Losing Trust in Bloggers

There seems to a trust issue with many blog readers now. Jane from British Beauty Blogger periscoped about this thread on Mumsnet. It’s quite a long read and getting bigger everyday, so the gist of it is that bloggers aren’t to be trusted. To get the fuller picture do give it a read. I think it raises many legitimate concerns for the blogging community, though. I really wanted to address some of the things raised because they do grind my gears too. Grab a cuppa, it’s going to be a long one!

Why I Blog

I blog for many different reasons. I started out a couple of years ago spurned on by researching makeup ideas for my wedding. I read lots of blogs, but my first loves were Drivel about Frivol, who sadly isn’t blogging anymore, and the wonderful Killer Colours. If you don’t read Killer Colours I highly recommend her, she does stunning makeup looks and great reviews. 

From my initial interaction with blogs like these I decided to start my own. I had just finished my MA and not being able to work I wanted something lighthearted to take up my time. I enjoyed the community and the fun of beauty. I still very much enjoy that side of blogging and it’s still there if you want to find it. I love sharing products and also learning about what others have been using. Beauty and fashion, for me, are escapisms, means of making myself feel better and indeed cope with chronic pain. I’m at home a lot because of disability and my blog gives me something positive to focus on. 

Having said this blogging has changed. It’s a full-time profession for many and one that some people make a helluva lots of money from. This seems to be where the trust issues come from. Can you really trust someone to give an honest opinion when they’re being paid to? It’s a difficult one. I think you can give a balanced review but you must be transparent. Readers feel that they’re being wilfully misled by many bloggers/vloggers, particularly the bigger ones. This is having an affect on all of us. 

PR SAMPLES/SPONSORED POSTS/ ADVERTORIALS 

Some bloggers who receive PR samples still manage to strike a balance in their reviews, highlighting both positives and negatives. It might not suit my skin type or just my personal taste. I might not like a particular product but someone else might absolutely love it. This should definitely be taken into consideration when writing about it. Of course, if a product’s (or service, or whatever the scenario) awful either don’t feature it or be honest.

I occasionally receive PR samples and I always state this. If I haven’t marked it as a PR sample then I’ve either purchased it myself or a friend or family member has given it to me. I very rarely do sponsored posts but if I do I always clearly mark it as such. There’s ASA guidelines (which you can find here ) for bloggers/vloggers to follow and if you feel bloggers/vloggers aren’t being transparent lodge a complaint. The ASA (or CAP) will look into it for you.

Advertorials should also be clearly marked as such. No one likes to get sold to on the sly and you should know before watching a video or reading a post if the content is an advert. This allows you to decide if you want to continue. This is a tricky area. Many do state it’s an advert but not until the end of the post or in the youtube box. I don’t think that’s clear enough. 

Similarly sponsored content isn’t always clearly marked and writing a small *sponsored at the bottom isn’t sufficient, I don’t think. Again, ASA have guidelines to follow here. 

AFFILIATED LINKS

Similarly there’s a wariness with affiliated links. I personally don’t mind clicking on someone’s affiliated links, it gives them a bit of revenue and if I like their blog I also want to support it. I think most people’s issue with affiliate links is non-disclosure and this is the HUGE sticking point for lots of people in general. Also, it seems people don’t really understand what they are and indeed if they influence a blogger’s review (in my opinion they don’t). This is a good post explaining what affiliate links are. 

NON-DISCLOSURE 

This seems to be the crux of the mistrust with many bloggers. If you’re doing an ad, sponsored post, or anything where money or a product/gift has changed hands you must disclose. It’s a legal requirement to do so. Again, if you feel a blogger/vlogger isn’t being transparent report them to the ASA. This article from PR Week is very useful.

FAKE FOLLOWERS

There’s also the issue with fake followers across different social media platforms. I see many bloggers saying that it’s obvious who’s doing it but I think it’s becoming increasingly difficult to spot. Not all bloggers are aware that this happens and readers certainly aren’t.

