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Read This Before Sending Free Stuff to Bloggers …

I2m_nokia770_2 Karl over at ExperienceCurve posted an interesting question for bloggers yesterday about how you would react to getting free products as a blogger and what sense of obligation you might feel.  Nokia is experimenting with this, and just about every consumer products brand I work with is considering it and trying to find the right way to do it as well.  This has become a hot topic as services like PayPerPost now offer a very real way for brands to purchase something that was previously only attainable organically — word of mouth.  Alongside these services has been the debate about ethics, transparency and whether giving people free stuff can ever result in real authentic word of mouth.  WOMMA is dedicated to answering that question.  The journalistic approach is to avoid accepting any "gifts" as this could be seen as bribery.  Governments and large NGOs often take the same approach.

I2m_briggsbaseline_3 Yet as we all know, the blogosphere is a different animal.  Bloggers have opinions and unlike many folks in public corporate roles, most bloggers feel inclined to share their opinions.  Good blog writing comes from having a personality and taking a specific point of view.  Recently I posted about 5 brands that I believe in.  Briggs & Riley, a luggage manufacturer, was on this list. After my post, the PR team from Briggs & Riley contacted me and asked if I would like to try out a few pieces from their new Baseline Collection – no strings attached.  I accepted, noting that I would provide an honest review of them and disclose to my readers once I received them that the company did send them to me, and that I was not directly paid to speak about them. 

Why did I accept?  And more specifically to Karl’s point, if I hadn’t written about my love for Nokia’s new NSeries – how would I feel about being approached by Nokia?  One of the points from a 7 tips piece I wrote some time ago to help PR folks more intelligently "pitch bloggers" was about how it’s ok to provide products to bloggers, as long as they are relevant.  Taking these tips a bit further here are five principles I would suggest to marketers interested in getting a product into the hands of bloggers to talk about:

  1. Be selective and choose bloggers for a reason (industry, subject matter, previous posts, etc.).
  2. Tell bloggers why you chose them – and help them understand that it was exclusive.
  3. Require full disclosure from the blogger about what you have given them.
  4. Don’t be afraid to ask them to write about their experience with it (positive or negative).
  5. If they don’t write about it, there is probably a reason – so just let it go.

For good pitches that meet all these criteria above, I am usually more than happy to help – whether it is testing out a product, reading a book, or reviewing a new website idea.  I have done many of these in the past.  As for the Nokia question – if I got one, tested it out and liked it … I would definitely write about it from a marketing point of view.  If I didn’t like it, I would probably return it and not post about it at all.  The best outcome of a good outreach effort to bloggers is that they will feel respected, honored and talk favorably about your product or service.  This respect can also likely open up a communication channel where blogger will share negative feedback with you and your organization more privately rather than choosing to publicly declare all shortcomings.  Seems like an upside either way, if done right.  Any other opinions on this?

  • http://blog.experiencecurve.com Karl Long

    Really good post Rohit, I think your example of Briggs & Riley is an excellent one. That’s clearly a company that is listening to the blogosphere. Somehow I hate getting pitched when it’s not a good fit, and love getting pitched when it’s something i’m really interested in. I was just pontificating on David Armanos blog that maybe another approach is a more overt “brand ambasidors” program like the link to fiskateers.com

  • http://darmano.typepad.com David Armano

    Nice points and nice distinction between people who happen to have a blog and journalists who get paid to write and report stories.

  • http://johnbell.typepad.com John Bell

    One detail that I believe is really really important. Maybe a 6th point:

    #6 – Be clear about whether you are allowing the blogger to keep the product or want them to return it. There’s a practical and proprietary concern here. Firstly, you may want the product back and don’t presume a blogger will understand that – I wouldn’t (not that anyone is sending me luggage). But the ability to keep the product clearly represents a greater value afforded the blogger. Most reporters would not keep product. I believ it is okay for bloggers to keep the luggage so long as they disclose it. That way, I as a reader can decide how much weight to put on what they say about he product.

    By the way, Mr. Luggage, before my trip, I tried to buy a B&R bag based upon your positive WOM. Of course the dopey store didn’t have the one I wanted in stock. I got a Victorinox. I had another bag by that brand. It has been magnifico. So, Victorinox, if you want to get in the game, I can be reached at……..:-)

  • Rolf Olsen

    I’m not sure how I feel about keeping negative feedback private, or only between the blogger and the provider of the product. It seems to me that even publicly expressed negative feedback on a product can have a positive impact — IF it is presented in a constructive way. (Personally, I always respond badly to reviews that are snippy or self-righteous.) Then, when or if the company responds, perhaps even by incorporating suggestions into new versions of the product, they win again because they have demonstrated that they are actually listening.

  • http://www.ameliatorode.typepad.com Amelia

    You’re right. Everyone is thinking about this – if the Bloggers are the new “gatekeepers of cool” as I was confidently informed by a client, what can you do about that? It’s interesting, I think most Bloggers would actually be flattered. Then the question is which tool do you use to determine who the key bloggers are in your category?

  • http://marketingroi.wordpress.com Ron Shevlin

    Here’s another reason not to send free stuff: According to research from Forrester about the sources of information that consumers trust re: product reviews, the least trusted source of information was an online review by a blogger, trusted by only 30% of respondents.

  • http://www.brandstorming.com Jim Durbin

    Ron,

    I don’t trust those numbers. 30% of respondents is a poor measure. There are maybe a couple of hundred blogs that I read that I would trust a review from, simply because they have earned my trust over time.

    The other 12 million English speaking blogs – I know nothing about. Does that mean I trust reviews in blogs?

    The problem with paid reviews and product shilling is the lack of scalability. You trust people online when they have earned your trust. Too many companies selling products don’t yet get the blogopshere’s relationship with readers (and companies like PayPerPost are ruining that dynamic).

  • http://mindcomet.com MindComet

    I totally agree with your thoughts on keeping your blog transparent and letting people know whether or not you are actually being compensated for your posts. One reason why I’m not against the PayPerPost model is because they are not only disclosing their affiliation with the company but they are also not swayed to take any particular tone. They are simply asked to write about a brand one way or another. Very good thoughts here.

  • http://www.brandstorming.com Jim Durbin

    The other problem with PayPerPost is they have this habit of leaving comments on blogs and not identifying their source.

    Mindcomet, the author of the previous comment, is the company behind PayPerPost – both were founded by Ted Murphy, and whenever these conversations pop up online, these comments appear.

    Fake comments, Fake blogs. What’s not to trust?
    link to kidddynamite.blogspot.com

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  • Anonymous

    Maybe when you did give them your feedback you were very true and tried to be as real as possible! But will others do the same justice. WOM is one thing but point#6 by John was also the other thingwhich immediately came to my mind after reading this!

    I am not so sure about getting positive blog reports after getting paid for it… Its like purchasing your loyalty.. Not sure about the thought but maybe I will post another comment after I am a little more clear in my mind. All in all very helpful indeed.
    regards

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  • http://profile.typekey.com/MBhave/ mbhave

    Hi,
    Interesting!! I think a negative feedback would be very diffiult to find. The ‘test’ marketing of products with direct end users,”blogger” would naturally induce a huge amount of thankful ‘guilt’ before a blogger can genuinely blurt out anything negative. Unless of course the product is RANK bad!!

    But the whole concept of choosing the user from blogs would have to have a more defined criteria and I feel that this should be done behind closed doors and then when the whole ops is complete and the actual test run begins.. Thats the time to declare the names of these bloggers!!

    Strictly my view,
    Regards,
    M Bhave

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