Part 01 : please don’t equate print publication journalists to online / internet bloggers.
Part 02 : please tell us what you want. In terms of coverage.
Part 03 : going to events / covering them is WORK for a blogger. People get PAID for WORK.
Part 04 : yes, you can have the images to use in your marketing brochure for an additional price.
Part 05 : you don’t just sit on your hands when the blogger is delivering the goods. Amplify.
Part 06 : set expectations in advance.
Part 07 : work with someone who has a decent overall presence
Part 08 : Tangibles that Bloggers Love
Part 09 : Intangibles that make a difference to Bloggers
Before we start on this particular subject today, let me reiterate : Bloggers are NOT journalists. At least not the category we’re been discussing in the above series. Same set of principles DO NOT apply.
Todays we’re discussing : Bloggers and Freebies.
There was discussion about this on Twitter. Not only do brands not know how to make freebies work for them, neither do most bloggers. It seems to me, most of us are just doing what we feel like, which isn’t a very professional way to work but it’s something and it is also encouraging that some bloggers are willing to talk about it and decide what the ideal situation could possibly be.
What are freebies?
Brands send out gifts / products to a blogger or an online influencer ( someone who has a large following on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram / Pinterest ). The products or even services, in my personal experience, could range from vouchers for INR 500 ( please don’t send vouchers, I will trash them ), to designer clothes, to INR 30,000 sunglasses, to spa treatments, hotel stays, air travel, planned vacations, footwear, jewellery, photography gear, books, food, etc.
These products / services are usually offered with no written / communicated expectations in return. Some brands do mention that “A tweet would be nice”. But till date, no one has asked me to do a blog story for their product. Some brands even write to ask me if I will review their product if they send it to me for free.
In essence, these are gifts / soft bribes that a brand give to a blogger for a variety of reasons that might be clearly communicated or not.
Why do brands send these freebies?
Here are some of the reasons I think they do this :
01. To be nice to the blogger so that the blogger might like the more and hence be more conducive to doing a more favorable story about them in the future. This is never explicit.
02. Hope that if the blogger likes the product / service, they will post an update on Twitter / Facebook / Instagram with a photo of the product / experience and tag the brand handle.
03. Hope that the blogger might like it so much that they will do a blog story about the product – especially when the product / service experience or brand is not known to the blogger and they might take a long time to find the brand on their own.
Whichever way you look at it, the brand is taking a risk – especially because most freebies arrive without any communication regarding what the brand expects in return. ( I was once to frustrated by this one luxury brand sending me fantastic freebies that I emailed them multiple times to please STOP and discuss if they wanted to work professionally instead of plying me with such beautiful exquisite bribes! They didn’t respond to my emails but when I met them in person they told me they didn’t want me to “stress” and that I could do whatever I wanted. For each of the products I had already received from them, I had done a blog story each AND I will continue to do so because I love their products. No monetary exchange so far but they were willing to discuss more elaborate features that might be paid work for me as a photographer and blogger. )
I’m a blogger and I have received these freebies and I never know what to do about them!
Well lucky you! ( At least that’s what most other bloggers are going to say because India is currently facing a glut of terrible bloggers and most brands don’t want to work with them. The few bloggers they do want to work with are the people who get these freebies. ) In essence, it also means that the brand is courting you. Ergo, they like your blog. Ergo, if you aren’t already, you should start charging for your blog stories. )
As to what you should do with the freebie, here’s what I think:
01. If you like it, you can take a phone photo and tweet about it or put it up on Instagram / Facebook and say “Thank you <handle of brand> for the lovely surprise!” This communicates to the brand that you liked it, are thankful, have shared it with your network to show appreciation and it also communicates to anyone who sees that updates that what you got was for free. Ideally also email the brand’s go-to person a short note of thanks and mention that you’d love to work with them on any upcoming stories and will be happy to discuss a professional engagement.
02. If you don’t like it, you can pretend that you never received it and not update your social media channels.
03. If you didn’t like it, you could update and say that you didn’t like it, like a “Thanks but no thanks” message.
04. If you didn’t like it, you could email the brand’s go-to person and say thank you that they sent it and considered you but that in the future you’d prefer to probably receive a few options that you could select from. Because what’s the goal after all – for the brand to create more awareness about their awesome products. And if they send you something you don’t like, guess what the conversation is going to be like, “Oh! X brand sent me something for free but it was so terrible that I can’t even give it away!”. Which is basically TERRIBLE. ( Most brands will not take you up on this but at least you tried. I don’t know why but none of the brands I’ve suggested this to have taken up this suggestion. Absolute waste. Especially because I do not give away things. )
I’m a blogger and I’ve been blogging for two years but I’ve never received a freebie! What am I doing wrong?
The most likely answer to that question is : your blog is not creating content that is original / good enough and / or you’re probably unprofessional.
But I WANT freebies! How do I get them?
One can want a lot of things, doesn’t mean one will get them. Focus on the content you create more than the freebies. That’s the most likely and sure fire way of getting those freebies. When I started writing / publishing stories on this blog, there were no brands who worked with bloggers in India and I certainly was not aware of the possibility of one day getting paid to do features for brands on my blog. Freebies were a long way off and not even in my conscious. To everyone else it seems like the most natural thing : start blogging and the free stuff will follow. Couldn’t be farthest from the truth.
