Wednesday, September 06, 2006

How Companies Can Respectfully Request Reviews from Bloggers

On Monday, frequent Lockergnome contributor Dave Taylor wrote in his blog about the issue of companies asking bloggers to review their products.

While I read Dave's post, I thought, "How would a business respond to this article?" If they were smart, they'd pay close attention to the ethical issues surrounding the whole topic of blog reviewing.

A thorny ethical dilemma, asking someone impartial to stick their neck out for your company. So I asked myself a question. "Is there a method businesses could use to approach bloggers for reviews, without stepping on ethical toes or risking severe offense to the blogger?"

Below is the approach my brain (and a lot of reading) fleshed out. Mind you, I'm not an expert reviewer - merely a communicator. Still, if my approach works for your company, more power to you! Use it widely and well.

The BFC "Respectful Review Request" Approach
1. Target Research
Any blogger worth getting a review from already has enough of a reputation (and a post archive) to warrant research. Read their blog, follow their trackbacks to what others say about them. Do this for each blogger you're thinking of approaching.

Time-consuming? Taking two hours to go through someone's work doesn't seem like much of a stretch when you consider that you're essentially putting your company reputation in their hands.

2. Have They Reviewed in the Past?
If your chosen blogger(s) has not reviewed products before, you're taking a gamble approaching them in the first place. Pay attention to #4 below. Do so only if their blog specifically addresses your audience, and they seem otherwise open to considering use of your products in their lives.

Bloggers who've reviewed products in your industry before are safer bets. Even so, your representative must treat them with appropriate respect. Having reviewed before means they're familiar with what you'll be asking for - and they'll know how they want to respond. Be prepared.

3. Brutally Honest Emails
Whatever company rep contacts the blogger had better be brutally honest about their request. Even attempting to hide that you're a business who wants a review effectively screams, "I WANT EXPOSURE AT YOUR EXPENSE."

Remember the aphorism about how a satisfied customer will tell three friends about your product - but an unsatisfied customer will tell 9 friends not to bother? Add a half-dozen zeros to both numbers and you've got an idea of how fast news can spread through the blogosphere.

So unless you want that news to be, "ZYX Company is demanding bloggers give them positive reviews on their products, or they won't talk to you further," better be honest.

4. Go for Quality, Not Quantity.
A review has to benefit the blogger, not just you. They won't have anything to do with a product that will damage their reputations or hurt their search engine ranking. Responsibility on making review requests into a win-win is on the business.

In theory, it's simple - blogger gets free product and (sometimes) a fee for their time, company gets honest review of their products with viral-marketing potential. However, practice never goes as well as theory. What this means is that even after doing your research and being sincere in your initial contact, some bloggers will say no. For whatever reason. That's okay. It's better to have three bloggers giving you honest mentions, than fourteen with reviews all over the map.

5. Be Ready For Rejection - Twice
There are two places a company's product could be rejected by a reviewing blogger - after the initial request arrives, and after they've tested the product.

Dave makes a very good point midway in his article - asking someone to review your product doesn't guarantee they'll give a good opinion afterward. Even if you get past the initial suspicion of an email arriving unsolicited, asking for a review, there's nothing that says they must agree to give a positive one.

Human nature says that if they're the type of person who would use the product anyway, they're more likely to agree to a review. And more likely to give it a positive rating. But that's no guarantee. If you've done the research, your rejection window is smaller, but not gone.

6. Move to the Next
Only after you get a definite response from the first blogger should you approach another. Doing so one at a time allows the company rep and the blogger to reach understandings one-on-one - slower, but much more personal. You're less likely to offend bloggers when you treat them as individuals. A bit ironic for the viral, community nature of the blogosphere, but it is what it is.

Like the research, this adds more time. Unlike the research, the resulting benefit is that your reviewer is likely to mention the personal address they got. The human touch is still not commonplace online; that extra effort to really work with bloggers will spread as fast as a glowing product review.


Now, giving contact methods for reviews in a copywriter's blog? Why am I talking about this, you might ask?

For one, I thought Dave's post was timely and well thought-out. He used a case study format, which I always enjoy reading. For two, blogging is riding a geyser wave of popularity and power on the Web. More than ever, strong copy with something to say matters. Anything I can do to encourage it, I'll leap at with both paws.

I can't guarantee this approach will work with all bloggers. Far too many factors - the company, the product, the blogger, the industry. But I can say that taking extra time, being completely honest and knowing your way is not done enough in the relationships between business and blogs. We're getting there. Let's try for the "unbiased, partner-based product reviews" step now.



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