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Bloggers and social media KOLs : Yay or Nay?

This is a topic that has been thrown back and forth, but never resolved.  There was the high profile Singapore Lady Ironchef  blogger making a scene at a restaurant over free meals for him and his uninvited friends and then not too long ago in Hong Kong which involved “Do you know who I am blogger” notorious for his arrogant freeloading ways.

This topic is also one that is quite close to my heart, given that I once worked on the side of PR, have clients who want results and I also write. And have a husband’s career that is at the mercy of this business of the no-integrity new economy.

The reality of freelance writing is it barely pays. My meals that I pay my own way often costs more than I get paid for writing the piece, include the 10-20% international bank transfer fees, freelance writing is actually a business of losing money – which I have done for years now and can continue to do so because I run a business on the side, and also kudos to the charity of my husband on leaner months.

I completely understand when journalists who commit to publishing pieces need some help with complimentary stays and meals. Granted, then it’s never really an objective experience as a paying guest would, but sadly I suppose the industry works this way in the new economy.

Well, in today’s social media world – it seems free lunches and dinners are the way to go for PRs to hit their KPIs for press clippings. Nothing wrong with offering the free meals to collect the coverage for bosses and owners, but many don’t take the time and effort to qualify these Key Opinion Leaders (KOLs). 

I am mad as a consumer because these freeloaders are taking up all the invitations, posting fabulous photos on their social channels, and then everything is “to die for”, “fabulous” and “delicious”, I don’t really get a sense of what the food is like – what the restaurant is serving?

Or the philosophy of the chef or food direction (otherwise it’s an exact copy paste of a press release in PR lingo).

Because the PR around this is all well and positive with all the social Klout generated (and good SEO), I sometimes pay an arm and leg for the meal and it’s disappointing. It’s not just a waste of my time and money, it is also a waste of calories!

I don’t think the system is set to change as it looks like the new economy is such and everyone’s going to be relying on bloggers . I acknowledge that I am privileged, but I also work very hard at another job so that I can afford to dine out on my own dime. I do take up invitations, often times it’s because I already know the product and have spent a considerable amount of my hard earned money at the restaurants/hotels themselves.

It makes me nervous and awkward accepting free meals – because what if it isn’t good? And what if expectations are that I must write something really lovely about it because there is an unspoken obligation to do so as everyone else invited does it?

You rarely see the same “KOLs” again if they had to pay their own way, so while you get the coverage, consider this – it’s completely off target, and you’re not going to be seeing your ROI because 90% of their followers likely aren’t your target audience.

So while the press coverage numbers look good, how much of that actually converts? I wish senior management would ask the question more often, I ask them on a regular basis to clients.

I once sat at a wine dinner mortified that these “KOL experts” couldn’t tell the difference between a chardonnay and a sauvignon blanc – I am far from a wine expert, but… the basics? Or the audacity to compare a Salon with Möet, oh dear.

So the question is YAY or NAY? I would say only dedicate a negligible amount of resources and time to bloggers. The people who really love your product will find ways and means to pay for it.

The occasionally media table get together is great to generate buzz on a new opening, chef or new menu, but really, if anyone would listen and not be afraid to fall behind what their competitors are doing. Don’t waste time and resources doing it. It rarely converts. It’s the freeloader economy these days, and to be perfectly honest not worth compromising your P&L on entertainment budgets.

Juliana Loh
jloh@julianaloh.com

Juliana is a freelance marketing communications strategist with more than a decade of experience in the field of advertising, journalism and luxury hospitality, with a focus on China and the Asia Pacific region.

2 Comments
  • Rochelle  
    Posted at 03:36h, 19 August Reply

    Great post, I think people should learn a lot from this blog its really user pleasant. So much wonderful information on here :D.

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