Amazon Lets You Do The PR For Them

Amazon.com is doing holiday PR a little differently this year. They’ve announced something called the “Holiday Customer Review Team,” which is comprised of “six of its top reviewers.”

From Amazon’s press release:

These tell-it-like-it-is consumer advocates will provide fellow Amazon customers with top gift picks for the season as well as helpful tips on cutting costs over the holidays. They have also been given exclusive, early access to some of Amazon’s top Black Friday deals so they can share their favorites with fellow shoppers beginning today.

They haven’t been paid, says the NYT, but they have been flown to Seattle to do interviews on behalf of the company — and were given free products to review and keep.

From the NYT:

The freebies are part of the Amazon Vine program the company started last year. Top reviewers get free products if they promise to write about them.

Despite the potential for conflicts of interest, the program seems to be run the way customers would want it to. Amazon says it does not weed out negative comments…

What do you think of this? Can these people really be called “consumer advocates?”

Amazon.com Tries User-Generated Public Relations [NYT]
Amazon.com Announces First-Ever Holiday Customer Review Team (Press Release) [Business Wire]

Comments

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  1. zigziggityzoo says:

    It’s an interesting concept. I wish I had reviewed products more to get in on this though…

  2. Knippschild says:

    It seems to be a little bit of a conflict of interest – we’ll send you across the country and give you free items.

  3. trk182 says:

    What Sony is going to give me a new TV…Yes it Rocks.
    Ford going to give me a new car…It rocks too.
    Toshiba gives me a laptop, but after I’m done “testing” it I have to give it back…..IT SUCKS!!! Don’t buy it.

    Yes I can see how you giving me free stuff to review is not a conflict….until I give some big customer of yours a crappy review and get an email stating my services are no longer required.

  4. kmw2 says:

    My mother participates in the Amazon Vine program (alas, no free trip for her!) and she doesn’t hesitate to give unflinching reviews on the product she receives. It helps that she gets to pick the products she reviews, but she has received some duds and her reviews reflect that; however, she isn’t penalized for it.

  5. Trencher93 says:

    Unless you’re getting paid cold, hard cash for your time, I wouldn’t waste my time providing free content for a company. Get a blog and do your own book reviews, or something. Then you don’t have to play by their rules of acceptable speech. Either work for the for-profit Amazon and get paid, or do it yourself and be free, but this arrangement here is the worst of both where you might get a pittance for your work if you get lucky but you must play by their rules.

    • dakotad555 says:

      @Trencher93:
      Their rules are a lot more friendly than I think you’re assuming. They don’t ask for anything for than 75 words for a review. I’ve gotten about $500 worth of free stuff, most of which I really enjoyed (a few books, a router, some tea, some cat food, and a really nice set of leather gloves) and all it cost me was a few minutes of my time to write a review. They’re not asking for a professional product review, just your take on the things they send.

      I for one think spending a few moments writing a review is well worth the free stuff.

      Also, they have a great track record of supporting even negative reviews of popular products. They were the only major retailer to not take down the thousands of negative Spore reviews despite mucho pressure from EA. A lot of other online retailers caved, but not Amazon.

      • LordofthePing says:

        @dakotad555:

        I agree. I consult Amazon reviews for many of my purchases and they’ve saved me enormous amounts of time and money. The book reviews have actually been very valuable for school research; a good review will tell you the content and quality of the research. The review system almost inculcates a duty to your fellow Amazon users, I feel the need sometimes to write a review for things that don’t have a review. Just to help out all the people who’ve helped me.

  6. unobservant says:

    If anyone has links to bad reviews of said freebies, please allay my suspicions!

  7. tange1 says:

    Has amazon posted a full list of what will be on sale on BF?

  8. Anonymous says:

    These people seem to be getting products in lieu of money from Amazon – so they are being compensated by Amazon. Therefore, I’d say I wouldn’t consider them consumer advocates for Amazon. But can they give honest reviews about the products they’ve been given? Sure. In fact, I am more inclined to give an honest, balanced review on a product I *didn’t* have to pay for. After all, if there are features I’m not fond of, I’m likely to be angry if I spent money on the product, but if I got it free, I can be more reasonable about whether the features might be useful to others.
    And before I get lambasted – no, I am not part of Amazon’s goup of reviewers, but I have participated in this type of marketing before, for local businesses, receiving either samples of products or use of a product for a trial period.

