Drama Analysis Part 2: Controlling the Narrative

Why is there a part two? The better question is, why did I think there wasn’t going to be a part two? I know better than that.

Y’all, I thought this was gonna be a one and done

In The Last Episode

Where we last left off, Notebook company Scribbles that Matter had come under heavy scrutiny for using User Generated Content in a Facebook ad without permission (or credit as it now looks… more on that in a bit).

For the full semi-professional analysis of the initial statement put out by STM, read here.

In that other blog post, in regards to their apology (that they initially posted in one single semi-private Facebook Group), I said this:

The other issue with the low-key hard to find apology is that it doesn’t allow you, the brand, to control the narrative. You’re not talking about it, but you know who is? The people who are unhappy they got used in your ad. The snark groups on Facebook and Instagram. Local planner groups.

Me. Less than 6 hours before this post.

So NOW What Happened?

The drama loving, tea spilling internet happened, and now things are slowly trickling out about how this content was straight up used with no credit given on the ads and a very very VERY poorly timed legitimate request for User Generated Content that hit inboxes *today*.

Additionally I have had an individual who is one of the content creators who had their image used in a Scribbles That Matter (STM) ad reach out to me to give some additional info and answer some questions.

So… you know… the usual.

Serious Disclaimers

I am not a “tea blog”, and I don’t wish to become one. I am a professional digital content creator that has worked with entertainment and media brands on both sides of this equation. I enjoy analysing these sorts of situations going sideways in hopes that it could be helpful to other people who might find themselves in similar situations. I also like to hear the sound of my own keyboard clacking. I do offer digital consultation on the side of my day job to supplement my ongoing Starbucks habit.

I also want to be very clear that I don’t think that anyone involved is being intentionally malicious or deceitful, in spite of the fact that I am being a little snarky. I think that a lot of these planner adjacent shops “grew up” with their audience and making the jump from cottage industry to real company is not easy and fuck ups happen. Shit happens; fix it and do better.

Let’s dive back into this.

What Has Actually Been Communicated?

In response to my last post, I received a note from someone who is involved in this whole mess. We’re gonna call them Bob. Bob is one of the people whose image was used in the ad, and they’ve graciously offered some clarification on what they’ve been told.

According to my conversation with Bob, and subsequent snooping on the various posts to confirm things, they were not initially contacted when STM first shared their post on the brand’s socials, but Bob was fine with that due to the exposure and subsequent impressions that their work got. That’s typically how it goes with User Generated Content.

Bob found out about the Facebook ad campaign by coming across said ad in their Facebook feed and recognizing their own work. There had been no communication prior to the launch of the ads. A majority of the content creators ended up banding together to contact STM about the use of their images in the ads and ask for compensation, which went mostly ignored until this all started popping off. They offered Bob and Friends one figure, and the group ended up negotiating it to double that, but have yet to see the money hit their bank accounts. I am assuming it’s due to it being a weekend and there being a literal ocean between them.

One point Bob brought up that I will give STM credit for is that they have been fairly consistent. Not consistently great at communicating, but when they actually give information, it’s the same cut and paste letter across the board, blaming the “external marketing company” etc… And yeah, that’s really annoying when you’re in Bob’s shoes, but if you’re a brand dealing with something like this, the last thing you want is to have your communication person(s) deviate from your script.

As an aside, if/when I open my own marketing company, I am going to name it External Marketing Company because at this point I’ve typed it so much that just hits me right in the giggledick.

#InfluencerPayGap on Instagram also dropped some tea on this shit a few days ago. First panel is the message they got, second is the screenshots of said ads at play which also answered some of my question.

My big take-aways from all of this so far are:

  1. These ads show look like the standard format that are created using content that was already up on the STM Facebook page; meaning it was probably initially shared User Generated Content. From what I could tell from my own quick skim, the initial photo shares did credit accounts. We don’t know what permissions were given. I discuss the ethics of implied permission in my other post.
  2. The “external marketing agency” excuse is a little weaker with this information because the “external marketing agency” would need to be told which photos to use. Or they used the automatic “create an ad” feature, which that’s a really helpful tool but if you’re paying for an “external marketing agency” to help you with this stuff, then they should be doing a little more due diligence.
  3. My fear of regular people getting strong armed by seeing legal stuff and feeling they have to agree with whatever is put in front of them even though the creator has done nothing wrong was not unfounded.

