Ask Away: Disclosures, Ads and Samples

Nothing to Disclose

Hi Christine!
I love your blog and beauty blogs in general. I have been reading them for a while and noticed that many bloggers often leave rave reviews on products that companies send to them. I am sure their opinions are honest, but it am still wondering- if these products were not free, would you buy them? After all, many of them are very expensive!
So, which products do you spend your hard earned money on, even if you feel that they are too expensive?

Mt (sic) wish list - world peace, no pr samples and affiliate links

Recently I asked if readers had any beauty questions they wanted to see on 15 Minute Beauty, and the very first question that came through was Anna's above. The 2nd thing you see above is a comment that came through recently on a post as a reader comment (misspelling and all) and I have to say that while I thought that Anna's question was valid, the post comment kind of irked me.

While this is a touchy topic for many bloggers, I think I've been pretty forthcoming with disclosures on my blog. I've been blogging for almost 7 years, so I was a beauty blogger before the FTC required disclosures. I was one of the first to mention when things had been sent to me, regularly disclosing in my posts. It was usually just mentioned in a post, nothing like the buttons you'll now find at the top and bottom of posts (and usually in the post as well you'll find a link). When the FTC first announced disclosures for bloggers (but not for big media like magazines), I was interviewed by Forbes because I was disclosing already.

Currently, if the blog is based in the US, we must disclose or we (and the brands we work with) face possible fines. The FTC changed their disclosures this past spring, upping the number of times we must disclose. So, you see the buttons telling you if something was sent, if I have a relationship with a brand, if there are affiliate links, etc.

I have to say that running a blog like mine is a full time job and then some. I spend many hours a day on my blog, writing, trying products, taking and editing pictures, etc. I'm on Blogger so I don't pay for hosting (yeah!), but I do pay a lot for things like photo hosting. I have friends with blogs on the Wordpress platform that pay hundreds of dollars a month for their sites to be online. So, in theory blogging is a hobby for me, but in reality it is my (expensive) second job.

To pay for their websites, most bloggers have ads and sponsorships. Personally, I have one ad that I just sold myself (the Neova one to the top right), I'm part of Martha Stewart's ad network, and as a back up for when there isn't a Martha ad to run, I have Google Adsense. I don't sell text links or other ads. I do have sponsored posts, but the way I run the posts on my site, rather than sponsored (paid) content, I really offer sponsored reviews. Meaning, it's a regular post that I write, but the sponsor can pay to ensure that the product makes it to my site (most things don't, more on that in a bit), and on their timeline. I won't change my opinion or anything in the post unless I'm factually incorrect.

In addition, I obviously get press samples sent to me. You should see my inbox, it is insane. I can get hundreds of emails a day offering me products to try out. I can't even answer all of the emails, let alone try all of the products! I answer only a few of the emails and say yes to having even fewer of those products sent to my house (though sometimes stuff just shows up at my house). Of those that make it to my house, only about half (maybe less) make it on to the blog. This is both good and bad, I get to try more items than I would possibly be able to buy and often before they're available to the public. However, I am constantly trying new things and my office is like a beauty product bomb went off. I have things everywhere!

Things that actually appear on the blog are the ones that I'm interested in enough to write about. I figure if I'm interested in writing about them, then maybe my readers will be interested in reading about them! Usually this is something that I liked, but sometimes it is a product that I was less than enthused about but is from a big brand, so I think offering my opinion might be helpful.

If you're a long term reader of mine, you may have noticed that I rarely really go on and on about how much I loved or hated an item. I'll tell you if I did or didn't like it, but I try to include information about what the product is like, how it works (if I know), who it could have worked better for, etc. Just because a product didn't work for me, doesn't mean it wouldn't work for you. Maybe my skin didn't like a cream because I have an oily t-zone and your skin is more dry, something like that.

Anna did bring up an interesting point, would I pay for these things if I didn't have the blog? Obviously, even I (with my doctor salary) couldn't afford to buy all of the things I feature in the blog. Or, I could, but my home would be smaller and my husband wouldn't be happy with me!

The way I handle press samples on my site is that I don't promise they'll be featured. Stuff that comes and I don't feel like writing about, I just don't write about. The stuff I like enough to feature is pretty much all stuff I would have spent money on myself. Some of the items you see me feature a lot in features over and over are things that I've repurchased over and over, and I try to remember to make a point of saying so. If I love an eye liner enough to buy the same one 3 times despite the ability to get a bunch of others for free, then that says something! (I'm thinking of the Too Faced Perfect Eyes Eyeliner, love that stuff!)

Affiliate links I haven't really figured out. I belong to a few affiliate programs (including Wantable), but I rarely link to them. I wonder if they would seem too much like I'm selling something? I don't really know how to handle that. So, even though I get a few offers each day to join programs, I don't do it. I think I disclose an affiliate link once a month, when I'm posting about Wantable.

