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Blogging Ethics and Sponsored Reviews

Melissa-PetriThis post on Blogging Ethics and Sponsored Reviews has been submitted by Travel Blogger – Melissa Petri from Europe String.

With the increasing number of people turning to blogs, it is no surprise that companies have also started recognizing its use as powerful marketing tools. And apart from just helping to spread the word, blogs can also serve as a way to communicate directly with would-be consumers.

Among others, the travel industry has seen the light. They now know better. Some – like Southwest and several travel aggregators – established their own blogs to reach out. Others, on the other hand, sought the audience of established individual or network travel bloggers.

Like travel writers from influential newspapers and magazines, travel bloggers are now being approached (at a smaller scale) to join travel junkets, receive freebies and/or get paid for sponsored reviews.

Now, if YOU – as a travel blogger – decide to accept these travel freebies, how can you make sure that you do not sell out and that you remain ethical?

Be Transparent. Always inform your readers that you are writing a sponsored review and/or that you have received certain items to review for free. Especially if you write a glowing review, your readers deserve to know that you are being paid for what you are writing.

Try to Avoid ‘Only Positive Reviews’. If you are going to properly evaluate a certain product or service, you need to write both the pros and the cons. Yes, even if you are little miss sunshine and would rather focus on the positive, your readers need to know if there is one aspect which is lacking or which may be of concern to other travelers.

If You Get a Giveaway, Give it Away. At least, you can try. The best way, in my opinion, is to hold a contest and give the giveaway away. Provided, of course, that it can still be used after evaluation of the product. In my opinion, this is a win-win situation. You will encourage reader participation, make one winner happy and your ìadvertiserî will get an extra giveaway or contest entry. AND if you have something considerably big to giveaway, you can even generate more traffic.

Travel junkets are trickier, though. Even if you promise to be true to your readers, how realistic would your experience be? I can safely assume that most of these companies would go all out because they know that you would be writing about your experiences later. You’ll get special treatment, the best rooms, the best food and I bet that you would not have to fall in line, either. Even if you write a glowing review because you’ve had this truly wonderful travel experience, do you think you would you still be true to your readers? Would your experience and your recommendation really reflect the kind of package they are really offering to normal travelers? Something to make you go hmmm…… Told you, it’s tricky.

Many say that the judgements of travel bloggers who accept freebies are compromised. Well, your readers would have to be the judge of that. The important thing is that YOU do not become a travel whore (excuse my language). YOU should not accept any sponsorship or freebie offers if they do allow you to be transparent and write negative reviews, if any.

Melissa Petri writes for 4 network travel blogs. Her day job allows her to travel 25x a year, written off as travel expense and/or courtesy of the miles she has accrued through the years. She admits to occasionally accepting giveaway (to be later given away in her blogs).

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Comments

  1. Dear melissa,i
    I have a travel blog too..9 months old.It doesnt generate much traffic..what shall i do? i am really disappointed..An experienced true opinion of people like you is important for novices like me.

  2. Yax says:

    I personally don’t mind at all to be fed a sponsored review as long as it’s on topic. I’m always free to stop reading the article if it’s boring.

    I might be bothered if one of my favorite websites turns into a review-fest

  3. Interesting perspective, not just on travel blogging, but on product reviews about anything.

    I guess the biggest things I can see with this is:

    1. make sure you tell your readers that it is a review,
    2. tell them if you are getting paid or getting something in return,
    3. BE HONEST! (if you’re not, the reader will tell)
    4. if the product/service needs improvement, talk about it!

    ps… honesty and integrity really count in this area.

  4. aaron says:

    With Google cracking down on TLA and paid reviews, the Firefox AdBlock extension, and members reluctance to click ads, it’s getting harder and harder to make money with blogs. Unless, of course, your blogging about blogging, which seems to be the cash cow these days because your feeding thousands of bloggers who in turn want to make money with their blogs.

  5. Aaron – both Darren and I will tell you that blogging about making money blogging is actually one of the least lucrative niches. Product blogs far out-earn these B2B how-to blogs.