I wrote a couple of posts about this phenomenon here and here. Fake followers are becoming more sophisticated. They’re not just bots that sit and do nothing anymore. Also, there’s the ability to purchase fake likes too which makes it look all the more plausible. What can you do about this? Contact them and say “Hi erm, I noticed you’re purchasing fake followers, pls stop, thnx”? 

Turning a blind eye to it knowing full well what they’re doing seems complicit somehow. I genuinely don’t know what to do. Instagram and Twitter both have means of reporting them but in reality it doesn’t achieve anything. Sigh.

I’m personally sick of seeing bloggers who purchase fake followers gaining from their deceit. It’s essentially fraud, they’re both misleading readers and also the brands/companies paying them. Some bloggers have said that they’d love to call them out but are too scared of getting called a hater or jealous. But surely we can’t just keeping turning a blind eye to it? If readers are becoming increasingly cynical about our honesty, and quite frankly who can blame them, then how can blogging beyond a hobby survive?

A couple of months ago Kat from the wonderful Tales of Pale Face blog conducted a small survey and wrote this post about her results. It has some interesting findings regarding PR samples and sponsored posts. Do give it a read, it’s very insightful. This paragraph is particularly interesting:

“Reassuringly, 52% of you said that you’d trust us bloggers to be honest when we’re dealing with both sponsored posts and PR samples. On the flip side, 22% of people answered that they don’t trust either – preferring to believe in reviews on products that had been purchased directly by the blogger.”

*Updated*                   

Google has issued some best practice guidelines here for bloggers receiving PR samples. It’s summed up as follows:

-Use nofollow links where appropriate

– Disclose the relationship

– Produce compelling and unique content

Google DO NOT like inorganic links and they see links as a result of PR samples as inorganic, quite rightly. If you don’t nofollow google will penalise your blog. This will essentially render it invisible on google searches. The excellent May Fairy wrote about her horrific experience with google’s wrath. It’s a very insightful read and she clearly explains the ramifications of dofollow/nofollow. It’s good to have a balance of dofollow/nofollow on your blog, just make sure you’re doing it properly.

To finish on a positive note. I do think these kinds of bloggers are in the minority and by far the most kind of bloggers I encounter are honest and just love blogging, whether that’s a hobby, semi-pro, or pro-blogger. Unfortunately it seems to be a small amount, albeit highly visible bloggers, that are making readers cast doubt on blogging as a whole.

Further reading: CAP Guide for Vloggers/Bloggers 

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this!

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25 Comments

  1. March 6, 2016 / 11:57 am

    Great post Shona, I don't monetise at all from my blog and always state samples and those that don't (and we know they're out there) it annoys me too. As for buying followers, alongside you, it makes my blood literally boil. How fake?! Some of us work our butts off to gain followers, lose some and gradually build up an honest following…of which I'm damn proud of and appreciate them all.
    There are issues within the blogging world a plenty, I have a gripe of some bloggers 'posts' being one photo and just a few lines! Where's the creativity in tha?! This is how so many bang out posts to increase following, along with giveaways every few weeks. It's hard and I keep thinking I should give up blogging, then I think of the fab comments I've had and how much beauty/wellbeing has been my life for many many years..and I tell myself to keep going as I enjoy it.
    Fab post, great points and good on you for bringing it to attention
    Heidi x

    • March 6, 2016 / 12:22 pm

      I dont think there's any problem monetising but be transparent! I use affiliated links but I literally make pittance from them.

      I think it's difficult to not get jaded by the state of some blogging. It's so disheartening seeing bloggers who've clearly bought followers get opportunities and paid ones too. I dont think we can just turn a blind eye to it anymore, it's unsustainable. There's a blogger that I noticed a couple of months ago buying followers, her twitter is 70% fake! as is her IG and Facebook, what can we actually do about this?

