Friday, May 25, 2012

Reasonable Rumination: Reviews, Sponsors, and Gratis

I thought I'd take a time out from normal activity and just talk a little about my philosophy on reviewing products and making recommendations as a beauty blogger.  I recently started thinking about my standards in blogging, and some of my criticisms of the activities I see going on around me, and I decided that I'd write about my standards - make them real, out there in the atmosphere, standards to blog by, if you will.  (Note: These are not guidelines for blogging.  Rather, they are standards for maintaining integrity and honesty in your craft.)

1. Be honest and upfront
This goes without saying.  If you want to rave that something is amazing and people should try it, you have to mean it.  If you work for a company or are affiliated with them in any way, you need to disclose that information.  Have you ever taken an online survey about energy drinks or checking accounts and they ask you right away if you work for one of those types of companies?  They want to make sure you're not biased.  I think your blog readers or YouTube subscribers deserve the same.

2. Never accept payment for a review
Taking pay for reviews puts you in line with celebrities that endorse certain products.  We laugh when we see foreign ads with big American Hollywood stars endorsing some random product, but think about it - do they honestly use it?  We've gotten so jaded and so used to seeing them make millions of dollars allowing their face and name to be associated with fast food, shoes, cars, energy drinks, whatever that we don't even trust them anymore.  Justin Timberlake sings about McDonalds?  It must make you young, good looking and rich!  No!  We know better (and if you don't, stop reading this now).

Today's market is flooded with beauty products, and more are introduced every day.  We look to beauty bloggers and the beauty community on YouTube to review, demonstrate, alert, and educate interested consumers on what's out there, especially when it costs a lot of money.  When you accept payment and endorse a product as a recommendation, you compromise the trust your readers and viewers have in you, and your integrity is called into question.

3.  Receiving products gratis
To me, there is a distinct difference between receiving payment for reviewing a product and receiving a product for free to review.  Companies send out products for people to try and review - not only does it help them with their own product development and marketing, but it also helps them get exposure and hopefully land new customers.  As long as you're not obligated to review in a certain manner, there should be no problem with testing a product for free if you disclose that you got it for free.

Where the water gets murky is when bloggers want to keep receiving free products and the honesty of their reviews is compromised.  We all enjoy free stuff, especially if it's new and we get to try it first, but as beauty bloggers (and those who make videos), we should maintain that honesty and integrity when reviewing products, even if we receive them for free.  Companies don't learn from false reviews (and although they may sell products, they won't maintain customers), and bloggers who endorse everything they receive don't gain trust from readers.  Make your word matter... review things honestly, and when the "cream rises to the top," so to speak, your endorsement will be all the more valuable.

4. Sponsored posts/tweets/videos
Lately I have noticed a lot more videos and even tweets that are sponsored, meaning the poster was paid to do it, or receives some sort of incentive to discuss a product.  Companies like MyLikes allow you to sign up and "advertise" products or companies for financial incentive.  I don't know about you all, but I never click a MyLikes link on a sponsored tweet.  I don't click their links on videos either, and when I see that a video was sponsored through them, I stop watching.  I'm not sure about you, but to me, this is the same as being paid for a review - see point 2.

The other type of sponsorship I see is giveaways where a company provides the prize for free.  A lot of people in the beauty community do these, and I don't see anything wrong with them.  It's great exposure for the company doing the sponsoring and a nice way to give back to viewers/readers/followers.  Just make sure the giveaway is legitimate, and that you are not giving your personal information to a scam.  If you have to pay anything, then it's not a giveaway.

5. Affiliate links
Affiliate links are another muddy area, and they seem to be increasing tremendously lately.  I see beauty bloggers tweet things like, "oh I just got these boots!" or "what do you think about this?" and the links are affiliate links to various shopping sites without disclosing that they are affiliate links.  My philosophy is this:  if you would not tell your best friend or your mom to buy from that company; if you would not endorse them with your real name for zero compensation; if you honestly could not put that company above others in its category, then WHY are you affiliated?  Making money off your readers should never be your goal.  If it is, you're in this for the wrong reasons and your word is meaningless.  I do think it's okay to be an affiliate as long as you're honest about it.  I, myself, am an affiliate for Sigma.  I love them, would and have told my best friend to buy them, and would endorse them for free with just as much enthusiasm.

Those are my thoughts on the standards for blogging.  I know that most of us are open and honest, and would never even think to create a set of real standards, but I have been seeing more and more beauty bloggers and vloggers (you probably can guess many of them) who are becoming increasingly questionable in their word and integrity, and it saddens me to know that so many people are being misled, which puts the whole beauty community, including those of us who are honest, in jeopardy.