Product Reviews: How to Stay Neutral and Trustworthy when People are Giving You Free Stuff

The only thing a reviewer has to offer a reader is trust. Don't screw it up.

The only thing a reviewer has to offer a reader is trust. Don't screw it up.
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Often, reviewers will get free products to try out and review. After all, if you had to buy each product you were fooling with, researching, and reporting on, reviewing would be a major cause of going broke fast among journalists and bloggers alike.

While this problem is squarely filed under #firstworldproblems, and rightfully so, it’s still a problem. Reviews have value only if the audience can trust the word of the reviewer.

Let me say that again for emphasis because it is the most critical piece of information for an aspiring/current reviewer:

Reviews have value ONLY if the audience can trust the word of the reviewer.

So – how can reviewers accept review units and maintain usefulness / integrity / trust?

Know the difference between a good review and a positive one

Good reviews are accurate, not necessarily positive.

When someone gives us something we usually want to be nice to them in return. That’s normal. The nicer it is (like a gaming laptop) the more we feel the need to be nice to them. Don’t let that cloud your judgement and cause you to review something more positively than warranted.

A positive review that isn’t accurate may help a company sell more of something… for a little while.

But think about what happens each time someone reads a glowing, inaccurate review talking about how awesome something is when in fact it’s pretty lame. This is the age of the internet. Those shenanigans don’t stand for long. For each purchase your glowing review creates, you also create an angry, disappointed customer with failed expectations who will march right back to GameSkinny, Amazon, or wherever their outlet of choice is and leave a more honest review behind yours. You’re not doing the company any favors, and you’re destroying your ability to continue meaningful review commentary.

Companies want reviewers to review their stuff because the audience trust them.

If the audience wanted to hear from a company directly, then they’d just head on over to their site and believe everything they read. That’s not how it works, and there’s a reason why. Don’t let gratitude cloud your judgement. Create a review that has real value by telling people the truth.

ALWAYS Tell them where & how you got the product

Make it painfully, unmissably obvious that you got the product for free / at a reduced rate / by request / mailed to you anonymously / left on your porch in a basket.

Always disclose your product receipt in your post in an obvious, clear, utterly transparent way.

This disclaimer on a review for Zipbuds is an excellent example:

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About the author

Amy White

Former Editor in Chief at GameSkinny. I am the Gray Fox. Questions, comments, feedback? Bring it. Amy.White (at)