    • March 6, 2016 / 12:22 pm

      haha and again! no worries 😀 xxx

  2. March 6, 2016 / 4:15 pm

    I really liked this post! I always disclose every single PR sample on my blog, but all of my favourite blogs no longer disclose. I did a poll on twitter the other week and over 150 people answered "do you think bloggers should disclose PR samples" and 89% said yes which is huge. I don't understand why some bloggers feel they should hide their PR Samples?! xx

    Gemma ♥ | Miss Makeup Magpie

    • March 6, 2016 / 4:44 pm

      thank you! ah I missed that, and yeah that is a huge amount. Like you I don't understand why they're hiding it, and it's things that are blatantly obvious too, like do you really think we're that stupid! xx

  3. March 6, 2016 / 4:47 pm

    Definately nothing wrong being paid for the work, I feel I'm too small to charge. I'm staggered at Gemma's findings about big bloggers not declaring, why hide it?! I do think there should be some form of regulation for all bloggers, the fakes need to be reigned in.
    Heidi x

    • March 6, 2016 / 6:43 pm

      yeah you do what you feel is appropriate but for things like sponsored posts I'd always recommend charging, but of course it's up to you. Never sell yourself short!

  4. March 6, 2016 / 6:38 pm

    Really interesting post. Buying followers is degrading to anyone who actually puts the time into blogging and tries hard!! I always mention a disclaimer in my PR samples however I still include my own reviews regardless whether or not I was paid. Many people use/see blogging to get 'free stuff' and many do not understand the amount of effort and commitment that goes into writing posts, taking pictures ect. I love blogging and I do it as a hobby and I have made some great friends, but people that are not honest ruin blogging for me.

    http://www.itsagirlthingblogging.com

    • March 6, 2016 / 6:45 pm

      it is degrading! and so very frustrating for us that actually put the effort in.

      Yeah unfortunately it is ruining it for me too *but* by and large most bloggers are honest and love blogging, it's such a shame a few are ruining it for us. Thanks for commenting!

  5. March 7, 2016 / 4:58 am

    The only revenue I've earned is from a couple of people who used my link to sign up for eBates. Honestly, I was incredibly touched that they used my link instead of going straight to the site to sign up.

    I've been pruning my blogroll because I'm tired of what some fashion blogs have become–10 c/o items per post, no actual writing, just a dozen slightly different poses–bah, humbug. The whole point of blogging is that it's not supposed to be a magazine. Right? Or am I dating myself?

    • March 7, 2016 / 10:47 am

      there's definitely a move towards blogs looking like magazine, which like you say, is in direct contrast to why many blogs started, which is a real shame. I only look at a few fashion blogs now as the clothes featured are so ridiculously expensive I just cant relate, chanel and dior bags all over the place?! I'll stick with my asos rucksack thank you x

  6. March 7, 2016 / 12:18 pm

    Very good post, things have changed so much and I find myself drifting to small blogs now. In fact there is only one big blog I actually read, everyone else has drifted off my reading list over the years for many of the reasons already mentioned. I don't like magazines and therefore I don't like blogs that are like magazines, its not my taste, I want to read what the average person really thinks about something.

    Shame really.

    • March 7, 2016 / 1:37 pm

      yep I'm pretty much the same, I read a couple of big blogs but I dont trust the reviews I'll go looking elsewhere for a review but they are good for seeing the latest beauty buys, for example.

      There's seems to be a huge fallout though from that Mumsnet thread, unfortunately I think it's being directed at the wrong people :/

  7. March 12, 2016 / 8:49 am

    Great post ! I have to say that I don't read 'famous big bloggers' anymore (apart 2: Lily Pebbles and Vivianna Does Make Up) as I feel it is easier and friendlier for me to interact with smaller bloggers, like having a proper chat about a beauty product or anything really , I feel like with very famous bloggers you don't have this interaction , they most likely never going to reply to your comments and sometimes their lives becoming a bit away from reality as not everybody can offer Chanel bag every few months and buy your body weight on stuff at Space NK! I mean I do sometimes buy myself luxurious skincare but not every week or every month for that matter…anyway I really enjoyed reading that post. well done xx

    http://allornothing-blog.blogspot.co.uk/

    • March 12, 2016 / 10:59 am

      thank you! I think you're completely right, when blogs lose their relatability they lose what makes them unique and we may as well just stick to magazines.

