Looking for Something?
Posts Tagged for

free stuff

Interview: Getting Free Review Products from Amazon with Thomas Duff


Product reviews increase the value of your blog, podcast, or show, since you’re giving fans a look at products they may be interested in purchasing. However, buying all of those items yourself can be pricey, especially if you work in a niche like technology, where each item costs hundreds of dollars.

Lots of people in our community work with brands to provide reviews, but did you know that you can actually get free items directly from Amazon? The Amazon Vine program pairs content creators with writers and manufacturers who want their products reviewed. As a Vine reviewer, you get free items which you’re obligated to review on Amazon and can also review on your on blog/podcast – but becoming part of this program can be a little tricky. Today, I sat down with Thomas Duffbert, who’s a reviewer with Amazon Vine, to learn more.

Allison: For people who don’t know, can you give us a little info as to what the Amazon Vine program is?

Tom: The Amazon Vine program is a formal reviewer program that Amazon developed to allow manufacturers and publishers to get their products in front of people who try out the item and post a review on the Amazon website.  Those reviews then show up on the product page, along with any other reviews that people may have posted.

The main difference between the Vine program and people posting their own reviews is that the manufacturer can get a set number of items in front of people who have committed to try the product and write a coherent review.  There’s no expectation that the review will be positive, and in fact Vine reviewers tend to be much more honest in their opinions because they’ve committed to give the product a chance.

How did you get started reviewing for Amazon?

The Amazon reviews grew out of technical user group programs run by technical publishers. They’d send me a book (free!) and I’d write a review of it for a user group I was part of.  I was then asked if I minded also posting the review on Amazon. I thought it only fair since they sent me the book at no cost.

From there, my reviewing sort of took on a life of its own, and I started climbing up the ranks of the Amazon reviewers. Depending on whether you’re referring to the new or “classic” ranking system, I’ve been as high as #20.  Once you get a top 100 ranking, people start contacting you asking if you’ll review their book.  I’ve gotten to the point where I have to say no to a majority of the requests, as I know I’ll never be able to read everything I’ve received.

How often do you get items for review and what types of items do you receive?

The Amazon Vine program sends out a “targeted” newsletter on the third Thursday of the month and a general newsletter the last Thursday.  The targeted newsletter is generally made up of seven to ten items, and you’re allowed to select up to two.  I’m not sure what they use for their targeting algorithm, but it needs some work. Offering me baby supplies is a bit useless when I’m 50 and my kids are 25 and 23.

The general newsletter is made up of all the items for the month that still remain in the system after the reviewers selected items from the targeted newsletters.  That list is generally around 14 – 18 pages of ten or so items per page.  Again, you can choose another two items based on what’s still available.

The offerings are all over the board in terms of what shows up.  It used to be primarily books, and books still occupy well over half the items each month. But there are also treasures like multi-function printers, food selections, children’s toys, appliances, cooking utensils, tech gear (like headphones and iPad covers), and countless other items.  Some of the items aren’t just things that will appear in a FedEx box, either.  For instance, last month there were three full-sized refrigerators being offered.

I’ve read that part of getting chosen for the Vine program is not just ensuring you write reviews, but also having reviews posted that are deemed “helpful” by other Amazon users. What are some of your best tips for writing helpful reviews?

There are two things I keep in mind when I’m writing a book review, and I think they are essential in terms of keeping yourself in the right frame of mind.

First, remember that there’s a real person behind what you’re reading.  Writing is not easy, and the author poured themselves into what you hold in your hands. That doesn’t mean you have to love everything you read, but it does mean that a review of “this book sucks” with no reasons why is not permissible.

Second, understand that you may not be the target audience.  I always read the preface of a book to determine what the author(s) is trying to accomplish. The content may be over my head, but if I feel they did what they set out to do, then it should get a good review.

It sounds like a great way to build your blog’s content with product reviews – but also a lot of work. Do you think the free stuff is worth the time you spend reviewing products?

This is a pretty common question… why do you review stuff? The most obvious answer is you get free items, which is always fun.

The more important reason to me is that writing reviews has (I hope) made me a better writer.  I’ve co-authored two books, as well as written countless tech articles over the last nine years.  My reviews and blogging didn’t necessarily lead to all the other writing, but it’s good practice and discipline to keep writing on a regular basis.

If at any point I felt the work I put into it was more than what I get out of it, I’d stop.  But I haven’t hit that point yet, so I continue on.  I get books to read and toys to play with, I improve my writing skills, and the author/manufacturer gets feedback.  So far we’re all happy…

Thanks, Tom, for all of the great information on Amazon’s review program! Readers, anyone out there also a Vine reviewer and want to share your experiences? Does reviewing with Amazon sound like a good idea to you? Leave a comment below!

Thomas Duff (also known as “Duffbert”) is a software developer focusing on collaboration technologies in Portland Oregon. He started working with Lotus Notes in 1996 in version R3 and has written and maintained hundreds of applications in large enterprises through the years. He also holds Lotus principal development certifications starting at version 4 and going up to version 8, as well as Microsoft and Java certifications. Tom is a prolific writer, both in various industry publications and at his website, Duffbert’s Random Musings, at http://www.duffbert.com. He also is a frequent speaker at conferences and events focusing on Lotus technologies. Tom and Marie Scott coauthored IBM Lotus Sametime 8 Essentials: A User’s Guide (Packt Press, 2010). He also coauthored IBM Sametime 8.5.2 Administration Guide (Packt Press, 2011) with Marie Scott and Gabriella Davis.

