Why You Should Pay Influencers For Their Reviews

So let’s say you’re a consultant. You have a client that asks you to develop and execute a marketing campaign for a product. You charge them a fee (usually by the hour), and you get paid for your work. This is the right thing to do, and nobody will object you doing this. It is your business, your profession. Now let’s move over to the online influencer. A brand approaches the influencer with their product, and pays them to do a review. Somehow, a large community of social media purists dubbed this as unethical. But why?  Why shouldn’t you pay influencers for their time? Why are paid reviews so bad for the digital marketing world?

The answer is – they’re not. Think of it this way: An influencer is a digital publisher. Their job is to create a blog, create a community, grow a community around an idea, develop thought leadership, and influence people about these ideas. Online influence is their business – and like any other business, the goal is to make money.

why you should pay influencers for reviewsTime Equals Money!

An influencer is an online marketing consultant. They are creating a digital campaign for your product or brand. They have to first demo the product, do some research, create an opinion, write content, decide when it will be published, promote it through their various social channels, moderate engagement and comments, report analytics, etc. This is a lot of work, and you would never expect a consultant to do this all for you for free. So why are you expecting influencers to do so?

Think about the amount of hours that it took to build their blog, develop connections, grow their social networks, develop authority, grow an email list, invest in branding, etc. The one blog post you’re asking for might take a few hours to write, but the channel that they created to deliver that blog post most likely took years to develop. How insulted would you be, as a PR or Marketing agency, if your client decided to pay you in coupons? I’d be pissed!

All of this takes time. You’re not buying the influencer’s love, you’re simply paying for the time that it took for them to develop a digital campaign for you. Much the same way you would pay a consultant.

Here are a few best practices for writing paid reviews:

  1. Brands – don’t tell the influencer what to write. They have their own voice, they know what they’re doing, they know what their audience likes. Just give them the demo/product sample and the information they need to form an opinion, and let them shine.
  2. Brands – Pay influencers for their time. Don’t expect the most popular influencers to develop a social media campaign for you for free, or for food stamps, or for product samples. The compensation needs to reflect the time it will take for them to execute your campaign.
  3. Influencers – Make sure you declare that you got paid for your TIME, and not your opinion. Always declare that the opinions in the review are your own.
  4. Influencers – Be as authentic as possible. It doesn’t matter how much the brand paid you, if there’s something about their product you didn’t like, say it. Authentic reviews do a lot better than reviews that are 100% positive – these are the reviews that look like they were bought. Nobody likes that.

So please, next time you do an influencer outreach campaign, don’t be cheap – pay influencers for their time. It’s the right thing to do – after all, they can’t just live on toothpaste!

Have you ever done paid reviews for your products? Have you ever written a paid review on your blog? What worked, what didn’t? Please leave a comment below!

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10 Comments
  • Hmmm, I'm still not convinced on this.

    First of all, this assumes that many bloggers started their blogs purely to make money. Not for an interest in the topic, or a passion for writing, but just as a business. I don't think that's true. Certainly they had a great passion for a certain topic or to help people by providing knowledge.

    The highly influential bloggers, the ones who have indeed built credability and an audience over time, have become influential because of trust. Their readers trust their opinion, and therefore are influenced by it. How can you trust the opinion of a blogger that says "I was paid to write this review"? Now, this isn't to say that there aren't bloggers out there who do not ask for payment for reviews who also do not have a large readership, but I still think it skews their opinion. And why would I want to pay someone for a potentially negative review?

    Also, I have a hard time with the comparison of influential bloggers to online consultants. Sure, they have a lot of knowledge on a certain topic and can be considered "experts," but I'm not paying them to plan a campaign, execute it, and/or provide ongoing consultation. It's just not the same as a company/vendor relationship.

  • The question on my mind is… how do you define "Influencer"?

    • Thanks for stopping by Shannon!

      That's a whole different debate, haha :P. We wrote a couple posts about possible "definitions" of influence, and I'm sure we'll write some more.

      Essentially, my definition of influence is – Influence is the art of creating action. In the case of social media, this could be creating action personally, or on behalf of a brand. An "influencer" can be anyone – friends, family, experts, strangers, etc. Anyone has the power to influence, at any point in time. When it comes to social media, people usually think of influencers as the major publishers/bloggers. While they certainly can be influencers, they're not the only ones – smaller bloggers, and people with smaller social media communities can have as much influence, if not greater, than some of the larger publishers in some cases.

