April 06, 2012

Working with Independent Bloggers

If you're reading this post, chances are, you know what a blog is, and you know what bloggers are.

But bloggers come in all shapes and sizes... And working styles. And that, apparently, is still somewhat of a hazy grey area.

An incident happened a week or so ago with a beauty company trying to promote its products, which did not end too well, hence today's post.

Over the last few years, it has been no secret that apart from mainstream magazines, beauty companies have been engaging bloggers to reach out to an even bigger target audience. After all, if you're frequenting a beauty blog, it's very likely that you'd be the target consumer of a beauty company as well.

While that's worked out pretty well in the US, where bloggers have been practically given "Press" status, there seems to be quite a bit of kink to clear up in Malaysia.

If you're still with me so far, read on to find out why this blogger is on a rant.

(Note: This might be quite a long read.)

So what happened with the said incident was a beauty company (let's called it Company X) had contacted a few of us Malaysian beauty bloggers asking if we'd like to do product reviews, and also to provide them details on our fee.

We politely declined, saying that So Loverly, as a principle, does not participate in schemes which offer to pay bloggers for reviews. And further, we would prefer not to be thrown onto the bandwagon of bloggers who do, so thank you very much, but no.

We later learned that several other Malaysian bloggers who were contacted, had also decided to take a similar stand.

All would have been fine, except that the representative from Company X decided to reply a blogger with this -- "Thank you for your email and we do fully respect your decision. As much as we would like to have genuine reviews on our products, it is undeniable that bloggers in general accept a fee to write. Therefore, we are unable to control in that sense."

Here's where I take offence.

While different bloggers have different working styles, I find it somewhat disturbing when a blogger makes her position clear that she does not do paid reviews, and you throw it back in her face with "it is undeniable that bloggers in general accept a fee to write". Yes, some bloggers do it, but NOT this one.

If beauty companies are going to have a successful working relationship with independent bloggers, here are some points to take note of.

1. Respect the blogger - Bloggers in general, blog because they want to, not because they have to. So Loverly started out as an avenue for Kahani and I to share our makeup raves and rants, because we got bored having only each other to share those things with. In the process, we met an entire community of fellow beauty bloggers, and I can tell you that they are an intelligent bunch. Many of them are professionals by day, makeup fiends by night. Treat us bloggers with respect, we do not suffer fools gladly.

2. Respect how we work - At So Loverly, most of what we review are paid for from our own pockets. While we do accept products for reviews, we do have a few ground rules. Prior to accepting products, we make it a point to be clear with the company that: a) We don't do paid reviews. Never have. Never will. b) We take time to review products, sometimes months, especially if it's skincare. Skincare does not work overnight magic. Also because there's usually a backlog of products to test. C) There is no guarantee of a favourable review. We take pride in writing fair and honest reviews for our readers, and if something doesn't work for us, we state it as such. We try hard to be fair by stating that it might not have worked for us because of a particular ingredient etc. d) In some cases, we might decide not to write about a product altogether after testing it, and we would like the discretion to do so. e) We disclose the fact when products are provided for reviews. Only if a company is still keen after understanding our stand, do we go ahead and accept products for reviews.

So Loverly has even gone to the extent of turning down skincare products altogether at one point. As Kahani and I are not blessed with problem-free skin (Eli is a little more fortunate here), we try to not put our skin through more torture than necessary. Also, having your skin break out every other day means it's almost impossible to review a skincare product fairly and objectively.

Credibility is key here. And that's also one thing that sets us apart from mainstream media - it's what earns the trust of the readers.

Telling us that bloggers take money to do a write-up after we tell you we don't, is quite frankly, a silly thing to do. You just lost brownie points there.

3. Write to us professionally - Call me a grammar Nazi, but if your introductory email is already peppered with grammatical errors left, right and centre, it's a little hard for me to take you seriously. That's not to say it has to be absolutely typo-free... to err is human, after all.

