Does Your Blog Need a Product Review Policy?

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Receiving products for free to review is seen as a definite perk of being a fashion blogger, but if you're not careful, product reviews can ruin your relationship with your readers and with brands. As a blogger, your integrity is the one of the most valuable things you have. If people can't trust what you say, then they have no reason to read you. At all. So when you're offered a product to review, how can you make sure that the way you handle things is above-board and easy to understand…not only for your readers, but also for the brands you work with? Consider putting together a product review policy.

I wrote down my product review policies about a year or so ago, and it's one of the best things I've ever done for my blog. Not only does it save me a lot of time to have my policies in writing, it also gets rid of a lot of confusion about the review process for my particular blog. Even more importantly, if a disagreement does arise later, you're able to point to your review policy if the brand has an issue with the way you've handled things (such as, for example, publishing a negative review or even disclosing that you've received a product free for review). There are as many ways to handle product reviews as there are fashion bloggers, but if you do decide to put together a review policy, here are a few of the more important things it should include:

Are your reviews editorial content or advertising content?

As Jennine says in the article linked above, editorial content is your opinion, while advertising content is content you've been paid to produce (and that usually must fit certain brand-mandated criteria). Put another way, is this review meant to help your readers (editorial) or to help a brand (advertising)? While those two goals aren't always mutually exclusive, knowing who you're actually writing the review for is important for your review policies. On my site, product reviews are always editorial content. Because of that, brands do not get to dictate what goes inside a product review (whether that's text, link, or photos), nor do they get to preview a review before publication or edit a review after publication. On the other hand, some bloggers prefer to treat product reviews as advertising, and brands can give them specific links, press language (up to and including pre-written reviews!), and a date to publish. Some brands may even require final approval before publishing. Whatever you decide, advertising or editorial, be consistent and be clear. Nothing causes confusion and bad feelings like changing your mind halfway though.

Will you publish negative reviews

Some bloggers will only publish a product review if they love the item. As a result, every product review on their site is overwhelmingly positive. Other bloggers will publish a review even if they feel ambivalent about or dislike the product, which results in a mix of positive and negative reviews on their site. Again, this ties back to the first question…are you writing these product reviews for your readers' benefit or for the brands' benefit? If you're writing for your readers, then keep in mind that a negative can be just as useful (if not more useful) than a positive one. However, if you're writing for brands, then it may be a good idea avoid any negative talk on you site. As someone who publishes both positive and negative reviews (my negative reviews always including the reasons why I don't like a certain product), my readers have told me that my willingness to say when I don't like something makes them trust my positive reviews even more. They know that when I say I like something, I really like it. On the flip side, I've also heard that when all of a bloggers' reviews are positive, readers can begin to get suspicious and doubt what the honesty of what the blogger has to say. Even with that in mind, it's important to remember that a willingness to publish a negative review may make some brands hesitant to work with you. There's a certain expectation of positivity in the fashion industry (“Everything's awesome! Everything's amazing! This collection was the best one yet!”) and if you dare to buck that trend, there can be unfortunate repercussions.

What is the turnaround time for your reviews?

How long will it take you to get a review up on your blog? Will your product review be ready to publish within 3 business days of receiving the product? Or do product reviews on your site take a month, six weeks, or more? Be honest. There's no right or wrong answer here, and having a realistic sense of how long it will take you to publish a review helps both you and the brand. You'll not only have a reasonable deadline to get things done, the brand won't have to waste their time writing again and again to ask when their review will be posted. Unreasonable expectations can sour any budding business relationship, which is why including your turnaround time in your policies is a good idea. For my blog, product reviews take about 6 weeks. I write about lingerie, so I like to be able to wash and wear items repeatedly before giving my thoughts. For an item like a handbag, a pair of shoes, or a makeup palette, your review turnaround time may be considerably shorter. It all depends on your niche and how thorough you prefer to be.

Will you disclose that you've received a product for review on the blog?

