The second class I took here at BlogHer was on writing product reviews, something I’ve done a few thousand times, but there’s always room to grow. The class was sort of dominated by questions related to the business of writing product reviews, rather than actual writing techniques and mechanics, but I think I still got a little something out of it nevertheless.
Stacie Haight Connerty
1. How do you get free products to review?
This question seemed to dominate the conversation in the class. In one form or another, it was asked several different times. Here’s what the panelists had to say.
- The best way is to just start blogging about the products you already buy, own and like because the brands are out there looking and watching. They have staff members monitoring social networking sites, have Google Alerts set for specific words and use Twitter search to find people discussing their products. The companies do sometimes contact new bloggers when they come across reviews of their products that are getting large numbers of readers engaged, either in the comments on the blog or elsewhere.
- Try to attend as many in-store events, brand-sponsored classes, conferences and release parties as you can, and while you’re there, introduce yourself and your blog to any company reps and PR people present (bring business cards with you!).
- Send pitch letters. A pitch letter is basically a brief email (no more than a few short paragraphs) sent to a company rep or a PR person where you introduce yourself and — to be blunt — usually ask for something, be it a free product that you’d like to review or give away to your readers, or some other type of partnership.
First things first — brands are in business, and they want positive publicity. They need help getting the word out about their brands and new products, and they know that blogs are one way for them to do that, but they can’t afford to just ship out free products to everyone who asks.
PR reps sometimes receive hundreds of email pitches per day. They’re busy people, and what they’re looking for are established sites with active readerships. They didn’t mention this in the class, but I think it’s easier to get a foot in the door if you have thousands of readers per day (versus hundreds), and thousands of followers, fans and subscribers. The reps will want to see your blog traffic stats, Twitter followers, Facebook fans, YouTube Chanel subscribers, etc. — basically, they need to be able to gauge your level of influence online.
They also want to hear some specific ideas, and not just “I would like to hold a giveaway on my blog,” so propose something new in a short bulleted list, and try to be different.
2. How do you handle negative reviews when you have a relationship with the company that provided the product?
Above all, be honest and fair in your reviews. No relationship with any company is ever worth the loss of your credibility.
Try to find the positives when you’re doing a review because people want solutions. Remember that even with a product you didn’t really like, there may be other people for whom it works better, so be fair, and try to look at the product from all sides.
When something really doesn’t meet your expectations, it might be worth it to contact the company directly for a response. They may already be aware of the issues you had with their product and have tips or suggestions to improve its performance. Those would be great to share with your readers, along with any alternatives that you think might also work better.
3. How do you write reviews quickly?
It takes time and practice to find an approach that works for you. Some bloggers use a template when they write reviews, a format where they cover the same kinds of information every time. I use them sometimes, especially when I’m pressed for time or tired. They’re not my personal favorite approach, but I do use them sometimes.
WHAT IS THE PRODUCT?
WHAT IS IT SUPPOSED TO DO?
DOES IT DELIVER ON WHAT IT’S SUPPOSED TO DO?
HOW DOES IT COMPARE TO SIMILAR PRODUCTS?
A SUMMARY OF MY OPINION
Others approach every product review as they would a story, with a beginning, middle and end. Try different approaches until you find one or more of them that work well for you.
4. Taking into account the FTC’s Revised Endorsement Guidelines (here’s a handy FAQ about them), how do you handle disclosure when you’re reviewing products you’ve received as free press samples?
Whatever the case may be, just be clear about it on your blog. Don’t beat around the bush. If you received a product for free, state it somewhere in your review or down at the bottom. Always let your readers know exactly where you’re coming from.
Most importantly, just get started. Start reviewing things you already like and have around the house. That’s what I did.
Your friendly neighborhood beauty addict,