Can't believe it's been a week already since the crazy viral twitter/media storm this little rant sparked! I totally did not expect the INSANE media attention it got. #BloggerBlackmail was the second most trending topic UK-WIDE on the 17th of August.
It seemed that EVERYBODY had an opinion, either picking a side, sitting on the diplomatic fence or just laugh-out-loud-funny - respected journalists and food critics, bloggers, chefs, PR and media professionals, small businesses, and also a lot of consumers aka general public got stuck right in! It made it into the BBC and Huffington Post - a freakin' hashtag I made up to describe THE most unpleasant experience with a blogger at the shop.
My main comment on #bloggerblackmail : everything that's wrong with bloggers and freebies is in her justification https://t.co/viqefDoYiS— Jay Rayner (@jayrayner1) August 17, 2015
#bloggerblackmail I'm sorry but what does the blogger expect? If you're reviewing a cafe you will get the service a customer would in order— Lily Melrose ✌️ (@llymlrs) August 17, 2015
#BloggerBlackmail 'Give us all your macaroons else then rudey nudeys of your cat on a marble background with flower props will be released'— Hello Terri Lowe (@HelloTerriLowe) August 17, 2015
what #bloggerblackmail has taught me is a lot of people don't know the difference between macarons and macaroons— Sophie (@theprivategirl) August 17, 2015
When I wrote that post I was incensed, outraged, seething and extremely protective of my staff and business - and it shows in the prose. Now that the dust has settled and business is as usual (if not a bit better, so thank you all for supporting the little indie bakers!) I've re-read my post umpteen times to see if I could have written it any other way, following comments of "unprofessionalism". No, I wouldn't change a word.
Illustration: Julie Neidlinger
It was emotionally charged; it named and shamed; it included some "harsh truths" describing a certain blog regarding its 'significance' (or lack thereof), some schoolground name-calling and of course the details of the bad-review-blackmailing threat that I 'called the blogger out on'. It got me some hate - no doubt from the friends and family of the blogger in question, some seemingly similar bloggers and marketing gurus - but also an unbelievably overwhelming amount of support from bloggers across the spectrum, journalists, editors, chefs, business owners and the public. Had it not been worded as emotionally as it was I doubt it would have reached the levels of discussions it did, and judging by the incredible reaction it was clearly a necessary debate.
That's not to say lessons haven't been learnt. While it was certainly amusing to read SO MANY blog posts analysing my blog post, ranging from incredibly patronising to plain-clueless-gloss-overs to absolutely hilarious here's what I've actually learnt from the whole saga:
This word cropped up quite a lot, along with "crossed wires" and "misunderstanding". Over the course of 4 years I've lost count of how many bloggers I've met and worked with. When we opened the shop last year we hosted an awesome Blogger's Soiree with the freebies free-flowing all over the place (it was fun!). We've sponsored bloggers' workshops, such as Emily Quinton's MakeLight and Rock n Roll Bride's Blogcademy, and collaborated on countless styled shoots. We've had bloggers visit the shop, or sent them samples in the post, for editorial coverage on their blog. Never, ever, has 'communication' been an issue.
Look at ALL that CAKE SWAG! WAY over £100 worth for Catherine Frawley & Emily Quinton
There were some suggestions of having "contracts" and "Ts & Cs" in place which gave me the LOLz - "I solemnly declare that I shall provide £100 worth of macarons, marshmallows, and Muffles in exchange for a feature on your blog that may not make us ANY money EVER let alone a reasonable ROI". No. That's NOT how we work with bloggers or even editors. If we bought advertising and/or photography, we would pay in cold hard cash with a contract in place as we have done for local publications, not in sweet treats because the last time I checked macarons weren't considered legal tender. We supply samples to bloggers, the same way as we do for food and lifestyle magazine editors, who try them out and then choose to feature if they like it, or not if they don't.
