Brand Ambassadorship & Blogging

Do you trust product reviews on blogs?

When it comes to writing about (and endorsing) products, the line bloggers walk can be as treacherous as walking across Niagara Falls on a tightrope. Balance is important but determination, faith and focus on the end game also contribute to whether you’ll drop in the drink or make it to the other side safely.

Writing product reviews isn’t new or even unique relationship though. Magazine and newspaper writers and editors have been doing it for a long time. What’s new is how the writer/blogger is paid – and that’s what makes the issue tricky.

Writing a product review for a magazine

Writing product reviews

As a former editor for a national print magazine (ePregnancy) product reviews filled a substantial portion of our editorial. It provided content and a way to incite advertisers. Here’s what the flow looked like:

  • The managing editor assigned me, the senior editor, the product reviews
  • I doled out assignments to writers
  • Products were sent to the writers (from the manufacturer)
  • I edited and submitted the stories along with product shots and logos of the brands
  • If needed, a fact checker called writers and interviewees to confirm quotes
  • Stories were edited again (by a copy editor and finally the managing editor)

While the editing process for a magazine is clearly much more involved than it is for many bloggers, there’s also another very big difference. The magazine paid the writer – not the manufacturer. And because the editing process involved so many people, the tone of the review was litmus tested multiple times before it hit the stands. Overly enthusiastic (as well as brand damaging) reviews were massaged so articles provided helpful buying information.

As an editor and writer I never knew what kind of advertising would eventually sit beside my editorial in the published magazine. And I was rarely told which brand to review – just to review a certain product. If it was a round-up, I’d find 5 stroller brands and compare them, for example. In other words, the advertising didn’t affect my review because it was handled by a different department. The magazine paid my bill, not the manufacturer.

Writing product reviews on your blog

uber-positive brand ambassador

Bloggers who write reviews face unique struggles most magazine writers don’t. Because bloggers are paid to write reviews on their blog by the manufacturer, that unbiased, journalistic distance is lost. What’s more, most bloggers aren’t trained journalists and when it comes to being unbiased, training matters. And it’s natural to want to please the hand that feeds you.

Bloggers have some terrific advantages though. They are the publishers, editors and writers of their content, which means they can get personal with the products and brands they use, talking much more intimately about their personal experiences. They have a community of followers that trust their reviews and will ask questions they wouldn’t ask a magazine.

Bloggers are relationship curators

Because the reader relationship is as important as the advertising relationship, conversations on a blog post can get deep fast. The blogger becomes the communication channel between the product and the consumer. And because those relationships are strong, bloggers can provide brands with valuable product insights – talk about free crowd sourcing for product research and development.

Many bloggers work with brands over a long period, which means relationship grow and blossom overtime. Sometimes the association between the blogger and the brand becomes so strong, the blogger becomes a naturally appointed brand ambassador. Ambassadorship is more powerful than a review because it ties the bloggers hard earned reputation to the brand – and that has equity.

Not all bloggers embrace integrity

marketing strategy

It’s easier to spot a hack in the blogosphere than it is in a magazine – mostly because of the editing process. Writers who sell their soul for free products are weeded out by good editors. If everything a writer delivered to me was always sunshine and roses, I questioned and did my own fact finding before accepting their work. If the facts didn’t add up, that writer was relegated to the slush file. Writers who consistently delivered product reviews that simplified the buying decision of my readers became part of my go-to-writers group.

Bloggers rely on brands to pay their bills and finding the balance between writing an honest review and nurturing the brand relationship is downright treacherous.

Let’s get a few thing clear first though…

For the bloggers

  • Receiving a product for free or a trip to a fabulous resort, all expenses paid, doesn’t constitute a relationship.
  • Free product is not payment. It’s part of your job.
  • Writing product reviews and not being paid for your time devalues your work and the work of your fellow bloggers.
  • If every review on your site is 100% positive and lacks critical comparisons of similar brands, what does that say about your integrity – to your advertisers and to your community?
  • If you have critical comments about a product or a brand, offer them constructively and thoughtfully – gratuitous negativity is as damaging as overly-effusive positivity.

For the manufacturers

    • Engaging a blogger to write a review is the same as buying media – metrics are important.
    • If a blogger is unwilling to be transparent about traffic numbers, why are you looking at them?
    • While metrics are important, engagement is too – factor in anecdotal conversations in your final report.
    • Do you want honest, thoughtful reviews? Read other reviews from that blogger before entering into a relationship.
    • If you want your product reviewed, monetary compensation is part of the conversation. You work for money, so do bloggers.