4. Communicate honestly with us - When you contact us, let us know what your objectives are. Are you interested for us to attend your event/ review your product/ tell you what we like/ all of the above? Communicating with us clearly will set the right expectations and reduce the likelihood of a uhh.. miscommunication, and us wanting to strangle each other. Talk to us, and we will be more than happy to listen and respond. Why do you think we started the blog in the first place?

5. Understand that bloggers band together more than you think - This is not a threat. This is me merely stating a fact. When you treat one independent blogger like trash, word gets around. After all, this is the media. How do you think other bloggers are going to react with your brand or company? Trying to pitch one blogger against the other doesn't really work either. Worse still, it's likely not to work for you at all.

Kahani has previously written her own set of advice here.

Treat us independent bloggers with respect and understand the way we work. In the long run, I believe it can be a rewarding and win-win experience for both parties.

Thoughts, anyone?

Coincidentally, ParisB wrote about the same company, and almost the same topic, over on My Women Stuff. Toldja bloggers talk. - Kahani


Tine said...

Very well written, Syen! I thought the company was cheeky with that insinuation. They fail to remember that not all bloggers accept remuneration for their write-ups.

On the other hand, the number of bloggers who do are rising, and rising fast. I can't say the same for Malaysian bloggers, but for Australian bloggers, a number of them do not do reviews without first getting paid. I suppose as they are full-time bloggers, it IS their job, but I think it can sometimes hurt the rest of us bloggers who do not go down that road.

At the end of the day, the key word is RESPECT. There has to be respect between the brand and the blogger. Don't throw us a fish and expect to jump through hoops to catch it. Do not assume that by providing us with product, that automatically means a positive review (and then get your knickers in a twist if the review isn't favourable).

This is a topic that I could go on and on about :P

Paris B said...

Today must be "rant about PR day" coz I just posted about this incident on my blog :D I agree with all your points, since we see eye to eye on this issue.

All the PR has to do is to read through the blog to get an idea of whether it suits them. Doesn't take them 5 minutes to do so. I even make things easier by including a link to reviews on my about & contact pages. But do they read? No. If they don't bother, why should I eh?

Kahani said...

Well done, Syen!

I wish more bloggers understood the ramification of accepting paid reviews - the difference being that if it's an advertorial, you declare it as such. A paid review is sneaky and looks like a genuine opinion.
If bloggers lose their credibility then what use are we? It's shoot yourself in the foot. And PR companies should KNOW better. The media, fashion and beauty in particular, has sold out. We're the last bastion of honesty and they want to undermine our word-of-mouth value. Idjits.

Syen said...

Tine: Thanks. While it's hardly my position to judge how some bloggers decide what works for them, it's a little sad when companies lump everyone together and think they have a right to demand for a positive review by simply offering a payment for it. I honestly don't see how this works out for them in the long run.

Paris: Yes, apparently it is! LOL. And yes, I also agree with you on that. As Kahani has said in her previous post before, companies should learn to pick their blogs wisely. After all, we do cater to slightly different readers even within the beauty circles.

Syen said...

Kahani: Thanks dearie. I guess not many beauty companies understand or appreciate what honest reviews can do for them. I don't get it.. they want our honest opinions but only when it works for them? That's not entirely an honest stand then, is it?

ksuan said...

Preach it, Syen. Thanks for your candour and your clarity :)

PS: Do get dommie to tell you about a most irksome experience that we had with a particular exclusive brand that approached us recently.

Eli said...

Well done. I do think that if companies took the time to actually read blogs prior to contacting them, they would realise what our policies are. B

ad grammar and writing is a no-no too. What kind of image is the company presenting when their staff can't write? Professional? I think now.

Syen said...

Ksuan: Thanks! Oh dear, I must hear it from Dom! =P

Eli: Hello you! Aye!

beetrice said...

A bit late to the comments (since I'm only catching up on my feeds now!), but fully agreed on all your points - it irks me to no end when brands send out mass mails and have unreasonable expectations.

Good to know I'm not the only grammar Nazi around - can't stand it when I get badly written emails, particularly when the brand can't even spell their own product properly (there was a particular email where this wrong spelling was peppered throughout the whole spiel!).

Petra said...

Love these articles. Well done Syen, please keep them coming.