      Here are a few posts you might be interested in:

      What is social media influence? – http://innetwork.net/2013/02/what-is-social-media

      Influencers: Why you should add them to your social media campaign – http://innetwork.net/2013/02/influencers-why-you-

      What is influence and how to have it? – http://innetwork.net/2013/02/what-is-influence-an

      The importance of audience data in outreach campaigns – http://innetwork.net/2013/02/the-importance-of-in

  • I'll disagree with you here on one point: Blogging can be brand improvement, and your business can be influence. If you are still trying to build your influence, then it may be worth it to offer free reviews of products you are inclined to like and appreciate on your blog.

    For example, our blog http://WeftyandMash.com usually offers prospective brands a free review, and asks that they help share the review with their audience. We get more readership, they get more publicity, and our audience grows. We can maintain honesty because we don't get paid, and the reader can be assured that we don't get any money for the review, so it is honest.

    That may not be a means to an end, but for now, getting the occaisional free product and building our audience is a good thing.

    • Great point Mash!

      But what's the difference between getting paid with a free product, or getting paid with cash? Wouldn't you put more effort into a paid review, do more thorough research, than if it's free? Research takes a lot of time, and I can see some people only lightly testing a product because they don't want to put the time into it. But if there was compensation, would the review be better?

      It's a different approach I guess :). Thanks for the comment!

  • Thanks for linking to my post at the end! I was talking about ongoing ambassadorship roles which should really be paid. If I get paid to write about a product, however, I don't call it a review. I disclose sponsorship and provide exposure for the product/brand while engaging my readers, but it's not a review. I can't trust myself to draw the line between paying for time vs paying for opinion, so how can I trust others? I will write unpaid posts featuring products/events that I like as well, but the company doesn't get any say about how, when, what or why I post those. That said, paying for custom content is only fair.

    • Thanks for the comment Rebecca!

      You make a couple good points there. I wouldn't put paying in custom content in the same category as what I'm referring to in the post though, that's more of an advertorial if the brand dictates what, when or how you post.

      What I'm having a hard time to distinguish is if you were to do a "review" or "sponsored post" that's unpaid, but your compensation is some sort of luxurious item that has significant monetary value, what's the difference? Or if someone sends you on a trip, and you write about it, what's the difference?

      It's funny that as soon as you add cash to the equation, and ethics debate pops up, from both the influencer and marketer side. Some people think it's right, and some don't.

      Great comment Rebecca! :)

  • I'm not sure what the solution to this is.

    Personally as a blogger, I don't blog with money in mind. I blog to build my reputation and authority. If someone were to approach me to review a product, I would do it for free if the product was suitable to my blog content. If the product is not suitable to my blog content, I would not do it even if I was paid (I guess an exception would be made for an exorbitant amount). I can't speak for other bloggers, especially for the ones who focus on making money.

    As a marketer, I am not sure what the answer is. I would rather offer product in many cases than money as I have heard of bloggers asking for very high compensation. However, I feel like bloggers might be more biased toward the product if that was their form of compensation.

    On a separate note, I received a Klout perk for some expensive headphones. I used the headphones, hated them, wrote a positive review because I felt that I needed to in order to pay a "social debt".

  • Daniel Hi,

    I need to disagree with your opinion on paying influencers. The biggest reason why I disagree with you is simple. Is review written and product promoted simple because someone got paid or because influencer really enjoyed the experience with the product. You can see in today's market that majority of influencers who are compensated for reviewing the products will always strongly recommend the product and fill you with the info that they receive from the PR company or brand itself. I dont know for any case in which an influencer would not recommend the product or give a transparent review to their readers.
    I am sorry but this will not work in this era of communication anymore. People are paying attention to details and asking questions in their network before they decide to make a purchase. Any investment into paying influencers for the review is set to fail.

    • Hey Jure!

      Thanks for the comment! I agree with some of the statements you've made – more precisely the one about some influencers promoting the product in a positive light because they got paid. That's why I provided some best practices at the end of the post. It can work, and it has worked before. How do you think a company like Radian6 got so popular so fast in the social space? By engaging and compensating influencers. The key here is to not buy an opinion, and not tell the influencer what to do.

      The influencers that just promote whatever message the PR agency gave them isn't a very good influencer, in my opinion. Outreach suddenly becomes advertorials in that case, which don't always work. The really good influencers aren't scared of reporting their true opinion, whether it's positive or not. And these types of reviews are usually the best – and some influencers get paid for them. :)

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