Like in life in general there are several ways to look at everything – gifted is it for the good or bad?

This article is all about Food Bloggers, Influencers and Gifting – you may not know but to help promote a business a company may send a product to an influencer who they hope will like it and in turn will share it on to their posts or story’s for possibly 100’s or 1000’s of people to see.

You may not know that big named food bloggers may get paid for posting – up to £450 for one post or story and may possibly get hundreds or even thousands for promoting a brand. 

So, you can see why some bloggers want to grow and enjoy the free stuff!

But are they going about it the right way?

There has been a bit of a back lash from business owners complaining about food bloggers requesting free food, especially in these uncertain times of a pandemic. One pie company posted on twitter that some big food blogger who he didn’t name had e mailed asking for 6 pies to be sent to him – the general consensus was disgust. 

Then an Australian company went viral with his response to the constant message he was getting during lockdown for freebies from local influencers, when he felt his business was struggling to stay afloat.

It was on reading that that gave me the nudge to decide not to accept any gifted during lockdown. But instead support as much as possible in other ways – so I wrote several blogs on Norfolk delivery company’s, farm shops etc We decided to have a takeaway from a local independent every Saturday night, I decided to buy the majority of my shopping from different local producers, delivery company’s and farm shops, plus add the occasional delivered treat in as well as giving a weekly amount of money to charity’s in need and of course while blogging about all the good food in Norfolk for at least 2 hours a day. I do see it as a job – I take it very seriously and really enjoy what I do. For those that don’t know me I also run 2 other businesses – so do the blogging bit in-between everything else. 

Then I felt guilty for not accepting gifted as I then couldn’t post about it and thus help them out a little in these uncertain times – Of course I could buy absolutely everything, but my incomes gone down after the closure of my cookery school and the summer food tours I’ve had to cancel not to mention my holiday barns – so I do as much as I can, but there has to be a limit.

But it’s nice getting gifted, it’s a treat, offering a feel good feeling – it makes you feel valued especially if it’s to try and in turn give feedback on a product. You get to know the taste of a product, the look the feel –  the knowledge. Then you get content by way of posts and story’s – thus promoting the product in the process – always helping out.

So, after I turned down my 9th or 10th gifted – I decided to re think the whole thing – Because after all I’m in-between a rock and a hard place in gifted emotions especially during corona times. I understand both side of the coin. Both as a blogger and as a business woman. Ive had bloggers ask me for a £500 summer time weeks holiday for a post!

But back to the immorality issues – there are several local bloggers who blatantly ask for free stuff, they message round all the places offering a post for a free meal. One place told me one person asked for a family meal for 5. We are talking independent food business here, struggling to make a decent income to cover the bills. One business got so huffed by it all – he storied #gifted several times in frustration. 

There is also bloggers who don’t offer clarity in their posts – if its gifted by the rules of the ASA you need to state it is.

www.asa.org.uk_ influencers have to be clear on advertising. Ie. the CAP code endorsed by CMA  – gifted, invited, promoted, paid etc needs to obvious to the reader – hence the #gifted on the post or story. Of course, it’s easy to forget to add it sometimes especially on stories and you can’t re-edit them but it’s important to have clarity as an influencer.

And this does annoy me, one asking for FREE and the other not even saying its FREE as if you’ve been a good boy and actually paid for it to help businesses with their actual bills – I’ve never asked for anything free, but of course I’d be a hypocrite if I said I’d never had free. I probably get send 1 – 3 things a month, 1 – 4 invites a month along with the odd launch party. Plus of course I ask Norfolk producers if they would like to take part in my monthly competition. Plus I did ask a few companies for 50% off when I was promoting Secret Menu norfolk – because that way I knew they would cover costs plus get free advertising but I must of spent weeks working on that free promotion.

Me and the world of blogging has grown only in the last few years – 

A year ago me, Miss Holly Parish a lifestyle and food blogger and Gary the Fry Up Inspector got together to form Norfolk Food Bloggers, with the aim to support local business and put all the food bloggers under one umbrella plus put on free events in the city. Like our free social media workshop with all proceeds going to a local charity. See our latest Social – a Cocktail evening next Friday (22nd May 7pm) Plus connect food bloggers with food businesses.

