I’ve encountered a few articles and blog posts over the past couple of weeks that address the ethics and value of reviews and posts that are written in return for payment. Most of these posts address the role of the blogger in these campaigns. Because I frequently counsel my clients and team on these matters, I thought it made sense to sit down and actually share my views on the responsibility of the marketer in this arena.
As a PR practitioner, I have certainly been involved in review campaigns. We have absolutely sent out product to bloggers in the hope that they would write a positive post. However, my team has never paid for reviews. We have never required bloggers to write anything at all in return for the product. When we send out product, do we hope that bloggers like it and write something positive? Sure we do. But we also understand that the most valuable blog post is one that is honest and REAL. When a group of bloggers blindly endorse products that are not relevant to their lifestyle, does that actually have any sway over purchase intent? I understand that it might affect the product’s Google juice, but will it drive sales? When a blogger posts positive reviews about every single product that she receives, does it still mean something? When bloggers write advertorial copy in return for a gift card, are their readers engaged by it? My answer to all of the above questions is a resounding, “no.”
First, it makes sense to take a look at why mom blog content is valuable in the first place. I don’t want this to turn into some weird history lesson on mom blogging, but some background is important here. The first mom blogs were personal blogs. The posts were personal stories about life with kids. So, when a mom endorsed a product, it was because that product had actually helped her, or moved her in some way. I often give the example of Chris Jordan from Notes from the Trenches. I have been reading Chris’ blog for over four years. (Disclosure: she is also a friend.) Chris has seven children, and a couple of years ago, she wrote a post about the toys that are big hits in her household. I immediately added EVERY SINGLE TOY to my kids’ Hanukkah list. Chris was not paid to write about these toys. She wasn’t writing about the Colorforms kit in return for a gift card. She was writing an honest post about the toys that have survived her seven kids, and I trusted her word.
Back to the history lesson… Eventually, people realized that there was money to be made and web traffic to be gained from sharing product information. The mom blogosphere evolved. There are now review blogs and giveaway blogs and coupon blogs. There are still personal story blogs, and I would contend that these remain the most influential when it comes to affecting product purchasing decisions. They are also the hardest to break into from a PR perspective.
To get coverage for one of our clients on a blog, we have to do a lot of research. We have to be 100% sure that the product we are promoting is relevant to the blogger. We have to make that connection crystal clear. This is hard work, but I think that the hard work is what makes our campaigns impactful. We don’t send out mass emails. We don’t rely on a gift card to get coverage. We don’t take the easy way out. The easy way out can certainly garner a multitude of posts, but do those posts mean anything? Again, the answer has to be, “no.”
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