How It All Began
It was the morning of Tuesday 16th January 2018. I was checking up on emails in bed. Most of them were the usual boring shite one would expect to see in the email account of a hotel manager, but one email, in particular, stood out to me. Not because it was addressed to me, but because of its content.
The email started with the words ‘hi there’. When you read an email entitled ‘hi there’, you immediately feel a little neglected. You immediately feel that this person doesn’t care much for you. You feel that this person may not even know your name. It would appear that the sender has simply included you in a copy and paste email to many different recipients, not making you feel in any way ‘special’ at all. Suffice to say that the email didn’t get off to the best start.
The email writer then proceeded to brag about how great she was, how popular she was. If her lack of care about who she was writing to wasn’t enough, the ‘me, me, me’ style of writing that ensued suggested that not only was the addressee of the email non-existent, but there was a particularly strong chance that no other human being on planet earth existed, other than the emailer.
Most normal people would now exit the email function on their phone, get up and have a shower, or maybe put on a Nespresso to brew, but not me. I was amused. Greatly amused. I didn’t think it possible that somebody as self-centred as the emailer walked the face of the earth. How wrong was I.
I kept reading. The writer then went on to advise that she was coming to Dublin for 4 nights just before Valentine’s Day. Why wouldn’t she? Dublin is a beautiful city. She continued to say that she noticed our hotel and thought it was “stunning”. When I read this word, I immediately smelt bullshit. We run a 3-star budget lodge. People have called it “nice” and “grand” and maybe even “good value”. On the odd occasion, people even refer to it as a “shithole”, but never in the 24 years that we have owned this building have I ever once heard it described as “stunning”. I am not ashamed to say this. It’s fact.
At this point, I thought the email couldn’t get any worse. I mean, how could it? The writer then advised that she’d like to feature us in her videos. Again, this was of no real consequence to me, seeing as ‘we’ were no more and no less than any of the many other Dublin hotels she had spammed. She didn’t want to feature ‘us’ at all, she wanted to feature whatever hotel (if any) was gullible enough to believe that a ‘hi there’ email was actually addressed to them. It was, however, the next few words which made my blood boil.
She would do these videos in return for ‘free accommodation’. When I read these two words, a whirlwind of emotions ran through my mind and a cacophony of expletives emanated from my oral cavity.
A girl who has the gall to send a non-personalised email to a hotel she has done no research on is now looking for a free stay from said accommodation provider. I momentarily put myself in her shoes to see if I could come to some form of rational conclusion in my mind as to what she had done. However, I couldn’t find one. In fact, I couldn’t even begin to understand how any decent human being could be able to do something as shameful and cringe-worthy (in equal measure) as she had just done. Has this girl got no self-respect? Has she no shame? Where the fuck is her dignity?
When I took my shower that morning, I wasn’t singing my usual rendition of ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Kate Bush in my best falsetto voice, it was much more along the lines of ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’ by Nat King Cole.
I was hemming and hawing as to whether I would write a public response to this girl on the Facebook page, and after an internal debate in my head which lasted at least a full nanosecond, I arrived at the words ‘yes I will’.
Before I shared her email, I needed to make sure none of her information was showing. I screenshotted the email and then cropped it to omit the sender’s details. I then edited the screenshot by scribbling out the personal details, using my fingers as a pen. I had to go over each word twice or three times to ensure full opacity. Once I was happy that I could not make out any of her personal data on the phone, I saved the edited changes and then began to write my reply.
Please note the following (and for the purpose of emphasis, I am both emboldening and capitalising the words):
AT THE TIME OF POSTING MY REPLY, I HAD NO IDEA THAT ANY DETAILS IN THE IMAGE COULD BE REVEALED IF THE IMAGE WAS DOCTORED IN ANY WAY.
In case you aren’t one of the 450 million people who’ve already read my reply, here it is:
Unsurprisingly, there was a huge and immediate reaction to this post. I knew there’d be. I know that the vast majority of people on this planet work very hard for a living and would take issue with a self-entitled, self-proclaimed social media influencer with delusions of grandeur looking to blag a free room for 4 nights. I knew that people would be outraged, on so many levels.
We have a chronic homeless crisis in this country at the moment. There are people living on the streets every single night of the week who would give their right arm to have shelter for one night, never mind a ‘stunning’ hotel for four. This was going to be massive. The internet was on fire. All because of my public reply.
