Ethics in Reviews

Date Wed, July 29 2009

I’m browsing Blog-Her right now and (hold on, it’s related) there was recently a BlogHer meetup in Chicago. If you’re unfamiliar, BlogHer is described as “the community for women who blog” and is something like MyBlogLog or BlogCatalog for women. There’s a lot to do and see, including listing your site(s) in the directory, joining groups, sending messages and posting on the forums.

Back to that meet-up (which I believe Gary attended?). It was the fifth annual conference and I saw a link to this article in my Twitter updates about some debate which occurred there. To sum it up, Mom blogs obviously make up a significant portion of BlogHer members and are a growing “corner” of the blogosphere as well. Companies have started taking notice of blogs for PR, especially this group. There’s a lot of free product (or even rent-a-product, sometimes) and many of the giveaways I recently blogged about are possible because of this.

Of course, free product generally means reviews (many of those giveaways occur on what I would consider review blogs, like this one). Apparently, free product often means “positive reviews, no matter what”. I had never considered that. I have always been more than honest when writing my reviews, whether I paid for the product or got it for free. I am not afraid to write a bad review and have more than once. I am difficult to please and that is why some people appreciate my reviews. They know if I approve of something, it must be damned good and I am glad to help in that way.

But if a blogger is writing a review that is good simply because they’re excited for free product, then they are failing. They are failing themselves, their blogs, their readers and, yes, even the company who sent free product. A “false positive” review doesn’t help anyone. It doesn’t help the consumer make an educated shopping decision nor does it help a company make improvements on its products. It doesn’t help the reputation of the blogger. It is worthless.

It may also soon be illegal. Last month, a few articles floated around the ‘net like this one on CNET about how the Federal Trade Commission is considering policing blog reviews in return for payments or freebies. It initially caused some uproar in one community I am apart of but it seems like the only people who will run into problems are those who give false positives and/or do not disclose their practices so it seems to me that those who are honest have nothing to worry about.

And those who aren’t so honest? Have nothing worth reading. I don’t understand what the debate is. How can anyone argue that anything positive can come from being less than truthful without constantly waiting for a wallop from Mom? Especially when they are moms themselves?

If you’re with me on this one and, quite honestly, I don’t know why you wouldn’t be, you might want to keep an eye out for these reivews. I think keeping a couple things in mind can help you detect them.

Fake reviews tend to gloss over the specifics you can only get from using a product a time or two. They may only list biased information and advertising claims. A good review, whether positive or negative, looks at specifics like the 5Ws (Who, What, Where, When, Why and let’s throw in a How for good measure ;)) or how the product appeals to all 5 senses (taste, touch, smell, sight, and audio).
All Pros
Rarely do I run across a product that has absolutely no cons. There’s always room for improvement.
Lack of Information
False positive reviews are often part of posts with giveaways and other PR type material so don’t be surprised if the “review” is no more than a few sentences and contains very little information (whether specs or experience) at all.
Too Much Feeling
Over enthusiasm at simply having the opportunity may be a bad sign. I find bloggers who can “take it in stride” are more seasoned and better reviewers, overall. They know how to be objective(An emotion-based review usually makes a poor product review in general – not just a false positive).

These are all good to keep in mind if you are a review blogger, too! It’s probably easier to fudge your way through a fake review but a good review is also good content. As a visitor, I appreciate a decent review better and you can bet that I’ve noticed a distinct difference in review quality between the different communities I am apart of (although, a review doesn’t have to be falsely positive to be bad). Maybe I’ll write about that in the future, eh?

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