Daisy Buchanan | Contributing Writer | Tuesday, 17 February 2015

Ask An Adult: How Much Free Stuff Can You Score Using Your Social Media Following?

The Debrief: And more importantly, how do you blag free stuff if you have a modest 149 Twitter followers and an Instagram account you can't remember the password for?

Illustration by Assa Ariyoshi

It makes me feel a little bit sick to type this, but apparently we’re all brands now. If you ever use social media, there is a lurching zombie executive out there somewhere who is desperate to harvest your delicious brains. Even if you’re not on social media, that is somehow a big part of your personal brand too, and someone is plotting a way to make you into an ‘influencer’ at this very second. We are all shills.

And if I’m honest, I quite like it. I have spent tens of pounds on L’Oreal products in the naive and misguided belief that they would make me look more like their spokesperson, Blake Lively. Any idiot could tell me that Blake Lively looked like Blake Lively long before anyone rolled up at her house with a million dollar contract and a case of BB creme.

But when a normal person, someone who isn’t married to Ryan Reynolds and doesn’t run a spurious business based on the idea that we might want to pay them thirty quid for a jar of jam, says, ‘I like this moisturiser/movie/sandwich, it’s good!’ it’s worth paying attention. This is an effective means of selling and all sorts of companies want to tap into the power of our personal brands, which means FREE STUFF FOR ALL! Sort of.

So how do we enjoy our new consumer powers? What’s the best way to celebrate the fact that we can enjoy the same perks as famouses by making your own YouTube eyeliner tutorials or being a hashtag game queen? And how do we make businesses work for us – and get them to listen when we’re telling them that not all is as it should be?

Lisa* a beauty blogger who wants to stay anonymous says, ‘Blogging is a brilliant way to score free stuff, but unless you have a following of hundreds of thousands, you’re not going to get to pick and choose products from big brands. New companies will be keen to court you, and if you want to, say, write a round-up of the best new mascaras, you can put a shout out on a site like Response Source or Beauty 4 Media and call in the products.’

I won’t write about something I don’t like and I won’t write about something I’m not interested in. I quickly lose respect for blogs that do.

However, Lisa warns that you need to proceed with caution. ‘You really do need to have an interest in writing about what you’ve been using. Once you have good relationships with PRs, you can score all sorts of stuff, but no-one ever ran a successful blog by focusing on the freebies. They’re a lovely perk, but ultimately you have a loyalty to your readers and followers, and you will damage that relationship if you talk about how great everything is, just because it’s free.

Amy Jones, who blogs at http://www.shecookssheeats.co.uk/ agrees. ‘I don’t ever let my content be changed for money or by a brand. If I think something sucks I won’t say it’s great just because a brand sent it to me. I won’t write about something I don't like and I won’t write about something I’m not interested in. I quickly lose respect for blogs that do.’

Obviously, bloggers are adept at picking up freebies but what do you do if you’re just a simple digital native with 149 Twitter followers and an Instagram account that you can’t remember the password for? Well, most brands are looking to build a relationship with all their fans and followers, so you might need to do a bit more scouring but it can definitely be done.

Hotelied.com offers social media users discounts on hotels across the US – you just link your account with your social networks and find out what sort of discount you’re eligible for. The bigger your following, the bigger the discount, but if you’re on Twitter and Facebook you should manage a respectable 20 per cent.

If you follow @SkintLondon online you can find retailers who want to offer free and cheap stuff to social media users in the capital. Around the rest of the UK, check out the accounts of local newspapers and magazines for deals. And periodically, you can score a free Starbucks coffee or pick up a Pret sandwich – most major chains will be trying to woo Twitter followers.

A lot of freebies materialise organically, if you’re following accounts that reflect your passions. Social media user Maria says: ‘I don’t have a ton of followers, but I get loads of free books by following writers and publishers. They’re really keen to send out review copies if I leave feedback on Goodreads or Instagram.’

Using Twitter to get goods isn’t nearly as popular as going online to complain about the bad. If you search the reply feed for any major retailer, it will be full of shouty people complaining.

Branding consultant Leonard Cates explains: ‘It’s only right that internet users should get some compensation for participating in what is essentially a PR exercise. You might not be Oprah, but the people who follow your blog, or your Twitter or Instagram are paying very close attention to what you have to say, so you should use that power if you can.

‘It’s valuable because your voice is authentic. As soon as it stops being real – and you start tweeting about the hot new rib restaurant when you’re a vocal and committed vegetarian – your voice and presence loses its value.’

Using Twitter to get goods isn’t nearly as popular as going online to complain about the bad. If you search the reply feed for any major retailer, it will be full of shouty people complaining.

Nina*, who works for a popular travel and events site says: ‘There used to be a time when complaining online had results, but the trouble is that so many people do it now, it’s lost its power. If we see you shouting at our Twitter feed, we’re going to assume that you’re trying to get something out of us because of the loudness of your voice.

‘If it’s a legitimate complaint, it’s best to email, really. Personally I’m not going to want to help someone who thinks that having 20,000 Twitter followers they can ‘set’ on us makes their problem more important than someone with 200. That said, if a complaint is politely worded and genuine, it will stand out and I’ll pay attention.’

Anna admits to using Twitter to complain, and reveals that although it worked, she probably wouldn’t do it again. ‘British Gas sent this massive bill to us and totally overcharged us – I was FURIOUS and sent them 10 irate tweets. It got fixed eventually, and they were really helpful, but looking back, I realise that mistakes happen and I was venting. I wouldn’t want strangers to hear me ranting down the phone to Customer Services, but I did exactly that.’

I’ve acquired a few excellent Twitter freebies in my time – a giant chocolate D for Daisy (thanks, match.com!) a scented candle, a salon discount for tweeting about my new haircut. I’ve also turned down freebies, which either means I’ve made it, or makes me a total idiot.

I was offered a trip to Paris this morning, but it would have meant writing about something I really wasn’t into covering, so I said no. I suspect I will never, ever get invited again – but I’m going on my own dollar in a couple of weeks, and I think that will be much more fun. I was also asked to be the ambassador for a bracelet brand, but I’m fairly sure that was a front for some kind of cult. 

Ultimately, if you’re going to buy into the idea of having a personal brand, you need to own it – and that means you don’t give it all up for a free packet of chocolate biscuits. If you cash all your chips, you won’t have a brand any more, just a pile of lip balms you don’t really use. 

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Follow Daisy on Twitter @NotRollerGirl

Illustration by Assa Ariyoshi

Tags: Ask An Adult