Can you actually trust bloggers? My perspective on PR
It’s no secret that there’s a weird dynamic between bloggers (excuse me, influencers), brands and readers these days. Marketers have known for a long time that people are more likely to trust their peers than the are obvious advertising, and the internet has given them a perfect way to latch onto that. I can’t really blame them for wanting to harness that relationship between bloggers and readers, but PR packages and sponsored content have led to a certain amount of suspicion toward bloggers. Cosmo UK even published an article recently titled “Beauty Bloggers: Can We Trust Anything They Say?” (Even though the title is super click-baity, the criticism was that bloggers are only speaking from personal experience and don’t have the training/knowledge to give skincare advice. That’s a fair statement, IMO).
Over the past few years I too have accepted some PR packages and sponsored posts, so it’s a little disappointing when I read internet conversations trashing other people who do. I don’t consider myself fundamentally different from most people so I’m sure my reasons for working with brands are similar to other bloggers/youtubers/influencers. I haven’t seen a lot of them talk about it much though, so I figured I’d go ahead and put my two cents out there to float around the interwebs, and respond to some of the questions and criticisms I see a lot.
Sponsored posts & PR mean a blogger is getting greedy
Potentially true sometimes, but for the vast majority of people, nah. It definitely is cool to get a surprise package in the mail, or to get paid for something you like doing, but there are other good reasons for it too. Namely-
Running a blog ain’t free
I mean yeah, there are free blog hosting sites like blogger and wordpress.com, but if you want to really go all out and customize it there are expenses. Web hosting. Domain name registration. WordPress themes, if you can’t find a free one that floats your boat. Photo lighting upgrades because terrible swatches are worse than no swatches at all. Photo props. Giveaway items. You get the picture. I would guess most hobby bloggers (I’m excluding the full-timers) are way in the red even if they do some sponsored posts here and there. And that’s not even counting the sheer amount of time it takes, which is a whole other thing.
More products = better content
As much as I would looooove to run out and buy every new makeup and skincare thing the second it comes out, my bank account implode. If a brand or PR company wants to send over some products for review, that’s one more thing I can post about, and one more thing I can draw a comparison to in the future.
They’ll shill anything
Semi-related to that last point, I’ve seen a lot of opinions that bloggers and youtubers will talk about anything and everything it means they get paid or get free stuff. In the age of beauty gurus name-dropping Taco Bell and detox teas all over instagram, I can see how you might come to that conclusion. But for what it’s worth, there are a few categories of PR/sponsorships that I turn down 100% of the time.
Supplements & weight loss products
I occasionally mention medications or vitamins I’ve taken if it’s relevant to the topic at hand, but only ones that’ve been cleared by my doctor & always with the disclaimer that this is not medical advice. I think it’s irresponsible to promote supplements, detox teas, weight loss products etc because they can affect someone’s health in ways that I’m not at all qualified to predict. A friend of mine recently shared this great article on Flare about the things of the whole activated charcoal trend, and I think it’s a perfect example. Even simple things like grapefruit juice or the timing of breakfast can screw around with some medications, so it’s a topic that I prefer to stay away from.
I can’t possibly boycott every company that does something I don’t like, but sometimes enough is enough. There are a few brands out there that are known for bad behavior by their executive staff, lack of customer data security (this post has more on this), working against human rights issues, etc, and I won’t accept products from them or give them any coverage. Not gonna go to war against people that buy from them or anything, I just don’t want to boost their bottom line. And I lump multi-level marketing products in with those – I think the business model is predatory and don’t want to encourage it even if the products turn out not to be that bad.
Body shaming & promoting chemical fear
Terrible marketing copy is a really fast way to lose me. I wish I had a nickel for every email I got that said some skincare product was chemical-free (news flash: it’s not) because I’d be well on my way to retirement. I feel like the whole ‘natural skincare’ trend is a symptom of a larger anti-science attitude, and I want no part of it. Unfortunately some variation of the ‘no harmful chemicals’ has become so prevalent in skincare that it can be really hard to stick to that rule.
Same deal with products that use body-shaming language to hawk their wares – self-tanning and hair removal brands are by far the worst offenders in that respect. Maybe that’s hypocritical because so much of the stuff I talk about is meant to change your appearance in one way or another, but coming out and telling women that something about their natural body is ‘unsightly’ just rubs me the wrong way.
Things you just won’t care about
My info is in a few random PR databases, so sometimes I get emails about off the wall stuff that I just don’t think anyone reading my blog would care about. Example: For a while I was getting press releases from Pornhub. Not that I have any problem with them, I just feel like adult entertainment isn’t what you came here looking for, amiright? Same goes for children’s toys, video games and the like.
Bloggers give all PR a good review
The idea I’ve heard tossed around is that bloggers give positive reviews to all PR products because they don’t want to get taken off the brand’s press list. And to be fair, trashing something they sent you with the hope you’d promote it does sound like a great way not to get PR packages in the future, of course is important to know the market you’re directing too, so doing market research is essential and using tools from sites like https://www.qualtrics.com/experience-management/research/determine-sample-size/ is important.
The thing is, sometimes I try a new product and it doesn’t work for me. That’s true when I buy things, and it’s true for things that are sent to me. I haven’t found that to be a big deal so far though, and I think that’s because I try to be critical of everything I review, whether I bought it or not. I mean, everything has its pros and cons, and will work better for some people than others based on skin type, coloring, preferences and about a bajillion other things. And we’re all adults here (I feel ok saying that, Google Analytics suggests the vast majority of you all are over 25) so I think we all realize there’s no such thing as a beauty product that’s perfect for everyone. Even when I don’t like something, I try to pin down why and translate that to who it might like it better. As far as I know I haven’t gotten kicked off any press lists because of that, but if I do, so be it.
On top of that, there’s a very good, practical reason to always give honest opinions: it would be pretty shitty not to. This isn’t my mortgage-paying job, so if I’m not helping you all there is literally no point in me doing this. Even if I did depend on the goodwill of PR reps to pay my bills every month, if no one trusted my opinion how useful would it be to put it out there?
Hoarding all those products is wasteful
I’ve seen some really epic room tours on youtube that practically make my eyes pop, so I totally used to think this too. After all, you can only slather so much stuff on one face (challenge accepted!). Luckily, I have friends and family who are kind enough to take things off my hands if they don’t work for me or I can’t use them up. If I get a duplicate or don’t open something because I know I won’t use it, I put it aside for future giveaways. I also try to re-use or recycle packaging when I can, though admittedly I could be better about that.
So back to the question at hand – can you trust bloggers to be honest with you? Obviously I think you can, but it’s one of those case by case situations where you have to put on the good ol’ thinking cap and decide for yourself. For this blogger at least, if there’s ever a question in your mind – please leave a comment and ask, I’ll give it to you straight.
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