How do you get bloggers to write about your product?

Rather to my surprise, I have become a bit of a magnet for people and companies who seek those precious links back and positive reviews in the blogosphere, and not a week goes by without someone offering to send me something or other to check out. Usually it’s books or early beta access to various software packages or “Web 2.0” solutions to problems either real or imagined about life online.
Sumo bag / chairI’m delighted, of course, because there’s no better way to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry than by having the industry essentially come to you and, um, splatter its, um, hmm… the metaphor’s going to break down here, so let’s just say that it’s darn useful. πŸ™‚
Perhaps the most unusual invitation I have received, however, was from a company that makes bean bag furniture. Yes, you read that right, bean bags. “Could we”, they asked, “send you one of our cool bean bags and have you review it on your site?”
It’s one heck of a stretch for a business blogger to write about office furniture, but there was an angle that I found sufficiently tantalizing that I have indeed ended up with a bean bag in my office from Sumo Urban Furniture. And y’know what? I don’t even really like it that much.
Let me explain…

About a month ago I received the following message in my inbox:

Hi! My name is Andrew and I have a company named Sumo which sells a modern/funky/high-quality line of bean bags & soft furniture on the net.

Our products are great and not to let passion or pride take hold but I could simply say, our Omni chair is the most comfortable chair in the world and truly enhances ones life!

I am a fan of your site & was wondering if you would be interested in taking a sample of our Omni chair and posting a review on it.

Our website is:

Please let me know if your interested?

To be frank, I wasn’t very interested in this offer because while there was no requirement to have a positive review, there’s still somewhat of an unstated expectation that… nod nod, wink wink… I’d write a positive review.
Instead, I wrote back a candid message explaining that I was interested but we’d need to change the expectations if we were to proceed. Here’s what I said:

Hey, that’d be fun. I can’t guarantee I’ll write about it, but I like the idea of using it as a “case study” for how to get bloggers to write about your product, even if you have something off the beaten track. You good with that?

At this point, Andrew could have said “uh, no. If you won’t promise you’ll review the chair, we’re not going to send you a $200 product.” Instead, he sent this:

That sounds good & is creative!

I just dont want to send out a piece for “maybe I’ll do something” & then you dont end up doing anything.

Anyways this sounds good & I’ll send an Omni sample out to you.

Thanks for the opportunity & enjoy πŸ™‚

And so, two weeks later, an enormous box arrived in my office and within was something more akin to a “bean pillow” that’s roughly 5-feet x 5-feet in size and easily pushed into a variety of different shapes and configurations.
As it turns out, I don’t particularly like the Omni because while the fabric cover is clearly tough and durable, the rip-proof nylon isn’t very comfortable and I really wish it had a cloth, cotton or even corduroy cover. But I’m in the minority. My wife likes it and my kids are crazy about the Omni. Indeed, my 9yo daughter came into the office with me last week and spent almost four hours sprawled on the Omni, reading a book and drawing pictures. She loves it and wants to take it home.
Thoughts about blogger review offers
In the end, Andrew’s approach clearly did work with me and my potential ethical qualms about being sent a free review unit have been addressed by this article and by how I framed the included product review.
Do I receive other products for free? Yes, as I said at the beginning, but I always disclose that it’s something sent by a vendor or corporation when I write about it, whether I have positive or negative things to say about the product. Am I predisposed to be more positive to a product I receive for free rather than have to purchase? Perhaps. That’s why this might just be a good risk if you’re seeking more visibility for your own product or service…
If you are a public relations person or vendor considering how to approach bloggers for product reviews or other visibility, you’d do well to consider how this scenario worked out with Sumo and ask yourself whether a candid, fully disclosed review (that is, “Sumo just sent me this bean bag free, but I don’t like it”) is something you desire, or whether you or your client needs more control over the outcome?
It’s very similar to the earlier debate about the site PayPerPost [see Should I sign up for PayPerPost on my blog?] too and I encourage you to read through that article to see the ethical and pragmatic issues that arise from the offer to pay bloggers to write about your product or service.
Ultimately, it boils down to this question: If you seek visibility online, are you going to require positive reviews from bloggers, or are you truly capable of rolling those proverbial dice and sending out your product to either be evaluated, good or bad, or simply ignored or even immediately resold online?
If you can’t answer that, you’re not ready to seek visibility in the blogosphere.
Oh, and if you’re a vendor interested in sending stuff to our offices, keep in mind that we’re particularly fond of chocolate, children’s books, portable video players and convertible sports cars. πŸ™‚

20 comments on “How do you get bloggers to write about your product?

  1. This is a tricky and touchy subject. I like calling myself an Unpaid Opinion Blogger. Still, I agree with you that if someone wants to send you a free sample, why not let them?
    Here’s how I’d handle it: I’d say “I WILL write about it, but I cannot promise that I’ll be totally positive. I will seek nice things to legitimately say about, but I will actively and aggressively seek any downsides. My readers trust me. I cannot betray that trust.”
    How the company should handle it: they should be extremely confident that their product will please the blogger/reviewer. Or refrain from using this marketing approach.
    If a company sends you a product and agrees that you will say anything you want, with no strings attached, no prior guarantee of praising the product, that shows their confidence in the product.
    I discovered the absinthe beer called FOUR recently.
    At the tail end of a post on some blogology topic, I typed a few moderately postive sentences about it and displayed a photo of it. I said it taste a lot like strawberry soda, with a slight wormwood (an ingredient) aftertaste.
    One reader scolded me.
    “Did FOUR pay you to say that? It looks like you’re doing editorial advertising now.” Meaning promoted a product within a post, trying to be sneaky or whatever.
    “Product Placement” is a phrase I recall the reader inserting in his complaint.
    Guess what?
    FOUR did not pay me. I mention products rarely, but usually, if I do, it’s relevant to the context of the post. I guess this looked fishy.
    What do you think about spontaneous remarks about some product, service, book, software, SE, feed reader, etc?

