are genuine. We don’t learn anything from fake positive reviews. They give us a false sense of security and do not give our (potential) guests a true picture of what it’s like to stay, eat, or drink in our places.
There are many great bloggers and content generators out there and I love working with them. For them, I’ll go the extra mile, because they do, too. They spend time researching the menus, talking to staff, taking pictures and videos, and then putting it all together and surrounding it with properly crafted copy. They won’t offer to leave reviews on Zomato or TripAdvisor, they know who their readers are and they know that creating good content takes time and skills. They’re worth a free meal or stay and I’ll make sure that they’ll have a genuine experience so their readers, should they then chose to follow the bloggers’ recommendations and visit certain restaurants or hotels, get the same genuine experience. Win-win.
To those bloggers and content generators out there: I salute you! To others, who send me requests to review a Japanese fine dining restaurant and leave a 5-star Zomato review for the modest sum of AED500 and a free meal (for two, of course!), while their entire Instagram feed is full of ‘reviews’ of fast food outlets or casual dining concepts: I do not salute you. I hope you drop your phone into the toilet. I hope Instagram crashes every time you look at it.
To one particular person out there, whose openly communicated (nay, boasted even) claim to fame is that “I haven’t paid for a restaurant meal in forever”: Well done. Not. You’re not a blogger. You’re not a content generator. You’re Leonardo DiCaprio in Catch Me If You Can only without his good looks. You’re everything that’s wrong with social media influencers.
To the (sadly countless) PR companies and marketing departments that still support such people: Stop being lazy and start doing what you get paid for. Oh, and for crying out loud, stop pushing such people into my outlets or hotels.
Did I mention that the UAE recently launched new licensing laws, which require social media influencers who get paid to promote brands on social media platforms to obtain a media licence? I don’t think I did. I must have been distracted by something. Anyway, a welcome move, which, I hope, will very soon be followed by proper disclosure laws and regulations.
Whatever you do: Keep it influential!
About the Author: Martin Kubler is the founder of Iconsulthotels and the CEO of sps:affinity. Iconsulthotels is now sps:hotels — a leading hotel management consultancy that provides its clients forward-looking business strategies, keeping them ahead of the market. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.