A few years ago I had no idea what a hashtag actually was  – its certainly been a learning curve on principles.

Let’s not forget the reason all this happens is because it works – you rub my back, I rub yours (not literally please, I’ve got arthritis)

Let’s look at it from what I do when I get a freebie – Lets say I’ve just been invited out to try the new menu at a chicken shop for example – I go, I drive, I park, I spend 30 mins maybe taking photos with my expensive phone camera and costly light machine, I have a chat with the owners take some notes. The food comes – sometimes I get to choose sometimes your there to try new dishes. I take more pics – YES I get to enjoy the food, YES I get an experience. I then maybe do 2 – 4 story’s and possibly a video clip thought out the night. I Then go home and spend maybe 1 to 2 hours editing pics, putting them together with a post – retweeting, reposting, generally supporting that business. And because I’ve felt valued I tend to carry on supporting that business because I now have brand loyalty – re-storing interesting posts maybe.

They may well get dozens of new followers, they may well get a fare few new customers. They get exposure for a free meal which may have cost them a tenner or so and a little time. How much would a half page spread in a magazine cost.

It simply works – that’s why Media company’s use influencers, that’s why they get paid a small fortune in top cities all over the world to promote. Like it or loath it – –

Its proven – in the old days we would go on Aunt Vera’s recommendations or heresy about a new opening, on a half-page spread in the local journal – now it’s all media led, great food images coming up on your feed – luring you in.

I’m a consumer too – most of the places I visit (pre-lockdown) I would go to 1-3 cafes / restaurants a week would be from seeing images all over instgram or twitter about them and of course happily paying. People phone me, message me or e mail me all the time about recommendations, I even have a free directory online which gets funded from my cookery school – people want reassurance that if they go out and spend a good portion of their wages it’s gonna be really good and suit their tastes.

And if I see a picture of a piece of sour dough toast dripping with bacon fat #brixandbones – I’m there and if someone tells me it’s made with Norfolk produce I’ve probably just been and happily paid for it, plus left a tip.

I asked the opinions of my fellow Norfolk Food Blogger buddy’s and a couple of local business. – Here’s what they said – – 

What Fry-up Inspector had to say – 

(I asked Gary to talk about the positives)

I generally visit my favorite places to eat at weekends and buy the food I enjoy. I love photographing the food and feature it on my social media platforms. I never approach companies asking for gifted food as it’s not something I personally feel comfortable doing. Companies sometimes approach me though offering gifted food and drink. If what they’re offering is something that interests me and I feel I can help them to expose their product I accept the offer. I’m very passionate about getting the best photos possible to make a post successful and to have a big impact on sales for the company I’m promoting. I don’t like the term “freebies” as it completely undervalues the time and passion I put into getting the right post out there. The food might be gifted but a lot of time goes into a post and the outcome can generate a lot of new customers for the company I’m promoting. If I don’t like a product I don’t feature it and I’ll offer the company constructive criticism on how they could further develop it. I’m always very transparent when something is gifted by adding #gifted to the post.

Thanks Gary (as we know him) – he wasn’t wrong when he says he loves to take pictures, sometimes we have to wait endless decades so Fryup can get the best shot – he sometimes wonders off with the food to find natural light  – but it does pay off as his grid looks super tasty, he definitely sold food to my taste buds.

What Fry Up didn’t mention is the proven fact that after he posts a positive post about say a ‘breakfast’ or Roast Dinner, they will almost certainly get new customers, certainly more followers and like one place in particular it got booked up for 3 weeks straight.

While we are at bigging the power-of-the- post thing up – I run competitions every month, I get nothing from it just extra work and of course the satisfaction I’ve helped a Norfolk business out. But as an example, Heydon Tea rooms told me they got 200 new followers from the promotion – they gave away an afternoon tea for two and got a good percentage of 200 potential customers. Which in turn being media peeps will possibly post too – – and the roll continues.

