Special Segment: Businesses turn to bloggers

July 20, 2009 Many companies use the power of the internet to pitch new products. But some are now offering popular bloggers freebies or flights across the country to check out new product lines. That's left some critics wondering if these companies are just creating buzz or buying the blogs.

At the headquarters of Sears Holdings Corporation in Hoffman Estates, bloggers are buzzing.

"Last night we had a cocktail party, where we had dinner, we got to mingle and meet all the other moms," said Amanda Acuna, blogger, mommymandy.com.

Sears flew in 16 bloggers from across the country to get an exclusive look at their fall lines for sears and Kmart. The event was so exclusive that Sears kept our cameras out until the summit was over and the bloggers were ready to head to the airport.

"I think it's good business," said Janel Laban, blogger.

Janel Laban says her blog posted on apartmenttherapy.com reach $150,000 a day.

"I think it makes sense for people who want to speak to that audience to work with us," said Laban.

"It should almost be a paid advertisement," said David Koehler.

David Koehler teaches marketing at the University of Illinois at Chicago. He says by giving bloggers free products and trips companies are buying positive reviews.

"It's definitely going to taint the credibility of the blog because you know that that person received benefits, and if you receive benefits such as what Sears has provided, you are very likely to look at the positives," said Koehler.

"What we really wanted to accomplish was more listening than pushing something on someone," said Rob Harles, Sears.

Rob Harles runs Sears' new media efforts. He says the company is turning to bloggers to get unfiltered opinions.

"They have a lot of insight that you can get from them very quickly and if you hit the right chord with them they can also influence their own audiences on your behalf," said Harles.

Throughout what Sears called the 'Home Design Summit,' the bloggers posted pictures of new products and updated their Twitter feeds, writing 'wow,' 'it's like heaven,' and 'my jaw is dropping.'

It's not just Sears that's reaching out to bloggers. Marketing experts say directly contacting bloggers directly for product reviews is the latest trend in digital marketing.

"It's like a business relationship," said Tanya Gordon, blogger who attended the summit.

Tanya Gordon's blog is mommygoggles.com. She reviews all kinds of products such as a brand new stainless steel refrigerator Frigidaire is sending her for free.

"Technically, it is a job. It's not just send us something, we're going to review and post about it. We want to post our positive thoughts and negative thoughts as well," said Gordon.

"People are trusting your personal opinion and insight," said Janice Bond.

Digital marketer Janice Bond says it's important for both bloggers and companies to make sure product reviews on blogs are unbiased.

"With all of this great information and these portals to receive this information comes an even greater responsibility," said Bond.

Later this week, more than 1,000 will come to Chicago for BlogHer 2009, a conference designed for female bloggers. Several of the sessions will focus on the business of blogging, including whether blogging for money influences opinions.

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