At this point, I think it’s important to note one thing. AT NO POINT THROUGHOUT THIS WHOLE DEBACLE HAVE I EVER MENTIONED THE NAME OF THIS PARTICULAR SOCIAL INFLUENCER. Not on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, YouTube, PornHub, Grindr or anywhere else. I have never mentioned her name to my family, my friends, my dogs, the cat across the road who torments my dogs, my therapist, my alcohol anonymous colleagues, NOBODY. Indeed, I have made a point of not mentioning her once. For the purpose of this bog post, I will be referring to this girl as SMI (Social Media Influencer).
I was in my car with Jason and our three children (Renko, Rocky and Disney) driving up to boarding kennels before we headed off to Amsterdam the next day for our 3-year anniversary, and my phone started to rattle furiously. People were sharing a video with me that SMI had just posted to her YouTube page. Jason started watching the video, and after about three minutes I told him to switch it off. Not because of what she was saying, but because of the number of fucking edits in the video. During the first 3 minutes we watched, there must have been at least 120 jump edits.
Apart from the fact that I was more worried about the girls editing skills than I was her actual response, it was clear to me that this girl’s intention was to draw everyone’s attention to the story. Don’t forget, I hadn’t outed anyone so presumably the purpose of this edited-into-oblivion video was to out herself. In many ways, she was right to do this. At the end of the day, YouTube pays her money for the video views she gets. This was a controversial video full of amateur dramatics and tears. This was going to be a real money-maker.
I had no issue with SMI capitalising on the controversy. After all, she has to make money some way and this was a far more inventive way of getting views than putting on tight pants and shaking her bottom on camera (which apparently is what she usually does). My issue was with her supporters and fellow SMIs. They were now bombarding my business with false 1-star reviews in their droves. A lot of these people were ‘influencers’ themselves. When you are a self-proclaimed influencer and you leave a fake review of a business, isn’t it reasonable to assume that those over whom you exert your influence will be influenced to do the same?
But it’s not just the leaving of fake-reviews by influencers that calls into question the integrity of influencer marketing. SMI’s original proposal already did that quite effectively. If I had caved in to SMI and granted her request by giving her the free room, would her review have been fair? Would it have been biased on the basis that she wasn’t paying anything? Where is the transparency there for either those she influences and/or Joe Public?
It’s All About Reach
Businesses right across the globe are constantly looking for innovative ways to get their brand out to the world. They pay digital marketing agencies huge fees to obtain a decent reach. A respectable reach is only possible if their content is truly unique and appealing, and this is something you don’t see very often.
In the past, I have used various different crises to make a name for ourselves. We’ve battled entitled vegans, people with make-believe diseases such as gluten intolerance, half of Brazil who got lost in translation, breastfeeding mums who didn’t get the joke and, on this occasion, the bloggers. The bloggers were an absolutely ideal portion of society to tackle. Why? Because of the size of their reach.
Each blogger, whether you agree with the content they put forward or not, has a reach. If you can manage to piss them off, they will display their annoyance to their following in the form of talking to them about your business. Whether what they say is positive or negative doesnt really matter. In 6 weeks time their followers won’t remember why we’re ‘such monsters’, all they’lI remember is our name. I am kicking myself for not thinking of bloggers up until now.
I have always said that the most ideal reaction to a social media post is where you get a 50/50 split i.e. 50% of people agreeing with you and 50% of people fucking hating you. This gets two armies of people fighting over you and all you have to do is sit back and watch while the cash register takings grow. Unfortunately for me, #bloggergate was more of a 90/10 split. However, this was not necessarily a bad thing. The very fact that the 90% was so impassioned in their fight against freeloaders, and because the 10% had an audience they could ‘influence’ to fight on their behalf, this had all the hallmarks of being one hell of a battle. This was a shit storm of unprecedented proportions. It was fucking awesome.
When things would seem to be too one-sided, I’d lob in a post to keep the fighting going. To ignite the flame. To enrage the fury. My first poke came in the form of an official apology for not thinking of bloggers up until now. This really upset them. It resulted in some really horrible commentary. In other words, it was a huge success.
The bloggers lost their shit, but not all of them. Just the useless ones. I like to divide bloggers into two very distinctive groups. The PIBs and the AIBs. The PIB is the ‘Professional Influencer Brigade’. These are people who have a huge following, they don’t go begging to brands, brands come to them, they have ‘real’ influence on people and, most importantly, they are good at what they do.
The AIBs or ‘Amateur Influencer Brigade’ have a smaller following, they usually become a blogger because they are incapable of doing anything else with their lives. They beg for free stuff because they either can’t afford it or are just too cheap to pay for it. They have little dignity. Little talent. Their self-respect is non-existent. Sometimes AIBs can become PIBs purely on the basis of being good-looking, but usually, it’s because they possess talent.
