7.3.16

Trust Me: I'm A Beauty Blogger.

Our self-named bloggersphere has never been adverse to a little controversy, but over the last couple of weeks an increasing amount of debate has erupted and once again put our little corners of the internet back in the spotlight. A thread on Mumsnet started the discussion, but the question at the root of the issue has been floating around for some time: are bloggers really still the impartial experts and 'real people' we can trust for unbiased opinions, or have they evolved into just another marketing platform that brands are using to fool us? Before I start to wade into the debate, it's important to understand that the main difference between a beauty blogger and a beauty editor is the driving force behind them: beauty bloggers are (mostly) motivated by a passion and need to connect with likeminded individuals, whereas beauty editors are driven by their boss breathing down their neck ahead of a deadline. Their roles are incredibly different, but equally complementary. Nothing illustrates more our desire for an alternative perspective and new way of thinking than the growth of blogs over the past five years, but that's not to say there isn't still a huge role to play for magazines. 


Interestingly, beauty editors don't ever come under the same scrutiny as bloggers when it comes to trust, transparency and integrity. Whether it's because we've become accustomed to seeing a very specific type of product on a page, or because we simply don't have the same level of expectation of someone who's under pressure from advertisers, those sitting behind a desk of a magazine are somewhat exempt from critique. However, from my experience, 99% of bloggers have completely different motivations and always strive to bring their readers genuine recommendations - rather than feature products that have also spent £20k of their advertising budget with them this quarter. On the whole, blogging has always been about connecting with 'real people' with 'real opinions' that are presented in an incredibly raw and unedited fashion; even though our platforms have evolved to be almost as glossy as the glossy magazines they were established to compete with, there's still a single person that's writing from an individual perspective and opinion. It seems to be this fact that jars with the commercialisation of blogs, and what readers are increasingly beginning to question.

As someone who read blogs (and still does) way before writing her own, I glow with pride of what we've achieved collectively and adore the way in which we've made beauty and fashion (in particular) far more accessible than it ever was before. Blogs may have started as a way to document what we were buying and loving, but like with everything in this world, they evolved over time to feature branded collaborations and heavily include press samples - but that's something to be proud of. Brands want to be in these spaces, rather than on the pages of a magazine; they're embracing this form of media and are willing to take a chance to reach a potential audience in a whole new way. We can make a difference to small businesses that wouldn't have had the budget to reach a wide audience previously, while being able to counteract the million pound marketing campaigns and get to grips with whether or not you should be parting with your cash. That's something to be celebrated; we shouldn't be critiquing men and women making a career out of something they love, and (more importantly) something that gives us pleasure too.

Unfortunately a small minority of bloggers are in it for the wrong reasons, and these 'bad eggs' make it increasingly difficult for the rest of us. I spend a lot of my time trying to overcome misconceptions, re-educate brands and champion good practices in the bloggersphere, but when I'm up against demanding agents, bought Instagram followers and undisclosed sponsored content, it's increasingly difficult to prove we really are a good bunch that just want to help our readers make the right decisions for them. Hugely inflammatory threads and accusations on forums may actually start with a genuine concern or question, but they end up so inaccurate because of the lack of real understanding about how it all works. So in the interests of transparency, clarity and integrity, let me break it down a little for you...

PR SAMPLES FACILITATE MY JOB; THEY'RE NOT BRIBES 
One of the most frustrating parts of my job is battling against the perception that product samples are either 'gifts' or 'bribes'. Any products that land on my desk do so with an air of assumption, so it's my job to filter through the good, the bad and the downright ugly in order to pick an edit of things that I genuinely love - and think you will too. Samples are not bribes, in the same way a free product never guarantees a feature of any kind; just because I'm sent a product to try doesn't mean that I'm in any way more inclined to speak positively about it than if I bought it myself... That's simply not how I work. I, like the majority of other well established bloggers, would not be able to bring you the fresh, frequent and interesting content I do without samples. I would be broke, bored and probably repeat myself every other week trying to find something to say. It's about time these 'samples' were looked at a little differently and understood to be part of the job; in the same way that film editors get complementary tickets to the latest release, or food critics eat out with zero charge, beauty and fashion bloggers see these 'freebies' as just a way for them to do their job effectively.

