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Brands Push Back On Partnering With Social Media Influencers


Now for All Tech Considered. All this month we're looking at the growing role of social media influencers in our economy. Brands are expected to spend up to $10 billion on influencer-related marketing by next year. There is, though, a growing backlash. NPR's Julie McCarthy takes us to the eye of the storm, the White Banana bar on an idyllic island in the Philippines.

JULIE MCCARTHY, BYLINE: With its gin-lined shelves, beanbags and barefoot surfers, the White Banana bar overlooks the Pacific. Italian Gianluca Casaccia, owner and manager of this hipster watering-hole-cum-guesthouse made a splash when he denounced proposals he'd received like this one.

GIANLUCA CASACCIA: Hi, I'm coming with my girlfriend and a friend the 23 to the 27 of July. We will need three rooms, food, accommodation for three days, and I put you in two stories and two posts.

MCCARTHY: Such entitled-sounding inquiries landing in his email drove Casaccia to Facebook to post, no more collaborations with self-proclaimed influencers. It went on.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: And we would like to suggest for them to try another way to eat, drink or sleep for free - or try to actually work.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: That was heat No. 2 of the airborne competition. Coming up next, heat No. 3.

MCCARTHY: Casaccia touched a nerve on the teardrop-shaped island of Siargao, fabled for its surfing. Mayan Benedicto leans on the railing of the Cloud Nine viewing pier and soaks up a recent Sunday competition.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER: Surfers in three, two, one...


MCCARTHY: A travel and food blogger with more than 11,000 Instagram followers, Benedicto says she's in the industry, not for a glamorous lifestyle but to share her love of travel.

MAYAN BENEDICTO: Because I want to encourage Filipinos to travel, I post a lot on Facebook. Both Instagram and Facebook, I have people messaging me, being inspired by my photos and inspired by my travels. And that's already enough for me.

MCCARTHY: Unlike the people who emailed Casaccia, she says her policy is no freebies.

BENEDICTO: Because then there's this idea that they have control of what you say, or you're pressured to say what they want you to say. And I don't believe in that.


MCCARTHY: As repairmen hammer a new roof onto a lodging along a cafe and resort-lined strip of Siargao, Mark Roa, part owner, waves us in. A travel blogger and island tour operator, Roa says he's not surprised that bar owner Casaccia's Facebook post elicited 14,000 likes. He liked it too but says the influencer community was stung by the bar's approach.

MARK ROA: They were trying to generalize that influencers are, like, the cancer of social media. They're, like, the - (laughter) - that's how it sounded. But the influencers and business entities can actually work harmoniously.

MCCARTHY: Forty-five-year-old Anton Diaz is among the leading social media authorities on food and travel in the Philippines. He rejects the label influencer, mostly because of the bad connotations. Diaz pioneered travel blogging here 14 years ago. And his site, Our Awesome Planet, is comprehensive - chock-a-block with photos and information.

ANTON DIAZ: It's now considered as a long-form narrative.

MCCARTHY: And today international brands come to him. National Geographic commissioned Diaz last year to provide a content campaign for their cruise through the Galapagos. The secret to his success...

DIAZ: The main secret really, here, is you have to know your audience.

MCCARTHY: Diaz produces content for four different audiences - the Gen X, millennials, the youngest Z Generation and active seniors. Gianluca Casaccia says he'd consider collaborating with influencers who produce quality content. He's even memorialized the industry at his White Banana bar.

CASACCIA: We made a cocktail (laughter), we call it Influencer. So now it's one of the best-seller. It's very good, actually.

MCCARTHY: An ounce of bourbon, a splash of Cynar, a bitter digestif and wild honey, a best-seller. Julie McCarthy, NPR News, Siargao. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Julie McCarthy has spent most of career traveling the world for NPR. She's covered wars, prime ministers, presidents and paupers. But her favorite stories "are about the common man or woman doing uncommon things," she says.
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