Do free products influence bloggers’ reviews?

14/09/2015

Video bloggers are becoming increasingly popular, and their opinions can really make or break brands sales. As a result, many brands are keen to shower popular bloggers with free products to review- but does this encourage favourable reviews? A new report says no…

Researchers at Penn State examined how compensation and free products can influence reviews by bloggers.

Most technology bloggers who have accepted compensation, including free products, for reviews actually reported that they feel more empowered in their relationships with companies that pitched them products, rather than feeling indebted to them, according to the study authors Justin Walden, assistant professor of communications, North Dakota State University; Denise Bortree, associate professor of advertising and public relations, and Marcia DiStaso, associate professor of advertising and public relations, both at Penn State.

Some fear that when compensation is provided by companies to bloggers who review their products, the bloggers are more likely to give these products more favorable reviews.

According to the study this is not the case, and the reviewers will tend to believe they have more control over the organization providing the compensation.

For the study the researchers sent a questionnaire to 173 technology bloggers, as these bloggers tend to receive more compensation and review items than others. The results showed that the bloggers recognized that giving positive reviews for bad products would damage their credibility, and therefore their readership.

"We were concerned with how accepting compensation or products impacted how control mutuality -- where both groups feel that they are winning from the relationship -- was experienced by organizations and bloggers," said DiStaso, "What we found is that we don't have an off-balance relationship, in fact, we actually found that the bloggers who accepted compensation tended to believe they have more control over the organization that provided the compensation."

Also the bloggers view PR representatives as sources for stories, and not income sources, while PR professionals view their relationships with bloggers as a way to spread the word, and not as a form of advertising. Further, requesting a positive review for compensation would kill the relationship with the blogger.

As the researchers point out, the compensation, such as receiving a product to review, is to balance the needs of both parties, as one needs the product to review it and the company wants to see their products talked about.

"Asking for a positive review for compensation would kill a relationship with a blogger," said DiStaso. "No one benefits when a relationship is entered into with the expectations of a positive review."

The researchers sent a questionnaire to 173 technology bloggers, as identified by Technorati, one of the largest blog directories. Technology bloggers tend to receive more compensation and review items than other bloggers.

"Of course, bloggers might receive a new iPhone, or whatever latest tool or product that's out there, and that's why they are writing about it," said DiStaso. "Technology is the most common area where this happens and that's why we looked at technology bloggers."

According to the researchers, 143 of the bloggers reported writing product reviews and 71 said they produced video reviews.

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