The Trust Factor

As many of you know, I have an interesting perspective on the whole marketing-to-bloggers thing. Being a PR/Marketing person by trade, I straddle the fence and can truly understand both sides of the coin. {Apparently I can also write sentences that contain multiple cliches - now that's talent!} I can see why brands and companies want to align themselves with bloggers, engage with bloggers and work with them.  And being a blogger, I can tell you that it's really exciting when you are pitched to review a product or attend an event put on by a cool brand. 

A few weekends ago I had the opportunity to attend Bloggy Boot Camp in San Diego. For those of you not familiar with this conference, it's a one-day symposium aimed at helping female bloggers learn more about blogging, refine techniques and gain new ideas to reach their maximum potential. One of the points of topic that left me thinking was the concept of the Trust Factor: do you trust bloggers' opinions?

As the popularity of my other site, the SDMOMfia, continues to grow, this is something I've been thinking more and more about. Right out of the gates, we attracted the attention of local businesses and large brands. I won't lie - it's extremely flattering. When you get an email from a restaurant you love, a gym you've been wanting to try, a spa that wants to treat you to a free massage, you go for it.

But here's the thing. The PR person representing the brand sought you out because they feel that you fit the criteria of their "ideal customer." And since you are a person they want to impress, the experience on a whole is probably better than it would it be for the average Joe on the street. As a senior PR pro, with 12 years of experience (including having the world's largest producer of consumer electronics as a client), I can tell you that the PR person has two goals. The first: to make their clients look good. The second: to impress you.

Does this mean that the bloggers are not being honest in their reviews? Not at all. What it means is that we were wine and dined; all the stops were pulled out. If anything, we are posting an honest reaction to what may be an above average interaction. It's like having people over for dinner. You straighten the house, use the "good china," trade in your sweats for jeans and prepare food that is probably a little higher brow than what you normally would serve. Basically, you're not serving the Kraft Mac 'n Cheese off paper plates. And it's not just bloggers that get this treatment. This is the same treatment professional journalists have been recieving for years. You don't think that when Auto Week reviews the new BMW they send out the base model - no, the reviewer gets the top of the line version with all the bells and whistles. Same with food reviewers.... they are given the best bottle of wine to compliment the meal, they are given multiple dishes to taste and the every item on that plate is perfectly arranged. 

Being in the realm of "mommy bloggers" means that brands and businesses want to reach out to me, and they want me to experience what they have to offer. In return they hope I write about them and tweet about them, thus encouraging others to experience them also. We are a voice - the voice of the main household purchaser, the main decision maker (sorry guys!). But when are we, as bloggers, crossing the line of trust with our readers? At what point do our words mean less because it's unclear if we are just saying what the PR people want to hear or if we really feel a particular way?

It's a very fine line. And one that I hope I don't cross. As a blogger, recently I've had the chance to do some really fun things. I've had free lunches, met interesting people and even gotten new hair. But I do strive to always be open and honest. If I write about something, it's because it's sparked something inside me. I aim to write about things I bought and paid for myself and places that I discovered on my own, as well as the ones I am asked to review. Yes, you will see things that were pitched to me, but I also hope that you know me well enough to trust I'm being honest. Because this is my reputation, both as a blogger and as a professional, and this is my person that I put down for the world to see, and while I may not share every thought that goes through my head, the ones I do share are true. 

A big criticism of bloggers is that we are not trained journalists - most have no education on the ethics of journalism - and we just give positive reviews to get more free things. And yes, that may be the case with some bloggers. Some bloggers have opted to not even do reviews to not tinker with the trust of their readers. But for those of us that do, how does blogger create honest trust with their readers? And as a reader, what builds your trust in the blogs that you read?