Of course, the answer to this should be YES. If you live in the United States, disclosure is required by the FTC. But even if you're not beholden to US law, disclosing is still a good idea. There's no shame in receiving a product free to review, and so there should be no shame in disclosing it either. Disclosure makes your readers fully aware of the circumstances surrounding the review, and allows them to put their own filters in place while reading it. I know that when I was first started visiting blogs, I was shocked when I found out how many review items weren't actually purchased by the bloggers, but were received for free. And though I wasn't offended, I did find myself wishing I'd known that information before. A disclosure doesn't have to be anything long, complicated, or involved; a simple mention, preferably near the top of the blog, post will suffice.

What will you do with items you've received for review once the review is finished?

Because I review underwear, this question isn't as relevant to me, but if you're reviewing items that can be safely reused or given away, this is a very important issue to consider, and one that may be worth including in your review policies. Personally, I toss items that can't be given away (like knickers) and donate items that can be to local charities (like bras). But if you're reviewing an item with more staying power and a higher monetary value (like a coat, dress, or jewelry), your decision making process may be more complex. How will you handle items you've reviewed that you no longer want to keep? Will you resell them, via your blog, eBay, or a site like PoshMark? Will you donate them to local or international charity? Will you throw them in the garbage or give them away to friends? Even though an item gifted to you is yours, brands can and will take offense if they see a product sample for sale somewhere else later…and that can absolutely affect future opportunities with that brand. Think through what works best for you, and the appropriate consequences (if any) for your blog.

How do you handle product reviews on your site? Do you have an official policy set up?

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16 Responses

  1. Shira

    Love this. Whenever I review something, I try to get it on the blog within a month. I’d also rather not give anyone negative reviews (especially if a small business) so I’d rather not mention it at all if I don’t like it- that’s my personal choice. For example, my friend sent me a bunch of makeup to review and I only put up the ones I liked and didn’t mention the ones I didn’t like. So my post was something like “My favorite Picks from XXXX..”

    Reply
  2. Cate @ Wild Ruffle

    I’m always amazed at the number of brands that will actually ask me not to disclose that I received the product or payment from them! It’s a great idea to have a policy all written up so there aren’t any questions that arise later.

    Reply
  3. Courtney

    Great post, Cora! I think it’s important to have these policies. Like Cate mentioned, I’ve also had brands ask that I do not disclose, and if they do, I usually tell them I can’t work with them. Disclosure is a must!

    As for what to do afterwards, I would never sell an item given to me for free. Since the blogging community is relatively small, I feel like word spreads fast in the PR community especially if something is sold online. It’s a no no to me!

    Reply
  4. Sharan Kaur

    This is such a great post as I feel having a privacy policy is extremely inportant for all bloggers to have. It’s essential for bloggers to disclose when they are getting paid to blog about a product in order to be upfront to their readers. It’s also important to bloggers to be sincere about their product reviews and not just say they loved a product just because they got paid for it.

    Reply
  5. Alex Lagman

    I think I do both – editorial and advertising content. While it’s a bit complex to bring the two together in one article, I think any blogger (especially beauty bloggers) can think of it as a challenge. Not all lipsticks are great for your skin. Not all coats suit your style. It’s up to the blogger how he/she can come up with a write-up. Also, I don’t rely on the PR too much. I do my own research and I make use of the products being lent for reviews.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    Reply
  6. Serena

    I’m still new to blogging, so at the moment I buy the product that I want to review.
    This was a very helpful post, bringing up a lot of things that I haven’t thought of. When the time comes when brand do want to work with me, I will have a better idea how to do reviews in a way that my reader will be able to trust me and can work well with brands.
    Thank you.

    Reply
  7. Kajol

    Really good sound advice.

    I think I’m gonna start reviewing my own home products that I have but I wish people sent me products to review 😛

    Reply
  8. Petits Bijoux

    I blog for leisure and I join affiliate programs and work with advertisers to promote the brands I like. Under most circumstances, I see no need for the so-called “free products” being sponsored as I only recommend beauty products I have purchased of my own free will and have personally tested for a certain period of time.

