When I read a Forbes article entitled, “How to Create a Customer Advocacy Program“, I could understand why so many bloggers felt used, slighted, and insulted by the piece.
But in reality, I feel the blogging community helped shape this opinion by not demanding or even requesting monetary compensation in exchange for their time and effort. By accepting products, accolades, and special titles in lieu of cash, bloggers may have given companies the impression that their circle of influence can be tapped on the cheap.
Those of you who read my “Why No Reviews” dissertation know that my blog will forever remain free of compensated reviews. Any opinions you see, read, or hear will come by way of genuine interest, not obligation.
Before I’m publicly flogged, as I know this is a sensitive topic, this doesn’t mean I have a problem with those who do reviews. It’s just something I’m not comfortable doing on my blog. I also grasp that there is a big difference between doing reviews and participating in brand advocacy initiatives.
Over the past year it’s gotten progressively more difficult for me to find a blog that isn’t dominated by product reviews, giveaways, and contests. Personal posts, photos, and funny stories still exist, but they’re often buried in a sea of commercialization.
All I really see out there are products, products, products, and the recurring theme is love, love, love. To me, this isn’t a review. It’s a “thank you” extended to the company that shipped the goods.
A review should be a no-holds barred unbiased sharing of one’s experience, even if it’s negative, and I’m not so sure the typical PR-Blogger relationship lends itself to this kind of unfettered opinion.
As extracted from my “Why No Reviews” piece, “If you know what someone’s expectations are, and you want to stay in their good graces for future opportunities, wouldn’t you feel the least bit obligated to meet those expectations?”
What I meant by this is that companies aren’t going to come calling if they don’t feel you’ll deliver the sunshine they seek. So, to ensure you stay on that distribution list, wouldn’t you feel the least bit motivated to please the rep with a flowery piece? Honestly? For real?
Regardless of how many bloggers write that the products are free but the opinions are their own, I’m still left wondering why nearly every review I read is bubbly and positive. Either companies have suddenly stopped manufacturing cruddy products or the reviewers are easily pleased.
I was told that many bloggers do form negative opinions on products but choose not to post their negative reviews out of respect for the company. I can’t help but wonder if they are doing their readers a disservice with this policy. Where should the loyalty be? With the readers? Or with the companies that funnel the resources for content?
I totally get that blogging gives people the opportunity to earn income, secure goods for their families, and help make ends meet, and I think that’s awesome. I’m all for blog monetization, I just wish it wasn’t dominating the headlines, fueling jealousy, and skewing the perception of bloggers by both corporations and readers alike.
Blog monetization has pitted blogger against blogger, mom against mom, and professional against professional. It’s caused fights, brought on government regulation, and completely changed the blogging landscape.
Over time, I began to sense that corporate America’s perception of bloggers had rightfully shifted. Once perceived as inconsequential hobbyists, bloggers (most notably the stereotypically-labeled “Mommy Bloggers”) are now seen as viable strategic pawns in the marketing game.
From what I gathered in the article, the writer feels that many bloggers would be plenty satisfied with fancy buttons, private invites, a sense of belonging, and trips to the home office instead of cash.
Sadly, he’s right…many would. And until bloggers send the message that buttons and fancy titles don’t pay the bills, it won’t change.
Corporations aren’t stupid and they know they won’t survive if they don’t ride the trends and stay ahead of the curve. Social media is a viable marketing channel but one that’s still in its infancy. As with any emerging strategy there comes a lot of missteps and misconceptions that will eventually work themselves out. But not without communication. You want change? Cause it.
Quite honestly, the article didn’t shock me because the underlying marketing principles aren’t new or groundbreaking. I think many companies already perceive blogger relationships in this light. This is just the first time I’ve seen it published for others to follow and implement.
Companies used to build “Word of Mouth” favor by making great products, providing great service, and putting the customer first. Apparently, this takes too long, and it’s scary to think how quickly and easily companies feel it can be purchased by swagging-up those with the loudest voice.
The idea is to make it appear as though the blogger felt compelled to write how wonderful Company ABC’s widgets are. When readers began to get confused about what was REAL opinion and what was BIASED opinion, the government swooped in and demanded that compensated opinions come attached with a disclosure.
It’s gotten so bad that some bloggers are disclosing the fact that they WEREN’T compensated or provided a product free of charge when they write how much they love something. It’s absurd.
In the long run, the more cluttered blogs get with disclosures, the more intense the arguments get over ethics, and the more bloggers’ motivations are questioned, the less credibility everyone in the space will have.
Not all of the onus is on the blogger, however. I think PR agencies and company reps are so gung-ho to tap into a blogger’s influence that they’re razing the landscape like cattle ranchers in a rainforest without any regard for the eventual fallout.
I believe this whole mess is on the cusp of a clash and the real victim will be social media as a whole. It’s already well established that people trust friends and family more than they trust ads and corporate mouthpieces.
But what will happen when readers are barraged with disclosure statements beneath every post? What will happen when blogs look more like advertorials than journals? At what point will the scales tip and cause bloggers to shift from the “friends and family” side to the “ads and corporate mouthpiece” side? And how long will this marketing strategy remain viable once this happens?
There are plenty of companies out there who have rabidly loyal fans and it has nothing to do with a squad of bloggers following a mandated communication checklist. Sharing genuine opinions with others shouldn’t require a checklist and I don’t need to be told how to share my experience. If I like something, I’ll say it, but it won’t be because someone is sitting there whispering in my ear or dangling the promise of future opportunities.
My own reservations about doing reviews aside, I think it’s critical that bloggers be treated with respect. Companies and PR reps need to realize that the very moms and dads they want to court for brand enhancement are the same moms and dads who can bring them to their knees.
If these companies were sitting in front of me I’d tell them to avoid condescending assumptions, to recognize bloggers as professionals, and to treat bloggers as though they are part of the valued team. Because, clearly, they are.
I know a lot of bloggers who treat their blogs as a business and I’m not so sure the companies that pursue them view them in the same way. Based on what I’ve read, I think the underlying consensus is that bloggers will frenzy out and sell their souls for freebies.
Unfortunately, little is being done to change this perception, and until companies witness another message, it’s only going to get worse.