#BloggerBlackmail: It’s Not About the Macarons!

imageMy Twitter feed lit up this afternoon with hundreds of bloggers jumping in to offer their opinions on the #bloggerblackmail trending hashtag. It began with a post from Anges de Sucre, an award winning sweet shop in London who recounted a negative experience with a blogger, who had appeared to demand £100 worth of treats in return for a positive review. When this wasn’t given, the blogger posted several negative reviews across her social media accounts, insulting the macarons in particular.

Initially, the fact that an argument about free macarons was trending seemed a little silly to me. I’ve eaten many in my time – some have been wonderful, some have tasted like sawdust (no, I’m not explaining how I know this), and some have been so expensive that I’ve almost cried and had to consider taking out a small loan in order to pay for them. However, a macaron is a macaron.

Except, it’s not about the macarons.

The more I read, the more I understood why so many bloggers were quickly incensed by both articles. It raised questions of professionalism, of integrity and the importance of having clear boundaries when working with companies and brands. Some were also feeling indignant at the bloggers site being referred to as ‘not very well known,’ sparking further discussion about when and how a blog becomes valid and valued within the online world.

In my experience, there are five reasons why a blog is started: for personal, therapeutic use, to connect with other people, to explore a particular niche and/or passion, to develop language and writing skills, or as a way to promote a business, venture, product or book. Each blog, and therefore, blogger, is unique… well, most are, at least. However, regardless of the content, there is one thing that most bloggers have in common:

They take their craft very seriously.

And rightly so – even those who post sporadically will put hours of their personal time into creating something that means a great deal to them, and will defend it to the proverbial death should anyone write anything negative in response. It’s for this reason why the #bloggersblackmail hashtag suddenly became so popular in such a short space of time.

However, this brings to light the ‘dark side’ of the blogosphere (yes, I’m using that word, don’t judge me).

For those who fancy themselves as future professional bloggers, the blogging world can be a very competitive place. As Hugh quite rightly pointed out in his post from yesterday, it’s far more about the numbers than the letters, and for some it’s about how much free stuff they can blag in their efforts to become the next Zoella. I’ve seen it many times, particularly across Twitter, and despite the inevitable protestations that would take place if any of them were ever challenged about it, it’s obvious what their intentions are. It’s also not the first time that I’ve heard negative stories about bloggers demanding things in return for reviews, and it annoys me (and clearly annoys many others too) because it creates a negative image around blogging itself.

I don’t consider myself to be a food/lifestyle/beauty blogger by any means, but I’ve been invited on several occasions to review different restaurants. During the conversations I’ve had with the marketing and PR departments with those companies, I’ve asked for clear guidelines from them on their expectations and what I will be provided with, and it has been understood from the start that I have been under no obligation to write a positive review (although, everything I’ve ever tried has been delicious so it’s never been something I’ve had to worry about).

On the other side, I’ve lost count of the amount of times I have been contacted by companies wanting me to promote a product or an infographic with absolutely no compensation whatsoever, and the products on offer have absolutely no link to my content, which makes it obvious that they have just looked at the numbers rather than read it. I always respond with a polite no, but it always angers me that someone will completely ignore the amount of time and hard work I have put into establishing this blog over the last two-and-a-half years and assume that I’m some sort of free advertising tool.

My point is, if a bloggers intention is to be seen as a professional, they should conduct themselves accordingly, regardless of the readership of their blog. And if a company wishes to work with a blogger, they need to make it clear what will be offered, and understand the amount of time and energy that goes into creating even a short post.

What do you guys think? Have you had any bad experiences with products and companies? Do you think it’s ok to demand free things in return for a review?

You can also find me on Twitter and Tumblr @suzie81blog and don’t forget to check out my Facebook page http://www.facebook.com/suzie81speaks ,my Pinterest page http://www.pinterest.com/suzie81speaks and my Instagram page http://www.instagram.com/suzie81speaks

82 thoughts on “#BloggerBlackmail: It’s Not About the Macarons!

  1. This is excellent on all points, Suzie! I have been approached by companies to write a post about a subject that at least relates to what I write about (lifestyle, leisure, fitness). When I asked what I could get in return, their naive reply was, “more followers.” With one in particular, he gave me few guidelines, then asked me to make several changes after I posted it. Unless I am compensated appropriately, I politely decline. We as bloggers work too hard. Thanks for bringing up this subject!

