I've been at this blogging/vlogging thing for a few years now. I actually started under a different name, several years back, when I was more into green beauty, and I've been an avid consumer of beauty writing and vlogging for even longer before that. And over the past year, I've grown more and more disenchanted with it.
Monika, from Rocaille-Writes, has written an eloquent post about her own unease with the current state of affairs, specifically in relation to the YouTube Celebrity version of the online beauty community. I highly recommend giving that a look, if you haven't already. And for a mini-rant along those lines, check out this video post from Kirsten, of ItsKeerstin. The part I'm referring to is at the beginning, but if you do want legit beauty reviews, I say watch the rest of the video. And then all her other videos. ;)
As a consumer of both beauty products and the online beauty community, everything they've said highlights my own unease. I don't begrudge anyone their success, and I think it's awesome that there are so many avenues of potential career growth that just didn't exist 5-10 years ago. I think the major problem is that something that started out being an organic extension of Makeupalley and chat forums - where people talked about what they liked and didn't like, and offered great personal recommendations - and an avenue for aspiring beauty journalists, has essentially become another form of advertising. And I'm not talking about having ads on the page or before the video. Blogging about beauty takes time and money - I know for a fact - so some funds coming in from passive advertising is appreciated, and I don't think it takes away from anyone's experience. For professional bloggers, I also do understand that the costs become even more of an issue, and I get the need for some sponsored content. As long as it's well-written and explicitly disclosed, all the power to you.
On a personal level, though, the more sponsored content I see, the less I trust the individual's authenticity. The post or video could be fantastic, and I can certainly enjoy it on an aesthetic level for all the production value and thought that went into making it (see all of Hey Claire's sponsored videos) - but I view it the same way I do any other commercial, with the assumption that someone is trying to sell me something. I don't care if the claim is that "I only do sponsored posts/videos for things I genuinely love". At some point, you end up sacrificing your trustworthiness. We all present a certain version of ourselves when we interact publicly - no one is 100% themselves in those kind of situations, not even on reality shows - but if you are presenting yourself as someone who is giving honest, personal opinions about products, then your whole persona has to be as close to the core as possible. If you're bound by a contract to say certain things a certain way, then you're not being authentic. You're advertising.
And again, if your content is advertorial in nature and you're explicit and honest about that, then I'm cool with it - I just won't take it for gospel. And if you're anything less than 100% transparent about it? Well then, good-bye, and thanks for all the fish.
As someone who also blogs and vlogs, I've been doing a lot of thinking about how I go about things myself. I already don't do sponsored content, but I'm pondering things like PR-provided product and events. Lipstick does not pay the mortgage, so free product certainly isn't in the same category as paid sponsorship. That said, it can become hazy territory as well. Some people manage to maintain their credibility perfectly even while getting PR-provided samples constantly. (Temptalia, for example, and Tracey, from Beauty Reflections.) They either have a very strict, mathematical approach to reviewing, or such an upfront personality and complete transparency that you never doubt their opinion is genuine.
I can say from experience that it's actually a lot harder to do that than you'd think. When you start out, the temptation is of course to be softer on reviews because you want to be on good terms with PRs. And sometimes that is a legitimate factor. I've never had a PR say or suggest that I shouldn't post a review with negative content, but I have heard of it happening. (And I know people have lost PR relationships because of a more negative post.) So even if you're committed to total honesty, I have no doubt that does affect the content in some subliminal way.
And then there's something even more basic - most of us are women, and most of us were trained from a young age to be nice. Double that if you were raised to be a polite Canadian girl. If you don't have something nice to say, don't say anything at all, right? (Some bloggers have that as an explicit policy, actually, in that they will only post about things they like.) That is a really hard thing to overcome, and especially so when you get to know and become friendly with the PRs. (I know it's something I've struggled with, trying to find the right word that is both honest and "nice".)
This is why I'm actually debating my policies, and whether I want to continue accepting gratis product. I don't enjoy the mental struggle of finding the "right" way to say something, and I REALLY don't like the idea of having my trustworthiness put in question. And knowing that I already give some blogs and youtubers the side-eye because of this, it feels important to be clear.
(As a side-note, there's another aspect to all this, which is the ever increasing emphasis on consumption. I know I'm the last person that should be speaking about this, considering how much makeup I have...and yet. Companies want to sell things and make money. PR groups want to help companies sell things and make money. Bloggers and vloggers who are PR-friendly - for lack of a better term - also want to make money, so it's in their interest to promote consumption. And I'm not sure I want to be part of that specific cycle. I like makeup, and I like collecting, but doing the Declutter series has put some of this in a different perspective.)
Eeesh. That's long-winded, and I apologize for that, but I had to get it off my chest.