29/01/2018 11:27 GMT | Updated 29/01/2018 11:27 GMT

The Café-Owner, The Influencer And Authenticity


To some people it’s been entertaining, to others, unedifying, but the ongoing ding dong between Bath social media influencer Elle Darby and Paul Stenson, the owner of Dublin’s White Moose Café and Charleville Lodge Hotel, shows no sign of stopping any time soon.

The latest twist in what’s become known as #bloggergate came on Tuesday, with Darby releasing yet another emotional YouTube vlog detailing the trolling she’s received.

She said: “The amount of abusive messages that I’ve been getting… People telling me that I should die, that they hope my children get cancer. It’s time, I think, that people started taking responsibility for what they’re saying over a screen.”

For those not familiar with the story, last week, Darby – who has 87,000 YouTube subscribers and 79,000 Instagram followers - emailed Stenson mooting a ‘possible collaboration’, where she would give the hotel exposure on her social media channels in exchange for a free stay over Valentine’s Day weekend.

Stenson scathingly declined and shared the email on Facebook having blanked out Darby’s name, saying that ‘exposure’ wouldn’t pay his staff.

However, Darby was identified online and the hotel started to get reams of bad reviews from her supporters.

Darby released an emotional YouTube video to tearfully explain why she’d emailed the hotel, explaining what she did for a living and how embarrassed she was to be ‘exposed’ – in response to which, Stenson announced his businesses were banning all bloggers because of their “sense of entitlement” and “wanting everything for nothing”.

Stenson then sent Darby an invoice for £4.67million for the publicity they’d given her in “114 articles across 20 countries with a potential reach of 450 million people”.

On Sunday, Stenson staged a tongue-in-cheek fake Trump-esque press conference, assisted by his partner Jason, in which he refused to apologise over the furore.

There are many lessons that can be drawn from this tit for tat spat that has escalated into a global debate about social media influencers.

The last thing Darby should have done was to film a video about the hotel’s response to her request. If she’s going to try and request ‘freebies’ without giving any real explanation of what the business is going to get in return, she needs to develop a thicker skin.

But the most important lesson to be taken is hinted at in Darby’s parting comment in her latest vlog post – that keyboard warriors shouldn’t say things online if they don’t really mean them. That people should be more authentic online – that for me is the key to this whole debate.

Let me nail my colours to mast right here – although he’s clearly capitalised on the situation, I do think Stenson has been a bit unprofessional for throwing Darby under a bus like he has. No one deserves the kind of online bullying that Darby has got for sending an albeit misguided, but completely legitimate, business inquiry email.

Yes, perhaps Darby should have just asked for the one night rather than five, but a simple ‘no thank you’ would have sufficed.

However Stenson, at least, replied in the kind of way he’s become notorious for over the years, and the White Moose Café and Charleville Lodge Hotel have a massive social media following as a result, with 181,000 followers on Facebook and 39,000 followers on Instagram alone. Their followers expect these kinds of stunts from him – he stays true to his authentic self.

If Darby had stayed authentic and stuck to her brief as a fitness and lifestyle blogger, and done a bit of research, she’d have realised that the hotel was not a good fit for her. So it was never going to be a good business proposition for Stenson, even if he’d been pro influencer, and no matter how many followers Darby had.

Authenticity is the magic ingredient, and why good social media influencers make good money from brands that want to be aligned with them – they stick to their authentic voice, stick to their authentic selves and they know exactly who their audience is. And their followers stick with them because they’re authentic.

Successful social media influencers are not blaggers. They offer a genuine business proposition that can target required audiences in ways traditional marketing just can’t. There is real ROI to be had when the right businesses hook up with the right social media influencers.

None of us like feeling that we’re being stealth sold to or lied to on social media (hello Fyre Festival) – and with a good YouTuber, Instagrammer, vlogger and blogger, you never feel like you are, because they’re authentic. Even if they are selling something, they are transparent about it – and they’d never dream of associating themselves with any brand, product, company or whatnot they didn’t truly love.

Social media marketing is a legitimate and growing industry, but there needs to be more professionalism and true authenticity on all sides as the industry continues to mature.

And talking of social media marketing and authenticity – if Stenson ever sells his hotel and café, a career as a successful social media influencer most definitely awaits. Paul, give me a call…