    A blog is nothing but a website owned by an individual or a group of people, I see it no different from a private enterprise. What type of information a private enterprise chooses to disclose is at its sole discretion and is bound by the terms and conditions agreed upon between the business partners themselves under the law of their respective jurisdictions.

    Instead of throwing out attempts to herd the blogger community, perhaps IFB can consider writing more about how to keep fashion bloggers independent.

    Reply
    • Mary King

      Actually I view posts like this as exactly what you think they should be doing: trying to keep bloggers independent. Product review policies can definitely be part of that. A brand that contacted me basically wanted to write my post for me. They were going to provide the images, the press release that I had to include, and on and on. I was simply the platform they were using to advertise their product, whether I liked the product or not. I turned down the “offer.” Why? Because I am an *independent* fashion blogger, not a site that puts out ads for whoever has the highest bid. Being independent to me means that I am in full control of my blog. And that needs to be communicated clearly to any brand that may want to contact me. For me, a clear and concise policy helps ensure that will happen.

      Reply
      • Petits Bijoux

        The way I see it is that if a brand is serious about its image, it wouldn’t just pick any blogger (no matter how *independent* s/he claims to be or how *popular* s/he claims to be) to present its products. Policy tends to differ from one brand to another depending on many factors. Using empty words such as “integrity” or “honesty” to frame a policy assuming that it would work for all is unrealistic. This is my point.

      • Mary King

        There are many brands serious about its image. That doesn’t necessarily mean they will be ethical about how they approach marketing. In an ideal world, every brand would be perfect, and ethical, and approach any potential promoter in a very fair way. Unfortunately, this isn’t an ideal world. Even top respected corporations have had unethical dealings. In fact, I have seen plenty of scripted reviews for brands that are “serious about its image.” With that in mind, I appreciate that there are articles out there that help an independent blogger how to deal with these issues. I am curious as to why you find words such as “integrity” and “honesty” to be so empty regarding a policy? My policy is pretty short. But in it, I am very clear that I will be honest with my reviews. That means no script to follow, and that I will discuss what I like and don’t like. Will all brands pay attention to it and not contact me if it doesn’t work for them? No. In fact, a known national brand STILL contacted me and wanted me to follow their exact script. This is a brand that I know to be serious about their image. But that didn’t mean they were above using bloggers in whatever form they could to promote a new launch. You are right in that one policy won’t work for all. This article isn’t giving out one policy to copy/paste onto your blog. It is informing bloggers how to form one for their own policy or review one it currently has to make sure it fits with the image they want to portray. If a given brand doesn’t like it, so be it. But I am my own boss with my blog. I am happy to work with brands if it fits within the nature of my blog and they understand that I am in control of what is said on it. As such, I create policies that work for me and the image I want to portray. In that sense, I remain independent and true to my blog’s integrity.
        Your mileage may vary.

      • Petits Bijoux

        Looks like you are projecting your personal problems with brands onto your fellow bloggers, or maybe you are taking the rare opportunity to exhibit your special qualities?

  9. Mary

    Thank you for this. I have only a short blurb on my blog about product reviews, that basically states that it must fit with the blog for me to consider and that they will not follow a script (so I will be honest about what I like and don’t like). Since I have a very small blog, I hadn’t given it much thought aside from that. Then in one day, I was contacted by two brands. One I passed on because it turned out to be strictly promotional, and I wouldn’t even be able to use my own words. I passed. The second understands and supports my “honest only” take on reviews. They provided hi-res images because I requested a couple specific ones to go with my own images, not because they insisted I use them. I even told them I may not use them at all, depending on how the post comes together. They are fine with that. I am excited at my first opportunity to work with a brand, and am very thankful this one understands the importance of blog integrity. But it also made me realize that I need to write something a little more in depth regarding my product review policy.

    Reply
  10. Matthew Pike

    I think a clear policy and disclosure is key. Being open about things is the best way, if you have built up followers they’re going to know what to expect. Along with good visuals it makes for some great, insightful content. I think I’ll adjust my policy sightly.

    Really helpful article.

    Reply