Reviews – do you write them? do you trust them?

October 6, 2009 at 10:23 pm (blogging)

Have you ever written a bad review? Did you publish it? Or have you ever read a bad review on someone else’s blog? Have you ever been invited to a blog event hosted by a company (what’s it called Junket, or something like that – new to me!)  and written poorly of the company? Did you publish it?

I received my college degree in Marketing.  The time I spent in the work force after graduating until I left after becoming pregnant with our 2nd child was brief.  It was all of six years.  So I am by no means coming at this as some Marketing Expert and not even as a Marketing Expert wanna-be, but rather just thinking out-loud … (and maybe with my marketing “cap” on – not brain, just cap!).

I spent those six years with a User Research / Market Research Company.  We evaluated websites, software programs, hand-held devices etc. to determine their usability or in most cases lack of it.  Most of our research was done through one-on-one studies with participants, focus group studies or observed interactions.  Our primary selling points to our clients were:

1) we were a third party.  While you likely would have never heard of the company I worked for, you very likely have heard of all our clients – Fortune 50,100 & 500 clients.  So we sold the fact (to our clients) that we were a third party & therefore they stood a much better chance of getting honest, real opinions because the participants weren’t talking with the person that created the product or idea but a third person that was not biased & was impartial either way. Also related to this, we sold our location – studies & interviews were conducted in a neutral location – not specific to the client or brand … i.e. you didn’t walk through the Coca-Cola doors & drink a Sprite during our study.

And 2) that we screened for qualified participants. We had to find a range of individuals that fit the client’s target market through surveys & background information.  While we kept a database of potential participants we shuffled through them & would not use them repeatedly (within reason) .  We would even throw participants out of the database or pool for future studies if they weren’t ” good”.  For example – there is such thing as a “Professional Participant” – they “know” what to say & how to act & what they think you want to hear; however, they don’t know that you can pick up on that and see that they’re being fake in their answers.  And then there’s just the bump on a log that can’t communicate enough so you have to remove them because it’s like pulling teeth to get any kind of feedback what so ever.

So maybe much of this is just because it was drilled into my head for six years that this is how it should be but I seem to struggle when I read a product review on a blog … and maybe that’s because the majority (not all, but definitely the majority) of the ones I read are all good! How is that? Is it because they’ve only been given awesome products and there’s nothing bad to say about them?  Is it because even if they weren’t great, they’d still write a great review because they don’t want to ruin any PR relationships?  Is it because the only reason someone would want to enter a giveaway is if the reviewer likes what they’re giving away?  Is it because they reviewed bad products dozens of times but just never wrote the post so all you see are the good ones?

I’ve only written one review & I took the “nice” approach.  The product was fine – not exceptionally wonderful, but not even as bad as average, so I picked out the things I liked I focused on them.  I didn’t play up on them but I didn’t harp on the little things.  I’ve heard & read articles that it’s pretty common for bloggers to write a review if they like it & simply not write a review if they don’t (as opposed to writing an honest review).  But that’s not right.  Or is it?  Shouldn’t we be honest with our readers in both the good & the bad – giving them the whole truth? Or do we need to protect our PR relationships?

I actually read a bad review today here, courtesy of Momdot.  I was so happy to read a bad review!!  An honest review – it was almost all bad actually, not just a point or two.  It was actually very re-assuring.  And just yesterday the FTC made new rulings that bloggers (and others) must provide better disclosure.  I think that’s wonderful!!

The third aspect that’s totally different for me IRL as opposed to blog-world, is payment. I’m not about to pretend that I know who gets paid, what they get paid, etc. And I don’t believe that’s anybody’s concern but the two involved!  But in my opinion I think anyone asked to write a review, attend a junket (again – is that the right word!?!), or endorse a product (again, asked is the key word) in any way should be paid money – cold, hard cash. When a company pays an individual the playing field (in my opinion) is level again.  If a company thinks highly enough of an individual to ask for their opinions, then I think they should think highly enough of an individual to pay them.  Then it’s not about getting a “free*” product or a “free*” trip for writing a review it’s instead about a job – a consulting job for a company – either about the company or their product.

* Free – please note, that by free – I know it’s not really free.  I know reviewers will put alot of time into using the product or going on the event, writing the review, handling the giveaway (if applicable), etc. I just mean “free” in the terms of cash not being exchanged … and that’s why I think cash should be exchanged:)

Or I think of it this way – we would have been absolutely crazy if we asked participants to get off work or arrange for someone to keep their children, drive through Atlanta traffic, come and sit with us for an hour or more of their time & then the only compensation we provided was their gas reimbursement & a meal.  We would have NEVER found anyone.  Yet, people will travel across the country for some events.  And frankly, I would be one of those people if it was a cool enough opportunity.  I love the behind the scenes stuff!!  But typically, people participated in our studies for two reasons – 1) they enjoyed it AND 2) they received something for it (money).   I would venture to say that the reasons bloggers review products, hosts  giveaways or attend junkets  (there it is again) is for those same reasons – 1) they enjoy it & 2) they receive something for it – although in these cases the compensation may or may not be money – but maybe it looks good on the resume, opens up more opportunities, etc.

