pimping out blog reviews

    Yesterday, while stumbling around the web, I happened across a blog advertising a peculiar service. For $250 this site would review whatever it was that you wanted to have reviewed. Well, that got me curious. I started poking around, and soon discovered that this particular site was part of a network managed by Review Me dotcom. I didn’t spend a lot of time exploring the several blogs listed as Review Me associates, but, from what I could tell, the site that first caught my attention was a bit of an anomaly. Most member sites weren’t so up front about the fact that their reviews were available for purchase… I suspect that most companies find out about the opportunities, not through the blogs themselves, but through the Review Me site, which profiles each of their members, giving the number of readers in their audience, and naming the price for which you can start generating that much sought after “Viral Buzz.”

    Some of the participating “whore blogs” mention in small print, at the very end of the review you’ve just read, that it was a “paid review.” Some just say that it’s a “sponsored post,” without mentioning that the sponsor is the company selling whatever the product is that they’re reviewing. I suspect that some don’t mention it at all, but I haven’t dug around enough yet to confirm that hunch. Regardless, the practice seems more than just a bit deceptive to me, no matter what the Review Me FAQ says…. Here’s a clip from said FAQ:

    CAN I REQUIRE A POSITIVE REVIEW?
    We do not allow advertisers to require a positive review. The vast majority of reviews are measuredly positive, although many do contain constructive criticism. We view this as a bonus: how else can you quickly and cheaply get feedback on a product or service from influencers?

    WHAT IS THE PRICING MODEL FOR REVIEWS?
    Reviews are priced as a one time fee per review from each individual blog. Price is determined by the reach that the blog has. The more reach the higher the price. Reviews range from $40 to $500 per review, this is a one time fee per review.

    (Of that fee, only $20 to $200, I’ve learned, goes to the blogger. The rest goes to Review Me for their digital pimping services.)

    So, guess what I’ve decided to do? I’m going to register for a Review Me account and put myself out there on the cyber street corner for corporate Johns to check out. And, assuming one rolls up, lowers his window, and makes me an offer, I’m going to give a completely honest review of his product that mentions the financial arrangement up front and doesn’t spare any criticism… I know the folks at Review Me say that they don’t force their sites to write good reviews, but I wonder how long they’ll keep me in their stable once I start focusing on the not so flattering aspects of the products I’m paid to review. My guess is, not too long… I’ll keep you posted.

    This entry was posted in Special Projects. Bookmark the permalink. Trackbacks are closed, but you can post a comment.

      21 Comments

      1. Posted April 30, 2007 at 1:32 pm | Permalink

        Mark,
        Unfortunately the Review Me and Pay Per Post models aren’t based on honesty and certainly not something I or other people that work in the online biz see as reputable or ethical.

        Dave

      2. Dr. Cherry
        Posted April 30, 2007 at 3:58 pm | Permalink

        Heads up: The lovely PR firm Dave works for does PR for Army recruiting (specifically pro-war bloggers) and helps GM fight emissions standards:

        http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php?title=Hass_MS%26L

        I’d love to get into the specifics but I fear a lawsuit.

      3. Posted April 30, 2007 at 4:09 pm | Permalink

        Way to “Cherry” pick, Steve! ;)

      4. Dr. Cherry
        Posted April 30, 2007 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

        Well Dave, readers should probably know who you are and where you’re coming from so they can decide for themselves about your notions of “honesty“, “reputability”, and ethics.

      5. stevarino
        Posted April 30, 2007 at 5:33 pm | Permalink

        My blog doesn’t even have enough readers for me to become a whore.

      6. Posted April 30, 2007 at 6:06 pm | Permalink

        Why not post a link to your employer so the readers can decide if you’re the aforementioned attributes? I linked to my personal blog, so let’s focus on the content of Mark’s post or my blog, not selective information about a company that’s not involved in this discussion.

      7. Cousins Vinyl
        Posted April 30, 2007 at 9:10 pm | Permalink

        Well, this has nothing to do with Dave’s political views and more to do with the concept of reviewing blogs for money.

        In order to be successful in doing this, success being measured in making money, you have to basically sell a product or website. You are essentially being hired to, as Mark put it, pimp another business, whether you really belive in it or not. AND, you have to post this review on your own website, which is a bit unethical if you gave it a positive review regardless or whether or not you really belived in it.

