Posted: Wednesday 19th August 2015 in Owned and earned media, Thought Leadership.

Could the #BloggerBlackmail controversy dissuade retailers from incentivising bloggers?

Twitter played host to an online war on Tuesday, 18th August, between blogger and brand, with ‘#BloggerBlackmail’ trending
far and wide. Such controversy has surfaced the on-going question of whether brands should use incentivised blogger reviews as part of their Public Relations (PR) strategy. It is surprising that such disputes have not become commonplace, with the recent boom in popularity of such practices in blogging. Should brands treat this as a warning and begin to avoid incentivised outreach tactics?


To summarise for those that missed the commotion, a London food blogger shared several negative posts on social media, naming the London patisserie in question. The bakery then responded via a defamatory blog post claiming blackmail. The post went viral and divided audiences on Twitter. London blogger, Mehreen, took to social media to publicly air her frustrations, as she believed the bakery was not willing to compensate her adequately for her work. Whereas independent bakery, Agnes De Sucre, claimed the blogger had threatened them with negative reviews after they were unwilling to provide £100 worth of complimentary products. But which party is in the wrong?

Brand vs. blogger

From a blogger perspective, being compensated fairly for the time taken to provide good quality content is an understandable justification. However, whilst each blogger has the right to value their work and negotiate the terms of collaboration, it is important to remember that a business equally has the right to determine the value of those services to their brand.

In our view, communication was the fundamental element missing from the interaction and resulted in neither party behaving professionally. Mehreen has since admitted via a post on her own blog that she shouldn’t have posted the anger-fuelled content, but like-wise the brand shouldn’t have publicly and personally retaliated. The key takeaway from this digital war is that honest and transparent communication is vital. Both parties should have agreed their expectations beforehand to avoid such backlash.

Is this the end for incentivised content?

It is no industry secret that bloggers can be huge brand assets. From providing valuable SEO backlinks to a brand’s site, to increasing brand awareness and social media visibility, they’re a resource worth utilising. However, as more bloggers turn to blogging as a main source of income and priorities shift from writing passionately as a hobby, to receiving fees or products for their time and content, the viability of blogger outreach is thrown into question. Not only can a high volume of sponsored content cause the blog to look untrustworthy to its readers, it could draw the attention of Google crawlers. If Google begin to penalise ‘sponsored’ posts due to the controversial way these posts are incentivised, it could lead to retailers rethinking their PR strategies and distancing themselves from blogs. This would have a ripple effect on the bloggers themselves, and change the overall PR landscape.

Our recommendations for retailers

It need not be the end of blogger and brand partnerships. As a retailer, if you target the right audience for your brand and build a sustainable relationship, in the same way you would with an offline publication, you can steer clear of the risks and controversy whilst still reaping the benefits. It shouldn’t just be about one-off reviews, but an ongoing, mutually beneficial relationship where that blogger becomes a brand ambassador. A blogger should become someone who promotes the brand organically; not because they are continually being compensated in some way, but because they truly love the brand.

Maintaining a credible brand means working with credible bloggers; being diligent about building relationships with appropriate parties, and not relying only on domain authority to inform PR decisions. It is essential to ensure that the terms of the partnership are defined prior to engagement to avoid relationships going sour. Both bloggers and retailers are ultimately accountable for ensuring a fair working relationship.