    Darren runs this blog more as a service to the community, and you rarely see sponsored reviews here as well.

    I say this because he and I have talked about this issue specifically and we both agree that we make more on other projects – but our blogs help those projects grow.

    No matter how you make money online, every six months, the rules change. That’s the nature of internet business. Even Fortune 500 companies have to change to stay with the times! :D

  6. Sheila says:

    I write an independent travel blog focused on travel to Hawaii. I totally agree with all your points. I pride myself on providing unbiased reviews. When I travel to Hawaii, I don’t let hotels, tours, restaurants, etc know that I’m there to review them. I think I would get a different reaction if I did.

    I personally hate it when I have to filter through a load of false crap just to get a tiny nugget of useful information. There are lots of travel blogs out there that are just trying to point people in a specific direction. As soon as I discover that a blog has an agenda or vested interest, I don’t believe their insight and I won’t be returning.

  7. Sue says:

    Interesting post. I don’t have a travel blog, but I was contacted by a publisher to review a book coming out this month, which I did. I never thought about offering the book (sent to me free) as a contest giveaway. I’ll have to check it over and see if it’s in good enough shape to use as a prize, and maybe come up with something.

  8. Collin says:

    Well atleast you can say your never going to have a duel moment online and by blogging. I don’t understand though why Google has a problem with paid reviews.

  9. Marshall says:

    I write a financial blog and receive books to review which I end up giving away. I always state whether I’m writing a “sponsored” post. Honesty is always the best policy.

  10. Jack says:

    I recently completed my first paid review, and I was totally transparent about it. One point that hasn’t been raised was where do you tell the readers that this is a paid review? Because a while ago I was on someone’s blog, and they wrote a fair but slightly more positive than negative review on a site, to the point where halfway through, I went to this site and signed up. Then when I read the whole thing I saw it was a paid review, that he hadn’t recieved payment, and had slated the site in an update at the bottom of the post. I felt cheated and have never returned to the site since. Transparency is fine, but make sure you are honest from the get go.

  11. CatherineL says:

    I used to run a travel site with completely unbiased reviews and I frequently got calls from companies offering freebies if i would give them a glowing review. I refused. Reviewing places I’d never even visited was totally against what the site was about. I can understand why some people would do it though.

  12. Alain says:

    I value my readers and want to ensure that they feel like they are more then just statistics. I will take this advice into consideration when I consider plugging sponsor products and services. The last thing I want to do is isolate my readers.
    Thanks Darren and Melissa

  13. Silverlokk says:

    Last sentence:

    “YOU should not accept any sponsorship or freebie offers if they do allow you to be transparent and write negative reviews, if any.”

    doesn’t make sense. Is there a typo in there somewhere? I’d like to think that you should not accept freebies if they *don’t* allow you to be transparent…

  14. Jason says:

    I think sponsored posts have killed one of my blogs. I want to say it’s been punished by Google. Do you think that’s why?

    Thanks.

  15. Brad V. says:

    I agree 100% with the idea of transparent. If I’m writing a glowing review of something I make sure to include a disclaimer at the bottom saying I’m not being paid or compensated in any other way to write this review.

    However, I don’t think I’ve ever given an all-glowing review of anything. I always try to include some “negative points” about the item/book/experience I’m writing about. I want to be honest with my readers so they don’t think I’m just trying to make a quick buck off of them.

    I’ll freely admit, though, that for me, making money on my blog is secondary. It’s very much a hobby right now, and I’m having a blast with it! Hopefully that attitude shows in my blog.

  16. John Rice says:

    Excellent post covering a great guidelines for sponsored blogs.

    Freelance Job

  17. Jon Allen says:

    I write a travel related blog, I’d love to get some freebies to have this dilemma.

  18. The only problem with this is the subliminal effect on getting valuable gifts. It may unintentionally influence a bloggers perception of the service.

    It might be best to invite companies to take ads out on the blog – rather than risk this type of conflict

  19. Garri says:

    Melissa, good post, and certainly one for keeps!

