I’ve been blogging since 2004 and prior to blogging about coffee in 2014, I’d never been offered free products in exchange for reviews or online coverage.
Coffee NI gave me a glimpse of what it’s like to be seen as an influencer. I hate using that term, it’s become a kind of dirty word, often laughed at because, how dare you or I say we are an ‘influencer’ right? Many people assume this title is just a sneaky disguise employed to get free stuff. It can be, but there are lots of online influencers who genuinely yield lots of influence with large numbers of people.
Blogging about coffee
I haven’t blogged an article/post about coffee since January 2017. One of the biggest reasons for stopping was the belief from lots of people that I would want to write about something if I was given it for free. This used to be the dream for bloggers everywhere. Free stuff! It may still be a dream for many but, I came to realise that it’s a double edged sword at best. Obviously you get free stuff and that’s the nice side of the sword but, the other edge for us was, that lots of coffee we were given or offered in exchange for reviews or promotion was simply rubbish.
And that’s when we realised that it’s hard to admit something isn’t very good when you’ve been given it for free.
A coffee business owner once gave me a bit of a ‘dressing down’ in public for not promoting their brand. They expected me to ‘big-up’ their business because… we happen to be on the same island as each other.
In a place the size of Northern Ireland people get to know who you are very quickly. When you’re saying nice things this is fine but, you can’t write about everyone, and sometimes you have to be honest. In the case of ‘bad-attitude-coffee-man’, I had previously bought and tried their product, wasn’t impressed and chose not to say anything. They then sent me free stuff and again, I wasn’t impressed… so I didn’t say anything. When asked about why I hadn’t posted anything online, I told the truth. It wasn’t great.
The expectation among businesses and brands to receive positive reviews when they’ve given away free items can be a tricky situation for bloggers. I don’t like telling people that their product, brand or business isn’t good. I’m guessing very few people find it an enjoyable thing to do.
So, I quickly realised that I could not promote a product that I did not like or that I thought was not good quality. I also realised that I could not promote all of the coffee all of the time. With new coffee businesses appearing at such an alarming rate over the last few years, I decided that engaging with all of this new activity wasn’t going to be a job for me.
If you search for #NIBloggers on Instagram you could be forgiven for thinking that Northern Ireland had been invaded by women who love make-up, tanning, exercise, avocados, coffee and endless shopping trips.
There is a growing trend among young to middle-aged women who have very similar looking Instagram profiles and blogs. A lot of their content is really high quality. Many of them seem to love pastel colours and they all seem to live in the same style of house. A lot of them engage in regular social media campaigns by local PR and Marketing companies. It’s not uncommon to see many of them talking about the same products all within a very short space of time.
None of this is bad or wrong. It is what it is.
I wonder though, if a sudden burst of social media interest driven by a PR exercise creates as much revenue as many companies and brands would like or need. For small businesses here in Northern Ireland, is there real value or longevity beyond these occasional blogger events. Does that matter? Would more personal and/or longer lasting relationships with smaller numbers of bloggers who are real local customers be more effective for small businesses? I have so many questions and only a few answers/opinions…
I wonder if the current bubble might burst soon though.
There is a formula you can follow with social media and blogging to give you a good chance at getting free stuff or paid promotion opportunities. It’s not that complicated but, it’s time consuming. For many, this is now their full-time job, for others it’s a side-hustle (I hate that term). PR companies are making it easier too. Right now, a certain type of blogger in Northern Ireland can find plenty of opportunity for free stuff and paid content. That trend may change.
I’ve never felt completely comfortable with it. I’ve always tried to make sure that I blog about brands I genuinely care about and products that I would definitely recommend or endorse. Occasionally this results in something free or an opportunity to promote a product. Often it doesn’t because that’s never the point.
It must be said that plenty of bloggers are also genuinely recommending products which appear on their social media profiles. Of course it’s not all fake.
But, getting free stuff is exciting. Posting pictures of cool stuff is exciting. It’s easy to get lost in this world. And trends come and go quickly. As a blogger, you might want to outlive the trends. As a business, you definitely want to outlive the trends.
Ps: If you want a glimpse of what the world of a local blogger can look like, read this super helpful and honest post by Avril Keys.