IT'S IN MY INTEREST TO BUILD TRUST WITH YOU
There's absolutely no logic in actively encouraging my readers to buy a product that's simply naff, because the integrity I've worked so hard to build will evaporate quicker than a lolly on a hot summer's day. It's 100% in my interest to work in an ethical and transparent manner, providing honest and thorough insight that helps every single reader make a well informed decision. If I recommend something that's really quite rubbish, you'll only come back and tell me - and then never buy anything I suggest again. In order to continue building this site and working with brands in a commercial capacity, it's absolutely in my interest to have a positive and fruitful relationship with my readers on a day to day basis. There are many sites that sing the praises of products by brands they want to continue working with, like there are bloggers who are scared of ever saying anything negative for fear of backlash; however, this is a place where I tell it like it is - even if that means a rather cringeworthy next meeting with a PR.

TO PROVIDE FREE CONTENT, I HAVE TO MAKE AN INCOME
In my opinion, one of the main sources of negativity is the lack of understanding about free vs paid for content. In order for me to keep bringing you free content on a daily basis, occasionally I need to take a sponsored feature; the key is keeping the balance and ensuring those paid for features are relevant and of interest to readers. I run this site full time, alongside freelance and consultancy projects, and am only able to do so because I work with brands to bring you 'sponsored features'. These are very clearly signposted not only because it's the rules (the Advertising Standards Authority have created a set of guidelines that as bloggers we're obliged to adhere to,) but because I'm a champion for clarity and a stickler for the rules. Over the years I have made my declarations even clearer, more obvious and easier to find - because that's what you've asked for. It's important to remember that in order for you to enjoy that (absolutely free) site, the blogger needs to generate an income in some way to keep it coming. Don't begrudge them for making a living, or discount any blogger that works commercially, because it's like refusing to watch anything on ITV because there are adverts.

SUPPORT & CELEBRATE VS COMPLAIN & CRITICIZE
As Brits we're collectively a bit rubbish at being positive and supporting others; it's really easy for us to moan, complain and pick apart anyone who's successful as if it was a national hobby. Although it can be difficult to stomach someone making multiple thousands of pounds for an Instagram post, it hasn't happened overnight. These influencers have worked their backsides off over a number of years to get to where they are, often single-handedly; the bloggersphere has now produced hundreds of young entrepreneurs who have changed the face of business - that is something to be ruddy proud of. If we walk into anything with a negative attitude and are ready to pick it apart, we're only ever going to see the downsides. Blogs provide an incredible way to connect with people and discover new brands; they help make purchasing decisions, inspire and influence, raise awareness of important causes and change lives for the better. I'm a bit sick and tired of people forgetting that there are individuals behind the HTML - and that their words can hurt. So instead of complaining and criticizing, I think we could all benefit from a little more support and celebration.

MY WORDS OF ADVICE? Find bloggers you trust and simply stop reading those you don't.

Features PR samples unless otherwise stated. To read my full disclaimer, click here.  
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38 comments

  1. As somebody who also had been reading beauty blogs for a long time, I can tell you that's been an interesting experience to watch previously outspoken and 100% impartial voices turn into paid shills.
    From my point you can slice it any way you want, but a paid opinion is just that - a paid opinion. And if you're deluding yourself that high end PR samples are not influencing the way products are being described, you're just that - another paid voice who is not going to bite the hand that feeds her.
    Please, get real. Blog readers are not stupid. We're as clever as you think you are yourself.

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    1. I've seen you leave negative and accusatory comments before, so I'm not sure why you continue to read my content if you think I'm a paid voice who's 'not going to bite the hand that feeds her'. If you knew how many brands I DON'T work with, how many not-worth-the-money high end samples DON'T make it to the blog and how many things I turn down because they're not right for my readers, then you'd definitely backtrack. I'm just as likely to feature a £50 bronzer as a £5 one if it's interesting or good value - but it's important to understand that tastes and opinions evolve. Five years ago I wouldn't have dreamed of spending £45.00 on a Burberry highlighter, but now I'm 33 and have the disposable income to buy that if I wish. Don't judge people because they like nice things and talk favorably about them, and please don't bring your unnecessary attitude to where it's not welcome. Debate is essential and comments are encouraged; nastiness is just not called for.