  2. O=P.S.=O’ But you should tell your readers that the company sent the product to you free. I mail free CDs of my original computer music to people, friends, with never any hint to review it in their blogs. I don’t care. I just share my music with people.
    A company should be happy to see negative remarks, if fair, it’s like beta testing.
    Or the company could say, “If you think the product really sucks, and you can’t recommend it, please email us and we’ll try to fix it. But please don’t trash us and flame the product.”
    That would be if you had a high traffic or influential blog, or a blog that people link to and quote.

  3. I’ve been sent a few freebies myself. I review them less than half the time, especially if they are sent w/o personal contact.
    I particularly like electronics and video games (the large majority of what I receive). The weirdest thing I have received is a full midi piano w/video game to learn piano (Piano Wizard). It was actually fun, if a little difficult to begin. I also get a lot of books, which are rarely on my topic of Web 2.0/Social Networking so they do not get reviewed.
    Anyway, I’ve noticed that many bloggers give somewhat negative reviews to aleviate the semblance of payment for review. It’s a tough balancing act because, if you like the product, you want it to come across but you also don’t want to seem like you are pandering.
    You did a good job straddling the fence. I can tell you don’t like the chair, but since your family does it still makes it a good review for the company.

  4. I’m not sure this is very different to press offices sending out samples or software companies passing over CDs to magazine reviewers. That’s happened for many a year. Where’s the big deal? That’s a UK perspective BTW.

  5. He is just excited about being asked to review… If one day he gets famous like Operah, you won’t see such postings πŸ™‚

  6. I was going to note mostly the same thing as Dennis from UK: why makes the whole discussion different than one created around a usual day in the life of a journalist and his/ her audience?
    What is a blog the size and awareness of Boing Boing doing about it? What is it getting from companies, as feedback to reviews, and what is it giving back as feedback to feedback?
    Ultimately, bad advertising still is advertising; any company that thinks differently should not open the can of worms. My advice: research the product & company if unsure.

  7. Dennis and Gorgeoux, I’m rather surprised to hear that perspective from you, actually. I’ve been involved with publishing since way before the “dotcom’ thing, and was reviews editor of a national computer publication. This is very, very different than that every was.
    Why? Because of the EXPECTATION of the relationship between the writer and the product vendor.
    If I am writing a review for MacWorld or PC Magazine, it’s a given that I got the product for free and had a chance to play with it. There’s not one reader in a thousand who would be surprised by that fact.
    But in the blogosphere, as a grass-roots underground form of “journalism”, I think it *is* surprising to find out that vendors are distributing products and services to bloggers in return for mentions on their blogs. If all bloggers disclosed this relationship, it wouldn’t be a big deal, but, of course, many (most?) do not do so, leading the reader to assume that the blogger actually paid money for the product or service, which fundamentally changes how the review (good or bad) is read.
    Indeed, I have received private email from folk saying that they received products from vendors and wrote about them, and that they were careful to disclose that fact, yet when I actually went to their blog entry, I saw a long article on the product and COULDN’T FIND any sort of explanation of its origin. If I can’t find it when I’m looking, surely the average reader is going to incorrectly assume that the blogger BOUGHT the product and liked it so much they wrote about it?
    So, yes, I do see a significant difference between journalists and reviewers for publication and bloggers. Does Boing Boing get products free? Well, sometimes even they forget to mention that it showed up in their office unannounced…

  8. Well, I am an infant blogger, what do I know? Where I live (Romania) readers are more likely to asume that you received, and not bought a product, especially if the review is good. Thus, stating the opposite is mandatory; again and again–if it’s one’s game, of course.
    Your point on whether bloggers disclose this information or not is somewhat startling for me: I don’t recall having read, so far, about a survey on this. Is there any information about average readers’ perception on the matter?

  9. Andrew emailed me as well offering a free Omni for a review, and I didn’t care for the rough fabric texture either, and I think it needs more “beans”. When Andrew emailed again asking when I’d review it, I replied that I can’t give it a good review, so end of discussion. He did get a back link out of the deal, though, so all was well.

  10. I have just recently begun receiving products to review. It surprised me, actually, that people were willing to send things all the way to Guatemala for me to check out!
    I personally donοΏ½t feel that a blogger has to give a positive review just because they got something for free, although I will certainly tell my readers what I like about a product. They will also hear the downsides, I think it is only fair.

  11. Great blog with very useful information, but I have to ask, how do you get bloggers to blog about you when you don’t have a product to sell? but a social network for a very challenging demographic?
    I constantly hear about over night success of companies that got bloggers to blog about them, usually it’s a very young demographic that gets it, what do you do with women over 40 who are only now are understanding what is a blog?
    Would love to hear from you.

  12. HELLO
    Sir i am salary person and like to join for blog writing in any web site can u pls show me detail of that system.

  13. I’m a fairly new blogger. While my blog is still small by blogger standards I’m working very had on changing that. I’ve approached at least a dozen companies so far and only had one taker for a review and giveaway. Several want a review but don’t want to send me a product or provide any compensation. I don’t mind doing it if it’s a product I’m already familiar with but I don’t want to make it a habit. I’d love to know some companies that are looking for bloggers.

  14. Collaborating with bloggers, especially those who maintain lesser-known blogs, is the fastest way to put niche-specific content in front of people who care about it most, said John Cass, director of blogging strategies for the Internet consulting firm Backbone Media Inc.

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