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Karl over at ExperienceCurve posted an interesting question for bloggers yesterday about how you would react to getting free products as a blogger and what sense of obligation you might feel. Nokia is experimenting with this, and just about every consumer products brand I work with is considering it and trying to find the right way to do it as well.

This has become a hot topic as services like PayPerPost now offer a very real way for brands to purchase something that was previously only attainable organically — word of mouth. Alongside these services has been the debate about ethics, transparency and whether giving people free stuff can ever result in real authentic word of mouth. WOMMA is dedicated to answering that question. The journalistic approach is to avoid accepting any "gifts" as this could be seen as bribery. Governments and large NGOs often take the same approach.

Yet as we all know, the blogosphere is a different animal. Bloggers have opinions and unlike many folks in public corporate roles, most bloggers feel inclined to share their opinions. Good blog writing comes from having a personality and taking a specific point of view. Recently I posted about 5 brands that I believe in. Briggs & Riley, a luggage manufacturer, was on this list. After my post, the PR team from Briggs & Riley contacted me and asked if I would like to try out a few pieces from their new Baseline Collection – no strings attached. I accepted, noting that I would provide an honest review of them and disclose to my readers once I received them that the company did send them to me, and that I was not directly paid to speak about them.

Why did I accept? And more specifically to Karl’s point, if I hadn’t written about my love for Nokia’s new NSeries – how would I feel about being approached by Nokia? One of the points from a 7 tips piece I wrote some time ago to help PR folks more intelligently "pitch bloggers" was about how it’s ok to provide products to bloggers, as long as they are relevant. Taking these tips a bit further here are five principles I would suggest to marketers interested in getting a product into the hands of bloggers to talk about:

1. Be selective and choose bloggers for a reason (industry, subject matter, previous posts, etc.).

2. Tell bloggers why you chose them – and help them understand that it was exclusive.

3. Require full disclosure from the blogger about what you have given them.

4. Don’t be afraid to ask them to write about their experience with it (positive or negative).

5. If they don’t write about it, there is probably a reason – so just let it go.

For good pitches that meet all these criteria above, I am usually more than happy to help – whether it is testing out a product, reading a book, or reviewing a new website idea. I have done many of these in the past. As for the Nokia question – if I got one, tested it out and liked it … I would definitely write about it from a marketing point of view. If I didn’t like it, I would probably return it and not post about it at all. The best outcome of a good outreach effort to bloggers is that they will feel respected, honored and talk favorably about your product or service. This respect can also likely open up a communication channel where blogger will share negative feedback with you and your organization more privately rather than choosing to publicly declare all shortcomings. Seems like an upside either way, if done right. Any other opinions on this?

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About the Author

Rohit Bhargava is the Vice President for Interactive Marketing with Ogilvy Public Relations Worldwide.

http://rohitbhargava.typepad.com

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