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    2. I love your attitude. Keep it don't loose it

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    3. I trust your honesty and do believe you but I think you are a dying breed. More and more bloggers are being heavily influenced by high end samples and sponsered posts and promoting crappy products. If i had a pound for every 'holy grail' product a blogger mentioned that I purchased to find it meh but putting it down to personal preference to then never see them mention it again I would be a millionaire. I want bloggers to make money, I really do, but it seems the more money there is in the industry the more like print it becomes. Its like the new having to declare sponsored content rule, alot do declare but honestly its only when its going to be stupidly obvious - i've seen many instagram posts that are clearly sponsored (as you have seen them declared elsewhere) but because its not obvious they wont bother and dont get me started on blog posts that declare the ad until the end. Tell me at the beginning it is sponsored and who is sponsoring it and ill decide if its of interest to me, there is nothing more frustrating than hearing a lovely post about someone looking to buy a new house to then have a tonne of crappy copied and pasted statistics from Satander about how long it takes to save for a house. Its making me unsibscribe to so many wonderful blogs as one i casually mentioned that I did not mind that she was doing alot more sponsored posts as she had a baby on the way but it would be great if she could declare at the top and I got my head bitten off. Its definitely not the honest industry it once was and that makes me sad.

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    4. Sorry also meant to say though that 'how many not-worth-the-money high end samples DON'T make it to the blog' this can annoy me. In times past if a product was rubbish it would be on the blog (not yours in particular, blogs in general as you are not the only blogger who thinks like this) and people would say it wasn't great, now most bloggers choose not to post it for fear of losing the brand as a supporter. That to me is wrong - a blogger was there to show the good from the bad, only showing the good is what makes this whole industry more and more fake.

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    5. You do have a valid point there... But from my point of view I have to pick the products worth talking about as space is in more demand every day. I generally do discuss products that don't live up to the hype (particularly ones by brands such as Benefit and Too Faced) as I believe it's in a readers interest to know if it's not worth the money. However, when it's just another lipstick or a collection that doesn't really seem new then I won't bother - because finding 500 words about a meh launch is SO hard! But I totally appreciate your comment and viewpoint.

      (About the declaration at the beginning vs end of a post, this is why I now put it just under the title so it's clear before people read on - I only work on things I would write anyway, but it's important to give readers that choice. Although there's still such a stigma I can understand why some blogs don't want to do this for fear of nobody clicking to read more.)

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    6. Its so difficult as so many of us began following blogs before it became this huge industry and the realness that was once there is now far and few between. This is why I continue to follow you (and also British Beauty Blogger). Yous always touch on the highs and lows of blogging and are just real about the whole thing - you answer reader questions, your provoke debate and yous restore faith.

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  2. Brilliant Post Hayley!! I agree with this, bloggers are changing the way brands operate. They are aware of us as influencers on the way the general public (and other bloggers) shop and decide what to buy, they are cottoning onto the reach we have and how a bad post can put off potential customers. There's nothing to be ashamed of if you're asked by a brand to promote a product but you find you just don't get on with it! I've found it's always better to be honest as we can all see through the fakeness!! =)
    We have to be careful with the influence we have and be careful not to get too carried away with it! You just don't know how could be watching!!!
    Great Post Hayley, Thank You for this!
    Sarah x x x x xx x

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    1. Thanks Sarah. I'm always wary of recommending something or featuring a product with a very high price point, just because it's not often justifiable!

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  3. Great post and really insightful. I never really thought how beauty writers for magazines never have their opinions doubted yet bloggers do.

    Abigail Alice | Latest: Everyday College Make-Up!

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    1. I find it baffling! And they're the ones that genuinely do take 'bribes' - you see all the press trips and gifts on their instagram, then a month later their magazine page features every single one of the brands that arranged them!

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  4. This is such a relevant post! Although my blog is quite a way off receiving PR Samples and sponsored posts, I feel like it's important that we remember that most bloggers blog because it's what they love to do! I love trying things, taking pictures of them, editing them, writing about them and then engaging with people. I really enjoyed reading this!