      I love that we can talk to others and get excited about a cheap red lipstick or the new mac releases, it's why I still love lots of smaller blogs xx

  8. March 12, 2016 / 11:17 am

    Thank you for your extensive and well researched post on this. I've had my blog for coming up 4 years now and I remember a time when it was just a bunch of people light-heartedly sharing their interests. It's grown quite complicated now. I'm still yet to get my head around all of these technical terms that have come about, but I'm glad that guidelines exist now as sometimes it is hard to know if you are reading comes from the heart. I usually read book and travel bloggers though, not make up ones as it's not my thing. I can think of a few people off the top of my head though who I suspect of having fake twitter followers, but I literally keep my distance from them and they rarely appear on my feed.

    Lots of love, Ness | http://www.wanderness.co.uk xx

    • March 12, 2016 / 1:25 pm

      Thank you! Slowly the law's catching up, blogging is moving pretty fast and changed so much it'll take a while before ASA/CAP fully cover everything but it's a start.

      The fake follower thing is so disheartening and I think it's getting increasingly difficult to spot who's doing it thanks to fake followers becoming more sophisticated. I guess the best way, like you say, is to keep the distance and not give them views etc but argh i hate it! xx

  9. May 9, 2016 / 9:13 am

    I've been blogging for years, and in the last several years started to blog for lifestyle website or so called online zines which are really blogs. I got let go because I wrote a wine review where I actually got 5 people to sample the wine and wrote about what they said honestly. The PR company give the owner of the online zine shit and he was very upset and let me know even though I'm a volunteer. He heavily relies on those relationships to go to all the events so he did not dare to jeopardize those connections. I found it really sad. I am extremely well connected so I state clearly my opinions good and bad on a product, or event or organization and my reasons. Hence I have a very engaged following on both social media and my email newsletter at http://www.socialbutterflyclub.ca I have never been given stuff, only free entry into event but I was never told I had to write a good review. I think blogsphere is in transition. Traditional media is on it's way out, and blog is taking it's place, but it really lacks the professionals, the fact checking, spell checking of people's names, and quality coverage. Having a ton of good photos with some people's names in it does not make a blogpost in my opinion. But who are mine to say that, I'm very busy so I've totally done that in my own blog. I think that's the sticky situation most bloggers face, that they have a full time gig, and do blogging on the side, so it's hard to maintain the quality because it's more of a hobby/side project, and you only do it when you have time. The bloggers that make money I think are fashion bloggers or beauty bloggers… I haven't heard of anyone really able to profit from blogging besides those two niches, unless they're a celebrity. Thank you for the thought provoking article!

    • May 9, 2016 / 5:58 pm

      thank you for such a great response! I think the point you highlight about professionalism is exactly why so many trained journalists don't like bloggers, I can totally get that! Particularly if you are making a living from it.

      Thanks again for such a considered response.

  10. May 9, 2016 / 1:52 pm

    Thanks for the article! I'm a food blogger and these issues are rampant in any blogging niche.

    • May 9, 2016 / 5:59 pm

      argh! it drives me nuts, such a shame it's pretty much across the board :/

  11. May 26, 2016 / 4:12 pm

    I completely agree with this. I've started to mistrust the 'bigger' bloggers and vloggers, more so the vloggers because some have gone from posting once a week to one sponsored post a month. But that is just my opinion many people are okay with this but as a blogger myself I believe transparency is key!xx

    Beth | MissCosmeticBlogger

    • May 26, 2016 / 4:30 pm

      yeah I very rarely use youtube or read the bigger blogs anymore, it feels like constant advertising and not done transparently but it's also happening at a smaller level. Why people still buy fake likes/followers is beyond me, it's so obvious once you know what to look for but I just feel sorry for the people they're duping

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