  9. katylostherart says:

    i’d rather they just paid the consumer affairs team to do a thorough try out instead of just a bunch of regular people. at least the other group is more likely to check for safety and have a better idea of what to look for in performance and safety.

  10. dakotad555 says:

    I’m an amazon vine reviewer and I can verify a few things: yes you can leave a negative review (I have) and they will post it. Second, the program is about as consumer friendly as I can imagine it being. They send you a newsletter once a month with items you can pick to receive free. You pick a few, they arrive in a few days, you put them to use, and then write a review.

    This month I got 48 cans of premium cat food. I would never have bought this stuff myself, but the cats seem to like it.

    Amazon Vine is great!

    • HogwartsAlum says:

      @dakotad555:

      That’s neat. How do you get started doing that?

      • dakotad555 says:

        @HogwartsAlum:

        You have to write enough reviews for them to pick you. I wrote about 40 over the last three years, and so when they launched the program I was asked to join. If you really want to be part of it, just take the time write some good reviews and then wait. Once you get 100+ or so ‘helpful’ votes, you’ll likely get asked to join.

        • Anonymous says:

          @dakotad555:

          No, it’s not just based on the number of reviews or positive votes – and so far the selection process is a mystery and appears to almost be random. There are top reviewers who haven’t been asked, and others with just a few reviews who are in the program. But those of us who were asked are happy to have been chosen!

  11. Anonymous says:

    I’m also part of the amazon vine program. From the products I’ve received I’ve mainly left 3-5 star reviews for most, and so far only one 2 star review. Usually I tend to stay away from products I believe/know aren’t worth my time and might actually garner a 1 star review. Also, for those interested in ‘bad reviews’ for the ‘freebies’ we get, see here:
    http://www.amazon.com/Planet-NC200-Foldable-Canceling-Headphone/dp/B001EYU8FI/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top

  12. nsv says:

    I’m a Vine Voice, and I’ve written negative reviews. A book and a fairly expensive camera bag come to mind. (I really, really wanted to like the camera bag, too, but it had too many minor problems that finally added up to a negative review.)

    The last time I checked all my reviews were still there.

    I’ve got to admit I love being in the Vine program. I’ve gotten things and read books I never would have picked up any other way.

  13. Marshfield says:

    I’d be happy do reviews in exchange for stuff. Sign me up!

  14. ShariC says:

    Like some other commenters, I’m also on the Amazon Vine program and I can say most certainly that people do not give positive reviews because the items are free. In fact, sometimes I think it makes people more inclined to give negative reviews because they don’t have a vested interest in viewing the product positively.

    If you fork over your cash for something, you’re more inclined to see its virtues to help you view it as a worthwhile purchase and stop you from thinking you wasted your money. If it was free, you have no such incentive. Since receiving items or not is unrelated to the number of stars you give a product, one does not feel at all obliged to be positive when reviewing something for the Vine.

    All that being said, the Vine program isn’t as nifty as it sounds. It’s mostly books in pre-release format (e.g., with errors, incomplete table of contents, etc.). There are pricier items available, but unless you log in the moment they are posted and request them within seconds, they’re gone because there are so few of them and so many reviewers. It can be frustrating for some people to have free goodies like computer software and electronic products dangled in front of them a couple of times a month only to find that they are never able to get them. The member forums often include such laments.

    As for questions about how you become a Vine reviewer, Amazon invites you based on the reviews you have already made. You can’t ask to join. If you want to even have a chance to be invited, review as many of your Amazon purchases as you can with well-written reviews.

    • lustylady says:

      I’m on the Amazon Vine program and I think it’s wonderful, as a consumer. Firstly, I get free books. As an avid reader, what can be bad about that? Secondly, I learn about interesting new books coming out via the Amazon newsletter.