What did Ciscoes have to say –

We find food bloggers to generally be very helpful in creating traction to our page and business. We have had a couple approach us but if they are asking too much, we will explain that we are a small independent business. They are mostly understanding. Cons can be that there has been confusion in the past on what we offer through how a blogger has portrayed their visit but generally we’ve had a positive experience.

What did Honest Kitchen say – 

Having just started out as a business in the middle of a pandemic it was difficult for us to advertise and spread the word about our offering when everyone is isolating. Giving a few free meals to food bloggers did help us build up our following on social media as customers heard positive feedback from a trusted source and were therefore more likely to give us a try. On the downside as a small business run by three people during this trying time, giving freebies to food bloggers is not always feasible financially. Nonetheless I believe it did help us to get a kick-start over social media and encouraged customers to order from us.

What did Holly Parish, Food and Lifestyle Blogger have to say –

 (P.S – I asked her to tell me about the negatives)

With every positive method of promotion comes negatives too, more so for the business than those promoting it. My best advice is to know the red flags to look for and do a little research on who you are working with, as what can look great on face value may not always be as it seems. Being blinded by the light of thousands of followers can be very easy to do and think that this is the most powerful denomination to go by, particularly if you are new to social media and not that savvy on these platforms!

In the blogosphere its each to their own on what they choose to do but I personally choose to grow my accounts organically. When you are working with a local market of small businesses it can make people feel quite vulnerable and intimidated too when approached that they aren’t able say no to these huge ‘influencers’. You may be a local business account sitting at around just shy of 1000 followers and looking for a boost in the growth of your online presence and you get approached by a blogger, who is local and appears to have 20/25/30,000 followers and you think; ‘Great, this exposure is priceless, the cost of a meal is far less than any advertising would cost!’ However, what you may not see on first glance is that out of those 20,000 followers 15,000 are bots in Saudi Arabia which have been purchased to make ‘one’ look more successful and your hopes of the success it may drive has been on a fallacy. Sure they have a local following too, I’m not saying it is not worth it, but it’s often not as mammoth as it may initially look. In my eyes fairness, transparency and integrity is important in any business relationship. This is where micro influencers have become as popular as larger names in recent years across the blogger market of all industries as their following tends to be personal and local with a great rate of engagement, which can be just as valuable if not more than someone with ten times the following who doesn’t engage, so bear those in mind! Followers may be more inclined to trust those who not only get gifted but explore newness themselves and purchase too out of love for what they do!

If you are thinking of working with bloggers for your business look at some of the things which will add value, and think about building ongoing relationships too when you are offering #gifted items! I would check out the follower to like ratio, if for instance 10,000 people follow them but they are hardy hitting 100 likes per post then they most likely have either a. bought a chunk of their followers or b. are not engaging as a 1% engagement is poor! Check out the comments on the posts too! Are they engaging with their audience and replying and chatting and making a #gifted promotion worthwhile and more than just a photo of your food/ product? Bottom line in a nutshell- make sure that the influencer you are working with wants more than a free meal to eat and that this is a collaborative a relationship.

Not doing it properly or with good intention gives what we put so much time and passion into as bloggers a bad name!

So back to me Zena –  are we clear on gifted yet – 

I think so – 

  • As a food blogger we have a responsibility to be honest, clear about if its been free and trusted in our opinion.
  • If you’re a business you need to be clear about what you want out of it too and what your offering.
  • If you’re a company and want cheap cheap promotions should you embrace it – well unless you’ve tried, you’ll never know.
  • Should you get messages asking for free stuff – probably NO, especially in these days of a pandemic.
  • Should you collaborate, join in competitions, giveaways and use social media for the free tool that it is – absolutely yes.
  • Should I feel guilty – NO – I work very hard and give as much as I take, more probably. 
  • Does gifted work – 150% yes – that’s why its evolved to the thing it is now and it will only get bigger as I get older and fatter.
  • Should Food Bloggers be loved or loathed – Come on guys we work hard, yes, its delicious work but we put in hours a day so you can eat smart, while local businesses get busier. 

By Zena Leech-Calton ©


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Image of a paid for Xo Kitchen dessert – – – you want it don’t it !