Yuck. This sucks all the way around for everyone involved.

Controlling the Narrative

As of writing this on Friday night, there is still zero comment on any of STM public platforms about this and just one statement released in a semi-private Facebook group unaffiliated with the company. As of writing this on Friday night, I have seen multiple comments on their public platforms calling them out, some fairly pointed comments in response to the one statement the STM founder posted in said Facebook group, additional critical commentary and riffing in other Facebook groups, a fairly large Instagram account that specifically gives content creators the tools and language they need to negotiate, and at least one mediocre blogger writing ANOTHER post about this because I don’t want to play chess against my boyfriend anymore.

Who is controlling the narrative here? It’s not Scribbles That Matter

This matters a lot, especially for something that could be easily solved like this. The planning and journaling communities are so small. Shit… I’m not even in the group where STM posted their initial statement and I’ve clearly read the whole thing including comments.

By letting others control the narrative, you are letting them control your reputation, which means even if you put it all behind you behind the scenes, this will remain noted on your record as “shady”. And I don’t think that’s the intention here at all… I think you just want it to go away quickly because there are more important things to deal with right now.

Just, acknowledge it publically and AUTHENTICALLY; not the form letter that you shared in the Facebook group. Based on the conversation I had with Bob, the compensation is just one part of the issue. These content creators feel taken advantage of, and that probably wasn’t intentional and that sucks.

What the community values is honesty and humility. The story being told now is sneaky and underhanded. It doesn’t have to be.

Uh, You’re Welcome BTW…

While all of the chatter over all of this had been picking up all day, STM sent out an email with a proper ask for User Generated Content! With compensation of free product if they use your stuff!

I’m not saying that the timing of that email is suspicious given the fact it’s a UK based company and my blog post was viewed by multiple people in their country of origin, but I do find it interesting that I basically gave them a guide on how to do it correctly and they certainly did a better job of covering their asses with these things and they just so happened to launch their brand new first ever community initiative asking for user generated content with no extra fanfare extremely late on a Friday evening, even by US standards. I’m just stating a thing that happened.

Maybe it was the “external marketing company”?

But Also, BIG OOF

You know when isn’t a good time to launch your brand new first ever community initiative asking for user generated content with little to no extra fanfare extremely late on a Friday evening? When you’re trying to keep the lid on the fact you’ve been called out for using user generated content without permission.

When I did something wrong as a child and then tried to fib my way out of it or act like I wasn’t guilty, my mother used to tell me, “I’m mad about you accidentally lighting the bathroom garbage on fire, but I’m more mad about you not taking responsibility.”

We all see the bathroom garbage is on fire and you’re trying to put it out. But we also all know you’re the one who was sticking toilet paper in the candle and letting it fly because it looks “pretty”. Just come out and say that’s what happened so we can stick the trash in the shower and eat some damn nuggets.

The Influential & The Influenced

As I mentioned at the start of this, I don’t want to become a tea blog, and my interest in talking about this isn’t to turn beloved brands into Shane Dawson. I think that this whole sloppy joe is actually a fairly common situation between niche brands and the people who use their products; they are closely intertwined. The lines between business and buddy are really blurry sometimes. The lines between hobbyist and budding influencer are equally blurry. In our conversation Bob even mentioned that part of the reason they were not initially unhappy about STM sharing their post is because it was good exposure for their account and they were really enthusiastic about the company.

If you are someone who posts on social media, you are an influencer in some form. If you are a company who is encouraging people to tag you in uses of their product, you are using influencer marketing. It doesn’t matter how many followers an account has; those posts have value and need to be thought of and treated as such. There should be a trade of value if you are wanting to use something that someone else created. That could be as simple as additional exposure on a platform; that could be a million dollars. The key is to be transparent and honest before you make assumptions.

I have no witty ending, and I’m really hoping I’m not going to be writing a part 3. Enjoy Ben Schwartz dancing as Conan O’Brian as a conclusion.







One response to “Drama Analysis Part 2: Controlling the Narrative”

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