    Katie | katieemmabeauty.com

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  5. Excellent post! Bravo. I definitely have a group of bloggers I trust and of course there are some bad apples. For the most, blogging is such a great industry and I love being a part of it!

    Mel | www.thegossipdarling.com

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  6. I think it's amazing how brands and bloggers are working in partnership now! It proves that bloggers are an influence and brands are willing to step into the future. Fab post as always Hayley! X

    Everything But The Kitchen

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  7. I always turn to bloggers for candid reviews on products, and really admire those that have 'made a living' out of it. Keep up the good work!

    Vivian | LIVE . IN . LOVE

    ~

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  8. Well said! When I started reading beauty blogs I read everything. Now I return to a handful of favourites having sifted out the ones I didn't like so much. Many bloggers are a lot younger than me and their content just doesn't do anything for me. Others seem only to discuss very high end 'designer' products out of my day to day price range. If you read enough, you get a really good feel for the bloggers that genuinely rate (or not) the products they are talking about. There are always idiots on the web who feel it's ok to say things they would not dare to your face. Keep up the good work and ignore them; they have the problem, not you.

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    1. Thanks for your support Jules. I agree you tend to get a good feel for a blogger over time and it's important to stick with ones that are right for you.

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  9. I absolutely loved your post. This is so true, people are still stuck with many myths and misconceptions about blogging, freebies and sponsored posts. So this is why it's so important for us to speak up. This post is very well-written and I fully agree with the points you made.
    Kisses,
    www.bloggerissa.com

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  10. i love that last piece of advice! I've definitely done that these past few months with bloggers simply trying to sell more and more.

    Pam xo/ Pam Scalfi♥

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  11. It's not bigger bloggers that are the problem. I personally find that a lot of small bloggers feature anything and everything, simply because they get excited at the prospect of free stuff. Therefore they write rave reviews about crappy products and make the entire blogging community look like liars/freebie hunters. It affects everyone and it always seems to come back to bigger bloggers when actually these are the blogs that are more often than not, honest about the products they feature. Just my two cents from what I have observed as a blogger...

    Natasha Kendall

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    1. A very valid point Natasha, and one I hadn't really considered until now. I think you're right to a certain degree and it always ends up being the more established bloggers that end up having to defend our integrity. I think PR pressure is a genuine problem and something you only learn to deal with over time.

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    2. I consider myself to be a 'small blogger' (since I've only been blogging for ten months and have less than 1k followers on Bloglovin), and I have to disagree with what you've said. You either lack integrity or you don't; that's a personality trait and not a common trait of any particular kind of blogger. I find PR offers incredibly exciting, as a smaller blogger; I often find myself wondering whether they've made a mistake in contacting me, since I'm not that well established just yet! However, I've made it clear in my disclaimer (which is accessible to all brands prior to contact) that I will always produce honest reviews. I work hard to earn my own money, so I can buy whatever products I like, but most of the PR opportunites I'm presented with are from brands that neither I, nor my reader, have heard of before. Providing honest reviews is important for me as blogger (for my own conscience, if nothing else), my audience (so that they can learn about the brand from an impartial source and decide whether it's a brand they'd like to explore) and the companies (since, in the end, it's all just constructive criticism!).

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  12. Hi, very interesting post! Congrats. I have to say I agree with part of it but not completely: Whenever I see a PR sample mentioned on a post, Youtube video or Instragram post, I always, always question whether the post is genuine because I think,"Would they be talking about this product if they weren't it for free?".

    As you say blogger NEEDED their PR samples. That's another concern I have as a reader. If you thought the product was worthy, wouldn't you spend your own money to buy it yourself? What motivated you to mention/review the product in the first place? As you know just mentioning a product or showing an image of the product is publicity.

    As a reader, I can tell you I alwaya keep an eye on whether the item reviewed or talked about was bought or gifted. And it does change the way I perceive a recommendation.

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    1. If I purchased every product I featured I would be broke. End of! It's just not feasible as blogs stand in 2016. Some things I do buy and write about because they're interesting (i.e. my recent NYC mini haul or things that aren't available in the UK) but otherwise it's just not realistic to expect bloggers who do it full time to buy everything.

