The #1 Question You Should Ask Before You Accept Swag

by Rachel on February 28, 2011 · 11 comments

Whether it’s a condiment or an app, I love talking about stuff on my blog. Buying and trying lots of stuff so you don’t have to is part of what my blog is all about. Realizing this, companies want me to talk about their stuff. I get lots of e-mails from bubbly PR girls telling me all about their product and why I should try it, and I’m sure you do too. You get a gushy e-mail from a PR girl who just loves this product and knows you will too! And she is just so excited about this product, she’s happy to send me some to try for free!

Like most bloggers, I get excited about this. You want to send me some new “enhanced” granola water to try for free? Sure! Why not?!

I’ve written about reviews and freebies before, but now, I take it a little further. Before I accept swag from any PR person who is kind enough to send me (and, generally, ten other bloggers — just sayin’) an enthusiastic e-mail offering me a GREAT new product to try, I ask them one question. And this question is becoming more and more important to me as I build my readership and get more marketing and advertising opportunities coming my way.

“What’s in it for my readers?”

And I don’t mean, I “ask” this question, but I don’t really ask this question.

No…I actually ask this question.

“Hi, [bubbly marketing girl]! Thanks so much for thinking of me. That enhanced granola water sure does sound special, and I’d love to try some, but I have to ask — what’s in it for my readers? Could I get an extra one for a giveaway after I try it and review it? I don’t like to write a review unless I can offer a giveaway at the end as well.”

In most cases, the PR person has already offered something great for my readers, so it’s a non-issue. But if they don’t offer, I have no shame in asking. If they really can’t offer a free product, and you really want to write about this product, then push for a sweet discount code at the very least.

Once you’ve gotten them to agree (and they usually do), make sure you think about how to give a great giveaway. This is still part of that original question: What’s in it for them? Tons of giveaways of products you aren’t excited about makes you appear less authentic over time. But doing one awesome giveaway that you know they’ll love — even if you have to reach out to a company yourself or (OMFG!) spend your own money on the prize — is a great way to thank you readers for being there and show them that you know who they are and you care about what they’ll like.

But accepting free stuff — whether it’s stuff you love or stuff you have no interest in trying — and then not bringing enough to share with the class can make you look like a spoiled brat. Oh, you love it? Cool. Lucky you. I wish I got free stuff too. Oh, you hate it? Cool. I’d probably love it. And I have to pay for it. Like it or not, when a blogger gets a lot of free stuff, she runs the risk of turning off her readers. Ask this simple question and you’ll probably start building a very loyal reader base.

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Erin Smith February 28, 2011 at 9:02 pm

This is a really great tip. I felt greedy asking for a giveaway, but you make a really good point about what’s really in it for my blog readers. Thanks!

Becca February 28, 2011 at 9:53 pm

Yes! Nowt more irritating than a blogger boasting about her free Vitamix. In fact, any kind of review-of-a-freebie kind of post results in a step towards unsubscription for me. I just don’t trust reviews when the reviewer is being paid – in any way.
Becca´s last post ..Stuff I Really- Really Need

emily February 28, 2011 at 10:03 pm

I think that’s too severe a judgement. Some people will make nice just because they are being compensated. Other people will be honest, compensated or not. If a blogger knows that he/she will be honest no matter what, then why not accept a freebie?

I do some product reviews (mini reviews) on my blog, about 70% things I’ve purchased on my own and 30% things I was sent. I would say 60% are positive and 40% are negative, and most of the negative reviews tend to be about products I’ve been sent for free.

If you read a compensated review that was negative would you not trust that either?
emily´s last post ..Dunchfast

Becca February 28, 2011 at 10:13 pm

Sorry, I don’t mean to question the integrity of anyone whose blog I read. I just can’t help but feel “oh great, a review” whenever I see one.
Becca´s last post ..Stuff I Really- Really Need

Rachel Wilkerson February 28, 2011 at 10:24 pm

I don’t have a problem with people accepting freebies — I don’t think that makes you not have integrity. But doing tons of reviews of stuff you get for free and never sharing can just be a turn-off — so I’m just saying, think about what is good for your readers before you accept a product to review in the first place.
Rachel Wilkerson´s last post ..Lesson 70- Tips for Time Management

emily February 28, 2011 at 10:55 pm

Oh totally, I agreed with the post entirely, I was just commenting on that specific comment.

On the opposite side, something that turns me off is bloggers who make a HUGE deal about how they never do reviews. If you used to do tons and now you’re all about doing none, does that mean I shoudn’t trust any of your former reviews? This especially tricky because there’s a lot of overlap of current “my opinions can’t be bought!” as former “Amazing Grass tastes great, not like grass at all!” bloggers.
emily´s last post ..Dunchfast

D March 1, 2011 at 12:59 am

Interesting perspective!

bitt March 12, 2011 at 7:03 pm

If the reviewer gives both positive and negative reviews of products, I dont’ see why it is a negative. A free product is a trial and just that. If I don’t like it, I have no problem saying so. A lot of small companies really rely on bloggers to get the word out and if I believe in them ethically, I like helping them out.

Lisa February 28, 2011 at 10:33 pm

This is great. Thanks for the tips. I am so awkward with companies that contact me. I’ve turned down a few things that just didn’t seem like something I was interested in…one was an app for an iphone. I really didn’t want to pimp some app on my blog that I knew I’d never use. I think readers can see right through that stuff.

Mel March 1, 2011 at 6:48 pm

I’ve actually noticed that you do this and it’s one of my favorite things about your blog!

bitt March 12, 2011 at 7:01 pm

I agree to an extent but some companies will insist you must send your own product out which can get expensive. I offer up a fair amount of freebies but simply can’t for every review item.

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