BlogHer 2011: Perfecting Product Reviews

Published in: Just For Fun

BlogHer 2011: Perfecting Product Reviews

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.

The speakers…

Stacie Haight Connerty

@stacieinatlanta
Mom of 3, Writer, Social Media Consultant, Foodie, Lifestyle & Travel Blogger, Into Marketing & PR, Groupon Addict, Food Truck Stalker, TV Junkie, Follow Back
thedivinemissmommy.com

Amy Bellgardt

@momspark
Wife, Mom, Blogger, Business Woman, Social Media Addict & Founder of MomSpark.net, MomSparkMedia.com, & MomMadeThat.com
momspark.net

Niri Jaganath

@mommyniri
Social Media Junkie and Founder of MommyNiri.com and MommyNiriCares.com
mommyniri.com

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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!).
  3. 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,

Karen

38 Comments

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  1. Denise says:

    Thanks for sharing these Karen!
    Denise recently posted … Unicorns Dream’s Swag Box Giveaway Winner!

  2. laksh says:

    This is super useful for someone like me just starting to blog!
    laksh recently posted … LUSH reviews: Lemony Flutter

    • Karen says:

      Hi, laksh. There are some valuable lessons here. I think the absolute most important thing for a new blogger is just to keep perfecting the actual creation of posts. Write or film (for vloggers) the best content you can. If your goal is to entertain or help other people, they’ll follow if they see something they like.

      Oh, and never give up. That helps too. :)

  3. Paris B says:

    Thank you for sharing, Karen! As you’ve pointed out, there’s always room to grow :)
    Paris B recently posted … Do you baby your bags, shoes or accessories?

  4. #2 is definitely useful for me! i was struggling with whether or not i should review products that i was indifferent to. i didn’t hate it, i didn’t even think it was bad; i just wasn’t that into it.

    karen, do you ever NOT review products? i know some bloggers/vloggers don’t bother if really don’t like the product; i was wondering what your thoughts are on that. =)
    dani@callitbeauty recently posted … Have Dry Lips? Korres’ Lip Butters Will Come To The Rescue!

    • Karen says:

      Hi, dani. Oh, I absolutely don’t review some products. Frankly, I receive a lot of unsolicited products now, things that are just sent to me out of the blue, and to a degree it comes down to simply being unable to review everything, so by virtue of that I do have to pick/choose what I review.

      What makes the most sense for me then is to review the products that strike a chord with me either because I know and like the brand’s other products, or because the packaging looks neat, or the colors catch my attention — something about the product stands out.

      Sometimes, when a product stands out to me for BAD reasons, I will review it. Like, if it’s a brand that I normally like, and I think most girls usually like, produces something shockingly bad, I’ll try it just because it stood out in my mind.

      It’s all about what stands out in my mind and what my expectations of a product are. To me, the decision over what to review is tougher for products that appear mediocre than it is for products that look either great or terrible. The mediocre ones just don’t leave much of an impression on me and don’t get me fired up to discuss.

      I’m not sure if that makes any sense, LOL!

  5. Vijaya says:

    You’re SO right about getting products to review by standing out. The folks at Wet N Wild sent me stuff to review because they, of all things, liked my video game inspired looks. Being genuine and having fun is definitely a big part of standing out, too.
    Vijaya recently posted … Yu-Be Moisturizing Skin Cream To Go

  6. Ruchita says:

    I am not a blogger, but its been interesting reading about the different conferences at BlogHer.

    I appreciate the beauty bloggers that do product reviews. It helps to see products road tested by real people.

    I hope Tabs is doing a good job of holding down the fort back at home. :-)

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Ruchita. They can be fun and useful, but you gotta be careful. Some conferences aren’t worth the price. If you’re a WordPress blogger, I think my hands down favorite in terms of value are the WordCamp mini-conferences held in different cities around the world. Those are very cheap and absolutely fantastic if you ask me.

  7. gio says:

    Thank you for sharing these useful tips!
    gio recently posted … Know Your Ingredients: Yarrow Extract

    • Karen says:

      Hi, gio. My pleasure. I wish I’d been able to post more beauty stuff while I was here, but I didn’t handle my time as well as I’d intended to this trip. I’ll have to post about the new products I tried while I was here after I get back tomorrow.

      How are you doing this morning? It’s about 7:15 here, and I’m still just in bed waking up.

  8. nidhi says:

    Thanks for sharing the info. It’s is so useful for new blogger like me . Thanks Karen
    nidhi recently posted … 88 Warm Palette Review and Swatch

  9. Karo says:

    thank you for sharing dear Karen! :)
    Have a nice day :)
    xoxo
    Karo recently posted … AMU MAC Print & Contrast

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Karo. You too. :) The conference is officially over now, so today I think I’m just going to do some sightseeing and maybe go for a run around downtown. I’ve been here for days but have seen almost none of the city. Take care, and have a good second half of your weekend.

  10. Polarbelle says:

    I’m glad you wrote this for us, Karen. I just have to say that being an introverted person, it never occurred to me to contact a company and ask for something to review or giveaway. I didn’t realize it was ok to do that. I kind of thought you wait and they’ll find you once you’re big enough. But I guess ita like any other business in that you need to promote your product. Hey, perhaps you can write a ditty on proper blogger business cards. :)

    • Karen says:

      Hi, Polarbelle. Well, there are two sides of the same coin. Yes, I think you absolutely should promote your blog if building your readership is one of the things you’re interested in doing, but you also want to have something you feel proud to show them.

