Behind the Scenes – December 2023

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I hope everyone had a great Thanksgiving and is enjoying the Holiday season so far!

Now seems like a good time to talk about some things that are happening behind the scenes.

Comment Moderation

There has been a concerning increase in spam and trolling comments from first-time commentors, with some appearing to be bots or written with AI prompts.

We have a presidential election coming up in 11 months. NO POLITICS. If you disagree with another commentor’s statement or opinion, try to be civil.

More stringent moderation policies will affect first-time commentors more than regulars, but I still expect a certain level of decorum from everyone. I don’t want to have to lock potentially controversial comments sections.

I’m Not Selling

I recently received a poorly written mail from a company that buys long-established product review websites and turns them into generic content farm garbage. This was maybe the third acquisition email I received this year.

I am not at all interested in selling, but this reminded me that times have changed, and there are some things I’ve been meaning to talk about.

Increased Competition

ToolGuyd is now competing with huge media organizations that are constantly flooding Google search pages with tool “reviews” and “buying guides” written by their “content experts.”

CNN, Forbes, Good Housekeeping, CNET, and all types of other media sites are now producing tool content. It wouldn’t be so bad, competing with outlets like these, if they weren’t just putting out a lot of noise.

That’s probably also why media companies have been building up networks of product-focused channel acquisitions.

I don’t plan to follow any trends, but I’ll be continuously working to ensure ToolGuyd remains a strong signal above all that noise.

Press and Media Efforts are Disappearing

I strive for ToolGuyd to be timely and thorough.

Some major brands have been great about product communications, while others transitioned to hype-focused social media and influencer marketing. That’s making it more difficult to be timely or thorough, let alone both.

Brand M is the gold standard when it comes to PR and media relations. They send press releases, fact sheets, and new product alerts in a timely manner, and answer reasonable questions quickly, competently, and comprehensively. They’ll connect me to a product manager if insights cannot be easily conveyed via email. When available and fitting, they’re usually willing and able to send a product sample for testing and review consideration, and with zero obligations, requirements, or influences. They have never retaliated against me for negativity or any other reason.

Brand M – keep doing what you’re doing!

On the other side of the scale, there’s Brand X, which announces new products via paid and partnered social media influencer reviews, and might – if I’m lucky or extremely persistent – send me a deficient press release much later. Their influencer marketing firm ignores product questions until or unless I email a higher-up brand contact, and are unwilling or unable to provide test samples because they’ve already “seeded” influencers.

Earlier this year, Brand X paid for influencer hype reviews, but they couldn’t bother to send over a press release or product information. So, I sourced what I could from a product sheet I found online and proceeded with a post.

A Brand X VP called me, and complained that I didn’t have all of the facts.

They also said a particular feature would only make sense after I used the tool myself.

Months later, Brand X sent a half-baked press release with just three marketing points copied straight off the website.

The brand provided zero press/media resources, but got mad that I didn’t come to them before writing my post.

What to do About it?

Back in 2013, I developed guidelines on how to fairly meet brands halfway as part of productive media relationships.

At the time, a major incident made me realize that I work with people, and if I expect those people to answer my questions, process sample requests, or help answer readers’ questions or other needs, I had to be consistent in giving them that opportunity.

I sought to treat brands in the same way as the magazines and other channels they were accustomed to working with, and it benefited everyone – the brands, ToolGuyd, and readers, at least for a while.

It didn’t require all that effort either. If say I receive an image of a leaked product via social media, my guideline encourage me to hold off for official details. Or, if a product claim doesn’t make sense or seems inflated, I ask for clarification or details, and incorporate both my concerns and the response in a post.

But now, a lot of brands are no longer meeting ToolGuyd halfway, to the disservice of its needs and readers.

It’s not retaliation, but a shift towards influencer marketing, and I suppose I and toolGuyd don’t act the part enough.

So, I will be testing a new policy for 2024.

If a brand wants ToolGuyd’s press/media-type coverage or cooperation, fair resources (information or test samples) need to be available in a reasonably timely manner, coinciding with (or preceding) their own or paid influencer content.

If I discover a new tool or product via paid or partnered influencer content, consumer newsletters, retailer postings, or brands’ social media channels, I’ll ask my questions in the post itself.

This sounds reasonable, right?

I’m tired of the double standard. If a brand cannot provide a press kit when their paid influencer hype content goes live, they cannot complain that I posted about the product before “having all the facts.” It’s on them to provide those facts in a timely manner.

I value timely information and insights. Companies typically value being able to answer questions and address concerns.

If information is not timely, or test samples aren’t available because funds and resources were given to paid or partnered influencer reviews, why should I still giving them opportunities to answer questions or address concerns?

Sometimes, I’ll wait, and wait, and wait, and those media resources – a press release or test sample – never arrive. I ask again, and “oh, we’re done seeding those products.”

It’s brands’ prerogative to pick and choose which channels and influencers they pay, partner, or work with.

But when I don’t ask questions or give brands an opportunity for input, there are usually calls from VPs and managers complaining that I didn’t give them a chance to provide input, answer questions, or include a statement.

I have objected to this over the years – multiple times to several brands – and I’m done.

My 2013 guidelines were developed to meet people halfway. I sought to treat brands and media contacts in as journalistic a manner as I could. New guidelines are necessary, as an increasing number of brands no longer meet ToolGuyd’s needs or standards.

So, my cooperation is no longer unconditional. If a major brand wants press/media privileges and treatment, they need to provide press/media resources or support.

The policy reflects how I’ve responded to some brands, and I’m simply making it formal. There are some brands I have friendly communications with, but that’s not enough for a functional media relationship.

I don’t need any tool brand to assist with timely and thorough information and insights, or product test samples, but it’s usually better for everyone.

Press/media relationships need to be mutually beneficial. That’s something I realized in 2013, and it’s still true today. With some of these brands, I’ve been objecting for a while, and nothing has improved. So, I’m finally adapting to the new way of doing things.

Do you think the new policy is fair? If not, I’m open to suggestions.

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