    We receive many requests to be featured on our blog so what we have done is create a paid travel directory (see link in top right nav on our site)

    The listings from our directory are then fed into various spots throughout our blog via RSS, sort of like our own in-house ad system.

    We have a few travel journalists known to subscribe to our feed, and a few places we’ve discovered have ended up in print as a result of exposure on our blog, so paid for features in our case is something we’re exploring.

    Right now though we’re working on totally redesigning our site and launching a fresh new service which will appeal to accommodation providers and travel companies.

    As you can see, we don’t have Adsense or affiliate marketing on our site, which is forcing us to be more creative in our approach.

  20. The same ethical dilemmas that face journalists every day are equally applicable to bloggers, at least if bloggers wish to be considered as having equal status in terms of trust.

    db

  21. JC Carvill says:

    definitely,blog is a powerful online marketing tool.this post having guideline for blogs specially travel blog.this is important to having idea how to post blog .

  22. NancyP says:

    David is right; travel writers have faced the same issues Melissa describes for a long time. I like the idea of “re-gifting” freebies as contest giveaways.

    Excellent guest post; thanks.

  23. “Re-gifting” doesn’t really get you off the ethical hook, After all, offering your readers a gift is an enticement equivalent to a payment and so could represent a conflict of interest just as easily. I’m not saying any of this is wrong for bloggers, just that there are ethical moral guidelines that apply to journalists, that bloggers in their effort to be given equal (or even better) credence than journalists should consider in accepting gifts and jollies.

    db

  24. Bontb says:

    Sheila I also have hawaii blog

    http://www.hawaiib.com :)

    Anyways I like this sponsored review it stays on topic!

  25. Mike Panic says:

    I did a few sponsored reviews, with a few different companies that offered paid blogging. None of the ones I did were “positive only” and I made sure I pointed out problems with whatever I was reviewing. They were always disclosed to the readers that they were paid reviews.

    Feedback from readers was mostly negative, even though I review products and services often, on my own.

    At the time, the paid advertisers had ranked my blog pretty low, it was a PR0. Now it is a PR4 with tons of content, a good RSS reach and lots of inbound links, it ranks much higher to them and they have placed my blog in a higher tier of reviews.

    I am still entertaining the idea of writing a few more, and look now and again – but only bid on premium paying reviews and on those products or services that are of both an interest to me and would be interesting to my readers. I also try to put myself in their shoes and figure out if I’d want to read a review about whatever on my blog.

    Sadly, going by your recent poll of how much unique traffic people get, the vast majority are in the sub 1,000 uniques per day. At that point, making money should be secondary to building quality content and getting traffic numbers and RSS subscriptions up.

  26. Melissa writes for us at Know More Media. Our network publishes a small handful of sponsored reviews each week across our 100-plus blogs. We have a strict policy in place that helps us make the reviews as worthwhile as possible for the audience as well the advertiser. We liken it to radio ads where the announcer (e.g. Paul Harvey, a sportcaster, etc.) pauses to read and comment on a sales pitch for a minute before returning to the scheduled program. I think it’s important to space out reviews so as not to annoy the readers, and also to make them as relevant and useful as possible. Also, it’s critical to be absolutely honest. For example, if you haven’t tried the service you’re being paid to write about, don’t say you have!

    If you do it right, these are a great option. It’s a fairly new trend of promotion among blogs but it’s gaining speed, and I think it’s good for business as long as high standards are upheld.

    If anyone has questions about sponsored posts, I’m always available to shoot the breeze.

  27. Craig says:

    We’ve been building the indie travel podcast — as an INDEPENDENT travel podcast — for the last 8 months.

    And today we asked a company for a freebie to review. And got it.

    We haven’t done this before, but one of our listeners bought the product, liked it, and asked us to review it. It wasn’t something we were going to buy just for a review. And I don’t think we’d automatically say “no” to possible future offers.

    However, I agree transparency is vital, but staying true to your audience is even more important. I think travel advice now should help people to avoid taking extra rubbish along – think pack light – and all our reviews ask whether it’s worth the weight.