My recent review of the Keurig 2.0 coffeemaker has drawn a range of responses (and visits from the Keurig PR machine.) I recognized that people will disagree with my assessment or that they have different priorities in terms of their coffee machines.
But I was disappointed when another “Influenster“ (a reviewer through the website Influenster.com) used some shaming tactics on me via Instagram. She took the stance that I had no business accepting a free product then criticizing it, especially when so many other people would have been grateful to get the free machine.
“This is disrespectful. If you really care about the environment then you shouldn’t have accepted the Keurig in the first place. There are thousands of other influensters who would have loved to receive one of these. I had to comment because this just saddens me.”
In other words, she missed the point of product reviews. Of course, the companies hope for a great review, but I think they distinguish between “free publicity from people who gush about our product/service” and “semi-objective critique of the product/service on its merits.” They want both, but there’s a distinction.
This is me gushing
The key to good reviews of any product, service, event in my opinion involves these considerations.
Clear Criteria. Be specific about how you are assessing the asset. Are you using measurable data? Did you visit the restaurant more than one time? Do you have any other contrasting information for comparison purposes? Is it a broad critique or focused on one element? In the case of Keurig, I was considering the environment, cost and convenience/efficiency. I did assess the quality of the coffee and gave credit for that. In the case of a play, I write about how I was impacted by the story and the performances. I also tend to mention the venue or space because accessibility is so important to me. You might have other criteria, but it is important that your reader understands how you are evaluating the item.
Transparency. Of course, you should disclose if you received compensation for a review, including free access. I’ve never once had someone tell me that my review of a play or performance is disrespectful and that I occupied a seat someone else could have occupied (for free.) Most artistic venues welcome all sorts of reviewers. I also try to be honest about my own vantage.Was I having a bad day that perhaps colored my attitude? Did I have previous experiences that impacted my degree of skepticism? Was I swayed by a friendship with someone at the company or the financial impact of the “freebie?” I do quite a bit of CD and movie giveaways to help promote queer or queer friendly voices in the arts. I receive a copy of the CD and I donate it to a local group. I am not really qualified to be a musical reviewer, so I just write my honest opinion – did I like the music? That’s obviously biased. I think a giveaway is different from a review, but it can combine elements.
Value Your Time. When I receive two tickets to see a play, that’s great. But I spend about an hour ahead of time reading about the play so I know what to expect, familiarizing myself with the venue location, planning parking/dinner, etc. I also download assets to use in the review (logos, photos, links, etc) I spent my time at the play which is typically 2-3 hours (not counting Ledcat’s time) and then I spend another 2-3 hours writing the review and setting up social media touts. That’s 5-7 hours of time. For a $100 pair of tickets, that’s less than $20/hour. That’s a good deal for the venue and a reasonable deal for me (my going rate is more than $20/hour.) I more than earned my tickets. Most of my restaurant reviews are not compensated – I just happen to sometimes write about places that we visit. I would never spend money for a blogger night at x restaurant. Your time has value. You aren’t obligated to gush and lavish praise about anything. I’m not collecting freebies in the sense of bartering for my review. I don’t write reviews on Amazon or many other spaces because I don’t have the time to do that.
**Note, when I do a giveaway, I want something for my time, too. It doesn’t have to be for me – I often will accept the product and donate it. But “possible new blog readers” is just not concrete enough for the effort involved in a giveaway. Just dealing with the fallout when a prize (that someone else mailed) doesn’t arrive to a winner can consume hours of my time. One local venue will give me a pair of tickets to either use myself or giveaway, my choice. That’s fair. And I’ve done both when I want to promote the event.
I understand that a lot of people find the lure of “free” anything to be enticing. I used to be one of those people. Having done many reviews of all sorts, I now recognize that the time I invest in the review and the social “value” of my blog/tweet/post typically offsets the freebie. So I’m careful about how I spend my time and how I spend my social media credibility.
I told the woman who left me this feedback that rather than being sad, people need to do the work necessary to earn the opportunity. It isn’t a giveaway and I don’t feel “lucky” to be chosen. If Keurig wanted a bunch of happy blog posts, they would have given away the machines as freebies solely to existing customers. They made a strategic decision to use a quasi review approach and they have to live with the consequences, including people who aren’t wowed by their product.
Working with bloggers to promote your product or service or good is a great idea. When I write about something, I’m going to share across all of my social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, G+, Pinterest) and possibly do so multiple times. I’ve even made a list of Pittsburgh events that could greatly benefit by working with bloggers.
It is precisely because I have such strong opinions that people engage me on social media. Several of my friends – good friends – use the Keurig and every time I post a lament about the environmental piece, they rise in defense of their machines. That’s exactly what Keurig was seeking – loyalty, engagement, touts. They know darn well my negative review was gold for them. Influenster knows that people who want the next “free Keurig” and are appalled that I didn’t appreciate the “freebie” will work harder to increase their influence score and bring more eyeballs to the website. I’m not Consumer Report and I’m not a coupon/freebie website. I’m just a blogger with an opinion. And apparently even the critical opinions generate buzz.
Reviews and giveaways are work. We deserve compensation for our work. You deserve compensation for lending your “personal brand” to any product. My compensation for the Keurig review is putting my mind to rest with regard to the environmental issues. Now I have a big coffee machine that I won’t use. I’m thinking of turning it into art (pink spray paint) and dispensing opinions for a gallery exhibit next year. I think this machine and I are going to be longtime companions.
And Keurig would love that. I guarantee it.
ps: here’s a list of reviews, giveaways and interviews I’ve posted recently.