Rather to my surprise, I have become a bit of a magnet for people and companies who seek those precious links back and positive reviews in the blogosphere, and not a week goes by without someone offering to send me something or other to check out. Usually it’s books or early beta access to various software packages or “Web 2.0″ solutions to problems either real or imagined about life online.
I’m delighted, of course, because there’s no better way to keep your finger on the pulse of the industry than by having the industry essentially come to you and, um, splatter its, um, hmm… the metaphor’s going to break down here, so let’s just say that it’s darn useful.
Perhaps the most unusual invitation I have received, however, was from a company that makes bean bag furniture. Yes, you read that right, bean bags. “Could we”, they asked, “send you one of our cool bean bags and have you review it on your site?”
It’s one heck of a stretch for a business blogger to write about office furniture, but there was an angle that I found sufficiently tantalizing that I have indeed ended up with a bean bag in my office from Sumo Urban Furniture. And y’know what? I don’t even really like it that much.
Let me explain…
About a month ago I received the following message in my inbox:
Hi! My name is Andrew and I have a company named Sumo which sells a modern/funky/high-quality line of bean bags & soft furniture on the net.
Our products are great and not to let passion or pride take hold but I could simply say, our Omni chair is the most comfortable chair in the world and truly enhances ones life!
I am a fan of your site & was wondering if you would be interested in taking a sample of our Omni chair and posting a review on it.
Our website is: sumolounge.com
Please let me know if your interested?
To be frank, I wasn’t very interested in this offer because while there was no requirement to have a positive review, there’s still somewhat of an unstated expectation that… nod nod, wink wink… I’d write a positive review.
Instead, I wrote back a candid message explaining that I was interested but we’d need to change the expectations if we were to proceed. Here’s what I said:
Hey, that’d be fun. I can’t guarantee I’ll write about it, but I like the idea of using it as a “case study” for how to get bloggers to write about your product, even if you have something off the beaten track. You good with that?
At this point, Andrew could have said “uh, no. If you won’t promise you’ll review the chair, we’re not going to send you a $200 product.” Instead, he sent this:
That sounds good & is creative!
I just dont want to send out a piece for “maybe I’ll do something” & then you dont end up doing anything.
Anyways this sounds good & I’ll send an Omni sample out to you.
Thanks for the opportunity & enjoy
And so, two weeks later, an enormous box arrived in my office and within was something more akin to a “bean pillow” that’s roughly 5-feet x 5-feet in size and easily pushed into a variety of different shapes and configurations.
As it turns out, I don’t particularly like the Omni because while the fabric cover is clearly tough and durable, the rip-proof nylon isn’t very comfortable and I really wish it had a cloth, cotton or even corduroy cover. But I’m in the minority. My wife likes it and my kids are crazy about the Omni. Indeed, my 9yo daughter came into the office with me last week and spent almost four hours sprawled on the Omni, reading a book and drawing pictures. She loves it and wants to take it home.
Thoughts about blogger review offers
In the end, Andrew’s approach clearly did work with me and my potential ethical qualms about being sent a free review unit have been addressed by this article and by how I framed the included product review.
Do I receive other products for free? Yes, as I said at the beginning, but I always disclose that it’s something sent by a vendor or corporation when I write about it, whether I have positive or negative things to say about the product. Am I predisposed to be more positive to a product I receive for free rather than have to purchase? Perhaps. That’s why this might just be a good risk if you’re seeking more visibility for your own product or service…
If you are a public relations person or vendor considering how to approach bloggers for product reviews or other visibility, you’d do well to consider how this scenario worked out with Sumo and ask yourself whether a candid, fully disclosed review (that is, “Sumo just sent me this bean bag free, but I don’t like it”) is something you desire, or whether you or your client needs more control over the outcome?
It’s very similar to the earlier debate about the site PayPerPost [see Should I sign up for PayPerPost on my blog?] too and I encourage you to read through that article to see the ethical and pragmatic issues that arise from the offer to pay bloggers to write about your product or service.
Ultimately, it boils down to this question: If you seek visibility online, are you going to require positive reviews from bloggers, or are you truly capable of rolling those proverbial dice and sending out your product to either be evaluated, good or bad, or simply ignored or even immediately resold online?
If you can’t answer that, you’re not ready to seek visibility in the blogosphere.
Oh, and if you’re a vendor interested in sending stuff to our offices, keep in mind that we’re particularly fond of chocolate, children’s books, portable video players and convertible sports cars.