    • Thanks Terri! It’s really crappy when companies try to blag bloggers into free advertising. I had a company contact me this morning and asked me to write a post that would support a healthy breakfast. It was obvious that they wanted me to write about their product and didn’t want to say so immediately. I replied that I would only do a sponsored post, and I’ve heard nothing back. Funny, that.

  2. Spot on Suzie, I’ve had quite a few Companies offer articles for my blog – the subject matter being completely out of topic for my blog – I mean – A write-up extolling a Casino Chain on a Family Friendly Blog?
    I’ve been lucky with the infographics sent so far.
    The other thing happening in the past few weeks are several authors, or their Agents, sending me Amazon Gift Vouchers for their books that I’m ‘under no obligation to review’ (RIGHT!)
    All of them so far are not the kind I’d like anyway, so I email them to request they take them back and give them to someone else…
    Is our little friendly Blogosphere becoming more commercially inclined?

    • I think that many companies are realising the power that bloggers now have and some are beginning t take the piss with it. Similarly, there are bloggers who are trying to play on that.
      I don’t necessarily mind commercialism, but if it takes away from the blog that I originally fell in love with then I’d unfollow and stop reading…
      My best offer was from a tyre company who wanted me to talk about how great their tyres were. I don’t drive (despite being 33), and have never talked about cars on the blog. They wanted me to do it for free too.

  3. Except for one book review, I don’t do this kind of review blogging (I haven’t even posted to my own blog in months) but I think the issue is the disingenuous behavior of the blogger who demanded stuff – lots of free stuff – in exchange for a “review.” To be fair, you can’t review a product about which you have no knowledge. A fair and honest review ought to be independent of getting SWAG. What the blogger did was blackmail the sweet shop. Not acceptable whether well known or the new kid on the blog. It’s one of the many dangers of the Internet – people with computers but no scruples.

    • Ooh I love that idea, ‘unscrupulous but has a computer.’ I’m going to remember that…
      I agree – you can’t review a product without having knowledge of it first. Although, eating a macaron would have given an idea of what they tasted like… Not sure why she would need £100 worth though!

  4. Suzie, this was excellent and says just how I feel. I was just thinking about this myself. I have a book that I cannot get into in any way shape or form. The author requested a review. Today, I am going to write the author and tell him that I could not get into his book. I refuse to write a negative review when it is my perception of that author’s book. Someone else might love it. As bloggers, we have a responsibility to remain professional, and act with integrity at all times. This is such an important message! Thank you! ❤

  5. Well, the only things I get free are Kindle books for honest reviews. And I do mean honest, so I don’t get many free Kindle books any longer. 🙂 But I think if I am asked to review then I should be given the item to review. But I don’t have the problem because Ronovan Writes isn’t a big shot like Suzie the Wonderful. 🙂 I blame the lack of a laptop at the moment.

    • I think it’s always best to be authentic in what you write, and if others don’t like it, then tough! You can’t ask someone to give an honest review and then get upset if they don’t like the product!

      • Oh believe me, I had to send a somewhat official sounding email to an author who was not appreciative of a great review by one of my LitWorldInterviews team because of one sentence. The rating was high and it was recommended by the reviewer. An apology for an apparent misunderstanding in the author’s email was the sent in response to mine.Don’t want an honest answer, don’t ask us a question.

  6. What an interesting post. I do not think that it is right to demand free goodies in exchange for a positive review at all. It just makes a mockery of the whole thing, as it is not a true review and is misleading to others.
    I think if someone does write a review then it should be open and honest, and they should check with their sponsors (as you did) what their expectations are.
    Being approached by companies trying to get free advertising from successful bloggers is also unfair. As you rightly point out, a lot of work goes into blogging and therefore bloggers will chose whether or not they want to advertise or review a product.
    This is indeed a darker side of blogging that I have not encountered yet, but at least am now aware of.
    Thanks for sharing Susie.

  7. Reblogged this on mini2z and commented:
    This popped up on my Pinterest. A great read for those just getting started in blogging. I personally don’t think you should have to give a positive review for an item received. The whole point to review it is to give your opinion on the item. I know some companies that remove ALL negative or not positive info from all social media. A truly good company can look at the negative and figure out how to make it better in the future.

  8. I just did this! Uncanny! I was approached two weeks ago to review a website for credit on their shop. I was a little confused so I read up on blogging about products and asked a ton of questions. I have absolutely no idea if my post was used, but I was compensated for my time and effort (and I got a bonus if I finished early).

    But I really made sure to ask a lot of questions because I’d never done one for profit before.

    I would agree it’s important to have everything set out in print (email or written).

    I decided if it fell through somehow, I would still keep up the post- because as you said, it was hard work!

