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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