Lately a lot of electronic ink has been spilled about blogging, product endorsement, and the quality of tea reviews.
I can’t resist adding to the conversation.
The are three assumptions that get stated or implied in most of the comments on product endorsement and tea reviews:
- Tea review bloggers are mostly passionate amateurs with limited resources who rely on tea retailers a lot of information and (affordable or free) sources of teas to review.
- Tea retailers (and drinkers) lament the shortage of professional quality tea reviews offered by tea bloggers.
- Tea review blogs provide a space where consumers can get more diverse, honest feedback from other tea drinkers. A retailer’s product review page talks (mostly) about that one company’s tea. A company can selectively accept more favorable reviews, or ones that reference other companies.
- Tea consumers (retailers as well) express concern that tea review bloggers have been bought by tea retailers who give them free tea samples or tea products, thereby botching the objectivity of the blogger.
What is the lowly tea review blogger to do? You can see that tea review bloggers provide consumers with information about teas on the market. They allow consumers to comparison shop. They share information that consumers may not be able to get by themselves as conveniently. But what happens is that tea reviewers get malaigned by both sides.
A modest proposal:
- Tea retailers invest in the development of tea review bloggers. Tea bloggers help consumers make decisions, so why not help bloggers share better information? If most tea retailers supported bloggers in a relatively equal manner, there would not be retailers exherting excessive influence. Tea bloggers would have more time and resources to develop their profession and deliver professional quality reviews. Retailers could provide samples and commissions for referrals. If commission percentages were standardized, the tea blogger is not incentivized to review one tea over another. Professional bloggers would arise, incentived to provide quality reviews that help consumers make real decisions.
- Tea consumers contribute to the blogger’s sense of community. People are social creatures and take cues from others about who to trust. If a tea reviewer helps you make a decision, let him/her know. If you’ve got a question, drop them a line. If you disagree, give constructive feedback. Your comments make other people return to the site. The result is greater social pressure on the blogger to provide quality, and a greater chance she/he is getting the resources she/he needs to continue improving the blog’s quality. You get a review blog you can put greater trust in.
A look at the wine world can serve as an example of how these principles work. Robert Parker began as an amateur who sold a wine review publication. Parker started with the idea that he could provide quality reviews that did not come from wine producers or the retailers who sold the wines. As he generated trust among a growing, loyal audience, his Wine Advocate became a seal of approval that helps wine retailers promote their goods.
Differences in media and technology require modifications. While Parker started with print, the Internet age challenges the old model where consumers are the direct source of the reviewer’s revenue. Affiliate marketing models take money from the retailers’ marketing budget and place it in the hands of bloggers who perfect the craft of tea review.
A recent, more social media savvy approach can be seen in Gary Vaynerchuk’s Wine Library TV. Vaynerchuk builds a community of people by using his person as his brand. Although a wine business owner, he has built a trusted community to the work of wine evangelization. People follow him because he is honest and forthcoming in his approach. He knows that reputation is everything. In an Internet world, a serious gaffe can destroy a reputation faster than you can say “viral marketing.”
So next time, give your tea review blogger a pat on the back. We’re not profit hungry, but we do want the resources to refine our passion into a professional skill. As we do so, we walk a fine line, building trust with the tea community we seek to defend and the tea retailers who hold keys to the development of the tea community.