        Which was what Dave’s point was. The fact that Dave might be pro-army is what makes the world go ’round. If that’s his opinion, and he’s not just advocating that opinion to make a buck, than he’s just doing the same thing Mark is, just with a different point of view. Which is the right thing to do.

        “Reviewing” should be done with a non-biased viewpoint. It would be like Terry Lawson getting paid by Disney to write a positive review of an upcoming animation flick on the Free Press.

        Or if I wanted to post reviews on my site of musicians who paid me to do so – it’s bullshit.

        The shame is that it’s hard to make decent money off a successful blog like Mark’s. If he goes the google adwords route, then God knows what he’s selling. And I don’t think Mark wants that on his conscience.

        So what is the solution? To make money off a site you need to either sell something or pimp something. Maybe Mark should just accept donations.

      8. Posted April 30, 2007 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

        I agree wholeheartedly with your comments, although anyone that knows me — including Steve — knows my political views, but they’re neither here nor there in this discussion.

        To your point, there are bloggers out there who’ve been hired to write their own views for companies and make a living doing it. True story, an acquaintance was hired by Vibe to write his exact same blog but on their site. Same f-bombs, same sex stories, just under their umbrella. In that instance he is no different than Terry Lawson (or Terry Foster for that matter) – paid for his opinion, not influenced by the writer of his paycheck.

      9. Dr. Cherry
        Posted April 30, 2007 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        Dave’s political views? Is that some kind of smoke-screen? I have no idea what Dave’s political views are, nor do I care.

        I was specifically referring to the company for which Mr. Binkowski is working, who their clients are, and the modus operandi.

        A great example is at The Zero Boss Blog where a copy of an email from Mr. Binkowski’s staff at Hass MS&L tells an interesting story:

        So off I went to listen to the jingle and draw up my honest, if somewhat biting, assessment.

        Then, just as I finished writing this post? I got THIS email from Charlie:

        Jay, my director [David Binkowski] had a look at our exchange and I’m CCing him here. He’d like to ask that, if your opinion is negative, you keep your comments on it critical, constructively if possible. If you really hate it, you can still post it and post that you hate it, of course, but we’d rather not exchange a Gift Card for it. Does that seem fair?

        What we’d really like to hear is whether or not you like it and, if you didn’t like it, how you would make it better. Of course you can be irreverent, be yourself, but we’d just rather call the thing off if you really don’t like it.

        http://thezeroboss.com/2005/11/21/the-people-at-hass-msl-and-best-buy-are-asshats

      10. mark
        Posted April 30, 2007 at 11:33 pm | Permalink

        So, David, if you don’t mind my asking, how exactly is your system (on the site you linked to, it says you do “word of mouth advertising”) structured differently than the one I described here? Money still changes hands in exchage for positive reviews, does it not? And I’m not looking for an opportunity to bash you or your company. I’m just interested to know how your model differs from the one used by Review Me. If I were to join your network, assuming an offer would be made, what would be expected of me?

        I believe there’s a line there somewhere, but I’m not quite sure where it is. For instance, I’ve written a lot about Vonnegut lately. I don’t think it would necessarily be wrong for me to accept something from his publisher, like a copy of a book about to be published. They, in that case, might have an expectation that I might write a positive review, but it wouldn’t be mandated. The farther you get from that point, however, the more murky it becomes. Would I still be in the right, for instance, if I accpeted a flight to New York in order to meet with them and hear about their plans to launch a new Vonnegut collection? I seriously don’t know… Anyway, I’m curious to know where you draw that line. It sounds, from your first comment, as though you do have one.

      11. Posted May 1, 2007 at 12:30 am | Permalink

        Steve – Pulling selective stories (again) isn’t truly representing me or the company, again of which this discussion is not about. I notice you *didn’t* post anything about the work we did for the Canary Project or My Hometown Helper, a program that gave grant funding to communities to help fix them up. I also notice you didn’t mention your involvement with the firm, either. Nor have you posted your work’s URL. Nor have you linked to my band, of which I invited you out to see a few years ago at the Hamtramck Blowout. Let’s not pretend this is some crusade against me or The Man, ok? If you’re going to be critical then disclose your history as well. Otherwise let’s move the conversation forward.

        So have there been missteps? Sure. Was the blogosphere a wild, wild west 3+ years ago and rules were still being defined? Hell yes. Said blogger shut his blog down for over a year because he had “personal issues” as he put it. In retrospect a simple phone call would have avoided that post and the entire misunderstanding that led to it.