My fight with bloggers didn’t involve any PIBs, indeed most of the PIBs who did get involved did so purely on the basis of personal commentary. Two which come to mind are Keemstar and Philip DeFranco. The people fighting me were nearly all AIBs and any of the PIBs who did attempt to fight me will now find themselves veering towards the category of AIB, which is a shame for them. They have let themselves down (you know who I’m talking about – adventuregirl).
I don’t have an issue with PIBS, indeed, I have given PIBS free food in the past, the main reason being that they never asked for their food to be free.
The petulant, infantile outrage displayed by the AIBs got stronger and stronger. This brought the fight more and more towards the ideal 50/50 split, but unfortunately not quite. The people who didn’t agree with freeloaders still made up the majority. I had to find some way to enrage the bloggers more. How else could we do that other than to ban them from the café.
I uploaded the following post and it did have the desired effect. The bloggers were up in fucking arms.
Throughout the whole debacle, the one thing that amused me most was the fact that the bloggers didn’t think that people over 30 understood how social media works. Here I was, completely using them to help my business get worldwide publicity, for free, on social media, and I was the one who didn’t know what I was doing.
The bloggers were now really angry. The negative reviews were pouring in. We even broke TripAdvisor. People tried to hack into my Facebook page. It was all kicking off just nicely. However, the blogger ban didn’t just throw the bloggers into a state of frenzy, it (unfortunately) garnered support from pretty much the rest of the world. 50/50 was still in reach, but the high-end news outlets running stories on us weren’t really doing much to help.
Up until now some of the insignificant news outlets (like Lovin Dublin) had run pieces on us, but after the ban, the big knobs started to pick up on us. LadBible, George Takei, Daily Mail, Mashable, Imgur (the list goes on) were all running stories on us. Some PIBS started doing YouTube videos on us. While the 50/50 was still a good distance away, we were all over the fucking news, I mean EVERYWHERE.
News outlets all over the globe wanted an interview with me and all I wanted to do was get stoned. I was in Amsterdam at this stage and, when in Rome, as they say. I felt sorry for Jason. Although he was having a great time troll bashing on Twitter, we were supposed to be enjoying our 3-year anniversary in the Dam. So, we went out to an Amsterdamian café and got monged.
My favourite part by far of all the free news coverage was the fact that LadBible, who have 30 million followers, was calling our budget lodge a “luxury hotel”. This had a snowball effect. Other articles began referring to us as a ‘5-star hotel’. If that’s not a compliment, I don’t know what is.
Jason and I were in Madame Tussaud’s in Dam Square when a Tweet entitled “We’ve crunched the numbers on #bloggergate. Take a look and see who has benefited most from the controversy” came in. My concentration on wax-constituted humans took a momentary pause while I checked out this Tweet from Clear Story.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. The article indicated that our small little 35-seater café in Phibsborough had been featured in 53 news articles in 11 countries with a potential reach of 120 million people. Yes, you read that correctly, 120 FUCKING MILLION. It goes on to advise that if we were to have spent money to advertise our business in these publications, it would have cost us over €2,000,000. We had done this without being anywhere near 50/50. The lowest we got was, I’d say, 75/25. This was unprecedented.
The article continued to point out that SMI was featured in 114 articles across 20 countries with a potential reach of 450 million people which would cost €4,300,000. While I must admit this pissed me off a little bit, as I thought the contest would have been a lot fairer, I was actually happy for SMI. Any feeling sorry for her after watching the first 3 minutes of her tear-and-edit-filled video now disappeared pretty much instantly. Not only was this girl creaming it in terms of publicity, but she was fucking beating me.
I then figured that the reason she was featured in over twice the number of articles was that a lot of these articles would have been written by fellow bloggers who would have conveniently left out a small but significant piece of information – our name. Some of the bloggers may well have understood my game.
Tears of Bloggers
Any hope of achieving the 50/50 split was now further and further away. The publicity tornado had 80-90% of people in my favour. The review rating on the Facebook page had originally gone from 4.1 to 4.0 on account of the bloggers, but the people supporting me had brought it back up to 4.7. This was not going my way.
I had to do something to reignite the fury. So, I asked Ramesh our waiter to clean down the Gluten Free Breast Milk container so I could christen it with a name more appropriate to the current fiasco, and ultimately something that might bring us closer to the elusive 50/50. After some momentary vacillation, I decided that, by the power vested in me, the container would be named “Tears of Bloggers”.
Did I leave the vegan container in the shot on purpose, you ask? Most certainly. The fact that the bloggers were not really making any ground made me think that we might need the vegans to come in to help them. A joint vegan-blogger coalition, as it were. Did this help? Nah.