      I tend to select books I’d be interested in reading in the first place, and if there aren’t any on the list, I will choose something that sounds interesting. I was able to get (but haven’t reviewed yet) the coffee table photo book The Black List by Elvis Mitchell with photographs by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, as well as an early copy of Juliana Hatfield’s memoir When I Grow Up (my review is here).

      I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with @ShariC‘s assessment that people are more inclined to give negative reviews because they didn’t pay. Perhaps. I try to give honest, thoughtful reviews rather than just saying “I liked it” or “I didn’t.”

      @unobservant: Here’s a link to a book that got many negative reviews via Amazon Vine.

      I don’t think Amazon Vine is a case of giving free content so much as people who are already active reviewers on Amazon being given the chance to get free books, and write reviews. Those reviews can also be posted on a personal blog or elsewhere. And many others in publishing are giving away free books: Christian publisher Thomas Nelson recently launched its blogger book review program (pretty much the same idea, you get a free book, you review it, you get another), and LibraryThing has an early reviewer program, though the freebies are much more limited.

  15. MooseOfReason says:

    When I think “consumer advocate,” I think of Ralph Nader.

    He stands against corporations. These people are receiving free products from a corporation and reviewing them. In essence, they’re getting paid to do a job, so no, they are not consumer advocates.

    They’re employees.

    Moose.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I’m part of Amazon Vine also, and I’ve never felt the slightest bit of pressure to post a positive review. In fact, the system is held in check by the fact that you can receive negative feedback, and that is factored against the positive feedback or “helpful” votes. So if you’re only saying good things about books/products that deserve some criticism, it is is going to negatively reflect your rankings, and you probably won’t be a Vine member for very long.

  17. nashjar says:

    I am not a member of the Holiday Customer Review Team, but I am a charter member of the Amazon Vine program. Through Vine, I have received a number of items that have earned favorable reviews from me.

    I have also received several items that earned negative reviews from me. I have not hesitated to rate Vine items with low ratings, even those from big companies or big names.

    Most notably, I received a copy of Microsoft’s Windows Vista Ultimate for review from Vine last year and after data loss occurred in the upgrade, rated it with only 1 star. That was months ago, and Amazon has not ‘booted’ me from the program.

    That wasn’t the only item I’ve rated with only 1 star, and others were also ‘big’ names. Amazon has neither edited those reviews, nor deleted them, and I am still in the program.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Any person who could:
    1. Feel entitled to the perk of free products
    2. Feel like they have received value because they’ve been flown somewhere
    3. Feel like their benefits could then be taken from them if they displease Amazon

    Will modify their behavior to maintain their increased standard of living.

  19. Neobug103 says:

    products can’t be rated how good they are via 6 people. Knowledge is in the masses, meaning that whether a product is good or not depends on the rating from a variety of reviews on a specific product 50+

    • Erwos says:

      @Neobug103: If 6 people all have the same complaint about a product, I think that’s a pretty fair indicator that there’s _something_ that might be wrong with it.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I’m in the Vine Program. It’s a symbiotic relationship — Amazon gets what it wants and I get what I want.

    The freebies I get are mostly “targeted” to me, (primarily books) based upon my buying and review patterns (of non-vine items). It takes me some time to review the books I get and the price-per-hour of writing the reviews is therefore about 10 cents/hours (I’m a slow reader).

    So, here’s what people aren’t catching on to: when you get offered something that you LIKE, you’re probably going to give it a good rating. Most Vine reviews are therefore positive — you can take a look for yourself (Vine reviews are marked as such).

    I call ‘em like I see ‘em but, am I a “Consumer Advocate”?

    Hardly!

    RALPH NADER is a Consumer Advocate, but not me. I’m just a guy who enjoys reading and writing reviews.

  21. Anonymous says:

    Also a Vine member. About half the reviews I have written for the program are less than favorable. It is not as if we can shop and pick stuff we like, usually I see very little I would ordinarily purchase. I just select something of moderate interest,try it out and tell it like it is.