Paid Blogging Revisted: ReviewMe

Reviewmelogo_1ReviewMe is a new online service that is in the business of paying bloggers (like myself) to review products or services. The company is owned by Text Links Ads, which was recently acquired by MediaWhiz. I only mention this because both companies are fairly well respected and give the automatically-labeled-as-controversial new business ReviewMe some much needed support.

Paying bloggers to review products isn’t a new concept. In fact, the easiest way to explain the idea behind ReviewMe is to call it a “PayPerPost-like” site (a rival service launched earlier this year, which is basically the reason that any site similar will have to work hard to shed the “controversial” image; I’ll explain more below). Ironically, many bloggers have issues with PayPerPost even if still promoting it indirectly by using it as the adjective to describe ReviewMe. But on to explaining ReviewMe:

Setting up an account with ReviewMe is straightforward and simple. If you have a blog, you submit its URL along with some basic information about yourself (the minimum amount of information for the company to send you money). ReviewMe then immediately evaluates your blog using an algorithm based on Alexa, Technorati, and other stats to determine its importance or value from the standpoint of an advertiser.

The site does have an undisclosed minimum level of traffic/rating required, as there is some buzz in the Blogosphere about excited up-and-coming bloggers being rejected right away. But assuming you pass the minimum (and there’s no harm in trying with your blog, the company even suggests checking back as often as every couple months if you’re rejected), the site matches you with advertisers of the type of products most appropriate for your blog theme.

The idea (if it works) is that these advertisers will be willing to pay hefty sums of money for your review of their products. The payment back to you is 50 percent of what ReviewMe charges the advertiser. These payments back to you range from around $15 to $1,000 (supposedly, the high $1,000 is more of a rumor floating around at this point) per post depending on your blog’s traffic/Technorati stats, which the company updates monthly.

Here are the rules: Your review has to be at least 200 words long and has to be made within 48 hours of you being notified by ReviewMe of the potential review opportunity. And you must make mention of the fact, somewhere in the review, that you are being paid to review the product. But, perhaps most importantly, in no way are you required to make your review positive. It can be as candid as you like. These basic rules and the company’s simple website are what distinguishes ReviewMe from the competition.

Bloggers not disclosing being paid for posts while positively reviewing products was the part of the PayPerPost model that had many a blogger loathing the idea all together. And rightfully so. Bloggers like to believe they are honest and can be trusted, something easily destroyed by monetary incentives for deception. But ReviewMe is boldly confronting the issue from day one rather than ignoring it like the competition. And its simple solution of full disclosure will probably work just fine, if it can get past the leftover bad taste in the mouth from PayPerPost.

As an aside, one thing ReviewMe makes no mention of on its site (at least that I could find) is how exactly reviews for tangible products might happen. Reviewing online services or websites is one thing even if fairly limiting. I’m curious to know if advertisers will be willing to provide physical products to random bloggers in addition to paying the fee for the review. I suppose ReviewMe plans to cross that bridge once it comes to it. But for now, the company has set aside $25,000 to be paid out to approved bloggers who review the ReviewMe site itself, which also serves as a nice test run of the service.

So, yes, Computers.net was approved by ReviewMe. And, yes, we are told that we will be paid for this post. And if you’re interested in more details on blogging and advertising, check out this Reuters article coincidently released this week: Blogs Becoming Force in Advertising.

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  • http://Blog.AffiliateBrand.com Gene Kavner

    Bob,

    To add to the debate, I have outlined 4 specific business 101 reasons why in the battle between ReviewMe and PayPerPost, ReviewMe business model is dead on arrival:

    http://blog.affiliatebrand.com/2006/11/reviewmecom_a_b.html

  • http://www.bycommonconsent.com Bob

    Hmm… I’ll respond here and at your site. I think you bring up some valid points even if in a relatively extreme context.

    1) “What happens if the blogger only casually mentions the advertiser’s product…”

    Before the blogger gets paid, the ReviewMe crew supposedly reads over the review to make sure it’s adequate in more ways than one. “Casually mentions” probably would merit ReviewMe rejecting payment until a more substantial reference is made. Perhaps this should all be in the terms of service, but I think it’s implied by the fact that you don’t get paid until your review is reviewed.

    2) “Forcing bloggers to disclose…will automatically minimize the buzz behind any positive mention”

    Yes and no. I’m not ready to say “automatically” in this case; it’s almost like saying that blogs without ads are “automatically” taken more seriously. We’d like to think so, but I don’t think readers have such a cut and dry system when evaluating content.

    3) “…blogger has history of negative reviews, advertisers will automatically shy away.”

    First of all, are advertisers going to read through your entire archives to figure out what is positive and what is negative? And it’s almost as if we’re assuming that everyone who signs up with ReviewMe will stop what they were previously doing and only write reviews for ReviewMe. For my part, I post something nearly every day, sometimes multiple times a day. If a paid review with full disclosure is here or there, how would an advertiser know where to look without reading half my blog?

    4) “ReviewMe should allow any blogger in”

    I disagree. We can talk about what may or may not be the appropriate minimum level. But allowing “any blogger” dilutes the quality and extent of readership of the system. Besides that, blogs are started and stopped every day. Advertisers won’t necessarily want to sift through blogs created yesterday that only have family member readership. Having some sort of minimum creates credibility which attracts advertisers.

    Overall, I don’t know if the business plan will work out, but I don’t think it’s fundamentally flawed. I think blogger and advertiser behavior is hard to define. The results will tell us how it works much better than our over-simplified hypotheticals.

  • jack

    I recently found a very interesting website:
    http://alreadylinked.com/
    There you can purchase ad space for your Blog etc.

