Gimme Free Stuff: A Guide For Review Bloggers Just Starting Out
During NHL’s birthday, B and I were talking with my family a bit about our blogging activities. Specifically, we spoke with my sister. She was interested in how we were getting so much "free stuff." Skip forward a few weeks to earlier today when Jenn (aka KissMyKitty) tweeted:
Who the hell blindly contacts a company to ask for free shit w/o offering *anything* in return? Bloggers like these do us ALL a disservice.
This got me to thinking. When I first started TechyDad.com, I’d see companies sending products to bloggers and, I’ll be honest, I thought "Man, I’d love to get free stuff like that." I had fallen into a trap that a lot of people can fall into. They only look at one side of the equation: Blogger Gets Something For Free. There’s a whole other side of that equation: Blogger Reviews Product Thus Increasing Product’s/Company’s Exposure. When done properly, both sides come out ahead. The blogger gets free merchandise and content for their blog (the review) and the company gets exposure, usually in the form of a product review.
Now, obviously, companies aren’t just going to start shipping free products to random bloggers with no expectation of anything in return. In general, bloggers with a bigger following will get more review offers and more expensive offers than smaller bloggers will get. Of course, you don’t need to be King Of The Bloggers to get some great product review opportunities.
First of all, bloggers who are just starting out should expect to recieve nothing for free (unless you happen to have company contacts). For these bloggers, I would recommend cutting your product review teeth on items you buy for yourself or your family. Did your kid get a new game for his birthday? Review it! Did you buy a new kind of frozen meal? Review it! This way, when a company is evaluating whether or not to give you a review opportunity, they will see your past reviews. In fact, this is a good practice to keep doing even when you start getting review opportunities. After all, if you like a product enough, why not give it a little shout out on your blog?
So now your blog has been going for almost a year and you’ve gained a decent following. What do you do? Well, you could join a review group like Family Review Network. (NOTE: I don’t know if FRN is accepting new members or not.) You will recieve possible opportunities e-mailed to you and can apply for ones that interest you. You might not get all of the ones you like. You might not even get that many at first. But it will begin to open doors.
In addition, don’t be afraid to approach companies yourself. I’ve gotten review opportunities out of simple Twitter messages or e-mails. Just be sure that you research the company first, that your messages are professional and that you express how your review could benefit their company. Remember, they’re going to be looking for ways to improve their product’s/company’s exposure. They don’t really care about how you’d love to have a free item.
If a review possibility doesn’t pan out, be cordial. Thank them and ask them to keep you in mind for future review opportunities. You definitely don’t want to burn any bridges. Even if you aren’t going to review Company X’s products, that PR representative might get switched over to Company Y. If they then remember your blog and think it might be a good fit for Company Y, you don’t want their last memory to be a "frell you" letter.
When you do get a review opportunity, make sure you keep your time committment. If, for some reason, you are going to be late, let your PR contact know why and when you expect it to go live. If you find you can’t post a review of the item at all, be honest with the PR contact. Give them specific reasons why. (I have actually done this when something turned out to be not quite what I expected. It wasn’t bad, but just not quite applicable for my situation and therefore I felt I couldn’t give an honest review.) Keep those lines of communication open.
Remember, review opportunities aren’t about free products. It’s about establishing and maintaining relationships with companies. There’s a balance here and any free products that you recieve are just one side of that balance. Focusing on the "free" too much will upset the balance and make it harder to get review opportunities in the future.