        Back to the original point, Mark. We ask people if they’re interested in giving an honest review of products. In other instances it’s something as simple a press release, like the one I sent you for my band’s show some time ago. Again, selectively, Steve didn’t mention the hundreds, if not thousands of other places where our name is mentioned online at the end of every review and a disclaimer that they got it from us. And yes, some of the reviews are negative. My post today talks about the fact that I can’t put a gold bow on a turd. And yes, I say that to clients.

        My role isn’t to guarantee positive posts, as Steve has pointed out, but to find people online (with an audience) who are a fit for a product or pitch.

        So to your Vonnegut point — I wouldn’t expect anything in return if I would’ve sent you something but I would ask a) if you’re interested and, if intersted, that b) you disclose that you got a free book from us *if* you chose to talk about it. In fact, we have several examples of products, releases, etc. where we’ve sent out products, releases, etc., without any posts, and that’s fine. The clients understand that’s how it goes, no different than sending out press kits or products to journalists and not getting a returned email or call.

        Moving this forward, some groups have set up rules for their bloggers (see: BlogHer), and others don’t – but it’s not something anyone, brand or agency can mandate from their PC. In fact, as part of the Blogger Relations Ethics Code the question was raised about the blogger’s role in disclosure, and while it would be ideal that everyone did disclose the reality is that an agency, brand, etc. can’t enforce it. Is it how I’d choose for it to happen? No. Would it be ideal? Yes, and that’s what I strive toward. We flew a Mom blogger/author to LA for a party a few years ago and she not only blogged but disclosed the entire thing. And the majority of her readers didn’t crap on her for taking it.

        If you search around you’ll find instances where bloggers have gotten into the review game, only to see a small number of their audience flee. Research from Dr. Walter Carl at Northeastern University shows that most people don’t really care where it came from as long as it’s an honest review. And my point all along (prior to this thread) is that if a blogger or anyone else endorses a bad product then they lose their credibility. Simple as that.

        That being said, if anyone else cares to do research on my blog you’ll see my long-standing criticism of the pay per post model.

      12. Posted May 1, 2007 at 12:40 am | Permalink

        And no, we don’t pay people for their reviews.

      13. Dr. Cherry
        Posted May 1, 2007 at 1:12 am | Permalink

        I also notice you didn’t mention your involvement with the firm, either.

        I wish I could. I signed a nondisclosure agreement so I’d be legally liable if I did. You probably haven’t seen it.

        Nor have you posted your work’s URL.

        Does my employer have anything to do with this discussion? I don’t post here as a function of my job.

        Nor have you linked to my band, of which I invited you out to see a few years ago at the Hamtramck Blowout.

        Ok. I’m not sure what that has to do with anything but no, I didn’t link to your band or go see you at the Blowout. I don’t really enjoy lying to co-workers/managers about liking their band.

        Let’s not pretend this is some crusade against me or The Man, ok? If you’re going to be critical then disclose your history as well. Otherwise let’s move the conversation forward.

        No it’s not a crusade. It’s just pretty sickening when someone with your professional background talks about integrity and ethics.

        Again, I can’t really talk about my time at Hass MS&L except to say that I worked there as a programmer. I’m legally obligated not to talk or write about specifics, though I really wish I could.

        I think I can say that my time with Hass MS&L ended around the same time I posted something about a client’s product on my personal weblog. Not that they had anything to do with one-another.

      14. Posted May 1, 2007 at 8:01 am | Permalink

        My professional background? What do you know about my background? I could make a rash decision based on yours if another person posted an incorrect or “guilt by association” entry on a wiki, too. Steve, you’re a lot smarter than this, so I’d suggest you do your research next time. There are over 100 campaigns, thousands of mentions and you cherry pick one comment from someone who, quite frankly, lost it mentally and one campaign for a former client of which I didn’t work on. That’s selective use of information and a vendetta.

        There are those of us who affect change for good based on understanding how things work and pushing like hell for the right thing within those systems. There there are others that go about it in other ways with little or no success because the systems in place are greater than one person. I chose the former route, so don’t shit on me for it.

        The point of bringing up other things online and not just work are because NONE of this had anything to do with the company until you made it have to do with the company. My email address and blog link are my personal blogs, not those associated with the company. I didn’t post my company’s name, use a signature, link to them, nothing.