Now I also think you (even I) could play devil’s advocate & say if bloggers get paid then they’ll become that “professional participant” because who wouldn’t want to get paid for these opportunities & do more & more of them?  And I can definitely see some validity to that point.

So – that’s where I’m coming from? Do you agree?  Do you see it different? This whole concept is just something that’s new to me … it’s opposite of my way of thinking. I by NO MEANS think my way is the only way, I’m just curious if there are others out there that think similar to me.

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7 Comments

  1. trisha said,

    thank you for linking my review!

    Most bloggers that I know online will write about the positive and the negative, calling it “mom improvements” if they find anything worth noting.

    However, I wanted to address why some bloggers choose to not write if its all bad and not just a point or two. Many bloggers take some extreme time with a post and they dont want to dedicate that time into 2 hours worth of work so instead report it back to the company as more of a testing group, rather then a review. I understand. That post that I wrote took all the time to take the pictures, resize and upload, and develop the post. I probably put at minimum an hour into it.

    For me, I knew it was a product that my visitor would be looking at this season and felt it a duty to give the thumbs down.

    I do think its something bloggers struggle with and with no clear concise rules and every PR expecting a different approach, bloggers are left more confused with what they should do.

    I personally dont know any bloggers out to fool a consumer though. Most are just moms and have a good heart and do this for fun.

    :-)

    Trisha

    • It's Come To This said,

      Thanks for the input & insight Trisha! And I definitely agree that bloggers aren’t trying to fool a consumer … I hope it didn’t come across like that!! Sometimes I just wish I’d come across more bad reviews so I as a reader would see the entire story – good & bad:)

      Thanks again!

  2. Becky said,

    I tried to be honest in my latest review/giveaway too. Did you notice?!

    http://thevioletfig.blogspot.com/2009/10/contest-time.html

    • It's Come To This said,

      Haha … you’re totally right Beck! I’ve had this post in draft for several weeks now & meant to go back and add yours b/c I thought it was pretty honest. After all, you know I don’t like to read anyways, but after reading your review … I don’t think I’ll be picking it up:)

  3. ohamanda said,

    Your post is a conversation that has been swirling around the blogosphere (and resurfaced a little with the Nestle drama). I can see both ways:

    First about a bad review…I would think MOST people would accept offers of stuff they already figured they’d like. On the other hand, if it’s like a book or something subjective, I’d just focus on the positive. But if it’s something like a camcorder or a website, I can see giving some CONS along with the PROS. I just read a blog the other day that said if they end up reviewing something they don’t like, they just send the info back to the PR person and say, “I can’t do it.”

    Now, the cold-hard-cash thing. Some people do charge for reviews. I just feel silly even thinking about that. And like you said about “junkets”…well, would you really ask Disney to pay you?!! *wink* But, I see what you’re saying. At Nestle, they were asking for advice about our social media “expertise”. And even if we didn’t give them the BEST advice, they still took it and used at least some of it.

    The thing I’ve seen is these bloggers getting mad at other bloggers for NOT taking cash—meaning, “If everyone would start charging, then I could make some real cash. But as long as you take a book for free, I can’t make money.” And that irritates me.

    JMHO.

    • It's Come To This said,

      I think you’re right about accepting things they’d probably think they’d like anyways … that’s what I would do too. I think my biggest concern is the ones that just go back to the pr & then a review is never written. I saw a quote recently of a blogger that I really like alot & it just seemed contradicting … she said she would send it back to pr & not write it, but followed two sentences later by readers should know everything & we should give the whole truth. I still like her & read her blog. I don’t think that changes the positive reviews that she does give, it just makes me wonder about the others. I think that’s my biggest contradiction with it.

      The cash thing – and I agree that I could play devil’s advocate for both, but I guess I’m just geared more towards the payment from past experience. If someone’s asking for your expertise like you said with Nestle then you should get something in return.BUT having said that, what YOU (or I) get in return is totally your (or my) business!! So as long as your comfortable with it then absolutely go for it (and try to get me a gig too:)). Sometimes I think the “professional participant” creeps in my mind though – if you tweet enough, blog enough, FB enoughGOOD things about that junket orcompanyyou’ll beselected for another (as opposed to doing all those things but saying Bad things instead of good).

      But you know me, sometimes I’m too much of a pessimist … I need to just see the good in people & assume it’s all sincere!! :)

  4. Kimberly @ Raising Olives said,

    I try to be very honest when I review a product because that is what I want when I read a review. I’ve written several reviews where I’ve said I wouldn’t purchase this product and most of my reviews have things that I didn’t like about it.

    I also don’t accept money for reviews, but I may in the future. I do agree that bloggers should have the option of being paid for a review. It is sometimes a lot of work.

    Thanks for the insightful post.

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