Show Me The Money! A Review Of Product Reviews

It is very common in the blogging world to do a review in exchange for product. Are they really a product reviews or just free advertising? How should a blogger be compensated?

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I work really hard on my blog everyday. I can go out on a limb here and say that it is much more than a full-time job. I work for free most of the time but I like my boss, so that’s ok. But will I work for free for someone else? It depends, but in general, no. Too many years of being in the corporate world has jaded me from ever going above and beyond to line someone else’s pocket with cash ever again.

During my daily dose of blog post reading today, I came across an article by SuzieSpeaks about a hashtag that had been trending. I did not go check out the fuss on Twitter or the original post that sparked the hashtag. To summarize, I get that the discussion was about an unfavourable review done by a blogger because of an unrequited exchange of product for the post.

I am not going to go into the “was it wrong or right”, merely because I haven’t read the original post and can’t possibly know what the original agreement was. Obviously, there was a  miscommunication on both sides as to what was expected by the other.

The problem I have with all this is the word “review”. We see that everywhere in the blogging world. Commonly, there is an exchange of review for product. I have to say that this totally infuriates me! I do not believe that these are true “reviews” but a flagrant attempt by companies to get free advertising from bloggers.

These companies are not looking for honest feedback for their product but recommendations and links from a reputable, established blog. Not to mention the huge bonus of a blogger promoting that post across all of their social media platforms. If you know anything about marketing, you know that product has already passed a test market analysis in which free product was given to target customers long before it hit the shelves. They don’t need a “review”.

And really, reviews should mean reviews, good or bad but I don’t think a company would like it if you posted a negative one. Pretty much every blogger I know, only posts positive reviews. Wouldn’t it be in the best interest of your readers to do the negative ones too? Shouldn’t you let us know what sucks? But I get it. If you post negative reviews, the chances of you getting asked to do more will probably go down.

It costs absolutely next to nothing for a company to give out free product. I have actually watched a video in which a marketing executive freely admits that their motto is to throw out as many requests as possible, sometimes to hundreds of bloggers, and see who bites.

The blogger on the other hand, uses the product, writes a review, takes, edits and adds pictures, tags, categorizes, and maximizes SEO, adds links to the product, the company’s home page and all their social media links. Then the blogger blasts it repeatedly on Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest et al.

Personally, I think that bloggers should be compensated monetarily for their work on a review/sponsored blog post, for the promotion of said product AND for giving the company access to all of their blog followers.

Honestly, if you do posts for products, I get it. I’m not saying to not do reviews and I do not look down on those that do. I’m just saying to value yourself and the work you have done to build your audience plus the work you do on the product review post itself. I know many bloggers, five years in, still doing reviews for free product. Is that where you want to be in five years? Not sure any bank takes mortgage payments in face cream but I haven’t tried.

I’m just saying, be careful, especially when you are starting out not to fall into a trap you may never be able to get out of. Even if you do it just for your own reference, make a media kit. Define for yourself, what you will and will not do and for what in return. Make it clear to yourself and it will be easier for you to be more assertive when approached. I truly regret a few instances in which I did do things for free against my better judgement merely because I was flattered to be asked. Rest assured. You were not the only one contacted.

Of course, there will always be the cases where exposure from a high-profile company makes it beneficial for you to work for free. The return may not be immediate but can be measured in future benefit.

Keep in mind as well that free product is still payment for services rendered. Technically, a value must be added to the goods and added to your income for tax purposes. Isn’t that the extra kick in the pants? Not only did u do all that work for free but now the government wants their cut from that. Hope someone at the IRS office can use those poise pads.

Before everyone jumps down my throat, I did say that the decision is an individual one and what each blogger decides is their own prerogative. I am merely trying to point out that most bloggers are really giving free advertising in the disguise of a review.

Don’t like what I said? Well, it’s my blog and I’ll rant if I want to. Check out this post by Ripped Jeans and Bifocals about sponsored posts too.

P.S. I have done a review of Estee Lauder Product I purchased myself. I got nothing but a hole in my wallet and nice skin.

Thank you for reading!

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  1. I see this all over the creative world. Artists are constantly asked to enter “contests”, where their winning piece will garner them SO MUCH EXPOSURE, but exposure doesn’t pay the rent. And guess what he next company wants? You to promote their stuff for free because they know you’ve done it before. I haven’t monetized my blog yet as I really want to do my homework and figure out ways to go about it without ending up in this trap. I used to think that people like me couldn’t even get started without selling out for companies, but I need to start being more assertive and demanding my work be fairly compensated. Only problem is, no one seems to agree on what “fair compensation” really is!

    1. Well the great thing is that 1) you are building an audience before you monetize and 2) you get to set your rates.

      If you have waited to monetize then you can afford to turn down jobs that do not compensate you fairly.

      I agree. I think bloggers do put themselves on a track that they find difficult to get off of once they are on board. It sounds like you are very sensible and I wish you great success.

  2. Great post and insights. I agree with your take on “reviews”. I’d love to see a blog that shares honest – positive and negative – reviews that are not written in exchange for free products. I’d probably look at that blog as a real resource, like a Consumer Reports of sorts. Surely there’s a way to monetize that sort of site that would be just as beneficial (if not more) than getting free products…

    1. Unfortunately, honest reviews would probably mean not being compensated by the product company. But there are other ways to monetize and I think if bloggers would take that on, they would fill a huge niche. You tube is very successful at honest product reviews. That is where I go.

  3. I’ve written a couple of book reviews and on one of them I said they could have left out a lot of extraneous material. It went on and on and on.

