In my life as a blogger, I’ve been sent a few items for review, like books, gadgets, food items, coffee and software. Some of these have been given to me gratis. Some, I’ve had to return. Most of the time, I review items that I’ve bought myself, especially if these are related to the niche of my blogs (mostly gadgets and technology).
If you ask if I’ve ever solicited items for review, my answer would be yes. I have asked some PR agencies and gadget distributors for review items that I could borrow, so I wouldn’t have to spend big bucks on these. But those have been loaned equipment, which I’ve had to take photos of, use (and abuse) and then return after a week’s time.
But I think one hot issue today is the fact that bloggers who review items are seen in a bad light, especially if companies and PR agencies approach them to give free samples or free products. Take for instance how mommy bloggers have come to be considered a force to reckon with. NPR reports that one such debatable issue is “blog-ola” or free goodies, products, trips and other perks many marketers are giving to bloggers in hopes of getting favorable publicity or positive reviews.
“Bloggers used to have sponsors sponsor their writing,” … “Now, they’re actually writing for sponsors, and I think that’s changed the dynamic of the blogosphere a great deal.”
There are three points that are debatable here, and it mostly involves ethics in blogging about commercial products.
Influence peddling. There is a difference between sponsors approaching you in the hopes of their product being reviewed, and your making these sponsorships as the major reason behind running a blog, to the point of your blog becoming too commercial in nature. The former would perhaps be a normal offshoot of running a publication. This is also a benefit enjoyed by traditional publications, and not only blogs, as part of PR agencies’ responsibilities to their clients. But the latter is tantamount to influence peddling. You know you have a voice in the online world. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying the benefits of being influential, but when you start selling your influence for monetary gain (in cash or in kind), then it’s a different ball game.
Editorial independence. The issue here is whether you are able to differentiate editorial from commercial content. In many cases, the difference might not seem too obvious as, say, compared to a traditional publication. In a newspaper, you know the difference between automotive reviews in the Motoring pages from the editorials on the Op-Ed pages. The motoring columnists are probably lent cars, trucks and SUVs for review. But the editor writes his daily piece as part of his opinions on current events and issues.
However, the question remains whether an opinion columnist can be swayed toward giving favorable opinions or reviews with free products, services or other compensation. And because many of these products, services and items sent in for review (solicited or not) are free, a blogger’s conundrum is whether to publish an all-out, honest review, or just highlight the good parts, for worry that the freebies might end.
Tainting the image of blogs and bloggers. Blogs are supposedly seen as being written with honest voices, because these are published by ordinary individuals like you and me. But if you are writing with the mindset of being approached by companies and PR firms for freebies, you kind of lose the honesty. And this is one of those things that have tainted the image of blogs, blogging and bloggers all over the world. While blogging and other social media are world-changing, in that they have changed the way we communicate, connect and engage, these have also opened up many ethical questions.
Have you ever been sent products, software, services or other items for review, in the hopes of being featured on your blog? How have you reacted or responded? If you do welcome the idea of writing reviews on your blog, have you ever solicited products, or at least opened up your blog for such submissions? And if you do write reviews, do you focus only on the good side, or are you honest with writing your evaluation, including the bad parts?
The world seems to view bloggers as influence-mongering freeloaders. What can we do to change this?
Image by multisanti via Flickr