      As with anything that’s no longer a new industry, makeup blogging is rather competitive now, in every sense of the word. Part of that is just to say that there are now hundreds, if not thousands, of bloggers contacting these companies for consideration, which means that it’s harder than ever to get noticed.

      How does one get noticed? I think the best way is to produce excellent posts and include links to your best/favorite few of them in your pitch letter.

  11. Polarbelle says:

    I have one other question that kind of relates….I see five or six different groups that do roundup type pots on the weekends. Several have some of the same people on them but now and then, they add someone new. Is it good blog etiquette to ask to be added, or do they ask you.

    The same with link sharing…do I approach you and say hey, Karen, can you add me to your link love page, or do I wait for you to discover me and add me? I never know what proper blogger’s etiquette is toward other bloggers, sharing links, and joining groups and duh.
    Polarbelle recently posted … Wet N Wild We’re Blasting Off Dream Weavers Collection Color Icon Trio Swatches and Review

    • Karen says:

      Back when I started, those link roundups were called blog carnivals, and I participated in many of them. At least half a dozen. They’re fantastic for a variety of reasons, least of which, however, is building your traffic.

      I think most readers tune them out now. I usually do, unless they’re approached in a really new, innovative way. The standard lists of post titles just don’t look very appealing to me, but I know that there are approaches that could be taken and are sometimes taken in different niches that really do get me interested in visiting the links. But that’s just one girl’s opinion. Like I said, I have participated in quite a few roundups in my time. Some were better than others.

      What I do think they are GREAT for, though, is meeting other bloggers, getting tech and other questions answered, and for making friends.

      As for asking for links, I pretty much long ago stopped using my Link Love section because I just couldn’t keep up with all of the link requests. My original blog template had only a single Link Love column, and I didn’t want it to become a long list of 100 or more blog links that would clutter the design of my site and, I thought, hurt the aesthetics of my site and the reader experience.

      I realized quickly in that I’d never be able to keep up with the requests, and so I chose to link to people in different ways, within my content. I ran a series called Saturday Surfing, in which I posted links to my favorite blog posts of the week, like a blog roundup but it wasn’t intended to be reciprocal, and did that for a year or so.

      Now I link within my posts to all kinds of sites and posts from other bloggers whenever I think it relates to the topic I’m discussing. But I would also say that my schedule doesn’t allow me to just browse the web as much as I used to, so I do appreciate getting emails from other bloggers when they think they’ve written something particularly good that they think I might like.

      Hope that helps a little, and enjoy the rest of your weekend!

      • Alice says:

        I absolutely loved your Saturday Surfing series! :D

      • NeenaJ says:

        I use those blog roundups to find new blogs to read. If I love to read your blog and you find this other person’s blog interesting enough to post about it, then there’s a decent chance that I would enjoy it,too.

        Some of my favorite blogs I’ve found by way of the round ups, link loves, or a special post like a “five blogs i love friday.”

        • Karen says:

          Hi, NeenaJ. I fully agree about blog roundups in principle, especially when the participants are all on the same page, or when they’re one sided, where, like you mentioned, the author is just listing a series of links to things they really enjoyed, without any expectation of a link back in return.

  12. Chris25 says:

    This is a really informative and useful post. Thanks, Karen!

  13. Zeadelle says:

    Thanks for sharing Karen! This is a BIG help :D

  14. Aww man, I was hoping there was a WordCamp in Singapore! But thanks for the tips, Karen. I’m still waiting for the completion of my blog redesign, and then I’ll be able to send you guest posts again! =D
    Bun Bun Makeup Tips recently posted … 6 Different Ways to Use the MAC 188 Small Duo Fibre Face Brush

  15. Nina says:

    great read! thank you karen!

  16. Thank you so so so much for sharing!!! Loved this article. I live in Spain, started my blog in June and don’t have as many followers (I don’t even have a hundred, so not to speak about thousands, haha!) but it was all really interesting, and, in my opinion the most important goals are: 1) Believe in what you write and 2) Be happy and enjoy writing!
    I am a huge fan of yours! Thanks, Karen!

  17. Sarahc says:

    I don’t have a blog, but I’ve been thinking about starting one … that reviews candy and other sweets like ice cream!

    I don’t have a sweet tooth. I have a number of them. :)

  18. great notes on the session! :) i really wanted to be everywhere at once this past weekend, but since the sessions are online and bloggers like you are posting up recaps, i don’t feel like i missed TOO MUCH.

  19. Niri says:

    Thank you so much for not only attending but writing on it. It is tough to cover many things in the short space of time – plus we are all still learning. Please feel free to always ping me at any time.

  20. Karen! Thanks so much for attending our session. I am so glad that you got something out of it. This is a fabulous recap.

    I also think that you may have the only picture of our panel!! :)

  21. Thank you for sharing this with your readers! I plan on linking back to this article in my BlogHer recap post!

    If anyone has any questions for me, please feel free to tweet or email me at momspark@gmail.com.
    Amy Bellgardt recently posted … What is Swagbucks?

  22. Soo says:

    thanks for this! I’m still a baby beauty blogger and hope I can reach your level maybe someday :)
    Soo recently posted … Goldie

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