Blogging Under the Influence

I’m out of hiatus now. But this may not be business as usual for The Blogfather any more.

Since the nation is currently throwing a ridiculous hissy fit about “social influencers” – or let’s just refer to them in the original context they were raised in: bloggers – not explicitly declaring that they do sponsored posts when they do them, I’m going to put in a disclaimer of my own to The Blogfather right here.

DISCLAIMER: I am a public relations executive. And no, this is not a sponsored post.

Why is this significant? Because now that I’ve announced this, PR agencies will think twice about engaging me because I am a rival, and bloggers will be more wary of me because PR executives have a reputation in the media and marketing industry of being, um, agenda-drivers.

Now, the agencies shunning me, I can deal with. Honestly, my day job pays much better than my online superhero alter-ego. It’s what the declaration of my job title does to this online alter-ego of mine that concerns me.

Over the last decade or so, the modern media marketing mix has inducted social media as a de facto marketing tool, thanks to their ability to reach and command the attention of wide audiences through peer-to-peer interactions in ways traditional media was never able to. Blogs became media vehicles, bloggers became media owners and content creators and media owners, and Facebook, Twitter, Instagram as well as major various search engines, became channels for both content distribution and audience engagement. Amongst the use of other social networks, blogging held the  greatest potential for side income, whether in cash or in kind; some of us were so good at it that it even turned into viable full-time work.

I, too, do sponsored posts.

Admittedly, I quite enjoyed the attention The Blogfather was showered with by PR agencies, in-house marketing executives and even business owners who would offer me and my family free products, complimentary services and experiences, and even cold hard cash to write them into my daily conversations. I would be selective who I accept offers from in order to suit what this blog is known for: no-nonsense, at times funny, at times surprising, always insightful family blogging.

Watching first-hand how marketers try to build rapport with bloggers, I started getting curious about how the social media marketing ecosystem really worked – curious enough to explore practically the entire relationship web through a string of full-time endeavours, first in content creation (as a writer), then subsequently advertising and marketing (as a copywriter and sometimes campaign strategist), and now as a public relations practitioner.

My job now consists of thinking up story angles that journalists, writers and bloggers can use to create content on their newspaper/magazine/TV programme/radio talkshow/website/Facebook/Twitter/table they use a packet of issue to chope seat with. In other words, consider me the influencer that influences the influencers to write the posts and articles that will influence the public to think of and talk about my clients.

This entire journey through the media/marketing industry started more than 2 years ago, and it hasn’t stopped since. It may not be that long, but it’s long enough for me to now take issue with the term “social influencer” being used on the lifestyle bloggers that have inadvertently been in the spotlight the last few weeks.

In the world of social media marketing, the bloggers, Facebook users, Tweetizens, Instagrammers, anyone online with a following, a drawer full of agency name cards, and an inbox littered with Dear Media Friends emails, bloggers hardly qualify as influencers.

Through my own time as a magazine feature writer and blogger, I had to be very conscious of the expectations of those that read me, and balance the knowledge against the marketing assignments I accepted; The Blogfather has previously rejected requests to talk about cheese slices, and once, cosmetics imported from Korea – and it all started with a post about cakes.

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So it goes, to maintain our popularity as online personalities over the various platforms we utilise, we have to submit to the influence of our followers to give them the stories, opinions and positions we take in our postings. And then we submit to the influence of marketers looking to get us to talk about their brand, product or service with our followers.

We are the influenced.

When I first joined the PR industry, a blogger friend messaged me saying I should declare my occupation, since there is a conflict of interest between the job and the (up until recently, very chatty) family blogger community. I found the notion slightly disturbing, since the whole point of public relations is to build relations, not conflict, especially with media, including bloggers. Nonetheless, I complied, so that disclaimer at the beginning of this post isn’t news to the blogger community.

But I’ve learnt that what seems sound in theory, sometimes doesn’t play out in reality.

I was invited to a small gathering of bloggers recently, during which the topic of blogger engagements came up. As the conversation went into specific examples, one blogger looked at me and said in jest, “Woop, better be careful what I say. Someone from the other side is in the same room.”

I laughed along, because it was the polite thing to do. As a blogger, I agreed, because I’ve had to deal with countless PR execs throughout my years as The Blogfather. With my current job as a PR practitioner, I now feel like a pariah in a community I have been so actively involved with over the last 3 years. I imagine this same feeling is coursing through everyone in Gushcloud, and perhaps many in our local lifestyle blogging community, with all this public scrutiny the last few weeks.

And as someone who’s now sitting on both sides of this influencer-influenced see-saw, I find myself pondering over a moral dilemma. This “social influencer” issue has affected the integrity of even those unaffiliated with the parties involved, and a number of us find ourselves addressing the allegations in our own terms, whether to ride on the wave of social commentary, or to maintain our integrity despite what has been said.

But I’m also conscious of a larger part of our audience, including a subset of bloggers that don’t actively participate in the marketing mix who are wondering why anyone should even take issue. And the PR exec in me agrees. What is wrong with influencing and being influenced in a fledgling media industry the way advertising and PR has done with the entire modern civilised world for more than a century? Why are there “other sides”?

Why am I torn?

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