In which I ramble about blogging and honesty

So, earlier today I wrote a blog post and scheduled it for tomorrow morning. It’s a negative review – something I’m definitely not a stranger to. I’ve written tons of scathing reviews before, but this one made me feel a bit funny. It’s the first negative review I’ve ever written about a product from my favourite brand. I couldn’t put my finger on why it was bothering me – was it because I was kinda sad that this is the first time the brand havet disappointed me with a product? No – I eventually realised it’s because I was worried about what the PR would think.

I make no secret of the fact that I receive PR samples (you’ll notice a lot of my posts feature the telltale asterisk). I can’t understand why people do hide that, unless they’re afraid that their readers will take their words with a pinch of salt if everything is given to them for free. I’ve always maintained that that’s a ridiculous fear to have – as long as you remain consistently honest, your readers have no reason to doubt you regardless of how a product came to be in your possession. In fact it’s pretty damn obvious when a blogger has received something for free and not disclosed it, and frankly it just makes the blogger’s integrity look a little shadier.

Anyway, back to the post in question. In it, I said that I couldn’t work out why everyone was praising the hell out of this product when I thought it was pretty damn awful. It couldn’t just be me, could it? I’m sure some people do genuinely like it, different products work for different people blah blah blah but I couldn’t honestly be the ONLY person to write a review on this product who found so many problems with it. But no, it dawned on me that its because, like me, other bloggers are most likely worried what the PR will think. It’s absolutely INSANE that we should feel like this.

The thing is though, as much as I think it’s ridiculous, it turns out I have those exact same fears. Like it or not, beauty blogging is a very very different beast to what it was when I started in 2009. Back then, it didn’t matter if you only blogged once every couple of weeks about some polish you picked up in Boots on your lunch break. Now, there’s a demand for a constant, almost daily flow of fresh new content and 99% of us simply can’t afford to do that out of our own pocket. This is where brand relationships come in – I count myself lucky to have a good relationship with lots of brands and PR agencies as this keeps a good flow of content coming through my blog. As far as money goes, I just about manage to pay my rent and have a sliver of a social life when I get paid each month. Without those relationships, Do Not Refreeze would be a barren wasteland devoid of any new products and I’m certain the same thing applies to 99% of other blogs out there.

Previously, I’ve never given a second thought to writing a negative review. A good relationship is built on mutual respect between PR and blogger, and on more than one occasion I’ve had genuinely grateful feedback from a PR or brand over a negative review. With this particular review tomorrow, I found myself worrying that the PR would be pissed off and remove me from their list. That’s INSANE. Is it because I care more about this brand and am more personally and emotionally invested in it than others? This PR is a lovely girl who I’ve worked with for a couple of years, and I know that she will respect my opinion, so I know it’s stupid. Besides, even if I was removed, I love the brand so much that I would continue to buy their products where money allowed (even know, I buy their products despite receiving PR samples when new collections come out).

I tweeted earlier that I’d just written my first negative review for a brand I loved and ended up having a chat with the lovely Daniel Sandler about it. The mutual conclusion was that honesty is always the best policy. Daniel said ‘Blogging is all about honesty, those who aren’t are shaming it for the rest of you’. He’s sort of right, and sort of not. The sentence is missing one increasingly important word – Blogging SHOULD be all about honesty. And god knows it used to be – but is it still? I’m not sure. I see more and more blogs that never have a bad word to say against a product with an asterisk against it. The likelihood that all the authors are so easily pleased by every single thing that lands in their review pile is slim to none, so it seems to me that the only logical explanation is that blogging is becoming more and more about pleasing PRs than it is about maintaining integrity with readers.

Please don’t get me wrong, I am TOTALLY guilty of this myself. More than once in the past, I’ve found myself trying to diplomatically say something I’ve received for free is shit without outright saying that it’s shit, more to soften the blow for the PR than for any other reason. More recently, in the last year or so, I pussyfoot around a lot less and just say what I think. It’s not damaged any relationships to date, and even if it did I’d keep doing what I’m doing. I’d say the majority of my reviews are fairly positive – and that’s because I only write about maybe 70% of what I receive because I just don’t have time to do it all. If I think a product is ‘meh’, it’s less likely to get a review than a product that blows me away or that I absolutely hate because it’s just not as interesting to write about – or to read about, I’d imagine. When I write a negative review, I write a really negative one.

Anyway… I’m not really sure where I’m going with this any more. All I know is that blogging is TOTALLY different to what it was. Things evolve, I get that, and this industry has improved in many ways but it’s important to acknowledge that it’s suffered greatly in others. Blogging became the phenomenon it is because it was trustworthy. People stopped reading biased magazines and started flocking to blogs for their beauty advice because they were written by people just like them, who would always be honest and truthful. These days, lots of blogs are becoming more and more like magazines – a nice chunky payment will net a brand a nice review, photography is expected to be professional level, and certain ‘talent agencies’ have turned a handful of bloggers into bonafide celebrities.

It’s all very grey and murky, and I really need to go to bed so I’m probably going to stop rambling now. I suppose that overall, this is a confirmation to both myself and to you that I will always, always, ALWAYS be honest. I might have a better camera and more things to talk about than I did five years ago, but I still do and always will blog with EXACTLY the same attitude. Blogs became popular precisely because they were not like magazines. I will never allow my blog to turn into one. It’s a god damn BLOG, that I write as a hobby, and that is the way it will always stay come hell or high water. I promise.

