I don’t know about other beauty bloggers but I always feel obligated to review products sent to me. This is why I’m careful about accepting invitations to try out products. If I can’t review, I won’t have the items sent to me–simple as that. Whatever the brand may claim, products sent to bloggers usually come with some sort of strings attached unless it’s a clear “thank you” gift like during festive seasons or special occasions. Even then, I always believe that they were sent in the hope of being featured in a shout-out on our social media platforms.
Is this a surprise to you? It shouldn’t be. After all, brands work on a budget and products sent to bloggers for review must be accounted for. Since these entities operate on a commercial basis, obviously, they’ll look for mileage or return of investment (ROI) on the items sent out. In this case, the ROI is measured in terms of the number of reviews or mentions of the product across the various social media platforms.
What may differ from brands to brands is in the expressions of their expectations. You can easily identify which ones are trying to milk as much from you. Those who are more media savvy because of their established PR support could provide very subtle requests like: “We hope you’ll give us your honest feedback” complete with a smiley. Others could be more direct, requesting that you not only blog about their products by a certain deadline, but to link the review to their company’s website or even to their Facebook page. The latter could also be quite persistent by checking up with you when they don’t see their reviews up on time.
By now, you’re probably asking, “what does knowing their expectations got to do with my review?” Well, for one, you know there is no such thing as a free lunch and two, it’ll help you to formulate a proper review policy. I mean if the brand has their expectations, then you jolly well can set yours too. Tell them upfront what you’re going to do with their products. And since you’re going to be working with a couple of brands on this, why not set a review policy and make it official?
So what’s going into your review policy? Here’s what I recommend:
State your editorial objectives
For example, I always tell the brands that all editorial reviews are independent and provided without direct interference from the companies or their representatives. I also state that my reviews can be positive or negative depending on my experience and I do not provide any previews prior to publishing.
State your review timeframe
You should never let the brands dictate the deadline for your review. As a blogger, you have every right to tell them your timeframe such as 2-4 weeks or 4-6 weeks from receipt of the product(s). If you do have to take a little longer, write to the brand to keep them posted.
State your preference for the size of items
Since reviews are expected to be realistic, then I believe all reviews should be based on full-sized items ready for sale and this is what I state in my request. If what is finally sent to you falls outside your preference, you don’t have to review the item(s) if you don’t want to.
State your link policy
If you’re sticky about links, do state if you’re just going to make a mention of their brand or you intend to give any links to their website or social media platforms. Chances are, most brands expect some sort of a link so if you’re not intending to give any, be upfront. I always give a link in my reviews because readers need to know where to find more information on the product. By the way, all links should be based on Google’s “nofollow” policy but I don’t bother to tell the brands this because this should be an unwritten rule.
State your gift policy if you must
At this point, I’ll like to urge bloggers not to be greedy. Don’t accept items if you don’t plan to review them. Learn to say no. However, if you still like the idea of receiving something for no review, then I suggest you state this clearly in your review policy. How? Indicate that you accept items sent to you as gifts which you may or may not review them. That’ll straighten all expectations. If the brand is still willing to send you their products, great. If not, you won’t risk your reputation of “being that kind of blogger”.
Pass up unreasonable requests
Also, you have every right to reject what is asked of you PRIOR to your acceptance of the review. Like I had a request to review the service of a hairstyling salon sometime back and on top of the blog review, I was offered a discount code for my readers but the catch was they had to like the salon’s Facebook page. I said no thank you and I was happy to pass up the offer. In the end, the agency working on behalf of the salon scrapped the Facebook request and we just worked on a review and a discount code.
Consider a review fee?
Interestingly, related to this topic of review is the issue of payment. I recently read a well-written article by Catherine Summers, a 40-something style blogger whom I admire and she wrote about how she is changing her review policy to ask for a fair payment now (see post here). It’s a well-written article and I can understand where she’s coming from. However, I’m not sure if asking for a review fee is much different from an advertorial. Personally, I would rather ask for a token contribution to my blog hosting independent of the review but this is not a cut-and-dry policy and I only do it to sieve out unscrupulous brands that are trying to take me or my readers for a ride because of having had to handle complaints of non-delivery of goods from time to time.
Keep the brand informed of the review?
Another question that you may be wondering at the moment is, do I have to keep the brand informed when my entry is published? Well, I usually do if I’m working with the brand directly (unless I forget) but I don’t always do it if I was contacted by a PR agency because I consider monitoring coverage as part of the job of an agency.
Start cracking your review policy if you haven’t
Anyway, this entry was written to help myself crystalize some of my thoughts on my own review policy. I didn’t always have a review policy when I started blogging but trust me, it is helpful. A clear policy speaks a thousand words to brands who may have unrealistic expectations of you as a blogger. It’ll also protect you from feeling shortchanged–like being sent a tiny sample and then expected to write an entire essay on it in a week complete with links and all. Most of all, it frees you up and allows you the editorial freedom to review a product without interference from brands or their agencies.
Don’t be a doormat
In addition, what I have shared here applies to bloggers who want to make a clear stand with brands and their PR agencies with regards to their editorial review policy. If you are one of those who are accepting all sorts of products for review and the unreasonable requests that come along just because you are afraid to be excluded from future review opportunities, then this is not for you. But really, I hope you would learn to be more discriminate with requests rather than be treated as a doormat.
Do share your thoughts with me on the topic–whether or not you’re a blogger. I can definitely do with some constructive inputs for my final review policy.