    I do travel reviews for the disability audience and get free accommodations in return. It helps with our finances as well. I don’t know what you think of that, but reviewing a place from the accessibility angle fills a need for my audience and gets us a trip away from home!

    I did a product review recently of a new “midlife” skin care line that also compensated me. That was wonderful!!

    Love to hear what you think about my travel review angle. Thanks for an excellent article that is much appreciated!

    1. Hi Cathy! To me, and maybe some will take offence to this, but free travel accommodations are different than a product made for 25 cents. Monetarily, what you are getting for free is grossly different in terms of cost of goods received.

      You are providing a great service Cathy!

  4. I agree with what skinnyandsingle wrote. I was approached a few times to promote some fitness products and infographics. I decided WTH, can’t hurt. I asked for some freebies but they couldn’t do that (mind you, these were both insurance companies…no $$ for freebies, really??). The last straw was when, getting no guidelines, once I posted, they had the nerve to ask me to make changes. I did not and fired back an email and said so, and to not contact me again.

    However, I am blogging for a family member’s new fashion accessories line and getting paid for. Totally different circumstances, and done in collaboration with mutual respect.

    Elena, this was a brilliant post and brought to light many important issues for bloggers.

    1. I just want bloggers to be careful. It seems when there is no payment involved, no one goes over expectations of each either. That’s not good.

  5. I’ve been guilty of helping promote other writers and bloggers but they sure as heck aren’t paying me! I can barely keep up with blogging – can’t imagine taking on anything else even if they paid me. But you know – to each his own.

  6. You’ve made some good points, Elena, and something for every blogger to think about, whether they agree with your stance or not. I don’t think I’ll ever be wildly popular enough to attract anyone’s attention but I would work for books. 😉

      1. You are funny, Elena – your fudge sundae response and the last two sentences of your post made me chuckle. 🙂 Having said that, I’m glad to read your post as it’ll make me start thinking about a media kit. I guess I ‘ll need to search the web to find examples.

  7. Well said, Elena. I do a lot of book reviews in exchange for books, but I don’t always write ‘good reviews’. I remember someone once telling me that I must keep in mind all the hard work authors put in to publish their books and give them positive reviews! I responded that I too put in a lot of work into my blog, but don’t expect to be a given a free pass when it comes to bad grammar or presentation!

    Just yesterday, I turned down a sponsored post from a finance company who all put wanted me to do a complete advertisment of their products and services. I had written the post in a general way and briefly added their details. When they kept pushing me for more, I told them what they could do with the money and published the post without any links to them! However, I’ve seen so many other bloggers ready to jump through the hoops for real or imagined compensation! They don’t realize that they’re spoiling things for themselves and other bloggers too.

    About the #BloggerBlackmail, I’ve seen many food bloggers in India all but threatening restaurants with poor reviews if they don’t get free food!

  8. I tend to skip any posts that are “reviews” mainly because they all seem to review the same product at the same time (loved your reference to Poise btw – that was one of the ones that was everywhere) and also a washing powder pod etc etc. Nice to read a post from someone who isn’t fond of them either 🙂 ~ Leanne

  9. Yup – I agree 100% and I never trust reviews that are paid for anyway. I have an aversion to blogs that are promoting products but dressing it up to look like an ordinary blog post. C’mon – we ain’t stoopid! I especially dislike posts that promote to us ‘older women’ or talks about ‘style’ for older women. I find it arrogant and condescending. I love your point about banks not taking mortgage payments in face cream. That has been my retort for years when people proudly tell me they have done something for free for a company – I always say, ‘well that will pay the mortgage!’ Like you, I feel if people want to do it that’s their prerogative but unless there is a definite bonus in it for me in terms of genuine exposure or payment, why would I waste my time and skills for someone else to gain?

  10. Very timely post (and not just because of #bloggerblackmail). This is something I’m starting to think about now. I’ve done a hadnful of reviews on my blog, so far all things I’ve bought myself or via competition wins, but I have been thinking about the possibility of acquiring free products to review so this is food for thought.

    I can the point of only publishing positive reviews. I don’t mean lying or deceiving your readers, but simply not publishing the more negative reviews, UNLESS the product is dangerous or seriously deficient in some way and you think it’s really important to warn your readers off. Aside from the possibility that bad reviews might make brands less likely to approach you, I can see that a blogger might only post positive reviews because they want to tell their readers about awesome things that would make their lives better, and not necessarily things that they need to avoid.

    A reader may buy something on the basis on the basis of a blog review, but will they really NOT buy something because of a negative one? If the product is really that poor there are probably plenty of negative reviews all over the internet already, so how much good would a negative review do, other than possibily change the overall vibe of your blog?

    It’s a tricky one and I haven’t yet made up my mind. I think the one thing I am sure of us that it’s vital to be honest, professional and polite.

    1. It is a tricky one for sure. I have to admit that when I am in the market for something, I will actually look intentionally for the negative reviews so I can decide if the downsides I can personally live with. So I really appreciate those reviews.

  11. I like getting free products and will only work with products that my family actually uses. And I say no to anyone that wants anything for free. It amazes me how many people want free advertising as if I don’t work hard on my blog. Great post. We all deserve the right to our opinion right?

  12. I was lucky enough to be asked by a company to promote, for free, their crap. In exchange they would blast my post all over their social media pages and make me a blogging star!!!!

    Paid Stumbleupon traffic they said. I got six.
    Facebook statuses daily they said. I got zero.
    Constant tweets they said. Nada

    I got used, abused and felt like a common floozy…(that was my mother talking, even she knows)

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