  • Sheenie Shaikh

    Amen! Too many are fannying about and I’ve lost interest and respect with some bloggers because everything they write is mundane, predictable, safe and bland. We might be the black sheep but I’m happy that way and know I’m being true to myself.

  • http://www.sparklecrackcentral.com/ LiAnn – Sparklecrack Central

    So often, once money enters the picture, people get all weird about things. And there’s a part of me that wonders if part of this isn’t because more beauty/fashion bloggers are female, and historically females are taken less seriously/accorded less respect/encouraged to go along or lose whatever status (or income) they’ve managed to accrue. Women are still culturally inculcated with the message to accomodate, to be peacemakers, to not ruffle feathers. Yes, men get this message too – but from the outside looking in, it seems like it’s more couched in terms of “they’re stronger than you, don’t piss off the alphas, go find a bunch of omegas to terrorize.”

    Society, in aggregate, needs all types of people: those who go along with what’s currently popular, those who do their own thing, and those that speak up when the emperor’s ass is hanging out. Society, in aggregate, will always need a balance of those traits. I think that, with beauty sites, more sites have become visible/popular/moneymakers, so it’s not as easy to see the smaller or strictly passion-driven sites.

    And yes – it does completely suck that people feel the need to not ever say anything negative about a brand because “what will people think / they won’t like me.” There are ways to communicate a bad experience, that are straightforward, but are not outright shred-fests. Work those communication-muscles, people. Gently spoken criticism IS needed.

  • Jade

    Have I told you how much I like you? – Well if not, be assured I REALLY like you, and this post epitomises why. I am so sick to the back teeth of bloggers pussy footing around (I’m also guilty, on occasion, don’t get me wrong), if something is shit then I know there’s no need to outwardly write a blog post completely slating it off but surely people want to know what’s bad as well as what’s good.

    I saw someone review a foundation from a budget makeup brand the other day and they were so complimentary about it and I was sat there thinking: ‘Have we tried a totally different foundation because I genuinely could not think of one good thing to say about it’… I could so tell that they had said nice things because it had been sent to them. I wouldn’t mind but would it be such a loss if that brand never sent them anything for free again? At the end of the day if you really want to try something you will pay for it. I, like you, would still continue to blog if the samples dried up because I love what I do. I love samples, anyone who says they don’t is blatantly lying but they’re not necessary to blog.

    Blogging has changed massively even in the 3 years and although I don’t like some aspects of it, I still continue to love others. Your attitude is very hard to come by nowadays I think, which is sad because you are exactly what I love about blogging – honest and real without the bullshit!!

    Jade x
    Beauty Butterfly | UK Beauty Blog

  • http://www.iguanitza.com/ iguanitza

    I loved this post, I enjoyed every sentence. So much truth here.
    You are right, more and more blogs turn into “online magazines” , for the sake of being noticed by agencies and get stuff for free.

    Of course a good review is great, but if you don’t like something, why avoid writing your honest opinion? I bought stuff that made me regret buying it, just because I couldn’t read a review about it.
    if I want to read something commercial-like, I will search for a magazine, not a blog.

    And I don’t understand either why bloggers hide the fact that they receive stuff .

    http://www.iguanitza.com

  • http://www.balmainbeauty.com/ Karen

    Thanks, I really enjoy your honesty. I saw a friend retweet your post so I thought I’d read it and let you know that I think more blogger’s need to be honest about thing’s they’ve been sent. It’s pretty obvious when you see so many talking about it the product just before the product goes public or around the same time as it’s hitting the shelves, some say it was okay and other’s rave on about it (careful not to offend or ruin their relationship to the brand). I try to be honest as well. I subscribed to a new jewellery box company and paid for them, after receiving the first box I totally disliked the lack of content in the box and the same after receiving the second box. I wrote to them to tell them what I found so annoying about their service eg. no product card, no information on who makes/sells the jewellery and what it’s made of etc. I didn’t enjoy anything in the $80 I spent on the 2 boxes so I didn’t even review them. I should’ve because I owe it to my readers to be completely honest but it was a new company and I thought maybe it was teething problems etc. I had a high expectation and felt completely let down and like I wasted $80 so I’m a bit more picky with what I spend my money on but I’m turning over a new leaf and if I don’t like something I’m going to post why I don’t like it. Thanks for posting and I’ve just subscribed to your blog & twitter.

  • victoria62

    Well done on being honest. I read blogs much more than magazines hoping for honest reviews of products. It seems there are a lot of blogs aiming to be magazines now, maybe that’s where the money is?
    I have unfollowed a lot of that style of blog now this year and suprisingly most I follow now are blogs I was following in 2009/2010 that have stayed similar.

    With paid for reviews I’m sure people are worried about never being sent something again and do not negatively review something. Also if you have been given something for free I’m sure you are less disappointed if it is no good, as you haven’t spent your hard earned money on it. Like a while back I got a £10 mascara as a GWP and it was pretty ordinary, but I didn’t worry too much as it was free and used it on nothing days saving my good one for best. Had I have spent £10 on it I’d have been disappointed.

    Maybe in this case you have struggled with a negative review because it was your favourite brand, and you expected better. Had the lip product been from Collection 2000 and been £2.99 your opinion may have been different and a bit ‘meh, they’re not great’.

    But anyway, keep doing what you’re doing. I really enjoy your blog and value your opinion. You made me buy the Illamasqua highlighter which I love and told me to avoid the Smashbox palette that everyone raved about, when I saw it in real life I was glad I’d passed on it. Thank you :)

  • http://www.bethht.blogspot.co.uk/ Beth

    I really enjoyed reading this, honesty is so important in reviews! xx