It’s not worth it to subject your loyal subscribers to a skewed review in exchange for some quick profits. Roman Mica, host of TFL Car and TFL Truck, gives his perspective on keeping your product reviews honest and accurate.

Reviewing products is always a tightrope walk. A best-case scenario is a review that pleases both the audience and the owner of the product. But, things don’t always work out that way.

Imagine a YouTube channel that only evaluates the products that advertise on that channel. In an attempt to keep advertisers happy, and income flowing, this cozy arrangement inevitably produces glowing reviews. But, the temptation to focus on the positive stems from the flawed logic that a happy advertiser always equals financial success for the creator.

Journalism 101

Unlike a doctor, real estate broker or high school teacher, anyone can call themselves a journalist — there is no licensing system or other qualifications. A trained journalist typically has a university degree in journalism, but not always.

Thanks to social media, we now have citizen journalists. These novices often bring fresh approaches to their work but might not understand the broader tenets of the craft of journalism.

Many YouTube reviewers fall into the category of citizen journalists. They are likely experts on the products they examine, but lack training in journalism.

In their “Code of Ethics,” the Society of Professional Journalists offers guidance to help traverse the tightrope a product reviewer treads: “Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.”

A reviewer’s job is to objectively expose a product’s good and bad qualities, while not bowing to pressure by anyone. You’ve earned subscribers because those viewers desire accuracy to inform their purchasing decisions.

If your reviews always paint a glowing picture of products, your audience will find another, more objective, channel. Remember, trust is a fragile thing, even the smallest transgression can destroy your credibility, and your channel’s success.

TFL Car and Truck

Roman Mica is the publisher of the popular YouTube channels TFL Car and TFL Truck. Collectively, the channels have about 1.1 million subscribers with 473 million video views. Mica brings a strong journalism background to his reviews through a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism from Northwestern University.

Early in Mica’s career, he worked for a small-town TV news outlet where he was essentially a one-man operation serving as talent, camera operator and video editor. This early experience gave him a valuable skill set needed in the production of a YouTube channel. Later in his career, he learned the ins and outs of web publishing with a review blog that garnered him free products but little cash flow. Mica turned to YouTube to find success as a reviewer.

The goal of every reviewer is to get their hands on a product before it is launched to the public. Mica points out that if you want access to products that have not hit the shelves, you have few choices except to develop and maintain a good relationship with the manufacturer or distributor. Mica puts it this way, “Manufacturers hold the keys to the kingdom, especially if the product isn’t available to the public.”

Mica says he wishes he had the budget to use the Consumer Reports model for reviews. The Consumer Reports organization purchases items they analyze at public retailers, just like the consumers they serve. They are unwilling to take the chance that a loaned sample product is in any way different than the ones on retailers’ shelves. Most YouTube reviewers don’t have the budget to go out and buy products, but you can’t deny that the Consumer Reports model eliminates the chance of funny business.

Roman aims for transparency in all of his car and truck reviews. It’s one of his central tenants, along with conducting real-world reviews and staying consistent.

Wine and Dine Dilemma

According to Mica, the automotive industry holds media events that allow reviewers carefully controlled access to their products. Manufacturers invite Mica to events and sometimes pay his flights, hotel and food. Ideally, Mica would love to reimburse the trip costs and eliminate any perception of conflict of interest. But, in reality, he could only afford one trip per year — not good enough.

Mica is guided by three principles that he feels have garnered him success as a YouTube reviewer: transparency, real-world reviews and consistency. First, transparency means that his audience know everything they need to understand the motivations of the reviewer. Mica gladly accepts invitations to a manufacturer’s media event. If he is wined and dined by the manufacturer, he wants his viewers to know — it’s the first thing he says in his review.

Second, real-world reviews mean that products are reviewed in a manner consistent with their typical use out in the field. An unscripted romp up a muddy hill in a 4×4 truck is one example. Finally, consistency means that the release of new videos is done with predictable frequency.

Mica acknowledges that, “Click bait works. There are channels out there that call their content ‘reviews’ and get lots of views, but they are not providing objective, real-world assessments. Their owners might gain short-term profit, but not long-term viewer trust and sustainability.” Clearly, Mica is in the YouTube game for the long haul.

Follow Mica’s advice and stay true to your audience; they are relying on you for accurate information to guide their important buying decisions.

Get YouTuber.