        And funny how things change in the world of blogging an companies “allowing” personal views, because I also post my candid thoughts on subjects related to what I know from this and other jobs. In fact, within this industry people expect a jab (or ten) from me.

      15. Dr. Cherry
        Posted May 1, 2007 at 8:43 am | Permalink

        My email address and blog link are my personal blogs, not those associated with the company.

        This is your personal email address? …….inkowski@mslpr.com

        It’s the one you posted with first when you were talking about honesty and ethics. Then I believe the third comment you switched to your personal email address.

        Your IP address, 65.48.xx.xx comes back to Hass MS&L’s netblock, so you posted from work.

        65.48.0.0 – 65.48.63.255
        Hass MS&L HAAS-MSL-44-32 (NET-65-48-44-32-1)
        65.48.44.32 – 65.48.44.47

        Tedious. Typical.

        Change for good? Hey, whatever helps you sleep at night man.

        Everything I know about your professional background I read here:

        http://www2.blogger.com/profile/02777795633406727803

      16. Posted May 1, 2007 at 9:18 am | Permalink

        Hey Mark – have you ever considered doing what this guy does – have a paypay “tip jar” and accept donations?: http://meidell.dk/

        Like a public supported blog. Y’know – read for free if you want but it would be nice to leave a buck or two tip every once in a while.

        I’ve just noticed you exploring the idea of making money off blogging – doing reviews, doing google ads, ect. This way seems like it has some integrity. And it isn’t specific for any topic.

        Of course, a writer might be motivated by parties purpously tipping him/her in excess in order to thank or encourage them for writing a good review or getting them some traffic.

        But so what? Let them tip extra money. And let others tip just cause they like you. Our economy is based on money exchanging hands as fast and as often as possible. Maybe it would encourage those in the blogosphere to do the same. It might help out a bunch of people. Like if you used a 10% system where you donated 10% of your tips to other sites. Or whatever.

        That way, you’re not selling or pimping something, but just allowing readers to show they appreciate you doing what you do. And if it was possible, to even allow annonomous tips.

      17. Posted May 1, 2007 at 10:08 am | Permalink

        “your email address will not be displayed on the site”. LMAO. ISP doth not determine personal views, my friend.

      18. Dr. Cherry
        Posted May 1, 2007 at 10:10 am | Permalink

        Oh, my sincerest apologies. I’ll edit that right away.

        I guess I was supposed to keep that secret for you.

      19. UBU
        Posted May 1, 2007 at 12:07 pm | Permalink

        great blog, mark! really generated a lot of thoughtful discourse! (You can bring by my $5 any time.)

      20. schutzman
        Posted May 1, 2007 at 12:46 pm | Permalink

        Not to open a different yet related can of worms, but, I think the whole concept of paid reviews is really just an extension of click-through ads, insofar as it’s a method (in most cases) for people to make money without actually producing any worthwhile content themselves.

        I think it’s unfair, therefore, to group the ideas of “either sell something or pimp something” together, as if they’re both equally dirty. To me, the matter comes down to whether one generates content/product, or doesn’t. If you are producing something tangible and unique, then I can’t see any real justification against profiting from it, any more than it’s wrong to pay money for a roll of toilet paper or a car or a cd.

        I think there’s a serious problem with blogs, in regards to how they’re percieved by the masses, and thus any reasonable effort by someone to recieve compensation for their actual work is regarded as ‘shilling’ or ‘cheapening the medium’, which as i said above, seems just as absurd as saying that general motors should just start giving away the cars they make.

        This doesn’t exclusively relate to blogs, either- I really think the entire concept of ‘free information’ online makes everyone (myself included) look upon the concept of ‘paid content,’ ‘donations’, etcetera, as something very dubious, just because of the fact that it is ‘online’ and not in a brick-and-mortar store, or printed on paper, in which cases the same potential customer would make a purchase without giving it a moment’s thought.

      21. Posted May 1, 2007 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

        Schutzman,
        You’re right – it is an extension. There’s a difference between treating bloggers as journalists and buying space on their site. BlogAds, et al provide space for ads to be purcahsed.

        I said it earlier, but I’ve yet to see any A-list bloggers buy in on the program.

        Dave

      Leave a Reply

      Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


      5 − = two

      You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

        Connect

        Aubree’s ad Farmer ad BUY LOCAL... or shop at Amazon through this link Banner Initiative Poop Modrak