Anyone who has been in the blogosphere for more than 10 minutes (which is pretty much everyone including my 9-month-old daughter) knows about the mostly symbiotic – occasionally parasitic – relationship between sponsors and bloggers. At first look, it’s pretty simple: companies want their product to get good Internet buzz, bloggers love try free stuff and blog-readers (who are quite often bloggers themselves) love to get free stuff. Everybody wins!
Until it gets complicated.
Behind the scenes:
1. Sponsors often have a lot of rules governing giveaways and product reviews such as how many posts must be run, what key words must be used, what sites need to be linked, what commenters need to do to win, product pictures and so forth. This varies from company to company with some being super duper control freaks to others that are totally hands off and chill. And sometimes you don’t know which way it’s going to be until you’re committed.
2. Individual bloggers often add more rules on top those like giving extra entries for tweeting/facebooking/linking the giveaway on their own pages.
3. Ad networks, like BlogHer and FoodBuzz, have their own rules on top of all the other rules for giveaways. For instance, a giveaway must be hosted on an ad-free page or must be under a certain dollar amount. To further confuse things, the ad companies sometimes sponsor promotions and giveaways themselves which change the rules yet again. And if you break any of the rules there is a penalty.
In Front of the Scenes: (um, wha? What word am I looking for here??)
1. While I’ve never had a company tell me the opinion I must have about their product, I have had some companies lean pretty hard on me to give a positive review. And while I try to stay objective – my first obligation is to you guys, not to them – it can get tricky, especially if they are paying for the review and/or are giving away a valuable product. I’m going to be totally honest: it’s really really hard to give a negative review of something when you’ve gotten it for free. There’s a reason you hardly ever see a blogger write anything bad about a company or product – if I can’t find any positives about a product, I’ll usually kill the review rather than put up a negative one. Bloggers typically don’t make much money (if they make any money at all) from our blogs, so a little free swag goes a long way.
2. Some companies will give me free stuff to try. Others will give me free stuff and offer freebies for my readers. Still others will offer stuff only for my readers. And still others will give away free product and pay money for the review. Thanks to the FTC ruling last year (which I do think is a good thing), bloggers now have to be a lot more transparent about how exactly we’re being compensated but there is still a lot of confusion. Companies that are giving away stuff and paying for the review will often have very specific ways in which they want their product blogged about – which is totally fine as long as everyone is up front about it – but this agreement takes the blogger out of the “impartial reviewer” camp and into the “paid employee” camp. Every blogger handles this conundrum a little differently. Some don’t use ad networks so there will never be a conflict of interest. Others refuse to do giveaways. Some refuse to do a product review unless they buy the item themselves or have sought out the company (rather than the other way around). Most of us accept the products and just try to be really open in our blogs about the fact that we got it for free and hope that you guys will understand that.
3. Readers have different reactions to reviews/giveaways. Some people live for giveaways and will never comment unless it is a giveaway post (which doesn’t bother me in the least, by the way). Other people feel abused by the blogger and/or the company when a paid review is put up, saying that a blog-vertisement is a lot different than, say, a column ad down the side of the page. I’ve had impassioned readers e-mail me ecstatic about the giveaways and others that are furious that I’m “selling out.” In addition, there has been concern in the blogosphere about how winners are chosen. Sometimes the company chooses the winning comment. Sometimes they’ll let me choose but specify a random number generator must be used. Others give me no direction. Most times I am involved in the process.
For myself, even though it creates a lot of extra work for me (communicating with companies, running the contest, contacting winners, writing targeted posts/tweets/etc., setting up extra sites/pages for the ad company rules and so on), I’ve felt like the giveaways are worthwhile because I love being able to hook you guys up with cool, free stuff! I’ve even taken on giveaways before for things that I’m not all that interested in because I figure that it will be perfect for one of you. But a few e-mails from readers lately have got me rethinking that stance. I would really appreciate your feedback on this! (Sorry for the interruption to our regularly scheduled health, fitness and craziness programming. It will resume as usual on Monday.)
So now I’m asking you guys: How do you feel about product reviews and giveaways? I’ve created a handy poll below (click through to my site if you get this via a reader or e-mail) so you can stay anonymous if you like. Feel free to add any additional thoughts or tell me about how you run giveaways/reviews on your own blog in the comments. I’ll take all the advice I can get!
UPDATE: MizFit is covering this same thing today! Great minds think alike, eh?