  • http://Blog.AffiliateBrand.com Gene Kavner

    Bob — thanks for your thoughtful comments and participating on my blog AffiliateBrand.com. Let me quickly address them.

    1. “Before the blogger gets paid, the ReviewMe crew supposedly reads over the review to make sure it’s adequate in more ways than one.”

    This is not a scalable solution. With thousands of advertisers and hundreds of thousands of blogs, it is simply not practical for ReviewMe to hire people to read every single post to ensure it qualifies for payment. Guidelines for what constitues “adequate” is fuzzy at best and cannot be consistently enforced across the board. The only solution for ReviewMe is to automate the process which creates the problem I discussed of potentially poor and possible off-topic reviews.

    2. “it’s almost like saying that blogs without ads are “automatically” taken more seriously. We’d like to think so, but I don’t think readers have such a cut and dry system when evaluating content.”

    Controversy behind PayPerPost arose because PPP bloggers do not disclose receiving payment for their post. The reason why this was a problem for Michael Arrington of TechCrunch in particular was that he perceives bias in any review where the review was paid by the subject of such review (even if no such bias exists, which is impossible to verify). Therefore, if a disclosure is made, an average reader such as Michael will automatically assume bias causing both blogger and the subject of the post to lose credibility.

    3. “First of all, are advertisers going to read through your entire archives to figure out what is positive and what is negative?”

    Because disclosure of being paid is required, it is likely to be simple to search for the author of the blog where such a disclosure was made. Any responsible company with a marketing budget will certainly do due diligence on each source of potential reviews of their product. I would have certainly done that as the Director of Amazon Associates.

    4. “But allowing “any blogger” dilutes the quality and extent of readership of the system.”

    Google pioneered the concept of allowing practically ANY site on the Internet to participate in its AdSense system. There is no reason to believe that small sites in any way dilute the quality of the network. Since the advertiser has to explicitly request review from the blogger, as long as information on the blog is available to the advertiser, ReviewMe should not make a unilateral decision that such an engagement is against policy.

    Thank you again for your thoughts!

    Gene Kavner

  • Bob

    Gene,

    I appreciate the fun little exchange we’re having here. You’ve asked some pretty tough questions which don’t necessarily have simple answers. ReviewMe is far from perfect, and I do wonder what the company’s fate will be. But in the mean time, I hope you don’t mind me responding to your response:

    “This is not a scalable solution.”

    What about a hybrid model? Meaning, ReviewMe audits X percent of posts at random. It wouldn’t be too difficult to use a statistical model to figure out what minimum sample size x would be needed in order to be 95 percent representative of the population (the population being all the reviews). Worst case scenario, ReviewMe would at least have an idea of what is happening with the population (total reviews) by analyzing the sample while best case scenario, it would provide just enough moderation to minimize gaming of the system.

    “Therefore, if a disclosure is made, an average reader such as Michael will automatically assume bias…”

    The irony, of course, being that Arrington has already made numerous reviews (with disclaimers) of products/services with which he is affiliated in more ways than one. It hasn’t seemed to stop his success or limit his readership.

    “Because disclosure of being paid is required, it is likely to be simple to search for the author of the blog where such a disclosure was made…I would have certainly done that as the Director of Amazon Associates.”

    I’m not sure I understand the first part. Do you mean “simple to search” from within ReviewMe’s site? As in, ReviewMe giving advertisers a nice interface to easily see each blogger’s past reviews? That would be interesting… But so far it looks like the only way to search previous reviews would be to search for them within each blogger’s site itself, something much more time consuming and tedious. But if ReviewMe does organize and package that information nicely for advertisers, then it would be interesting to see how advertisers would measure/use it.

    I have to defer to your past experience at Amazon for this one… At one point does due diligence become a waste of time (if ever) in such cases? How many past reviews of any given paid blogger would you need to read to get an accurate measurement of the blogger’s positive to negative ratio? And what ratio would be acceptable (assuming, of course, the simplified model of only two types of reviews: “good” and “bad”)? It just seems like there will be so many nuances and contexts to keep track of when reading other reviews by the same blogger. There are too many variables (one being the product itself being reviewed). Without some pretty hefty extrapolation (read: assumptions), I don’t foresee advertisers doing a very good job of predicting the outcome of any given review. I mean, a multi-variable regression model would have a hard time predicting the outcome, let alone some advertiser’s gut check.

    And what about the old saying of any publicity is good publicity (or however it goes)? For example, everyone wants good ol’ Walt Mossberg of the Wall Street Journal to review their product regardless of the 50/50ish chance of positive or negative (though again, he rarely is so one-sided, usually his reviews are more “gray”). Do advertisers prescreen his past reviews before submitting their product to him for review? I seriously doubt it. He may not be compensated directly for the review, but the model is indirectly the same: He is paid to review products without bias and gets advertisers flocking to him. Why can’t this translate to advertisers flocking to certain unbiased high profile bloggers in the same way? I guess I’m not necessarily convinced that just because in the old model there’s a little more distance between reviewer payment and the advertiser, the whole thing is so different.

    “There is no reason to believe that small sites in any way dilute the quality of the network.”

    I guess I was working under the assumption that advertisers would be grateful for a network that allows them to pick perhaps ten bloggers to reach 100,000 people (or whatever). But would any advertiser really want the “luxury” of micromanaging their reach potential via singling out hundreds or even thousands of “good” review sites with limited readership? That could take the better part of a month just for one aspect of one part of the marketing mix for one product. It’s akin to advertisers going door to door to find people who would only promote the product to their family and maybe some friends. I just thought having a minimum level in this case actually helps the advertisers accomplish their goals more quickly and efficiently.

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