Relations with a Blogger | Ellen Manning | Eat with Ellen

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As a relative newbie to the blogging scene, when the #bloggerblackmail furor exploded on Twitter, I was amused, then intrigued, then down right nervous. I started my blog because I love food. I love eating it, but I also love talking about it, taking pictures of it and writing about it. A journalist by trade, I jump at any chance to write, even more so if it’s creatively.

I’d messed around with my blog since mid-2013, but earlier this year I decided to start taking it a bit more seriously. You know, making it look good, paying a bit of attention to what you need to do to get it on google, and – perhaps most importantly – actually sharing it on social media so people would read it. Lo and behold, people did start reading it. I know, that’s the point, but it’s still a great feeling to know that people are sparing a bit of time to see what YOU think about a place where you’ve eaten or your own experiences.

As more people read it and I interacted more with fellow bloggers, I found myself being invited to blogging events, being asked to review restaurants, and having more and more material to blog about. Not on a huge scale – I still see myself as very much a fledgling in this big blogging world that I never knew existed. But I felt it was going somewhere. I aspired to be bigger, better, and to do more. Don’t we all? It also dawned on me that bloggers have a power I had never realised. While I was used to the relationship between journalists and their subjects, I had been blissfully ignorant that a very similar bond exists between bloggers and marketing people. Any company or restaurant is aware of the influence bloggers can hold, the success they can help with, and the damage they can wreak.

And so I entered a world where freebies are offered, invitations are sent, and reviews are given. We all declare our reviews are honest opinions and nobody’s lying when they say that, but the basic social psychology of reciprocity means if someone has done you a good turn, there’s a small part of you that feels like you owe them. Of course you do, it’s hard not to. I’m not saying that means you chuck your honesty out the window, but that it takes a degree of self-discipline, and indeed courage, to stick to your guns and say what you think. And companies know this, that’s why they see value in the freebies, invitations and events. Who can blame them?

And it’s this world that has provided the backdrop for #bloggerblackmail. There’s been a lot said, and I can see the upset and annoyance on both sides. And it’s taken me on my own little mental journey about this stuff. Why amused? Because on the face of it, it’s about marshmallows and macaroons. I told my husband about it and he just didn’t get it, as I’m sure a lot of people outside this world didn’t.

Intrigued? Yes, because when you give it a bit of thought, in the blogosphere, this stuff is important. While it may seem on the surface to be about confectionary, it raises more important questions. It’s about honesty vs. reciprocity. When bloggers say, we’re telling the truth, we mean it. It means we’ve fought against that feeling of ‘owing’ someone and are sticking to our guns, no matter what. It’s about why we do what we do, what our motivations are, and when people call that into question, even if it’s by suggesting that a nice gift should make for a rave review, it gets people’s backs up.

Then there’s the power issue. I've already said that the power bloggers can hold had surprised me. But there are many on both sides of the fence – blogger or company – who are acutely aware of that power and what it can do. And there are some who aren’t scared to wield it, holding their blogger title aloft like a mighty sword. In fact, the title is just one weapon in their arsenal, before you add their review and their numerous social media accounts. They know what that weapon can do and they aren’t scared to use it. Most of the time the mere threat of it is probably enough, but when that weapon is drawn – as we’ve seen recently – it’s not too dissimilar to a gunfight at the OK Corral.

Despite this little analysis, the over-riding feeling I was left with after #bloggerblackmail was nervous and possibly a little bit sad. Why? Because no matter who is right and who is wrong, if this situation highlights anything, it’s that blogging is big business. It’s not just about writing for fun, it’s about pre-arranged deals, disclosure pages, sponsored posts and paid content. Of course, there’s plenty of people still writing for fun, and it’s great that people can turn their passion into a business that earns them money. I certainly wouldn’t begrudge anyone that, as it’s something I’d love to do one day. But it does highlight how easy it is to get swept up in this and lose sight of the whole reason we all started blogging. Because we love it.

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