Five Blogger Reactions to Review & Endorsement Compensation

Last week, Nathan Burgess wrote about a very top-of-mind issue for PR professionals – blogger compensation. If you haven’t read that post yet, head over there first before diving into this one.

As Nathan notes in his article, it’s not uncommon now for bloggers to receive monetary compensation to review a product or service…in addition to getting to test out that product or service for an extended period of time.

But won’t compensation in the form of cold hard cash sway the blogger’s opinion of said product or service? And won’t that immediately move this review into the paid media versus earned media category? Can bloggers actually be unbiased when a company pays them to write about their product or service?

I reached out to a few bloggers I’ve connected with over the years to get their thoughts on the compensation topic, as well as working with PR pros to coordinate reviews. Here’s what they had to say:

Jackie Harper – Free is My Life

Compensation to me is not just about cash. Compensation can include exposure, cash, gift cards, event passes, sponsored trips and brand products. When everyone is upfront in their expectations, both the brand and the blogger will be satisfied with the end product.

What I do not like is when bloggers work for free with an “implied” expectation that the free work “may” turn into compensated work. I am pitched countless times per day by people who ask me to do something with the subtle implication that if I just do them a “favor” now and post this “whatever” or mention their “whatever,” they will keep me in mind for work in the future when they have money in their budget. The problem with that is a Google search will turn up that another blogger already received compensation for the same type of post from the same brand.

When I evaluate if I am going to accept a pitch, I keep in mind if it is a right fit for my blog theme; if it will make me or my son happy in terms of exposure, money, product or a unique experience; if my readers will be happy in terms of a post with excellent content; and if the brand will be happy in terms of exposure. If all parties cannot be happy, there is no point in doing it.

I do not post about products that I have not tried. Companies have asked me to, and I have refused. When you post about something, people start writing you with questions. I would find it embarrassing to admit that I took money to post something that I don’t know anything about.

Annie Shultz – Mama Dweeb

There is a difference between editorial reviews and monetarily compensated advertorials. If I receive a product to review, it is mine to write up an honest review of and then keep. I do not feel obligated to write glowingly about the product. I always state the features in a factual way and then my thoughts of how it worked (or didn’t work) for my family. Here is an example of a review I wrote for a product that I was very disappointed with.

I believe reviews should only be called reviews if the blogger actually reviews the item. Only writing about their favorite fun features is an ad, plain and simple. Brands can pay money for ads on blogs. That is fine. I welcome the chance to work with brands in this way. But if money exchanges hands, the blogger is then expected to give a service of some sort to the company and they gave up their editorial rights. They are now writing an ad or working on an ad campaign.

How I work with PR pros has evolved as I have learned more about my strengths as a blogger and the PR/marketing industry. I used to be happy just to get a review item and maybe a giveaway. I now view reviews as editorial content for my readers. I ask “Will they benefit from my review?” and “Will I enjoy reviewing this?” If the answer is yes to both, I will accept the review item.

I have just recently begun engaging in creative advertising campaigns. For a small fee, I engage my audience in discussions related to the brand. For example, Shutterfly paid me to ask my readers about a time they captured a moment of joy on film. This type of campaign connects a brand to a person’s real life experience, creating a more positive image of the brand at the same time. I did include a small paragraph written by a Shutterfly employee at the very end of my post that directed my readers to the Shutterfly page, but the post itself was mine. 

Jessie Voigts – Wandering Educators

I strongly believe that bloggers should conduct themselves professionally. This entails writing fair product reviews, honest assessments of books, events, etc. and acting in a professional manner in relating to their audience, PR pros and vendors. I don’t mind writing about my very favorite restaurants, and I don’t expect a free meal out of it. I DO mind being asked to write something for free, especially when nothing is offered in return, even a backlink.

I do think that there should be compensation besides free products/stays. If more bloggers request compensation for reviews, then companies will be forced to pay for reviews from quality websites. Companies don’t want publicity from low-end websites – it’s not worth it. The travel blogging world is morphing toward paid press trips. This is worth it for the tourism provider – travel bloggers love to share their travel experiences, and often do so while on the road. There are so many expenses to get somewhere – a free night or two in a hotel is not enough to make it worth my while.

We’ve had a variety of experiences with PR pros. The worst was total avoidance of all communication, when I was only trying to get more information on things to do in a city. The best has been complete friendliness and maximum effort at working on our collaboration – and has resulted in years of working together to promote their product/venue. We always receive books for book reviews (and state this in our articles and on our site footer).

I will not write about something if I have not read it, eaten it, or been there – it’s just not honest. Every product review, hotel stay, restaurant review, home rental review, etc. on our site has been experienced firsthand by a member of the Wandering Educators editorial team. We are usually compensated with books, hotel stays (or the media rate) and home rentals (or a media rate). We also don’t publish articles on products or books that we don’t like. Because we are a positive site, if we don’t like a product, we just won’t write about it. 

Brian Ambrozy – Icrontic

I think there’s a distinct difference between receiving a product/service to review (and keep) and receiving cash.

When the product or service is received as a review sample, the reviewer has time to get to know the product well, even after the initial review is published. This opens up possibilities like “follow ups” or “one year later”, which is good for the blogger (and the PR team for the product). Cash is far less nuanced, and it’s hard to convey to readers that you’re a trustworthy source when you simply receive money for a review. At that point, it’s merely an advertisement.

I work with PR pros constantly and have received hundreds of review products over the time I’ve been editor-in-chief of Icrontic. We’ve reviewed everything from really awful low-budget consumer electronics to extremely high-end workstation laptops. I cannot imagine writing about a product or service without having seen it or used it first. If you do that, you’re basically just re-writing company press releases, which is not very genuine.

With so many blogs and websites out there covering every manner of product and service, and with content marketing being so important for sales and SEO purposes, we have to be very careful with our ethical reputation. The moment a reader doubts they can trust your opinion, you’ve lost them forever. There are a million other sites they can get their information from.  

Nikki Cupido – The Mommy Factor

I think compensating bloggers is such a case-by-case basis. I do think there needs to be some form of compensation if you’re asking a blogger to take time to use your product or service and then write an evaluation to share with their readers on how/why they can
include it in their lifestyles. But the guidelines get murky about what compensation is for this type of service.

For some bloggers, receiving a product to keep is enough. For other bloggers, they need the product plus monetary compensation for their time. Who’s to say what’s right? I don’t charge for reviews of a product or service. Usually I receive a product to keep or
complimentary services for review.

I don’t agree with companies who send you “images” or detailed “product info” to write a review, or bloggers who accept and promote these types of reviews. I have posted about products and services I have not used, but I do those as informational or occasionally sponsored posts (not reviews).

I work with PR pros in a variety of ways. From covering media events, reviewing a product or service and working in paid and unpaid ambassadorships. While I post reviews and limited sponsored content, that is not the main goal and theme of my blog.

Now you have five varying opinions on blogger compensation. I’d love to hear your thoughts and reactions. The comments are yours! 

Nikki Stephan is a public relations professional and social media strategist at Identity Marketing & Public Relations in metro Detroit. She blogs at Identity’s blog, id tags, and her personal site, Essential Elements. Nikki is also the Help a PR Pro Out Michigan champion, the assistant editor of the FutureMidwest Conference communications team, secretary of Social Media Club Detroit, part of PRSA Detroit’s social media committee and a moderator of the weekly social media conversation group, Tweetea.