I am a brand, do I HAVE to give out freebies?
Of course not. If you see no value in sending out free stuff to strangers who are also influencers, then don’t. Definitely don’t if it doesn’t tie into your marketing / advertising plans. If you are not able to justify the budget for the freebies, don’t send them out. If it doesn’t feel right to you, don’t send them out.
I am a brand, I have sent out freebies in the past but I didn’t receive ANY feedback. What gives?
Ooops! Maybe your product / service sucks. Maybe no one liked it. Maybe you sent it to the wrong people. Did you follow up? ( If it was an aberration where not one single person who received your product / service even mentioned it on their social media channels / wrote you an email, then it is your fault if you did not write them a follow-up email / chat them up and find out what happened. ) If you sent it out to only a handful of people, it is possible no one actually received the product. Fact is sometimes stranger than fiction. Always follow up.
I am a brand and I want to send out freebies. How should I go about it?
01. Decide your internal budget. This is a marketing activity.
02. Decide on a list of people who would like to build a relationship with. You will send the freebies to these people.
03. Write to these people / meet them in a casual setting where you have NOT invited them and ask them what they like about your brand. Any particular products they are a fan of. If they haven’t heard about your brand, tell them in one sentence who / what it is. They WILL tell you what category of products they generally like. ( For example, a lot of local Indian beauty brands get in touch with me to build a relationship / I meet their brand managers / PR and I tell them I love soaps and fragrances. Not ONE of those brands / people have taken any action on that feedback. ) Ideally try to find out what the receiver likes / is likely to talk about. One simple rule is to send them expensive products – regardless of who you’re sending it to, it will get talked about. People like to show off.
04. If you would like a tweet / instagram update in exchange, don’t ASK for it – mention that it would be “NICE” if the receiver made an update. If it’s an expensive item from a reputable brand, most bloggers will probably do more than just a status update anyway. But asking for it means you’re expecting something in return and the risk of being turned down is higher. In any case, if you do expect something in return, better to have a professional engagement rather than sending free stuff.
05. If you don’t see any updates or emails from the people you sent the freebies to, please follow up and ask them if they received it and whether they liked it. Most people like me will already write to you / mention it to you in person but a lot of people won’t. Remember, you will receive feedback only from those people who care even a little about your brand – those are the people you should consider working with. Yes, I mean people like me. If someone is taking time out to write you an email – and you know it better than me, most people WILL NOT EMAIL – then they are implying that they would like to work with you and possibly help you with your brand awareness goals. Do not miss out on this opportunity.
I’m a brand, is sending out freebies an effective way of creating brand awareness or is it just a sad way of bribing bloggers?
I doubt anyone can answer that. It depends entirely on how well you do your research and groundwork before deciding what to send and who to send it to and what to do with the feedback you receive, if any.
I’m not a blogger / a brand but isn’t it unethical to bribe journalists?
Bloggers are NOT journalists.
At least not the ones I’m talking about. I’m talking about storytellers and authors ( whether visual or otherwise ). I write from personal experience. I don’t deliver fact-checked news ( although Hood knows how much time I spend reading so many online reviews when it comes to beauty products – so much of that stuff is medicated that I’m scared to recommend anything to my readers. ) I always use a product / visit a hotel or spa / visit a destination / wear a designer’s clothes / etc. before I write / show them on my blog. My blog has always been a reflection of who I am – who I really am and it would be lying to my audience if I simply copied photographs I received as part of a press release and published those on my blog. How could I write about something without having experienced it first?! I know many do but I don’t.
A lot of us cannot possibly use or experience products and services made or created by all manner of brands on this planet. There are just too many. As a brand, are you going to wait for us to find out about your products and MAYBE then do a feature? Or would you rather just introduce your products to us by sending them to us? And to do one even better, maybe do a full fledged story feature with us where we dig into your processes and share those with our readers?
As a blogger and as a brand, you have to decide what generates the maximum credibility for you.
I wouldn’t do anything with free products received from a brand that I would never use otherwise. I won’t give them away. I will probably just bin them. I might leave them on my table / dresser for a few days to wallow in the pity that a wasted opportunity creates, but after that’s done, in the bin they go.
And I ALWAYS mention whether I was hired to do something, whether I received something for free or whether I purchased something and then used it and am reporting on my experience. Disclosure is very important. Definitely if you’re looking at being in the game in the long run.
If you want brands to take you seriously, you have to be serious about blogging. If you’re treating your blog as a weekend hobby, then guess what, so are brands.
I’d like to thank Meenakshi Reddy Madhavan for bringing up the this question related to freebies during a Twitter discussion between @priyal @reddymadhavan and me. Meenakshi’s blog can be found here : Compulsive Confessions and you can find out more about Priyal on her AboutMe page.
Please do add your comments / suggestions / ideas in the comments section – if you, as a PR Agency / Prospective client would like some specific questions answered or if you’re a blogger and have something you’d like PR Agencies / Prospective clients to know.