For the readers

  • Reading multiple reviews on the same product is simply smart buying practice – caveat emptor.
  • Give equal weight to comments on a blog post as well as other posts by the same author – integrity (and the lack of it) is easy to spot.
  • Understand the blogger/manufacturer relationship and then get over it. If you’ve done your research, you’ll know which bloggers to trust.
  • If a blogger review has helped you, let the blogger – and the manufacturer – know.

So let’s hear it. What do you think of blogger reviews? Do you use them? Do you trust them? How do you feel about the blogger/manufacturer relationship? What advice do you have for any or all of the participants?

Share your comments below or shout out to me on Facebook or Twitter – let’s continue the conversation.

6 Responses to “Brand Ambassadorship & Blogging”

  1. I have not written very many reviews at this point, but when I have been asked I only accept them for products that fit my blog. Also when it comes to the payment issue, I believe payment means different things to different people. When doing a restaurant review, a complimentary meal was given to me as well as a gift card to giveaway to one of my readers. A free night out was a satisfactory payment in my eyes. Other companies have approached me about promoting their business, but without any compensation. I have turned those companies down as they do not feel the obligation to reciprocate in any way, nor have they tried to build a relationship with me after learning my expectations.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi Lisa,
      Thanks so much for taking the time to read and for your comment. I think you hit the nail on the head – compensation. I can’t tell you how to run your business or what compensation should look like for you – only you know that. But there should be some compensation of some kind, right? If that’s a dinner and you feel that’s a fair trade, then it’s fair. If you feel you’re being used and not valued, that’s where you need to step and say something – which you do so well. Thanks for contributing to the conversation.
      Julia

  2. For me as a blogger who has done more then a few reviews the keys to me are an honest opinion of my interaction with the brand, event, etc. For me a review is equal to you and me sitting down for coffee and me dishing the dirt, or telling the tale of why i am enjoying xyz.

    As for payment, I have taken everything from free product for me and one to giveaway so my readers can try it too, to full payment when reviewing. I do now expect to be paid when offering services.

    Now when invited to an event, etc the night out, is usually payment enough, but I do know some who charge just to show up.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hi Hollie,
      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I like how you approach reviews – an honest conversation between you and a friend. I’m curious if you’re ever critical in your reviews or if you save those comments for a private conversation between you and the brand manager? As for charging just to show up for an event, that’s whole nother kettle of fish 🙂
      Thanks for stopping by!
      Julia

  3. Lisa says:

    As a blogger who sometimes does product reviews, I’m always cognizant of what products fit my blog, and my lifestyle in general. Recently, I was invited to be an ambassador for a very large brand, but since it did not fit in with my lifestyle, I graciously declined. While I grappled with the decision (big brands don’t come calling often!), it’s one I feel good about because I am being authentic to myself and my brand. I can’t write about something I don’t love, and I hope my that is evident to my readers.

    For me, a good way to maintain integrity is to reach out to companies whose products I’ve already tried and love, so the review is just another step taken toward building a relationship with a brand I admire and use. I usually don’t receive compensation for the post (other than the product I’m reviewing), but in almost every case it’s a product I would typically buy anyway, or one I want to try, so I feel the compensation is fair. To your point about there being bloggers who “sell their soul for free product” and are quick to be weeded out, I find it interesting that there are many who do this yet still continue to receive brand solicitations…they blog about one product, then the next week (or day, sometimes!) they are promoting a comparable product from a competitor. I’m amazed that brands don’t pick up on that more.

    As far as unbiased writing is concerned, while I would never publish a completely terrible review, I have no problems pointing out areas of improvement (in a constructive manner, of course) so that my experience with the product comes across in my review as real and relatable.

    Many writers consider blogging their profession and, while it’s not mine (I have my own company; blogging is on the side), it can get tricky to balance making a profit and maintaining the integrity of the blog.

    Thanks for a thoughtful – and thought-provoking – article.

    • Julia Rosien says:

      Hey Lisa,
      Thank YOU for stopping by and leaving such a well thought out comment. This issue is certainly not black and white and we all come at from so many different angles. I really like your comment about constructive criticism – which I think is at the heart of a useful review. Giving a balanced review means letting the brand know where improvement is needed – no product is 100% perfect. Bloggers who only focus on the sunshine and roses shortchange the brands they work with – and themselves.
      Thanks again for joining in the conversation!
      J~


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