Total Beauty’s Blogger Blunder

by Jami Summers on June 25, 2009 · 17 comments

Wednesday morning dawned late for me- I got the exceptionally rare chance to sleep in, grabbed my coffee and sat down to check emails, catch up with my Twitter buddies, and write some product reviews. My productivity ended there. The beauty blogging community was in an uproar. Total Beauty Media’s CEO, Emrah Kovacoglu, had posted an article Beauty Brands Should Not Be Working With Bloggers – …directly, anyway. But more on that in a second. First, my take on why this is all blowing up right now.”

The title was enough to incense many writers. And the content just went downhill from there.

This is your blog on Blogola - Just Say No!

First, let’s step back for a little background- TotalBeauty.com was founded in late 2007 as an online beauty community for women. Community members (anyone can join) can post reviews, watch video tutorials, sign up for newsletters, etc. They also launched a Blogging Community which was open to all who wished to join (I believe now the membership requirements are a little more stringent). I joined Total Beauty on May 30 2008 and with that came the few ads you see on Bionic Beauty. A few months later, I joined the optional “Sneak Peek” program (let’s call it the “SP” for short) which meant Total Beauty would send me a few items every couple months to review on both my website and the Total Beauty website. I actually withdrew from SP last month because I felt the products being sent did not fit with the brand’s I typically review.

Now back to Emrah’s article.

Mr. Kovacoglu opens with statements about blogs having “a passionate reader base” and “now they have nice big reach, too. Leading blogs now draw as large an audience as some major media publications”. I’m with him there.

Big numbers like this means big interest from ad/marketing/PR firms. In their fervor to court bloggers to write about their products, they’re offering incentives — from free products, to trips, to outright compensation. It’s at a fever pitch, drawing attention from mass media who’ve labeled this phenomenon “Blogola”.

Hold the phone… what? I admit that beauty editors of magazines and websites can get free products to test. However, in my personal experience, that is the extent. Looking at my recent expenditures and product reviews, a little over 70% of the items I review on Bionic Beauty have been purchased out of my pocket. If I like it, I buy it. It’s just that simple.
As for trips… Nope. And I don’t accept any payment for my reviews, paid-to-post articles, etc. My product reviews are 100% of my opinion. You get the good, the bad, the pros and the cons- because you, as readers, deserve no less.

“Professional mass-media journalists are bound to these standards: objectivity, accuracy, truthfulness, fairness, public accountability, and limitation of harm. They’re bound to presentation standards such as clarity, correct spelling, and formal dialect. But most bloggers are not classically trained professional journalists; they are individuals who had the guts to start talking publicly about an area of passion that had.

Add in e-mail, texting, IM, Tweeting, etc., and the presentation standards in blogging are blurred. As in, it’s acceptable (sometimes cool or funny) to misspell, cut corners, or not be as polished. That is what establishes your authenticity.”

I’m with Emrah again, to a point. Everyone and their mom thinks they can make money blogging by throwing up some press releases and not worrying about the dedicated hours, content, layout, design and standards. But to say that all bloggers are unethical, not trained, or “cut corners” is a load of waffle.

Personally, I worked in the Defense Engineering field before turning to online writing. Due to life changes, and I needed something to keep my brain occupied while I was stuck at home. That’s how Bionic Beauty was born. I wanted to share my knowledge of cosmetics, not to mention the lovely freebies I kept digging up! I never dreamed a PR company would send me a sample to test. I wasn’t, nor will I ever be, in it for the “blogola” Mr. Kovacoglu references. Speaking of not being as polished, I’ve never heard the term “blogola” before.

Accountability, objectivity and accuracy open a whole new can of worms when you consider traditional print magazines and advertiser relationships. Can you recall seeing negatively toned product reviews in a magazine? And do you think those “Top 10 Beauty Products for Summer” were not influenced by a Press Release or ad campaign dollars? It’s standard knowledge in the magazine world that advertiser relationships have to be cherished and placed foremost. In the blogging world- I don’t worry about what a certain advertiser considers a “proper mention”.

“One of the things we encourage our bloggers and brands to do is work through Total Beauty for product reviews via our Sneak Peek program. The reason? We have developed a community of vetted bloggers who are impactful, truthful, and not compensated for their posts/reviews — and we continue to monitor that community. We guarantee to get your products in the hands of the right bloggers…”

Finally we come to realize the intent of Emrah’s article. Pushing the Total Beauty Sneak Peek program to both cosmetics companies (i.e. potential advertisers), PR companies, and bloggers themselves. Because if bloggers feel the only way they can get the “blogola” we have to be part of the Sneak Peek program, right? Not exactly. Since most of us are truly beauty addicts/fiends/junkies, we’d just buy the products anyway. I certainly would not be able to review as many products however, due to realistic budget constraints. And if PR reps “shouldn’t work directly with bloggers” then they would be forced to go through Total Beauty (and all that those lovely ad dollars and donated products probably involve) to get products mentioned on a blog or website.

As for that “community of vetted bloggers” and getting “your products in the hands of the right bloggers”- remember how I mentioned Total Beauty accepting all beauty blogs? And the “right bloggers” is exactly why I withdrew from the SP program. My focus at Bionic Beauty is promoting brands, items, looks that you may not have heard about. Whether those are amazing indie makeup brands or lesser-known drugstore eyeshadows. The SP items just didn’t fit.

“And on the flip side, why do bloggers work through us? We can ensure a buffer between their blog and brands, so that they are not penalized by a negative review, if that is what they truly feel. I’ve had many bloggers complain to me (three in just the last week alone!) that they sometimes receive products from brands they just don’t like, but they fear if they don’t review it (or review it negatively), they’ll never hear from that brand again. We at Total Beauty prevent that from ever happening.”

I have never felt pressure from companies or PR representatives to provide a positive review. In fact, constructive criticism is usually embraced. I realize that some bloggers do not feel comfortable posting a negative article, so they refrain.  My thoughts are how are will my readers know I tried something and disliked it if I withhold that information?

No kidding ladies, I spend over 50 hours a week on this website- writing articles, answering emails and comments, promoting the site, and working with Public Relations (PR) representatives. If those 50 plus hours translate to me “cutting corners”, I wonder how many hours print editors put in?

So Mr. Kovacoglu “my take on why this is all blowing up right now”: That’s a simple answer. You wanted to stick your finger in a process that was already efficient, established and does not require a middle man.

Personally, I will never approve of having a middleman handle my PR relationships. I value the ability to say yes or no to items before they are even offered. I know some items will not work for me, my readers, or are so far out of focus for Bionic Beauty that it’s quite humorous. Plus, PR reps and brands are intelligent enough to realize a productive, honest and quality blog over one that just regurgitates the same old content.

It comes down to the fact that I am passionate about Bionic Beauty. I love writing, I love beauty items, and I truly respect my readers. That’s what keeps me working the long hours.

Want to see what other beauty bloggers are saying about Total Beauty-gate?

And now back to your regularly scheduled Bionic Beauty. If you have comments on this whole hoopla, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below!