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Ethics, Social Networks and Make up

After watching Loren Feldman's live show tonight, I've decided that I don't want to bother discussing the Facebook/Robert Scoble incident. There's nothing more to say than this - the site has terms of service and if you break them you can get your account deleted. Or in this case suspended and then reinstated. And Plaxo looks really really unethical and dishonest for asking bloggers to scrape data from Facebook on their behalf. Good luck with that auction, maybe the future users of Plaxo won't mind turning over all of their information to skeezers.

But I digress. This post isn't about about public social networks like Facebook or MySpace. I was following, and later joining, a conversation between Chris Brogan and Christine Lu on Twitter about closed social networks. I think they're the future now - engaging enthusiasts in a closed community makes a hell of a lot more sense, and is a lot more economical, than spamming around on MySpace or Facebook looking for "friends".

That's what Benefit Cosmetics did. They asked people to join a private enthusiasts club to receive "special benefits". No, this isn't like the Sears thing; more like a BzzAgent thing, but on a micro level. And it was, by all accounts, a success: apply to be in the club, spread the word, get free makeup. One of the "Benefit Beauty Squad" tasks was to post videos to YouTube. Here, watch one.

The title of the video is Benefit Beauty Squad (BBS). Fair enough. I get that you're part of some group associated with Benefit cosmetics. I'll give you a C for disclosure.

What I don't approve of, however, is this email that went out to the Squad:


We know you love Benefit, now it's time to spread the word. Your Benefit Beauty Squad project for December is to write Benefit product reviews and post comments about Benefit on as many blogs, makeup web sites, beauty forums, etc… as you can.


Please note there wasn't any mention of disclosure or respect for the communities in which Benefit asked people to essentially spam. Also attached to the directions was a list of web sites (boards, blogs, etc) where they would like to see them post. So, for all of the webmasters, bloggers and readers of the following sites -- if you saw hype about Benefit cosmetics last month, you were duped:

TotalBeauty.com
Makeup Alley
BellaSugar
We Love Beauty
BeautifulMakeupSearch.com
Beauty and the Dirt
Beauty Addict
Beauty Blogging Junkie
SheKnows.com
MakeUp and Beauty Blog
You Blog Like A Girl
Deesse Magazine
Her Fab Life
Beauty Maverick
SheFinds
Hello Doll Face
Girl Paints
Glam.com
Glam Blush
Sephora
Daily Beauty
Makeup Bag.net
Face Candy
LA Story
Beauty Maven Blog
Product Girl
Fashionista
Raging Rouge
Style Goodies

Ethics? Who cares... as long as you look fabulous!


Comments

LA Story said…
Interesting that you should post this. I will have to check my blog if I wrote anything about Benefit. I don't remember. I am not part of the BBS (benefit beauty squad) . In fact, as a known member of the press/journalist/print&online beauty writer who has covered Benefit for years-- they stopped even sending me product samples and have been asking me to write about stuff without me even being able to try it.
Some things I know will be great -- but not everything from every company is going to be hot.. and this is a case of not fair to those of us who aren't part of BBS and also those of us who are legit journos of fluff (beauty & fashion). I can't get a sample to save my life-- yet the BBS can hit everyone's site and do this?
hmmmmmmmmm
Stevie
LA Story said…
ps.. I am the LA-Story.com..
just so you get the name connected to the correct blog. They asked me to write about something that I had seen and thought would be a great gift.. but when I asked for a sample, they ignored me.
Do you think that makes me LIKE Benefit much?
Do you think that I LIKE that you haven't fact checked all of the sites you have listed as to whether they are part of the BBS or whether they have been spammed?
Did you check with each site to ask if the people posting had gotten free makeup ? Did you ask if they were just contributors or legit writers (like online for a long time and/or in print?)

That's sort of important before you implicate my blog in some sort of plot
Stevie
David Binkowski said…
Stevie,
I was in no way implying that you wrote about Benefit Products without disclosing. What I am saying is that if your blog was commented on by BBS members in December that the odds are most of them were spam comments, directed by Benefit Cosmetics to their BBS members.

Dave
Stevie said…
Nope. No comments from anyone on the Benefit Cosmetics line. I watch my comments and the ones that get them are the odd ones- not the typical stuff -- unless it's smoking hot.
I have found that Benefit has been very quick at sending emails and asking for posts.. but not so quick on providing product to TRY. While I have had a great relationship with them in the past, I don't want them spamming or using my blog for their purposes when they counter what is journalistically fair. Not everyone's blog is a journalistic effort. However mine is and they know that.

thanks for the 411 though. It's given me something to think about
Stevie
David Binkowski said…
I appreciate the return visit and info on Benefit. We should connect via email outside of the blog!
Chris Brogan said…
My thought here is that our trust levels are what are at stake. It's not that social networks will go private, but that we'll close down the trust networks long before we actually start sliding behind new ice walls.

Interesting post, and I applaud your information here. : )
Shannon Nelson said…
I was on the receiving end of those overly enthusiastic praiseworthy comments by the BBS (otherwise known as Beauty BullShit...can I say that here? Oops I just did.) Anyway, what brands like Benefit don't understand is that bloggers talk--to each other. We are all part of some sort of network be it Total Beauty, Glam, The Beauty Blog Network, etc. and we have internal message boards. When something doesn't seem right, we ask each other about it and I remember when the question came out "Anyone else getting bombarded with positive comments for Benefit?" And the overwhelming answer was yes. It left a bad taste in our mouthes and I didn't want to work with Benefit for a very long time because of that.

If your product is good people will say so...no need to "hire" people to do that for you. Any brand that thinks of doing this, should be aware that there is always talk going on behind the scenes and bloggers are definitely watching what is going on. Don't underestimate us.
Jeannie said…
Wow .. this is interesting. I choose to comment since my beauty blog was listed. Actually its been some time since I've covered Benefit. I actually was able to receive sample at the time I did choose to review product. To be honest , their products are not like the best in the world for them to withhold samples from people. I have not gotten any emails from them for some time now, but thats A-Okay with me. I'll survive.

I actually started my blog because I aspire to be a Beauty Editor , and I actually love suggesting products to people. I don't see how I can do that without actually using the product. When companies feel the need to not want to send samples, then I guess I will feel the need to not review it.
Stevie said…
What Shannon and Jeannie both said is absolutely true. If you don't think that fashion and beauty bloggers talk to each other, then someone's a few tacos short of a combo plate.
We do talk to each other. We help each other out when contacting companies by providing contact names.
We comment on blogs that we like or tweet them.

While Benefit hasn't sent me anything in about a year, if I ASK for something and I actually get it, I will write about it. If it's a product that I have seen at a counter and tested it out, I might write about it too. If I have purchased it, I will write about it eventually.

Beauty bloggers are the most obsessive because it's not a one size fits all situation. What works for Shannon might not work for me and Jeannie might find that it's only ok.

I think we are done with this topic.
Stevie
David Binkowski said…
@Jeannie thanks for the comment. I recently spoke with a company that said their executives won't settle for average reviews - they had to all be outstanding. It makes me start to wonder, especially after the iPhone apps astroturfing that went on recently (and sad story about how the agency's phones were "ringing off the hook"), if there's ever accountability for these type of blatant ethics violations.
David Binkowski said…
@Stevie oh I'm well aware of the back channels. we have 'em in PR/marketing blog world as well, as do the mom bloggers, tech bloggers, etc.

I agree, there's not much to say about this thread anymore, but I'd love to get your and other beauty bloggers' perspectives on the FTC rulings. I'll put up a new post, please do join that thread!

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