I think it’s high time for all outdoor bloggers to disclose whether they’ve gotten free products from manufacturers or retailers in the content they publish online. Written or video product reviews aren’t bad. What’s bad is when you receive financial or in-kind compensation for a product review and don’t disclose it to your readers.
Your relationship with your audience is far more important than any financial gain you could ever get from one product review. If you care about your audience, you owe it to to them to be transparent about any external influences that might affect your opinion, either consciously or unconsciously. Let them decide whether your review is biased or not. People aren’t stupid.
How to Disclose an Existing Relationship
Product review disclosure are easy to add to existing product reviews or new ones that you create. Simply add a sentence like this to the bottom of a blog post or in the introductory splash screen of a video review.
- ZippyPacks provided ThisWebSite with a complementary Widget for this product review.
Alternatively, you can disclose no relationship, by adding this line to your product review.
- The Author owns this product and purchased it with their own funds.
This is simple to do and it will pay dividends with your audience. If readers know they can trust you, you’ll get more readers and more companies will want you to review their products. There is no downside to being transparent with your audience if you receive complementary product samples from manufacturers or retailers.
The Role of Expert Product Reviews in the Outdoor Industry
Some outdoor writers have suggested that outdoor bloggers stop publishing any product reviews. I think that’s wrong-headed for the following reasons.
Whistle Blowers and Educators
I believe that is important for outdoor bloggers to publish product reviews because we can:
- Blow the whistle on manufacturer exaggerations
- Counter the out-of-control advertising bias of the outdoor print media, Backpacker Magazine, for instance
- Educate readers about what to look for in good products and how to use them most effectively
People search for information about products online. Would you rather have them read inaccurate marketing drivel written by some marketing intern or an informed review by an expert with significant outdoor experience. These are your readers. I think you owe it to them to look out for their welfare.
Give Your Audience a Forum to be Heard
When you publish a product review, chances are good that someone else in your audience has also used the product too. If you give your readers the ability to comment on your review, you give them a forum to express their opinions or experiences and share them with other people. Building a community like this benefits all of your readers. It’s not about you. It’s about your audience.
Promote Industry Innovation
None of us, with the exception of The Gear Junkie maybe, are living off advertising revenue from our blogs and web sites. That gives us greater independence to provide media exposure to smaller companies that cannot afford to market their products or place advertisements in print magazines.
If you care about innovation in the outdoor industry, I believe you should help smaller companies gain exposure by publishing product reviews about their products. This also gives them the ability to hear the opinions of the people who comment on your post, not just you. This type of direct feedback is invaluable for smaller gear makers.
Call for International Participation
If you run an outdoor blog or web site in the United States, you are required by the Federal Trade Commission to divulge pre-existing relationships on all product reviews or endorsements you publish. If you don’t know about these legal consumer protection requirements, you should brush up on the law by watching the linked video.
While these requirements only pertain to content publishers based in the United States, I believe they should be followed by all outdoor bloggers and web sites, worldwide. It’s time for bloggers to clean up their act and give their readers content that they can trust. Being transparent about product-specific financial incentives benefits everyone, and I encourage you to adhere to the US disclosure standard even if you are located outside of the United States.
What do you think?
Please leave a comment.
- As an outdoor blogger, do you disclose the receipt of complementary products or other financial incentives from manufacturers whose products you review online?
- As a reader, do you think it is important for bloggers to disclose any financial interests that might effect their assessment of a product?
- Would you support reader boycotts against outdoor bloggers who do not disclose pre-existing relationships in the product reviews that they publish?