Getting Your Blog Noticed by the Pros


During BlogWorld 2010, travel PR professionals John Forest Ales and Terri Maruca sat down with moderator Stafford Kendall to talk about how to get noticed by the travel pros. While I didn’t get to attend this session live, I’m loving my virtual BlogWorld ticket right now because in listening to the panel, this is relevant for bloggers from every niche who are interested in working with companies to do reviews.

Getting noticed by professionals, whether it be the PR company for a hotel that can give you free accommodations or a publisher that can send you a free book relevant to your blog, comes down to one thing: Build a relationship so you both give and take.

It's not about what they can give you - it's about what you can give them!

You might have a million readers a month, but a lot of bloggers are popular. Unless you have a relationship with a company, the PR person you contact may not know who you are. Or, they might know who you are, but 99% of the time, a PR rep can’t give you free stuff to review. They have to take your request and go through multiple levels to get it approved. A busy restaurant owner probably doesn’t have time to read blogs. They have no idea that you’re a respected expert within your community…yet. If you start to build a relationship, it doesn’t matter if you have ten readers or ten million readers – if you connect to the company, you can show them what you can do for them in terms of promoting their brand. Sometimes, having a small dedicated group of fans looking for something extremely specific is just as good for a company as having a larger community.

When building a relationship, something that is super important is considering what is right for your blog, not just what you can get for free. John and Terri noted that bloggers can sometimes come off as demanding and unprofessional, and often it’s hard to see through the noise of people who don’t actually care about the brand, but rather just want something for free. Let me tell you a bit about my own experiences with doing promotion and reviews while at BlogWorld.

I knew I would be in Las Vegas a day before most people, so I decided to contact some PR agencies with the hopes of doing a few restaurant reviews here on the BlogWorld blog. My thought process was that by highlighting a few places to eat, more BlogWorld attendees would go to those places specifically. The perk for me was getting to eat at some awesome restaurants. The perk for the restaurants was reaching a few thousand people in town for the weekend. Ultimately, I worked with Kirvin Doak Communications to review Border Grill for lunch, Tender for dinner, and Mix for drinks at night. Some of that worked. Some of that didn’t work. All of it was about audience.

First, let me tell you want did work – Border Grill. The food and drinks at all three locations was fabulous, and Border Grill was no exception. But it wasn’t just about my good experience that made this work for a BlogWorld review. Other things that came into play that made this an awesome option:

  • Border Grill was right by the conference location, so most people had to walk past it on their way back to their room. Convenience is the name of the game. They had been seeing it every day and possibly wondering about it, so a review solidified for them the need to stop in and check it out. Tender and Mix were both more out of the way, so if readers wanted to take my recommendation, they had to do a little hunting.
  • The price was right. Bloggers have McDonald’s budgets, so while Border Grill might be a justifiable price for a professional,at $20 – $30 minimum for a meal, this is a splurge for the average BlogWorld reader.  Tender and Mix, while being adequately priced for the quality and service, were just not possible for many people. Had my food not been comped, I would not have been able to afford either of these locations, and I know a lot of other bloggers were in the same boat.
  • Border Grill fit a range of readers’ needs. The atmosphere made it comfortable for readers wearing jeans or readers wearing suits – which was important, considering that some groups had both types of people. The food was also palatable to a wide range of people. It was Mexican, but not in a Taco Bell type of way. I felt comfortable recommending it to everyone I met, without a disclaimer of any kind.

While at BlogWorld, I know that my personal recommendation of Border Grill was responsible for at least three parties of 6+ people eating there or ordering food there, and since BlogWorld, I’ve gotten a few emails from people who traveled to Las Vegas for other conferences but remembered my review and checked out the restaurant. For every person who tells me they ate there after reading my review, there are probably ten people who also did, but just didn’t let me know. Did the restaurant get their money out of offering me a meal there? Absolutely. Tender and Mix? Probably not so much, unfortunately.

Border Grill met the readers’ needs here at BlogWorld extremely well in terms of convenience, price, and range. Again, this extends to non-travel reviewing as well. Will your readers ultimately take action due to your review? Is the product convenient for them? Is the price right? Does it meet the needs of a range of your readers, not just a small fraction of them?

That’s how you get the pros to work with you. Should I review restaurants again next year for BlogWorld, my approach will be different. No matter how much I want a free meal at Tender, it just isn’t a good option for BlogWorld readers. A less expensive burger joint makes more sense. And showing that you’ve done that kind of thinking about your request is what makes a PR rep want to work with you. You’ve not just in it for free stuff. You actually want to promote what they’re doing. Free stuff is just a perk.

When you approach PR companies with any kin of review request, work to build a relationship. Don’t ask what they can do for you. Ask what you can do for them. Be receptive to their ideas, but be prepared with a proposal of your own – and one that has the ultimate potential to show them the biggest return on investment possible for the company. If you deliver for a company, they’ll want to work with you again and again, which is awesome not just for you, but also for your readers.

Thanks to John, Terri, and Stafford for a great panel!

Learn About NMX


Recent Comments