Republican or Democrat; Coke or Pepsi; Auburn or Alabama. We live in a world of opposing sides and the blogosphere is no exception: to pay or not to pay for product reviews.

Last night, I received an e-mail from BlogPaws, a network of pet bloggers whose annual conferences I've recommended to clients in the past. The e-mail and blog post can be read entirely here, but here's the part that has me up in arms:

Some [pitches] will make you feel sad because they are about shelters, rescues or a program supporting shelters and rescues, and you want to write about them but... you can't write 10 different posts about 10 different things going on, and still get your own writing done. And, some will make you mad. Because they will assume you're going to cover their product for free... free product, that is. It's not the message, sometimes, it's the assumption that your time if not worth anything.  
Here's the skinny on all of this. 
Every time you do a free product review, you sell yourself, and your fellow bloggers short. Be selective. No, I am not advising you stop doing free product reviews. I am saying, weigh the free product and your influence carefully. Ask yourself, "Should I get paid for this review? Did the newspaper or major magazine in which an ad was placed for this product, do it for free? Why is my blog any different?" Truth is - your blog has more relevance than a major magazine or newspaper ad. 
I do a fair share of social media marketing and consulting. At any given time, I'm running between 5 and 10 blog tours for various CPG companies. I recognize that product reviews on blogs are extremely important. The last statistic I can recall on the subject said that people who read about a product on a blog are 9x more likely to buy that product versus only 3x more likely if they read about it editorially (both metrics are compared to seeing an advertisement).

But to resonate with the consumer, that post needs to be objective. And it's that reason that I do not advocate paying for content.

Why would a blogger do this? Simply put: content drives traffic. It's the same for traditional media and it works for blogs, too. My good friend Tim Wagner at WrightIMC explains it nicely, saying "If you provide good content and do good search marketing, your audience will come. And, with that audience will come advertisers. PR people help you build good, unique content."

So, how can a blogger make money? I buy ad space on blogs on a daily basis. I've sponsored bloggers to attend conferences and other events. I've even been known to pay for an advertorial (or two).

As Jeremy Pepper says, You need the traffic to command and demand a cost structure.

I'm going out on a limb here and I'm sure I'll make some enemies by saying this: It boggles my mind that some bloggers can't see the forest for the trees. They have a money-making mechanism at their disposal. But, it's not in the content. It's in the advertising.

I've sent this link to BlogPaws, fellow bloggers and several people I respect in the PR world for comment.

6 comments

  1. Kristi Hubert Mendez on November 22, 2011 at 9:22 AM

    Couldn't. agree. more. Dead on, Megan.

     
  2. Jill Gainer on November 22, 2011 at 9:40 AM

    Great point of view, and very eloquently written. Thanks, Megan.

     
  3. Robert on November 22, 2011 at 10:46 AM

    Those that choose to sell their reputation can do so, if they wish. They are, after all, doing advertising when they require payment for a post. I wonder how many will reveal that they are being paid for the post? That's the part that bothers me. Let them demand payment (and see the requests dwindle) and see their reputation suffer.

     
  4. Tom Collins on November 22, 2011 at 11:18 AM

    Hi Megan,

    I left the longer reply we emailed about over on the original BlogPaws post, addressing the whole fallacy of comparing bloggers to "reporters" as if the latter were not being paid to create content.

    But I wanted to point out here the problem I see with your suggestion that bloggers be satisfied with earning revenue solely from advertising and the like. That's the marketing industry telling them to eat the table scraps and be happy to get them!

    You point out that blogger reviews are NINE TIMES more valuable to you and your clients than advertising.

    Let the bloggers worry about keeping faith with, and the trust of, their readers.

    If your client's product or service is (at least mostly) worthy of a positive review, everyone will come out just fine. If it sucks, then no strategy of not paying for reviews can help it.

    Tom

     
  5. Anonymous on November 22, 2011 at 5:29 PM

    This is why the phrase "blogger mafia" keeps growing. I don't mind paying for product placement on a blog, but reviews MUST be objective, researched and smart. And you can't be objective if you are taking money.

    The other issue you bring up is so frequently left out of these discussions - the issue of traffic. Charging to charge is going to destroy this industry. If you must charge, charge a fair rate. Look at the true amplification and reach of your audience, not just inbound traffic.

    But that never seems to happen.... Companies want to reach millions of people, not a handful. Imact = value.

    SE

     
  6. Carleen on December 6, 2011 at 2:02 PM

    As a blogger I do less and less free product reviews these days simply in order to not be writing about the exact same stuff as everyone else. But, beyond that, I also blog as a business. Therefore, I accept products for review with money in mind. Not so much in terms of seeking a sponsored or advertorial posts (although I do those) but more in terms of looking into whether the brand has an affiliate program I can join or if it is something likely to be popular that will bring in search and social media traffic, and thus, increase my revenue earned through CPM ads. If the answer to those are no, then I am not likely to review the item unless it really grabs my interest and looks like a top notch product that I can fully recommend to my readers and a genuine favor to them. If it isn't, a clearly disclosed paid advertorial may be the only way to be covered on my sites. I am inundated with product review requests these days and can afford to be picky. And yes, some pitches make me mad. Usually when they do something like start off the pitch in all caps with "GET SOME FREE GOODIES FROM BRAND X," which assumes that is all I care about. Sometimes they get my name or website wrong to boot. I usually stop reading right there, delete, and go on to the next email.