    I guess I’m just too new at this to be upset? I’ll have to read up on this though! Thanks for brining this to light!

    • I’m glad you were compensated for your work, and rightly so! It’s when promises are made by companies that aren’t as good as they initially appear that bothers me… I’ve been suckered in before on that!

      • I was worried about that. I’m sure that happens a lot more than we think. I’m glad things are on the up and up now!

  9. Blogging unscrupulously (negative blog or else!) is sadly a trend which (in my experience) was preceded by false reviews. I know of a company who asked their employees to write favourable reviews. Back to blogging though, I think it reasonable to use the Olympics as a good analogy. Not so many years back, eligibilty to compete in the Olympic Games was dictated by your status (as well as ability of course). Originally, only amateur athletes could compete. Sadly (to me) the Olympics sold out to greed and commerce in that the lure of big money from corporations etc changed it to what we have today – a world wide sports event which only a limited number of countries can afford to host, and a sports event where athletes are prepared to risk everything for that prestigious gold medal, including life threatening cheating.

    In Blogging, there is so much publicity around “making a living from it” and, if you are unscrupulous, I can see the possibilities there. You need to encourage massive interest in your Blog. Create a Post with the subject line “Explicit Sex Exposure” and use the various social media links and you will get a very good response. Follow it with controversial topics “Are Suicides Pure Escapism?”, “Should abortions be considered a criminal offense?” “My God is the only real God!” etc. etc. and you could well generate sufficient interest to encourage lucrative advertising.

    What you have is a totally manipulated Blog with the sole intention of making money. Like everything else in a finance driven, highly commercialized culture, all we can do is celebrate honesty when we see it. Celebrate those bloggers who are genuinely presenting topics for discussion, or simply expressing them selves. Celebrate those bloggers who are offering their stories for the benefit of others. Celebrate those bloggers who are giving of themselves such that the rest of us can feel a sense of association and friendship over the1000 miles or so that separate us.

    Unscrupulous blogging (negative review unless…..) is simply blackmail and there is no place for it in our society. Blogging for profit? I have little interest in a blog that is loaded with advertising, reviews, test results etc. The blogs I support are those where the Posts are interesting; often educational; allow some insight into the writer, and show no evidence of being “tinkered with” in order to support commerce.

    • I’m so sorry fot the late reply – I’m going through this month’s posts and I seem to have missed a few comments. I don’t mind reviews, I’ve done a few of my own and will continue to do so, but I agree that when you have a blog that is solely for the purpose of making money it loses it’s soul… I like to read blogs that have a character, a passion and gives us an insight into the author…

  10. Thanks for sharing about the hashtag. In this part of the world, I did not get to see that trending. On your point about promotional posts, I totally agree with you. Setting boundaries is very important and a sponsored post should be call out so that the readers are not caught unaware. To Hugh’s and your point, numbers should be used as a tool. We bloggers are no advertising channel.

    • I’m so sorry for the late reply! I totally agree about the numbers – they should be used as a tool. As a self-proclaimed stat obsessive i have had to make a conscious effort not to check them as much during the day!

  11. I have unfollowed blogs that got too be a little too big for themselves in terms of “swag”. One blogger even disabled comments after someone asked a question about conflicting advice (it was a weight loss forum) based on what he received that week. No thanks.

    I joke that my blog is not PR friendly at all…because I don’t want to be anything other than honest. I don’t get paid to write constructive criticism (or anything, but you know what I mean). If I buy something and think it is effing awful, then I want to be able to say that.

    And you are right, those who are the most guilty will argue why their situation is different (ahemBlogHerConferenceTwitterAndInstagramSpam). Promotion is promotion and only you can know where you draw the line in the sand, but you have to be prepared to defend it or deal with others not wanting to read it.

    • I love your blog for its authenticity and honesty and I think that’s what is important when writing. That’s a really interesting thought – how much promotion can you do before you can be considered spam? Please forgive my late reply my lovely!

  12. Well I totally missed that! My opinion personally is that bloggers, especially with a large following and established blog, should be compensated with $ and the product if it is a review. I think people are stuck on the word “review”. Let’s get real, and call it like it is. These companies are not looking for feedback of their product, they are looking for free advertising. And because many bloggers will work for freebies, companies are taking advantage. I’ve heard some say that they will put the offer out to hundreds of bloggers because the advertising money they save, far outweighs the cost of some product. My suggestion is for bloggers to have a media kit that they can refer companies to so that they know what you will work for. In reference to the situation that brought this hashtag about, I hope both sides learned something.

