I hate writing blog posts that hide critical names/information, but in the interest of the concerned parties, I’m forced to do so, this time!

I’m part of myriad groups online and one such group is a city-based ‘blogging’ group. Do not ask me if all members in the group blog…blog regularly or even blog at all. I do not know.

I noticed a mail from a social media agency representative, to the group last week and it simply said that one of their clients, a globally known fast food chain was interested in hosting a ‘blogger’s meet’ for the members of this group!

Hmm, that’s interesting! The first thought that crossed my mind – why this fast food chain and why this group? Did the group display any specific affinity towards fast food, or the kind of grub this chain is known for? I do not recollect seeing any.

So, if the blogger’s meet happens, what does the fast food chain get out of that? Are they planning to offer free food for the members when they meet in their outlet? Should they ‘blog’ about the experience? The details will perhaps be worked out, but it was vague in the mail.

And to think I/we (in the past) trawled all over the web to find people, in a city, who may have expressed something about a client or it’s industry before even shortlisting them for a blogger meet/tweetup!! It was a humongous effort to make sure that every participant who lands up has something at least remotely to do with the brand, brand profile or brand’s industry. Of course, we did invite the so-called local social networking stars too…they seem to be the drivers in getting others!

That brings me to point 2…local social media stars!

If you are in an agency, doing something remotely to do with social media, you’d have come across them.

Even in the above example, one of the local social media stars offered to be the ‘spokesperson’ of the group, while, I believe the group has a moderator too (someone must have started the group and IS the moderator!). That’s where an interesting turn occurred.

Another member blamed the group for 2 things – that the group’s inertia in meeting more often is broken by a commercial brand offering it’s venue. And, that the group may be pimping/slutting itself just because a brand is calling them!

The debate went on a tangent from this point onwards about the ethics of that fast food brand and about the fact that a brand is calling them (via a social media agency) for a meet for no specific purpose but to grace their outlet. It went on to such an extent that the social media agency representative who opened this offer posted an apology message to the group! The brand or the social media agency’s head may have noticed the debate, I suppose!

This is an interesting direction for all things blogging/tweeting in India.

First, the brand or its agency did not consider what it could have gained out of it or, more importantly, what is in it for the people it is inviting.

Second, the pimping/slutting angle is very similar to last year’s outrage in the US about blogging for cash/gifts. The amazing thing is that in the US, there was at least a blog post as a quid pro quo…here, in India, given the abysmal state of blogging, even that is missing. It is simply akin to a brand selling its wares outside a college campus…just that, an online group has taken the place of a physical destination.

Now, just imagine, what would the group members do, after the bloggers’ meet? Will they write about the experience? Possibly, if that experience was customized and memorable in some way. What is the main tone likely to be – that we got free grub at this fast food joint for just being a member in this group? Is that likely to increase sales? It could increase word of mouth, but wouldn’t that mean extra membership for the group, in the hope that they will be called the next time the fast food chain organizes another free-for-all?

Forget ethics – that’s a deeper thought. Just look at it from what the brand gains for the effort in time, store space and free food value. How different is it from just opening the doors of the outlet and letting people have free grub? Just because the door opening was done, figuratively, online, does it become ‘social media engagement’?

Compare this to the traditional marketing technique of announcing a contest, where you’re asked to buy a pack of something and write a slogan. That at least had 2 elements – purchase and a mild show of skill, to win the prize. This invitation sure seems like a new way of doing ‘social media marketing’!