The story continued to spread like wildfire. Polls were created. An MTV poll indicated that people were still massively in favour of the Moose over the Freeloader. This didn’t mean that we weren’t still getting hate. The hate coming in from the blogging community and their followers was still very significant, but against the love and support we were receiving, it was a bit like Bray Head versus Mount Everest. It was by no means ideal.
Still dumbfounded as to how much publicity SMI had got, or more aptly, how much publicity I had got her, I decided to highlight this by way of an invoice. I needed to send out the message to anybody worried about her mental health that she was doing just fine, she was laughing all the way to the bank. Her video had nearly 1.5m views at this stage. She was killing it.
Anyone who had managed to actually sit through her 17-minute video (without stabbing blunt pencils in their eyeballs as a result of the number of edits) may have jumped to the conclusion that the girl was genuinely upset. They needed to be put right. Some of them may not have understood that the ad preceding her video (that they can skip after 5 seconds) was in place to earn her money. SMI was making ‘dolla’ off the back of her amateur dramatics.
The other purpose of the invoice was to keep the story going for as long as possible. I wasn’t happy that SMI had achieved a reach of 450 million people and I a paltry 120 million. As expected, news outlets picked up on the invoice story. Articles were again written all over the world and in many different languages. This was amusing. Highly amusing. Not only was the general public gullible enough to believe that the invoice was real, but supposedly upstanding and eminent authors from publications such as the Daily Mail fell for it too. This was outstanding. Just what I wanted.
I am going to frame the invoice and place it here in the hotel for everyone to see. It’s just too good to throw in the bin. There is undoubtedly a monetary value to this piece of paper.
The Press Conference
We have done many videos in the past with various different videographers, but by far the best guy we have worked with is Gerard Walsh. He is a god when it comes to making videos. He came to me with the idea of a press conference video on Saturday afternoon, and I fucking loved it. I always believe that the best way of getting your message across is by using humour.
This has always been my modus operandi, and it seems to work. I use humour to get an underlying message across to the audience i.e. our customers. The customers are therefore conditioned to behave in a certain way when they come to our hotel or café, all thanks to humour. For example, since the time I threatened to put Valium in the juice of screaming babies, the babies have stopped screaming. Since the time I threatened to shoot vegans dead if they came into the café, the vegan entitlement has dissipated. Since the time I demanded a doctor’s note for people requiring gluten-free food, people have copped the fuck on and started eating normal food like everyone else.
A number of months before #bloggergate, Gerard and I produced a video called ‘House Of Influencers’. This was a house of cards style piss take on how social media influencers carry on. In the video, the social media influencer tries to blag free accommodation in the exact same style SMI uses 2-3 months later. I didn’t realise I had psychic powers but that’s definitely a skill I’ll be adding to the CV.
The press conference video was an ideal opportunity to use humour to highlight the reality of the whole situation while giving people a chuckle (which is what I’m all about) at the same time.
SMI’s video was growing and growing. This surprised me no end. I couldn’t believe there were actually people on this planet who could stomach a video as heavily edited without projectile vomiting onto their computer screens. But aside from people’s ability to stomach the 345,734 jump edits, one thing was certain, the money she was making on this video was growing in direct proportion to the growth in views. She wouldn’t be buying bags in Primark anymore, Louis Vuitton was putting out the red carpet for her imminent arrival.
I couldn’t allow her to capitalise on this drama without doing so myself. So, I got #bloggergate t-shirts designed and started selling them online. Of course, the object of this exercise wasn’t solely to make money, it was to spark anger in the blogging community yet again. Guess what? It worked. But not only did it spark another wave of abuse, it created the impetus which led SMI to create yet another video.
When I heard she had released a new video, another volcano of emotions erupted. The main one of which was fear, fear that this video would be edited to shit again. This new video had a very different message. Its sole purpose was to milk the cyberbullying card so that nobody could ever use it again, whilst demonising the White Moose Café and labelling us as “big bullies” in the process.
The Cyber Bullying Card
I was bullied in school. I absolutely despise bullies. However, I do believe that it is morally wrong to use the cyberbullying card as a means of generating cash. It makes light of the very worrying phenomenon that is cyberbullying, and those who are genuinely bullied (who don’t have the luxury of being able to cash in on their horrifying experience).
The minute I heard that SMI was the target of unjustified and horrible comments, I took to Twitter and asked people to lay off her. This tweet was 2 days before her ‘cyber bullying’ video.