So, I hope all of that rambling made some sense. Running a blog like this is a lot of time, costs a lot of money, and really, we need to be able to make some money off of our websites in order to run them. I make a lot more money off my site now than I used to, but it still isn't a lot. I probably come out roughly even when you take into account the beauty items I only buy because of the blog (I recently bought almost every shadow NYX makes. I probably would have bought 5 or 10 otherwise, but they were on sale and I wanted them for the blog!) I don't think that I personally am really swayed in my opinion about a product because I paid for it or it was sent to me. The reason? I know this sounds strange, but I have so much stuff sent to me all the time, that the fact it was sent doesn't really mean much any more. I'm much more likely to really love the stuff I bought myself. I try to be as honest as possible in my reviews and truthful. I'm skeptical of the reviews on blogs that are so strongly positive or negative, so I don't post that way.

I try to be as honest as possible in all of my posts and reviews. If I wouldn't recommend a product to a friend, you won't see me recommending it on my blog. All I have for my site is my integrity. People read my site because they think I'm honest and they want to know my opinion. I do feel that comments like that 2nd one are disrespectful because you're calling my integrity into question. If you think I've lied about something, then ask that. Don't just make vague statements like that, call me out. I think that what I mostly offer on the blog is my opinion of a product, how I liked it, and how it worked for me. Readers don't always agree with me (again, sometimes products work differently for people), and if you have a different opinion I always let those comments through (unless they get stuck in my spam filter and I miss them!).

I hope that made sense. I'd love to know what you think!


Justina Gemignani said...

Thanks for posting this. I follow your site because I value your opinion, and I think we have similar taste! There are several things I've purchased because you've recommended them, most recently the Smashbox Photo Op Eye Brightener...which is set to be delivered to me today at 10 am! Hooray!

StephanieLouise said...

Wonderful post! I get questions like this on my blog or from new bloggers & just try to be as honest & upfront with readers & brands as I can. I definitely couldn't afford to buy everything (military families don't exactly rake in the dough!) but I do purchase a lot of items myself as well. I feel blessed as a blogger but we also put a lot of hard work into blog posts or videos, much of it unseen. I often see a pricey eye cream as both part of my job as a blogger but also partially compensation for the time I spend on it.

musical said...

Well put, Christine! I've been visiting your blog since forever, and most of your product recommendations have worked for me. Your reviews come with a good amount of scientific logic as well, which i really dig, being a scientist myself. I love your blog, because for me, it's one of the best places online to find products that will work-be it high end stuff or drugstore goodies. If it's featured here, then i know that it comes with a certain degree of dependability, PR sample or not.

Keep up the good work!


Christine Mikesell said...

Thanks! I wondered about publishing this post, in large part because I was irked at the person in the 2nd comment, but I really wanted to answer Anna! I think being as transparent as possible is a good thing.

And I try to really only feature the things that I like and would recommend to friends if possible. Whether that's a drugstore item or something higher end. I do have to admit that at heart, I'm a drugstore beauty girl with a few exceptions (Too Faced, Urban Decay and Lorac mostly).

Anyways, thank you!

Glossy Glamblog said...

This post was very informative for me since I'm new to blogging and am just starting to get free samples. Just curious, since you are making money off your blog, can you count it as a business and so "write off" some of the product purchases you make for the blog (like the NYX shadows you mentioned)? I'm just wondering, I truly don't know anything about this stuff but it just popped into my head.

Christine Mikesell said...

I think you can, though I don't keep track of things like that. I admit that I rely WAY too much on my husband for the tax stuff. I really only started making more than $80 a month or so this year, so I'm keeping track of big expenses (I just bought a much needed new computer with my blogging money that I saved forever)

Sandra Sallin said...

You know I read your blog because I seem to have a sense of your frothrightness and honesty. I do trust you when you say that you're telling the truth in your evaluations. I must say you were the one who turned me on to drugstore mascaras and you were right. I also started using one of the palletes you recomended and again you were right. So bottom line I think if you read and trust a blogger one has to accept the honesty of their reveiws. I know you have a sense of integrity that I read through the lines. PS I'm 73 and stil love makeup.

beautybabbling said...

Thank you for this post. This might sound strange, but it makes me feel better about my own blog posts. I rarely rave about a product, good or bad, and I was feeling weird about it. Your logic makes sense though and makes me feel more comfortable about my more fact based reviews.

Julie said...

Christine, I've been reading your blog for years, and I have never left a comment before -- but when I read this post, I felt compelled to! Your blog is the most professional, thoughtful, and sincere I have ever come across. I have followed your advice more times than I can count, and I've never been led astray. As a fellow physician, I love the science and careful method behind the way you review products. And I can't believe you find the time to do all of this on a peds intensivist's schedule! So please don't be discouraged by careless and ignorant comments. You do an amazing job, and I, for one, am incredibly grateful :)

MarciaF (Beauty Info Zone) said...

I love that you addressed this. It's hard enough to spend all the time photographing and writing without being questioned about why we review what we do. I spend a lot of my own money on beauty products because I just plain love them. Too much I'm sure. It's great though that I can get some products that I've admired and review them. I couldn't possibly buy everything I review so I appreciate the PR samples tremendously. When I first started blogging I raved about some items that really weren't worthy of raves. Now that I know better I just don't review it all, it's not fair to someone who'd buy it if I wasn't honest about my opinion.

I love comments! Please ask away, provide info on how you liked something, etc. Note that spam, comments with random links (which I count as spam), anything not in english (again, spam) and comments that are completely unrelated to anything will all be deleted.

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