    • I have a feeling that the blogger may have learned a little lesson in particular here… I agree – and i need to get a media kit sorted!! So sorry for the late reply!

  13. When my novel came out, bloggers were offered a review copy. Newspapers expect the same and have from the dawn of time (or the dawn of reviews anyway). Anything more than that is bribery. Anything less is unrealistic. A few reviewers take the initiative themselves, and more power to them, but if you’re in the position of asking for reviews, you do have to supply the product.

    • I love that thought, the different between it being bribery and unrealistic… There always has to be clear expectations and to ensure that both sides are not taking the proverbial mickey…

  14. Never did anything along those lines, not that anyone has asked. If they ever do, the answer will be ‘no’ – my blog is purely for pleasure, not an advertising platform for other people to tote their wares, whatever the reward. I don’t enjoy reading that kind of stuff, either. I totally understand people writing their own rave reviews of something they have enjoyed, though.

    • I’ve done it a few times and Ive been lucky that they have been really great experiences. I’d certainly do it again, but I’d be sure that my regular posts wouldn’t be disrupted by it!

    • There are so,e bloggers that earn money from advertising without doing sponsored posts. As long as that doesn’t interfere with their posts, it doesn’t really bother me. I’d love to earn a decent living from it!

  15. Interesting on so many levels. Firstly, I goddamn love macaroons, and I cannot believe that there might be cruddy ones out there – say it isn’t so?!

    secondly – restaurant reviews? Pretty awesome that you have been asked – is that as a direct result of your blog?

    thirdly – I used to obsess over stats – now I don’t even look. Cant or it becomes an obsession, and its not one I have the time to fuel. Besides which it detracts from my novel and ‘real’ writing. When does a blog become validated or successful? God knows. I reckon I could sell multiple millions of books and still feel like a fraud, let alone have millions of views. But despite this self deprecation, would I fight to the death over my blog? damn straight.

    Why can’t people just be honest -wtf is wrong with someone trying to blackmail people for a good review. Total douche.

    • Yes. There are less-than-stellar macaron out there. That’s why I make my own! However, good, or not so good is never a reason to blackmail someone. I’m still in a state of shock that someone would stoop so low!

    • The worst ones Ive ever had were from Selfridges – dry, crispy and had obviously been out for a long time! And not just from the one in Brum – the one in Manchester sold stale ones too!
      Yeah, it was a really great experience every time Ive done a review. I end up just sitting there with The Bloke and saying ‘can you believe that we’re doing this?’ The last one was unlimited food and cocktails and I felt really guilty about how many I consumed!
      I’m a total stats obsessive, but I only focus on my own and use them to push myself…
      Love your comment Sacha!

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  18. Loved your post. As for me, I’m a relatively new blogger and haven’t been approached by any companies, nor do I ever expect to. I’ll review places I’ve been to–and I’ll review makeup that I’ve purchased and I’ll write about places I love and am passionate about. However, I have written honest reviews about cosmetics and items that I have not been pleased with. I have been gifted a couple of times from very complimentary write ups, but those gifts came as complete surprises for me! People who stoop as low as to blackmail for a freebie are the pond scum of blogging. But, unfortunately, this sort of behavior isn’t limited to the world of blogging. This kind of shit goes on in all walks of business. I guess that’s what happens when blogging turns professional–I really don’t know. What I DO know is to never expect anything in life. Living life with no expectations makes for bliss! OH…BTW, I feel so passionate about a great little restaurant in Theoule-sur-Mer, France, that I did a blog post about it. The restaurant may be closing due to ecological issues..anyway, I feel so strongly about this restaurant that I got in touch with Nice-Matin and they wrote an article. We’re still trying to save the restaurant. I’m attaching a link so you can read it!!And I’m not blackmailing you either–LOL! I hope you like the read! Best, Catherine

    • Thanks! I loved your comment! I think that’s the fun of blogging – finding things we love and sharing it with our readers! I totally agree about the idea of expectations – not expecting anything means that we won’t be disappointed.
      Thanks for sharing your link!

  19. One of the things I most like about writing my blog is that I am my own boss, I have final say on content, and no one else can edit me or influence me. I stay away from reviews because I never want to feel influenced or be accused of being partial. I just like being able to write what I want when I want. 🙂

    • I think there are a number of people who feel like you do, and rightly so. What would you do if a local restaurant offered you a free meal in return for a review?