Editorial coverage for our macarons and marshmallows, achieved through sending small samples
Till date, none of them have blackmailed or slated us on social media when not given "enough"...until now. So I've learnt that it is only a minority of bloggers that behave this way and our communication going forward, to avoid any doubt, will be same-same-but-different along the lines of-
"We maintain an open-door policy as always however please note that we will offer a typical customer experience with a selection of treats and a drink."
2. Review vs Advert:
There were plenty of interesting opinions surrounding the nature of a blog post if the "review" was based on the product offered free. Food tastes the best when it's FREE and it has been suggested that the "reviewer" may loose objectivity, which makes sense. During my uni years I was a firm fixture in the queue for free Hare Krishna meals which I savoured every bite of. Simultaneously I regularly visited Govinda's restaurant run by the Soho ISKCON temple where I paid for the meals and enjoyed it just as much. I raved about it to my veggie friends who also ended up becoming regulars.
So to say reviews based on the product provided free aren't valid doesn't quite resonate with me. Should the fact that the product was sent in as a free sample be disclosed? Yes, absolutely from a consumer's perspective so they can judge whether they trust it or not for themselves.
Simply put, if bloggers are being paid to say something is good, ie: for an advert, they should disclose they were paid to say it (while also declaring their income to HMRC). If they were given the product free they should disclose that too if they post but they have the right to not post anything at all if not to their taste. After all, that's the decent thing to do when you are being given a freebie as no business wants to give out free product if there was a chance to have a public negative review out there and would appreciate constructive and honest FEEDBACK instead.
3. Blogger vs Blagger:
I never knew the word 'Blagger' even existed until #bloggerblackmail! Brilliant! At our Bloggers' Soiree we did have a few who brought their non-blogger mates for a laugh, guzzled the bubbles and helped themselves to multiple goody bags (EPIC goody bags might I add) while not asking me a single question about the business.
Our fab Beloved Bloggers' Summer Soiree [images: Xander & Thea Photography]
Would I ever approach or indulge those blaggers again? NO! Would I name and shame them? NO! Why? Because they didn't blackmail us or purposefully try to harm our business with a slander sesh on social media duh. They were just in it for the freebies and fun, and we're cool with that. It's just opportunistic, not malicious. Hence we quietly added them to the #BlaggerBlacklist and moved on while carrying on maintaining relations with the good eggs.
4. Social Media is a force out of our control
Would you believe, I never actually even tweeted the link to the post myself. I had a meager following of 300 on Twitter and any time I posted anything it was like watching tumbleweed across the screen. I shared a photo on Instagram with a comment describing the situation at the shop and informing our followers where the link was to read more who then went onto the blogger's offensive Instagram images to leave a few thoughts of their own. It spilled onto Twitter from there and started gaining traction through retweets but really only blew up when "the response" was posted. Holy Guacamole! If that could happen to my blog post alone, when our following was minuscule (compared to the blogger's 4,000+), it could easily happen with anything, for example, a slanderous scathing review. It has certainly made me more wary of how things can snowball into something that's bigger than the actual issue.
Since #bloggerblackmail blew up I've received quite a few emails from small businesses and restaurant owners saying it's something they've also suffered from, be it from 'blaggers' or unscrupulous customers demanding comped meals or free bottles of wine while threatening a bad TripAdvisor or Yelp review. Shocking.
Illustration: Julie Neidlinger
Being a small business is tough enough and each day we face numerous challenges that we have to overcome but when something as wrong as #BloggerBlackmail occurs which threaten businesses wrongfully we need to address it head on. Yes, some feelings were hurt and egos were bruised, but I hope everyone finds something to learn from this to avoid this awful experience happening again. And also what Muffles are!
All this #bloggerblackmail has taught me is that something called Muffles exist. Which is what dreams are made of.— Kara Godfrey (@KaraWillow) August 17, 2015
Thank you all for your comments, messages, emails - I have read all of them and really appreciate you taking the time to send them across AND placing your awesome orders! You guys ROCK :)
Lots of love,