There’s a lot of talk about Influencers and Bloggers behaving badly. All around Australia, people have been using their so-called influence to nab a freebie. Here’s my view on Cous Cous For Comment and why it’s so important that the hospitality industry is aware of it.
#CousCousForComment is a hashtag used mainly by renowned Australian Food Journalist John Lethlean to hold rogue influencers to account. It is so necessary in the food influencing game. The term “cous cous for comment” comes about from the idea that some influencers (be they foodies, lifestylers, travel, whatever) approach businesses for free meals. This is rude – not to mention damaging for struggling hospitality businesses during a pandemic.
Back in the 1980’s, 90s and even the early noughties, food blogging was not even a thing. Can you imagine… snapping a carefully taken photo of your prawn cocktail with a Kodak, then running down to the 1hour developers, and quickly shoving the glossy images in a photo album to bore friends with. Ha! Now anyone with a smartphone has a license to scrounge for a freebie.
When I started my blog in 2013, I’m sure the term “Influencer” didn’t exist. If it did, I may have shied away from blogging, as that’s not really my thang. It’s all about the food and the story behind what’s on our plates – not me. The term influencer makes me choke a little on my avo toast. I’m not comfortable with it. Sure, there are some amazing food influencers out there doing a stellar job. However, more and more it feels like everyone is an influencer, and it’s all just a bit too much.
I started my blog to give the little local guy a shout out, not to get a freebie. Unfortunately, there are many people that start an Instagram account precisely for the blag.
What are Some Influencers Doing?
Some influencers are sliding into the DMs of hospo businesses, asking to “collaborate” or “partner” with them. This recently happened to Lara, owner of The Sparrows Nest Café, in Vic Park. She did a great job calling out the “IG Beggars” and they promptly closed down their Instagram account. Well done Lara!
The messages to cafes from these rogue instagrammers does vary. It’s basically something along the lines of “I’ll give you a positive Instagram post in exchange for a free dinner for two”. To the uninitiated restaurateur, this may even seem like a reasonable exchange, if the influencer has 50,000 followers. What businesses need to be aware of is to not be blinded by big stats. Some of these accounts buy a large portion of fake followers to boost their following.
There are some practices that (to me) are ethically wrong within the influencer world…
Some influencers buy followers. This is a big problem. I first noticed this around 2017. A lot of Perth foodie accounts went from having a couple of thousand followers to suddenly having a five figure following overnight. Bought followers are fake and used to boost the overall following figure. Some accounts also buy fake likes on individual posts.
Some influencers use bots. This is an app or program that logs into Instagram on your behalf and automatically likes, follows and comments on other photos for you. I hate this, the comments come across as spammy and generic. The amount of times some accounts have followed/unfollowed me is ridiculous! It’s not an authentic way of interacting. If you get a like from me I can guarantee I personally I have double tapped with my own digit. I didn’t even pay my dog to do it.
Some influencers use pods. A “pod” is a kind of Instagram/Telegram messenger group, where influencers can like and comment on each other’s posts. It’s basically hundreds of influencers swapping likes and comments, to boost early engagement and beat the IG algorithm. So that’s how that mummy blogger you follow gets 650 likes for a picture of toothpaste or rubber gloves. Truth. Many people swear by them, so some might not see them as misleading, like I do.
If, for instance, an instagrammer has a collaboration with a local Perth market and a tone of people from his/her pod bombard it with likes and comments, is this authentic? Great for boosting engagement, but if the pod members don’t live in Perth, they’re never going to visit the market. So where’s the value in the collaboration for the little market?
These tactics are all used to try to beat the Instagram algorithm and to gain more followers. I can’t subscribe to anything that isn’t authentic, it would mislead my followers and the local businesses that I occasionally work with.
Follow Blogs. REAL, Authentic blogs.
I talk about “influencing”, and I reluctantly put myself under this umbrella. I prefer to go by “food blogger”. Even that makes me cringe a little. It’s a funny old thing, it really is. I don’t want to be seen as someone who’ll drive 80kms for a free burger. That’s not why I do this. I want to help the hospo industry where I can. That’s not to say I won’t accept an invitation, but there has to be a much greater proportion of posts that I’ve authentically visited unannounced and paid from my own pocket. No one wants to see a IG feed full of gushy ads.
If an IGer gets invited to a restaurant, or is gifted product, they should ALWAYS disclose this. So many Perth accounts don’t. I know, as I’ve been there at the same events. They could be raving about the latest soufflé pancakes, and you don’t even know they ate it for FREE.
I think somewhere along the line, the focus got shifted to the instant gratification of Instagram, and away from more long-form blogs. To be a blogger takes time. A 250+ word blog post, with images, takes commitment. It’s not a photo shoved on Instagram with a caption and emoji. Of course there may be bloggers that are a bit dodgy and there are some incredible instagramers that have tones of passion and are 100% legit.
#Invited should not mean #InvitedMyself. Using hashtags like #Invited, #Gifted, #Sponsored #Ad etc are not just there to be transparent and open to our followers. Full disclosure is required by law. Frankly, I’m surprised that nothing is done about it.
What About the Restaurants?
Asking for freebies is bad for businesses. Some little cafes may be approached and they think that’s “the done thing”. It’s not. I would never dream of messaging a restaurant for a free meal and rocking up with 6 mates (yes, that’s happened!). We should not be taking advantage of the hospitality industry, which is already struggling during the pandemic – see my latest Perth restaurant closures here.
What John Lethlean is doing with Cous Cous For Comment is brilliant. He’s calling out these complete numpties and posting them on his Instagram account. I’d urge any Perth café, restaurant or bar to do the same. Hopefully it will kill off their entitled attitudes.
Some restaurants do see value in working with Perth’s digital foodies and that’s absolutely fine too. They can invite people to dine as their guests at their own digression, if they feel that will bring something to their business. Occasionally I’ll take up a freebie, and I’ll ALWAYS disclose this.
What is wrong, is setting up an Instagram account, buying 15,000 followers and then asking for a free meal – based on the “big following”. Or having 1000+ likes on a Instagram post, but when you delve deeper the majority of “likers” are bot, fake or spammy bitcoin accounts. This is fraud and I’m surprised people in Perth haven’t got in serious trouble for this. You may as well be dining and dashing as far as I’m concerned. These are the people that need to be called out with Cous Cous For Comment.
Something more should be done about Instagram influencers that scrounge for a freebie. Or even those that don’t ask, but appear to have a large, engaged following, but it’s actually a largely bought/fake following. I see these people at events, enjoying free food, free holidays and accommodation, the works. I’m sure it will catch up with them eventually.
There really should be a code of conduct, and simple common-sence ethics when it comes to the influencing world.
To my followers…
Please know that when you read my blog I have never used a bot, a pod or bought followers. And I never, ever will!! If i’ve been invited for a meal, or gifted a product, I will ALWAYS tell you.
And to my fellow bloggers and influencers…
The best thing any food blogger or Instagram influencer can eat is a big slice of humble pie. We’re not experts or seasoned journalists. We should be cheerleaders with a passion for food, not for freebies. This is social media at it’s worst. Please use your platforms to help our wonderful hospitality industry grow and flourish – not bite the hand that feeds you.