It had to happen sometime; when things start going horribly wrong between bloggers and beauty brands. I’ve been watching a particular USA based company for a while now called Sunlove whose relationship with bloggers and YouTube reviewers has nose dived into abusive chaos. It’s happened for several reasons, not least because neither party has quite grasped the quid pro quo.
Bloggers – particularly younger beauty bloggers and YT reviewers, desperate to blog about beautiful things, but without the cash to spare to splash on pricy beauty products are quite naturally tempted by offers of ‘free’ product. But, nothing in this life comes absolutely free. I’ve often been told by bloggers that once the initial euphoria of receiving free beauty products wear off, they feel a ‘virtual gun to their heads’ to give a positive review. With no experience of dealing with the media, they don’t have a clue, understandably, about how the unwritten press/media relationships go. So, it is therefore incumbent upon PRs not to take advantage of this or at the very least, be extremely sensitive to it. Bloggers do not have to give positive reviews; just because something is free doesn’t mean you have to love it. It does mean, however, that in accepting a sample of product, you are agreeing to review it or consider it for review. Many bloggers take refuge in not reviewing a product they don’t like, afraid of the repercussions of posting a negative one, and yet a blog is supposed to be the one platform where you read the real deal.
On the other hand, some bloggers do start their beauty blogs because they’ve followed other blogs and seen what booty falls their way. These are very easy to spot and one encounter will tell you whether the relationship can continue. When beauty blogging is so new to the UK, it is almost impossible for PRs or brands to tell the rough from the smooth at this early stage, so it is a question of trial and error all round. A strong example of this was a recent make up presentation to bloggers where many expressed outrage at only being given one free product at the end of the event. But since that is no secret, it has just made it all the more easy for the brands and PRs to spot the genuine beauty lovers from the chancers. Censorship within the blogging community is becoming more and more common, thankfully. The majority of beauty bloggers and YT reviewers feel a genuine responsibility to pass on their comments and views – companies cannot expect to get a positive review every time. Sunlove’s mistake was to view YT reviews and beauty bloggers as a source of powerful publicity for little outlay for them other than a few complimentary products, and also to believe that for every product sent out a favourable review would automatically follow. Although there are several more complex twists and turns to the Sunlove story, it is a salutary tale for those brands wanting to use this particular type of media to get their products noticed. Sunlove have certainly got themselves plenty of attention, but not in the way they intended. When things descend to such a level, it’s time to go quiet. Bloggers can block them, or anyone else who is abusive or difficult, or delete them from Twitter, and Sunlove will have to write it off to experience. Abusive or aggressive emails and intimidating posts or tweets aren’t acceptable from anybody and in these cases the delete button is the beauty blogger’s best friend. I know I’ve certainly used mine!
We’re all feeling our way around this new media: there are going to be mistakes made on all sides. The best way forward surely has to be honesty and openness and learning from the inevitable catalogue of errors.
POST SCRIPT: A couple of comments to this post have mentioned ‘paid for’ reviews. I feel on a personal level that this is a slippery slope unless it is handled extremely carefully. I think it’s fine to be a ‘spokesperson’ for a brand and to be more involved with them than just a fan, but lay your cards on the table. The blogging community is a very perceptive one – one hint of unfair play and word soon gets around. Doing ‘sponsored’ reviews is something that will become more common over time and there isn’t anything wrong with forging mutually beneficial relationships with brands as long as you aren’t perceived as trying to dupe your audience. Be open and pave the way.