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‘Free’ Ethics: How to accept products for review, or as gifts…


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While getting products ‘for free' is always a nice thing, sometimes I can feel torn about receiving them. Particularly in the early days of my blog where I wondered if it would compromise my integrity. I would feel guilt, and worry, and wonder if I would really like the gift knowing that it was given so I would post about it.  As time went on, and I saw how some bloggers can do it quite gracefully and without guilt, I started to look at the whole free product question quite differently.

Doing reviews can be loads of fun, some companies will actually send  you free samples for your review. It's a mutually beneficial exchange because you'll get a good personal experience to write from creating good content with perks and they will receive publicity. These days, it's almost become common for bloggers to receive gifts, or free samples for review from companies. In the fashion blogging sector, follow any blog, particularly a popular one, and you'll see mentions of gifts pop up frequently. Since blogging is relatively new, here are a few things to think about when creating your own policy around free goods for product reviews or gifts.

Bribery?

Questions often arise every now and then about the ethics behind accepting free products, and it's important to think about. In the journalism industry, writers aren't allowed to accept gifts from companies because they are perceived as bribes. In traditional media, the line of trust is defined by a clearly laid out code of ethics as there is no personal relationship between the journalist and the readership. [UPDATE TO ADD: from what I understand, journalists are allowed to receive free products for review, and are not required to disclose it in their content. They generally aren't allowed to receive gifts.] Where Blogging is more fluid, like a conversation, since many of bloggers write about personal experiences and opinions, the line of trust comes from the authenticity and reliability of the blog .

Reputation

A bloggers reputation is based on the transparency and honesty of their opinion. Receiving gifts may affect a blogger's opinion.. but not always. Companies still cannot buy editorial coverage, even on blogs. I have received pitches for things I wouldn't be caught dead in, and I've received free things that I wouldn't use because they were faulty, or I wouldn't purchase them myself.  If like the product in general, but there are features that I am lukewarm about, I'll say it, in fact, it  helps establish that a review is honest, as nothing is perfect. Some bloggers will write negative reviews. Since I prefer to blog about what I like, if I can't say something nice, I won't say anything at all.

Up front & Clear

When a company approaches me to review a product, or to send a gift, make sure they know what my blog is about. Sometimes freebies will come from blog friends, and they already know… sometimes it will be from companies that may have just glanced at  my home page in which case I'll have to say ‘Thanks for getting in touch. My blog is about ________, and I am/am not interested because of _______.' If the representative from the company is any good, then they'll understand, and hopefully keep me on the books in case something else comes up, or if I want to do the review, then they'll keep you on the books in case more things like it pop up. Either way, it's always good to build a positive relationship, because one never knows when they're going to need someone's help.

Businesses should already know that positive editorial content cannot be purchased, they may reminding, a simple statment of policy whether it be silence or negative reviews should be sufficient.  ‘I only post content I believe in, and what my readers will like.' I always try to give feedback, and sometimes it's great and sometimes it's not.

Sticky Situations

Most companies are really great, and I've had some really wonderful experiences, however not all companies are the most ethical.  Some companies, may ask to read your review before you publish it or sign a contract stating you'll only publish a positive review, but that is not common practice, nor should it be.  If that is to ever come up, then remind them what your blog is about, what your policy is. Do not allow them to guilt or bully you into writing positive post, they are being unethical, not you. If you have any questions, or if you are asked to do something you feel uncomfortable about, talk to your community, your blog friends, or you can always post your question in the IFB forums. Whatever you do, don't feel alone, because there are lots of bloggers with experience who can help you.

Disclosure

While a universal code of ethics may not be established for blogging…. yet. It's common practice to disclose anything received as a gift, any samples, anything free. While no one is required to post just because a free product was involved, if a post and a free product is involved, so should a disclosure. It doesn't have to be in big pink letters, but it can be worked into the body of the text. “I received this from____,” or “_____ sent me this lovely gift”  is fine.  Transparency is vital in building trust with readers, they have a funny way of detecting dishonesty, so in order t to build a positive reputation, then disclose, disclose, disclose.

UPDATE: Though some bloggers do not feel they have to disclose a free sample for review, I personally think this is a grey area becuase so many bloggers post about thier own personal purchases. Since it's not always clear to the readers whether it's a testimonial of a product purchased or a review of a product which passes the editorial grade but has not been purchased. The weight of the opinion is different, and the readers need to know that. I believe free samples and gifts should be disclosed.

What's your opinion about accepting free products?

What about your experiences?

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Independent Fashion Bloggers (IFB) is a community of fashion bloggers who share their experiences and resources to build a better blog.

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