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July 16, 2009

It's Not About The Review, It's About The Relationship & Relevance

I have been trying my best to stay out of the discussion about parent bloggers and reviews because I feel many are missing the point. Susan Getgood (who "gets it" ) wrote a great piece that provides background and perspective: "The FTC is NOT gunning for mom bloggers".

I know many smart and talented moms and dads are sharing their opinions online. Not expert, rocket scientist years of research - but opinion. And that is why I started reading blogs - to read opinions online.

Some are accepting products for review and then sharing their opinions of the product. I have accepted products in many different variations (consignment, review, product samples) to enable me to use different types of technology to share with my readers. I do agree that disclosure is key.

So what about bloggers accepting products?

I am not going to make any sweeping statements, but I read many blogger reviews and use my own vetting to decide whether I find their opinions valuable or not. I can tell when someone is not being genuine, and if so - I don't read the post.

I don't accept advertising on TechMamas (at this time) but I have started accepting sponsorships which I will enclose when I post. Sponsorships enable me to attend conferences and buy equipment I need for blogging. I don't (and will never) do paid posts, when I accept products the agreement is that I will only post what I want to - if it is relevant for my readership.

When I started blogging, I had had left my career (and a salary!) in consulting to enable me to spend more time with my kids. My main inspiration to start Techmamas.com was to have a platform to discuss parenting and technology - and access to information about family technology I could share with my readers.  Accepting technical products for review enables me to use it as a mother and with my family (if relevant). 

As Caroline McCarthy mentioned in her CNET post "Do Mommy bloggers need to grow up":

"Many of these women are blogging as a side project while they take time off from very successful corporate careers to focus on raising their kids."

And to make matters even more confusing, a group of mom bloggers decided to do a "PR Blackout" and not answer emails from PR people for one week. Mom 101 had a eloquent and well written response on her post at BlogHer: "The Blogger PR Blackout - The good, the bad, and the completely puzzling ":

"But then, why take the shot at PR people? Why not call it "Write Well Week" or "Blog About Life Week" if the idea isn't to antagonize or alienate the PR community? Ostensibly, that's what an effort called "PR Blackout" is doing."

Yesterday the debate was raging on Twitter and a PR professional had a genuine question that engaged me in the conversation (by @davefleet): " Public relations people should be there to help you, not the other way around". Here are some of my (TechMama) Twitter replies - #15 being the start of the discussion).

  1. I don't get the whole blackout thing.. PR just provides info/products. UP to bloggers to be sincere, and choose for their niche
  2. Reading @CNET http://bit.ly/wjhCj (yet another momblogger post).But agree we are scores of smart,funny,&critical bloggers. Sincere is imp!!
  3. Bloggers should only accept products relevant to their niche (be picky - choose products that enable them to pass info2 their readers).
  4. I suggest companies focus on building relationships with bloggers that fit their niche... Enough said.. Back to my TV time
  5. I only accept products that are relevant for my nitch (technology for families, some fashion) turn down lots. Blog posts=opinion
  6. PR people should just present their product, let bloggers write what they want WHEN they want. Then bloggers need2disclose.
  7. I am not doing a blackout. I am thrilled companies/their PR firms are reaching our directly to moms. Moms are power consumers!
  8. Read your stream and saw http://bit.ly/ZHtKv. Agree with @Citymama - we have deadlines.Many of us are blogging as our livehoods
  9. @JonBaconRT @techmama: Reading @CNET http://bit.ly/wjhCj (Me: How do you feel about MomDot's challenge? I don't get it? Is it for added street cred?)
  10. @MomSpark @davefleet @dmsprsf @techmama @citymama Now I'm lost, what are we taking about? #whattheheckishappening (busy day w/my 3boys)
  11. @davefleet Public relations people should be there to help you, not the other way around.

So my final word to bloggers:

  • Define your blog niche, only accept products that are relevant for your niche and that you have a time/interest in reviewing. Equally accept a product for consignment as you would a free product sample. It is all about being able to use the product and offer an honest opinion to blog readers. Also put value in press releases for relevant new products and pass that information to your readers.
  • Only accept reviews where you will be able to provide an honest opinion in your own time. Only accept products for giveaways that are valuable to your readers (and your time to do the giveaway).
  • PR people are not the "enemy". They are also trying to do their job. Don't answer emails that are not right for your blog and don't accept opportunities that don't provide value to you and your readers. Look at the ROT (return on time) for every blog activity. Don't do PR on your blog, do honest opinion.
  • Disclose, disclose, disclose
  • Look for opportunities to build relationships with companies that fit your niche. Make sure that the interaction with the company will contribute value to your blog goals, from discussions to sponsorships.

Final word to PR:

  • Only target bloggers that fit your product niche. Consider building a relationship with bloggers that fit that niche. Word of mouth marketing is also valuable.
  • You can't request specific wording in blogger posts about your product, let the product speak for itself and the blogger to share their own opinion.
  • Look for bloggers that share their honest opinion. Don't be afraid of a negative discussion, engage in it to find solutions to any issues.

This is a spontaneous post late at night after a busy day with my 3 boys - at a time I should really have been sleeping. So I can't be responsible for my late night babbling....


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This is the best, most clear-eyed summary I've seen so far of this debate. Thanks so much, Beth.

Words to live by. Not surprising coming from you.

Great post Beth! Totally agree and you give great advice to the relevant parties. It is shaping up to be a VERY interesting summer between the FTC regulations and all of the companies that are popping up to do social media. I'm sure this is to be continued....

Disclosure - I work in Intel communications. We make the "brains" in 80 percent of the world's computers.

Ideally the relationship between bloggers or reporters and PR professionals would be a two-way street of communication and respect for each other's craft.

The key in my mind is disclosure. We recently invited 11 women bloggers to an event at Intel and provided a sample disclosure statement that participants could use if they desired. Here is what the statement said:

I am a participating in the Intel ‘Upgrade Your Life’ Experience, and Intel has paid for my travel expenses. Intel has communicated that participants are free to write anything they want about Intel products and events. There has been no monetary compensation provided for my participation in this program, and I will be transparent regarding any gifts or test product loans I may receive. As a gesture of gratitude for participants’ time and involvement, Intel has provided participants with a free Dell Intel Atom-based netbook and HD Flip camera.

I believe that transparency and honesty are best for the blogger and the organization/company.

I agree that transparency is the key. I also feel that to avoid promoting a company/product that you believe in and value because you are worried that someone might think you are taking a payoff is just wrong.

We need to take every opportunity to promote good companies that are providing good products. Too many good honest companies lose out to companies with sleazy marketing tactics and we need to turn that around and mom bloggers have the power to do it.

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