Right now, I have a bunch of products (mostly ebooks) waiting in the wings, waiting to be reviewed. A little known fact about me is that I absolutely love doing product reviews. I actually review fairly frequently at another blog, under a pen name, and I’ve been known to review everything from restaurants to gummy bears to toilet paper. Because that’s not awkward.
Anyway, by now, I’m sure you’ve seen advice on how to write a good product review, but I’ll be the first to admit that things get a little sticky when the product in question is from a friend. It’s not that you can’t be objective; you can. Reviewing friends’ products just…complicates things.
One of the problems I had when I first started working as a reviewer was that I would chat about everything I tried out as though it was a greatest thing since sliced bread. Of course, things might seem cool when you first use them, but when you really think about it, slice bread is pretty darn handy. Does everything live up to it? Nope.
Authors, manufacturers, etc. (let’s just call them producers from now on) love when you give them gushing reviews online, but it’s really important for you as a reviewer to remember that you aren’t doing them any favors by posting that kind of thing. If all I write about are the good points to your product and how much I loved it, how can you change to create a better product in the future? Critical feedback is part of evolving as a company.
This is even more easily forgotten if the person is your friend, because we want to believe that the person we know is the bee’s knees. Again, though, you aren’t really supporting your friend if you just gush, even if the product is great. I recommend always posting at least one negative comment in every review. Make it something constructive, something the producer can consider changing in the future. Even if it is a little thing, it will make your review more balanced. (Likewise, even if I give a really bad review, I try to pull out one good thing that I can say. People need to know what they’re doing right.)
Bad Review Backlash
If you’ve ever been on the receiving end of a bad review, you know how much they hurt. Even if you haven’t, think back to a time when you received a negative comment. When you work hard on something, whether that be a book or a blog post, it makes you feel crummy when someone doesn’t like it.
Most of the time, you can pick yourself up, dust the dirt from your bum, and work hard not to get knocked down next time. There’s an extra little bit of bitterness when it’s a friend who says something bad about you, though.
I’ve never had any bad reviews from friends, but that’s probably because I’ve only ever released one product (and it wasn’t a huge launch or anything). I have, however, had friends really, really disagree with one of my blog posts, to the point where they’ve written their own to talk about how much they disagree with me. I’m someone who values that kind of debate and criticism…but it still hurts sometimes. And not everyone out there places value on the negative. Some people just get hurt.
It’s a fine line you have to walk. When writing something negative about someone’s product, make sure that:
- You’re fair.
- You’re extremely clear.
- You remember the person is…a person.
The last point is most important of all. We all get caught up in writing sometimes, and occasionally attempts to be funny or make a point come off as snarky and petty. The person is going to read what you wrote. If you wouldn’t say those things in a face-to-face conversation, don’t say them on your blog, even if you are right. Giving a negative review isn’t the same as slamming someone.
Some producers are going to have a negative reaction to your review, even if you were 99% positive in what you had to say. People get hurt easily, especially when they’ve worked hard on a product, so they focus on the one negative thing you had to say. If a producer, especially a friend, gets defensive on your blog, take it behind closed doors. Rather than starting a public comment war (even if it is good for traffic), email the person privately. If this person truly is your friend, you can show them that respect.
Branding vs. Friendship
Let’s say that I have a friend who asks me to review a book. I agree, and the book is really, really dull. If my brand is the snarky “bitch” blogger who isn’t afraid to speak her mind, should I follow that formula and review her book as though I didn’t know her? I owe it to my readers, right?!?!
Maybe…but I think you have to look inward and decide if branding is more important than your friendship.
Obviously, you don’t want to confuse your readers. At the same time, losing a strong friendship probably isn’t worth gaining a few fans on your blog. Maybe it is to you. That’s something you have decide for yourself, based on the strength of your friendship and your dedication to your business and brand. It’s okay if the answer changes from person to person – there is no one right answer. But don’t fall into the trap of thinking you have to write a review in a certain way. It’s your blog. You don’t have to do anything.
You can still be honest when writing a review, and you can actually still be true to your brand. We’re writers and this is an art. Don’t forget that. Look at it like a challenge – if its your brand, how can you be the same loud-mouthed, not-afraid-to-be-mean reviewer without hurting your friends’ feelings? You have to get creative, but you can do it.
The Art of Saying No
The final point I wanted to hit on this subject is that you can always refuse to review a product. Sometimes, I’m approached by friends who want me to review things for my blog that aren’t a very good fit. I want to encourage and support them (especially if they’ve encouraged and supported me in the past), but it doesn’t always make sense. When this is the case, ask yourself this question: If I can’t review their product, what can I do?
Maybe you can recommend them to a friend who’s blog would be a better fit. Maybe you can give them a shout-out on Twitter. Maybe you can twist the review into something that would be relevant for your blog.
Point in case – several months ago, some awesome people (Andy Hayes and Nathalie Lussier) launched a new project together about health eating and travel. Andy asked if I could help promote it, and I quickly said yes. I love Andy! But then, I started to wonder what the heck I had gotten myself into. Here at BlogWorld, I blog about new media…not healthy eating OR travel. So instead of just plastering a review on the site that didn’t make sense for the sake of fulfilling a promise to a friend, I twisted it around to make it relevant. You have to get creative, but almost any product can be relevant to almost any niche if you look for the connection.
Don’t be afraid to say no after you’ve tried out the product. Once, I agreed to review a product that, once I tried it, was really, really not something I wanted to recommend to readers. So, I emailed the producer. I simply told him that I’m happy to print the review, but it wasn’t a very good one since I didn’t think my readers would like the product. Instead, I offered to send him the review privately, which would still give him the benefits of my feedback without embarrassing him on my blog. I let him decide.
There is a sense of duty, somewhat, to post a negative review to warn readers. If something is a scam in some way, I won’t hold back, even for a friend. Here’s my feeling though: if you’re going to buy a product, you should do your research and read what others are saying about the product. My negative review of something doesn’t serve to make people aware of the product, like a positive review does. If they weren’t aware of the product, they weren’t going to buy it anyway. Negative reviews are meant to warn people who are already considering buying the product. So, how badly do you feel you have to warn your readers? Are other sites already doing that en force? If so, maybe maintaining a friendship is more important.
The bottom line is this: there are a lot of questions I can’t answer about this topic, a lot of “maybes” that you’re going to have to answer for yourself. It’s a tough situation, which is why this post ended up being so long! I’d love to hear about your experiences and your opinions…leave a comment! Have you ever posted a bad review of a friend’s product?