      The majority of products are sent without me even knowing they're on their way; most arrive before they're even available in the shops so it would be pointless me waiting until I could buy them and reviewing three months later. It just wouldn't add any value to readers. The world has changed and I do think we collectively need to stop being so pessimistic about any free sample.

      And re 'gifted' - please see the para above! These are not gifts. They facilitate my job and have no bearing on whether or not I rave about a product.

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  13. I do agree bloggers seem to be held to different standards in comparison to beauty editors - however when I think about it, I read blogs for honest recommendations whereas I read magazine beauty columns for general advice and inspiration (as opposed to with the intent to buy the specific products they're talking about, if that makes sense?)
    I honestly don't even blink at PR samples, though I do sometimes mistrust some content (though to be fair that is usually on YouTube) where it seems like the creator is trying to be 'sneaky' about sponsorship. I feel like it's not a dirty secret (especially when it's common knowledge it is the person's full-time job) and complete transparency is the best way as being ambiguous or misleading is always going to lead to more of a backlash than a simple 'this is sponsored content' xx

    Jasmine Talks Beauty

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    1. Really interesting to hear the differences between why you read a blog vs mag! Transparency is very much the key to everything. Thanks for your comment!

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  14. I definitely agree that clarity and honesty is vital. Honestly, it should be regardless of whether it's a blog online, or a printed/online magazine, but they're two different mediums and as you outlined, they are consumed differently.

    I also really appreciate reading this post and your values: it's refreshing to see a more blunt representation of what blogging - full time or not, actually involves and not being afraid to address the different aspects of what is otherwise at times viewed as either a sleazy or glamorous business. Which obviously, is a misconception in itself. I'm sure beauty editorial jobs aren't always as sleazy or glamorous as they appear too - they're still people working to pay rent, bills, mortgages, etc. Perhaps, to an extent, we are conditioned to accept that editorial content is polished and not 'raw' like blog content.

    I think I'll leave my thoughts at this point, or I'm going to end up writing an essay. But my point is, I think it's great you took the time to write and articulate your thoughts as you have.

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    1. Thanks Holly. And thank you for your support!

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  15. I posted about the Mumsnet thread last week, then joined as I thought having a blogger contribute to the discussion might make for a better conversation. The thread is on its third iteration.

    As a blogger, I get it. Totally. The assumption that the minute you create your first blog post your principles go out the window is infuriating. As is the perception that blogging is easy. I’ve never worked so hard at a hobby in my life! I’m also having loads of fun and have met some lovely people. Love it!

    But as a blog reader, I understand frustrations and concerns at the heart of the discussion. Expectations about honesty, transparency and trust. It’s a shame that they got lost in the shit storm.

    Most readers aren’t bothered by monetised blogs and pro-bloggers. They are bothered by the lack of clarity about how that money is made, how that may influence the content and how they’re being sold too. They want sponsored content, samples and ads clearly flagged in a way they understand. Sometimes they will ask politely what's going on. And when they do, they expect as honest an answer as possible rather than eye rolls.

    Readers have a relationship with bloggers in a way that they don’t with a magazine. Okay, it’s not a real relationship as that blogger isn’t actually a mate, but … People read blogs because they like, respect and trust that person. I trust you and Jane at BBB because I have seen you to be trust worthy. In the way you present products. In the way you talk about the issues within blogging and the work you’ve done to try and change things. You show not tell.

    If bloggers want to take anything out of this, it’s that we need to show people that we’re honest not just tell them. Taking a step back and thinking, if I was coming to this as a reader, do the things on my blog show people I am all I say I am. And if you think they might not, changing them. (Hell, I’ve re-written my entire disclosure statement entirely in light of the Mumsnet thread).

    Hope this helps :)

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    1. Thank you for such a thought provoking, well constructed and reasoned comment! It really made me reflect from both sides and the idea of 'we need to show people that we’re honest not just tell them' struck a chord. We've got a long way to go, but I think it's important to ask questions and for us as bloggers to answer them in the best way we can.

