When Good Bloggers Go Bad: Identifying Bloggers Who Just Want Freebies
In the age of self-publishing, virtually anybody can hang out their writing shingle and label themselves a “blogger” or “editor.” Of course, that doesn’t mean that every blogger is great at what they do…or even legitimate.
So what’s an “illegitimate,” ”fake” blogger? Well, it might be harder to decipher than you think.
We’re all familiar with the obvious fake blogs, which are mere portals that repost content from other sites with no original content at all. And then there are those blogs created by unscrupulous PR professionals, designed to look like they are developed by “regular” people, but which are sponsored by brands (e.g., the Edelman and Wal-Mart fiasco back in 2006). But in the past couple of years, we’ve begun to see a new breed of bogus bloggers — people who are just looking for free stuff. And many times, it might not be that obvious what they’re up to until you’ve already been burned, as I was.
Like many PR agency professionals, I operate my own blog, which gives me an outlet for discussing my personal interests (beauty and style). By serving as both an editor and a writer for my own beauty blog / e-zine hybrid, I’ve had the opportunity to experience both sides of the editorial coin, so to speak. I still represent brands and conduct media relations for them (non beauty-related brands), but I am also pitched by beauty and style brands who want coverage on my site. I review products and provide disclosure according to FCC guidelines, though sending me a product to review does not necessarily equal coverage (that, folks, would be advertising, which I also offer, but under different context with banner ads and clearly marked labels).
As my site has grown, I’ve had the pleasure of partnering with some very talented bloggers who want to expand their editorial horizons by contributing to my site. However, unbelievably, even as a savvy media relations professional, I was fooled by a contributing blogger who actually used her association with my site to obtain free beauty products and spa treatments for herself…and her sister, mother and grandmother!
Under the guise of writing an article assigned by her editor (me), she proactively approached several brands requesting normally-pricey, time-consuming spa services for free. Of course, I had never assigned that to her (nor would I EVER recommend reaching out to people with the sole purpose of obtaining free goods or services), and the supposed article she was writing never manifested itself. After learning about the situation, I was left with a mess that needed immediate attention so the brands could be informed about the incident. I apologized and explained that it was in no way reflective of the ethical policies or behaviors associated with my site.
Fortunately, the PR pros at the brands understood what had happened and even went on to see if I’d be interested in covering an upcoming event, which of course, I was. The bio of my “contributor,” who hadn’t submitted articles for four months prior to the incident, was immediately removed from my site, and her email account was closed.
So, what’s the lesson in all of this? Well, as media relations professionals in the new Web world order, be aware that bloggers who reach out to you may not be as legitimate as they seem. Here are a few guidelines to help ensure you’re getting the best blogger relationship for your brand.
1. Do Your Homework. You wouldn’t blindly send out free products to anyone sending you an email would you? As you should be doing with any pitches you send, when someone pitches you, take the time to visit their website or blog and see what their interests are. Is the blog all about nail polish, but they just asked you for free water bottles? Has the blog only been active for a few weeks? Is there more than a month between posts? Is it surprisingly quiet with no comments on anything at all? Probably best to politely decline.
2. Pay Attention to Warning Signs. Did the blogger approach you asking for something for free? While this action is debatable in terms of journalistic ethics, some new bloggers just aren’t aware of the unwritten rules (many of them are just “normal” people with no professional training, after all), so it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re just looking for swag. But it should signal a red flag, so do your homework to make sure this blogger is the right fit for your brand.
3. Know That Resources are Finite. Even the most talented, popular blogger will understand that you don’t have unlimited samples to send. If you need to decline, simply explain that you have a restricted budget, so unfortunately you won’t be able to accommodate his or her request. But DON’T ever say that your samples are reserved just for print or broadcast press (suggesting bloggers aren’t “real” press), which will likely backfire and have the blogger feeling resentment toward your brand…and you could get some coverage that you really didn’t want.
Have you ever encountered a bogus blogger? What happened? How did you handle the situation? Let us know in the comments.
Photos: Mouse - Ariel da Silva Parreira; Massage - Stock Xchnge User dcarson924