In her second video, SMI was very quick to tell the world that she received death threats and that people wished cancer upon her children. If this is true, I think it’s reprehensible. However, the cynic in me can’t stop thinking that the reason SMI broadcast this message so loudly was to generate views on her YouTube video. Let’s face it, at the end of the day, SMI is making money off this controversy. The more graphic she makes her videos, the more views it will get. The more she pulls at the heartstrings, the more people will feel sorry for her. This sympathy will ultimately translate into YouTube views and therefore CASH.
For the record, but not that it matters, Jason and I received death threats too, the most serious of which was last October. It was quite a stressful time for us. It involved the Gardaí (Irish Police) and there was a good 2 week period where Jason and I could go nowhere without looking over our shoulders every few minutes. The person who had made the threats was a known criminal (as opposed to a fake social media profile) and there was a bench warrant out for his arrest.
If we had played the victim in a YouTube video and informed the world that we were receiving genuine death threats, there is a fair chance the views on this video would have skyrocketed and we’d now be sitting on a nice paycheck, compliments of YouTube. Maybe we’re fools.
Despite my efforts to defend her, the media still reported that we were the bullies. They ignored the very significant fact that it was SMI herself who drew all this attention to herself and we were getting the blame. This was not the end of the world as the 50/50 split was becoming more of a reality, but I found it intriguing how it took falsehoods to achieve the ideal split.
Having made a point of defending SMI and telling people to leave her alone, there was a small part of me expecting that she would tell her followers to stop giving negative reviews and posting nasty comments on a café they had never visited before in her second video. Alas, I was wrong. I guess I shouldn’t have really expected this as it would go against the ‘me, me, me’ way of life to which this lovely lady was so accustomed. Again, I’m the bigger fool here.
SMI prides herself on being a businesswoman. She puts herself forward as being a confident person who knows exactly what she’s doing. It’s curious how all of a sudden this strong independent woman persona disappears when she is called out. One minute she is a grown-up woman, the next a little girl. I would have thought that people who live their lives in the public eye should understand the vagaries of those who inhabit public life. Humans are weird. I don’t particularly like people. I much prefer dogs. But as someone who has chosen to put myself out there for the world to consume, I understand that the shit can hit the fan. I understand that people will call me nasty names, I may even get death threats. But I refer to this as ‘par for the course’.
As the old saying goes “if you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen”. If you are not fully prepared for the harsh reality that people can be assholes, the internet is perhaps not the best place for you.
Putting things into perspective
As someone who has a significant following, I too have been offered freebies. I can’t think of one occasion where I haven’t accepted them. I have been brutally honest about how I feel about the products (much to the disappointment of the sender on occasion), but I will accept them all the same.
Whenever I stay in hotels, I will always ask for a special hotelier rate (which is the norm in the industry). Most of the time I’ll be given a preferential rate and/or a complimentary upgrade. But never, and I mean NEVER, would I EVER ask for anything for free. I just don’t have it in me.
On the evening of Thursday 25th January 2018, I received a Snapchat message which really hit home and put everything into perspective. The message was from a girl who had been recently made homeless through no fault of her own. She and her partner had checked into Charleville Lodge that evening. They paid for their room on arrival.
The girl’s message was one of thanks. She thanked Jason and I for making her laugh during dark times. Considering all that happened the week before, this struck a chord with me and brought everything home. Here is a couple who are in need of a home but want to pay for their hotel stay. It’s a bit like the situation a friend of ours is in. Her name is Niamh Flanagan. She’s living with a rare form of bone cancer called Osteosarcoma and whenever you ask her how she is, she says she “can’t complain’. She’s the brightest, bubbliest and loveliest girl we know and I am proud to say that she’s our friend.
Needless to say, we refunded the guest’s card. They had already paid for their room on arrival, but they received their money back the next day. If anybody deserved a free stay, they did.
POINTS TO NOTE
- This whole fiasco indicates that there is no authenticity, honesty or transparency in influencer marketing.
- I never intended to reveal her name, but as it so happens, the revealing of her name seems to have had a positive outcome financially on both parties involved.
- The person or people who doctored the image I shared in order to reveal her name are responsible for outing her.
- If you are a good blogger, the brands will come to you. Don’t go begging to them. Have some dignity. Play hard to get.
- I must be psychic.
- Using humour is a very effective method of getting an important underlying message across to customers.
- SMI uses dramatics as a means of making money.
- Using the cyber-bullying card as a means of ‘cashing in’ is not cool.
- If you are big and bold enough to put yourself in the public eye, you are big and bold enough to take whatever nastiness comes your way on the chin.
- Some people are more deserving of free accommodation than others.
P.S. The final tally on publicity gained is in. This puts the total for White Moose at €8.4m and €20.7m for she who shall not be named. You’re welcome, SMI.
See more stats, compliments of Clear Story, in this article