GEORGIA opened a restaurant sometime between 2000 and 2010. It was received well by the public. It quickly gained popularity by word of mouth. Before long, the country?s most read newspaper (?balanced news, fearless views?) wrote about her, expanding her restaurant?s clientele even further.
One day, The (PR) Firm approached Georgia, telling her that she could increase her sales by three if she hired them. Georgia gently declined, saying that she had been lucky in receiving good reviews from the press. ?But we can also help you through social media,? The Firm?s representative said. ?We call this service ?buzz creation? or word-of-mouth generation,? the rep explained.
The Firm said that if hired for this service, they would invite bloggers to eat at Georgia?s restaurant and blog rave reviews. They would also create a restaurant Facebook page and make sure that a significant number would ?Like? the resto?s page. When the resto would be featured in a blog, they would make sure that there are positive comments on that post.
To the dear readers who don?t blog, let me give a briefer. A blog is one?s online page. For example, I have a blog where I talk about my restaurant experiences; its URL (site address) is www.margauxlicious.blogspot.com. A blog works like a personal diary or notebook (you could name yours Minnie?s Musings or Trina?s Travels) but it is instantly published for the whole world to see (or not, i.e. you can also opt to keep your posts private).
Posts could be as mundane as snippets of a lazy day, as heavy as Manolo Quezon?s take on the Arroyo Administration, as hurtful as attacks on a woman?s Belo?d boobs. But soon enough blogs became so popular that otherwise private personalities became public figures and personal posts became practically public sites. Some food bloggers have become quite powerful in the sense that a post could draw a crowd to an otherwise neglected restaurant or drive customers away by ranting that the service, the soup or some such thing was terrible.
Food bloggers, especially, were revered as reliable sources because they were perceived to be independent of any influence, paying for their own meals and untouched by PR firms. Certain bloggers, like the Marketman (www.marketmanila.com) or Lori Baltazar (www.dessertcomesfirst.com) have worked hard to maintain this integrity.
But PR firms have caught on. Marketing is no longer limited to tri-media or traditional media, i.e., TV, radio and print. It now also extends to social or new media: a website, a Facebook page, mentions on Twitter, online directories and blogs. The Firm that approached Georgia told her that if she was willing, they would make sure that her restaurant got positive reviews on the Net. Still, Georgia declined, believing that she would succeed on her own merits.
A few days later, Big Bad Blogger ate at her restaurant. He smiled, ate like a regular blogger, took pictures with his ginormous SLR, and paid for his meal. He wrote a raving review about the restaurant. She thought it was a sincere review.
However, a few days after THAT, The Firm called Georgia again. ?Have you seen Big Bad Blogger?s post?? they asked. Of course she had. ?He works with us. We have an arrangement with him. We can make sure that more bloggers write about your restaurant the same way if you hire us.?
How much? Georgia asked. The price demanded: P120,000 a month for a year. ?What?!? Georgia thought. ?These guys are crazy.? And again she gently declined. They lowered the offer to P80,000. (That?s P80,000 per month x 12 months or P960,000; almost a million bucks.) Georgia still declined.
Cut to a year later when Georgia opened another restaurant. Big Bad Blogger visits. Again, he smiled, ate like a regular blogger, took pictures with his ginormous SLR, and paid for his meal. This time, though, he wrote a scathing review. A few days after that, The Firm called Georgia again. ?Have you seen Big Bad Blogger?s post?? they asked. Of course she had. ?He works with us. We can make sure he retracts his comments and clarifies that your restaurant is not bad but really good after all.? For the same price.
One can draw one?s own conclusions from this. Maybe Georgia is overreacting to a negative review. Maybe The Firm was only claiming to have relations with Big Bad Blogger for their own sinister purposes, unbeknownst to Big Bad Blogger. Or maybe the suspicions are true and Big Bad Blogger bows to the highest bidder. Whatever the case, one thing?s for sure: Georgia is now afraid of the blogging community. And this fear resonates among other restaurateurs who have had the same experience.
In fact, when I asked Georgia if I could name her, she pleaded not to be named, afraid that the blogger might retaliate: ?They pretend to be unbiased and unpaid but they are now being used by PR firms.? She shared that for the launch of a dessert product, the PR firm invited bloggers and gave away Lomo cameras. ?But they?re worse than traditional media,? Georgia continued, ?because we never experienced that kind of extortion from food writers. What happens now is you have to pay the PR firm for your protection from these bloggers. The thing about blogs is that not a lot of people know that they are already becoming a PR arm.?
This is sad because the blogging community was that one last community that we could rely on for the truth (aside from the Sunday Inquirer Magazine, of course *wink*). Now while this is solely Georgia?s story, resonated by others who have likewise been approached by The Firm, for us writers, and especially for bloggers, it is likewise tragic, because it gives writing, in general, and blogging, in particular, a bad name.
There?s nothing wrong with expressing one?s opinion. Just make sure it is indeed your own. There is also nothing wrong with trying to get a free meal. Just please don?t make the rest of us writers and bloggers pay for it. Certainly neither writers nor restaurateurs have the right to tell the Big Bad Blogger or The Firm to stop doing business. This is just a little request to please not give blogging a bad name. We?re watching you. ?