An open letter to those who think my business is their business

So I attended the Tata Zest bloggers' meet 'Zest up your life' organised by Blogadda over the weekend, to test drive the car and live blog the experience. That, once again brought the animositical tweets crawling out of the word-work. 

While the above tweet was merely a speculation, the one that follows, by a talented female photographer, was clearly judgmental on how foodbloggers can only cook or eat. 
 And the one below shows that even so called friends don't care about etiquette in the online world. After all, this is India and you can freely go around asking people -"So what is your package?" and they are not even supposed to feel taken aback. 

The first two tweets were featured in Karthik's post reacting to the (over)reactions around the Tata Zest event hashtag that was merrily doing the rounds on the Twitter timeline over the weekend. I even complimented him on his balanced analysis, despite him using me as an example in his post (not naming me, of course).

A tirade was launched against me when I did a contest for a brand, a couple of years ago. Quite a few people I loved and respected unfollowed me for good. I've learnt to move on quickly, often ignoring such caustic comments and remarks, thinking these are the people who are either bitter by nature, or they are generally having a bad day and need to take it out somewhere. But sometimes, I don't want to ignore.

This is for those of you who were itching to ask or did ask one of the following questions:
"Why did she get invited to this event?"
"Why did a food-blogger go for a car event?"
 "She should stick to cooking and eating. Driving? Bah!"
 "How much did these guys pay her to get her to Goa?"
"Oh, she's a sellout, a free trip to Goa and a free lunch at Zuri, how can she refuse?"
"How much were you paid per tweet on that hashtag?"
"Are these paid tweets?"

I'm in a generous frame of mind today (from the millions I earned over the weekend, of course) and hence I shall answer your questions. 

In the days before you started watching stuff downloaded off torrents, you might have watched television commercials. Even today, if you listen to FM radio on your way to work, chances are you listen to more ads and less music. Ads are inevitable if you are not pirating content or buying a DVD / CD. Heck even those DVDs come with ads of other movies / series.

If you thought social media was born as a philanthropic idea of the internet for the sole purpose of sharing photos with your extended family or for having philosophical conversations and pun making in 140 characters, I am sorry to break your bubble. Social media platforms are built by companies whose primary monetizing strategy is advertising. Heard of Google and Facebook? 

Having been around on Twitter for around 6 years now, like it or not, I am a part of this advertising ecosystem. We are in a changing world. Apart from spending millions of $$ on celebrities like Amitabh Bachchan or Priyanka Chopra, brands are keen on focussing on micro-advertising, with small or no budgets, using what they call influencers in different fields. You can surely question my knowledge on cars just as you can question Mr.Bachchan's knowledge of jewelery or Basmati rice. The wide range of products he endorses may well mean he is the most knowledgable person on earth in every existing field. Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. People don't want to buy a car after listening to an automobile engineer's spiel on the kerb weight of the car or the maximum torque of the engine. They buy a product because they connect with the experiences and emotions of a common man. I'm talking about lay people here, not people who start their day with Jalopnik. You can well doubt the intelligence of the marketing team at Tata Motors for choosing dumb food bloggers or irritating mommy bloggers to talk about their car to their follower and fan base. You can even diss us for taking up this assignment, whatever our reasons for taking it up may be. But then you have to be prepared to take the only answer that is apt for all your comments and questions - which in polite words would be "none of your business" or in slightly harsher terms "fuck off".

I am an ethical person. I extend that to my blog. If I have eaten a meal sponsored by a restaurant, I label it as 'By Invitation'. If you're really curious to see how many free meals I've eaten in my 8 years of foodblogging, feel free to click on 'By Invitation' tag. 
Even on external websites, a sponsored meal, is clearly labelled as just that. I don't gush in any review even if it is a sponsored one. I will say it like it is, and I often make it clear to the person inviting me, that inviting me doesn't guarantee a glowing review. A lot of PR companies, do not want to invite me after that, which I am completely happy with. At least this way we have our stands clear and no one is in for any surprises. I do this all for myself, and my conscience. 

I am most definitely not obliged to do any disclosures on Twitter that so-and-so brand has hired me for 'x' amount of money. It's Twitter, not the Income Tax Department of India. And you have no business expecting me to. Just the way, I don't ask you, "Hey, how much is your take home salary?" or "What is your bra size?". What I do with my social media is entirely my business. I don't charge you a fee for reading my tweets, so I'm sorry you don't get to have a say in what I tweet. If I'm tweeting for a brand or doing an activity for them, I'm only giving my opinion and sharing my experiences. If you take that as holding you by your collar and forcing you to buy that product, I can only say "LOL". 

Dear Tata Motors, please tell me how many of my Twitter followers have already booked the car thanks to my tweeting your hashtag over the weekend! And don't forget to give me my percentage in the sales. LOL!!

What was amusing was, one gentleman was diligently following the hashtag we used at the event over the weekend, and then he was cribbing "Oh my God, these guys are spamming so much." How different is this from watching a saas-bahu megaserial and then cribbing "Oh damn, this is so terribly regressive and boring." And now, to those traumatised by contests and hashtag deluge on your timeline, I have four suggestions to save yourself from the wrath of advertising on social media.
  1. Even us sell-outs have some ethics. We always use hashtags. Right click on the hashtag and mute it. Don't know how to mute? Here, let me direct you to a helpful link
  2. Too lazy to mute or learn how to mute? There's always the Unfollow button. 
  3. You hate ads in general? Read up on Adblock plus and install it.
  4. Not up for any of the above? I have the best solution for you. Get off the internet :) 
Coming back to the question that's been eating your insides- what did I get for attending the event?
I got the thrill of driving the first all-Indian Diesel AMT car on the streets of Goa. 
I got the pleasure of networking with some amazing people and making a few friends. 
I got 15 precious minutes on the beach. 
Oh, I forgot about the 2 tee-shirts, which I'm willing to ship to anyone to asks for it (only within India, please). 
I would like to keep the customised Blogadda badge though. 
Yes, ALL THIS, at the cost of losing a weekend with my family, but they welcomed me with a warm meal and lots of hugs, that nearly made up for it.

Feel free to follow/unfollow me @saffrontrail :)

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