      • I’d politely decline and tell them it’s a humor blog. If I put their restaurant in it, it would be to host a Werewolf Birthday party or something odd like that. 🙂

      • No way. I just wrote a short story/blog post about my favorite Monkey Bar in Bangor. No need for them to compensate me. I like the place, so I wrote about it. 🙂

  20. I started my blog as a way to be an expert on myself. Over the months that followed, It evolved and changed.
    Before I published my first article, my husband gave me a one advice. He said, “Like all successful companies,make sure you have a set of clear guidelines for yourself”. Best advice ever!
    So, yesterday when I saw the hashtag,I wondered if the blogger in question had guidelines to for herself.
    Yes, bloggers should be paid for their time when asked to review products or services. However, bloggers should also be able to use their money to buy products and services, review and recommend them to their followers if they love and believe in them. Can’t we just review and recommend- say a book- to followers because we read and loved it? Is sharing our passion not one of the reasons why we blog?
    Finally, I believe all freebies reviewed should and must be declared when reviewing them. This is honesty.

    • I love that – ‘to be an expert on myself.’ I think that many would be so much happier I’d they had that level of understanding!
      I totally agree about integrity – we should be recommending things that we love as this is part of who we are…

  21. I’ve been approached by artists wanting me to review their music, and they supply the “product” up front for me to listen to. Luckily I’ve liked the ones who have done this and been able to give positive reviews, but if I didn’t I would reply saying it’s not my thing. I’m afraid I would feel uncomfortable writing something negative in that situation. I’m not a professional critic, I just want my blog to be about things I enjoy, with an element of balance to avoid it being too gushy.

    • I think it’s really difficult to give a negative review and there is an obligation… You’re right about the balance too – nobody wants to read a blog full of product pushing…

  22. My two cents on the whole #BloggerBlackmail debacle: Both sides handled it pretty badly and the way they took to the public forum to demean one another just smacks of complete lack of compassion or professionalism. I am really not going to get into the justification for either party, because clearly it looks like there was a communication gap in terms of what was expected and what was provided.

    My take: When I do sponsored posts, I clarify that it must fit into the theme of my blog. I write parenting related posts on my other blog and other blogging events and invites on the WordPress one. I remember getting flak for an event where ‘Mom bloggers’ were invited for a test drive of a new car and a whole drama created around it. I believe brands must be clear in outlining their needs and bloggers must be clear in outlining their requirements. Up front. Else, this whole thing doesn’t make sense.

  23. I have never contemplated any of this, completely out of my paradigm as I am a blogger of small stature (actually no stature). I certainly do not run in the upper echelon of the blogging world. Honestly, I didn’t even know until now, that there were professional bloggers. Duh!!! However, what that blogger did seems really cheap and tawdry and just seems to minimize what the rest of us our trying to do (share our writing, opinions, thoughts and lives).

  24. I think it’s poor marketing practice to approach blogs simply because of the numbers – any marketing person worth their salt should also be looking at content and how to tie their product to it. And it’s poor blogging practice to threaten people with bad reviews simply because they won’t give you something for free,- I’ve heard of it happening on TripAdvisor too, people threatening poor reviews if they don’t get upgrades or discounts. Gives us all a bad name. Great post, Suzie – food for thought (not macaroons though) 🙂

  25. I don’t quite know where I have been. Other than book reviews I had no idea that companies approached bloggers to do reviews. I’ve certainly never been approached to do one and even if I were I would never think of blackmailing that company just to get something free from them. I find it so disgusting that somebody would do that.

    However, this kind of thing happens all the time. Take me as a dog owner. I always clear up the mess my dog makes, but other dog owners do not, and this results in all dog owners then getting a bad name.

    If I met the blogger who tried blackmailing this company I’d certainly give them a piece of my mind. Believe me when I say they would not want to see me as a very angry queen!

    I’m certainly glad you mentioned what you do when you get approached by companies to do a review, Suzie. Great advice I will keep should I ever get approached.

    P.S – Thank you for the mention about my recent post.

    • I’ve included her link to her post so you can see her perspective on it, but she doesn’t really do herself any favours! You could hop over there and serve her some angry queen realness!
      I know what you mean about the dogs too – I live next door to a large park and the pavement is always covered in poop! It’s so frustrating that they can’t be arsed to pick it up!

  26. I wouldn’t demand free things in order to write a positive review. I like to be able to freely write what I want to write and I feel if I started doing reviews I might feel obligated to write complementary things in order to keep the money train rolling, so to speak.

    • I think you’re right – the obligation that comes with free goods takes away the fun of the blogging process, particularly if you want to remain authentic I’m what you’re doing!

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