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  16. Beauty reviews in magazines are the worst! A lot of the time you can tell they haven't even tried the product. With bloggers the expectation is different, and that's why it's so brilliant that bloggers like yourself are speaking out about the need for honesty and transparency - it's why we love blogs and we need to protect it. In terms of YT, as well as the thumbs up / thumbs down, there should be a way to register something as misleading if you feel you're being sold to / encouraged to click a link without full disclosure that it's an ad before you watch / click on it. Really interesting watching this industry evolve. With more people ad blocking the ASA better get ready to keep up with new and increasing methods of native advertising.

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    1. Very interesting idea Georgina - I think something will have to evolve and the ASA need to start dealing with issues effectively.

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  17. I agree with this as a fellow blogger. Readers have every right to be told if content is sponsored and thank you for flagging up that they should be told at the start and end of a post.

    I think in the end readers want the best from us, so we should do our best to be transparent in every way whilst still keeping it fun and interesting for ourselves.

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  18. You and Jane from British Beauty Blogger are inspirations because of the efficient and detail oriented way you present products alongside your down to earth commentary on the beauty and blogging environments.
    I must admit themail recent upheaval has had me questioning my desire to join the blogging community...I'm current tracking my journey from the 30yo woman who only ever washed her face with Imperial Leather...through the development of a skincare routine and learning about the application and quality of beauty products and as such blogs are my bread and butter.
    I'm completely unaware what's out there and bloggers are guiding the way...
    ...I think the inks of Mumsnet are being very hard on the vast majority of experienced bloggers - their integrity shines through in my eyes and I can't understand how all these conspiracy theorists are so closed to an open perspective.
    Of course there are the mucky money fiends in the blogging world just as there are everywhere else, and I find it distressing too that some of the younger or less experienced voices out there aren't given a bit more empathy - most of them are simply dying to get in with the brands they want to work for or simply over enthusiastic about product they don't have the experience to see are actually pretty average...your typical 18yr old lass on a budget has only really been exposed to whats available on their high street and to be fair to them...lots of middle of the range product is going to seem REVOLUTIONARY compared to the cheap substitutes they've only ever used before.
    Although this clouds the water...it's not done with insidious intent...it's just the beginning of their journey of discovery and they'll get better with time as anyone would.

    Overall I find that you need to read and read some more to get a feel for the blogger, where they are in life and how suitable their material is for you...it's a question of making the right choices from the array in front of you and not blithely deciding that everyone is on a con.
    CONTEXT and COMMON SENSE would seem to be key - and I personally feel that onus is on the reader not to be an idiot!

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    1. You're SO right - and this is what's missing from all the conversations (and what keeps cropping up when I've discussed this with other bloggers and PRs in 'reality'.) Blogs are there to help with decision making and anyone blindly following every single piece of advice without thinking further about whether or not it's right for them, is just lacking a bit of common sense. Thanks for putting it so simply and effectively!

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  19. Great piece. I've been meaning to write something similar for a year now as disclosure rarely happens in aus. So many people think they can get away without doing it but it just causes trouble for the honest ones out there.

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  20. I trust bloggers way more than I trust the YouTube stars and magazine editors! These people are making substantial incomes, whether it be from their salaries and benefits packages or their advertising and sponsors, and I think a lot of them are very sneaky with their disclosure. I am wary of certain bloggers, whose blogs have become way too editorial for my liking, but the majority of bloggers are just like your best friend, making casual suggestions or warnings about products and releases!

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  21. I enjoyed your piece, Hayley, and agree with the points you made. I was a beauty editor and am still a freelance beauty writer - but for newspapers, rather than glossy magazines, so I have never felt the pressure of having to please advertisers. I think the distinction between newspapers and magazines is worth highlighting so that we journalists don't all get tarred with the same easily-manipulated brush! Like you, we receive products from PRs and then we decide whether to write about them or not - and this is how I'm operating with my blog. And, like you, if something is a complete rip-off, or is a sort of Emperor's New Clothes, I personally do feel compelled to say so. As the freelance scene has gone down the toilet in recent years, and I have been strapped for cash, I am all too aware of how we need to get value from our products and I would hate to think that somebody spent their hard-earned dosh on something I had recommended, and then been disappointed. Alison, from ReBeauted.com

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