Affiliate Disclosure: By buying the products we recommend, you help keep the lights on at MakeUseOf. Read more.
Do you think leaving an Amazon review is a waste of time? Then, an Amazon program that’s been around since 2007 might have you thinking twice. Amazon’s Vine Program consists of a group of handpicked reviewers who get products for free in exchange for honest reviews.
Amazon doesn’t give away too much about how reviewers are selected, but there are some basic guidelines that you can follow in an attempt to be one of the lucky ones receiving free swag.
What is the Amazon Vine Program?
Amazon’s Vine Program is an invite-only group of reviewers that receive products for free in exchange for impartial reviews. They will often receive products before they are released. Amazon explains its purpose:
“[…] to provide customers with more information including honest and unbiased feedback from some of Amazon’s most trusted reviewers.”
Anyone who is a member of the Vine Program will have a badge on all the reviews they leave on Amazon distinguishing them as Vine Voices.
That doesn’t mean every single review they leave is the result of a freebie. If they received the item as part of the program, that review will be labeled Vine Customer Review of Free Product.
While Vine members used to receive a monthly newsletter featuring books and other products they chose from to review — with products valued at anywhere from a few dollars to close to $1,000 — they now have access to a rolling list of items they can order at any time. According to NPR, Vine members cannot sell or give items received through the program away and Amazon can ask for the items back — although they don’t appear to do that.
Amazon says that Vine reviewers are not expected to leave positive reviews and that writing a negative review will have no impact on an Amazon user’s ranking.
How Do You Get An Invite?
So how do you become one of Amazon’s most trusted reviewers? Amazon will reach out to you if they feel you are a good fit for the program but the company does offer some guidance on what it’s looking for in a Vine Voice.
Rather than focus on quantity of reviews, they are focused on quality. It’s no good if you’re out there on Amazon leaving one-word reviews left and right. Being a prolific reviewer is no guarantee of joining the Vine program. Amazon’s guidelines for a Vine Voice are:
- A reviewer’s rank, which is based on the overall helpfulness of reviews, while also factoring in the number of reviews.
- Demonstrated expertise in one specific product category.
- More weight is given to recent reviews. (Rankings are updated every couple of days.)
- An interest in products similar to those enrolled in the Vine program.
While an interest in the products enrolled in the program is key to getting an invite — aside from looking for Vine reviews on Amazon (which is not an easy task), there’s no real way to know which products are enrolled. All we know is that vendors pay to have their products included — a fact that Amazon did not initially disclose, leading to some negative coverage of the program in the past.
In any case, in its explanation of the program Amazon writes:
Ultimately, Vine Voices become eligible based on the value and trust other Amazon.com customers place in the Voices’ ability to provide helpful and insightful reviews.
So if you want to be considered, avoid leaving extremely brief reviews. Avoid complaining about something in the product that is clearly stated in the description. Think about the questions you were asking yourself before you took the plunge and ordered that $200 gadget that you knew you didn’t need but really, really wanted.
Amazon likely scours the thousands of reviews left on products available on the site and looks at how those reviews are being received by fellow customers.
Reviewers whose feedback is consistently marked as helpful have a better chance of being invited to the program.
Stick to One Category
As for the second criteria – Amazon looks for your interest and expertise in specific product categories. Anecdotal evidence shows that sticking to one product category, and becoming a recognized and helpful expert in that field gives you a better chance of becoming a Vine member.
There’s No Clear Science
Amazon doesn’t provide much information on how it makes that decision. For example, we found Vine Voice reviewers who received 4,000 helpful votes. Some Hall of Famers have received over 88,000 votes but are not a part of the program. There is clearly no exact science in play here. One Vine Voice reviewer posted on Quora that he received his invite with over 30 reviews and over 300 helpful votes. In addition to numbers, according to him, it also depends on which categories Amazon is looking to add new Vine Voices — in other words — there’s no guarantee.
One major piece of information that Amazon does not share is how often it invites users to the Vine program, so it’s never really clear if Amazon is actively recruiting new reviewers. So if you want to be considered, you’ll simply have to keep at it. Most anecdotes found online of Vine members being invited are somewhat dated at this point.
One Reddit user who is also a Vine member claims that Amazon does not add new members unless existing members leave the program.
Tips from Vine Members
Vine Member Laura Knights offers some details on what she did prior to being invited in 2009:
- She aimed to write one review per week. (Some of the top Vine reviewers wrote as much as one review a day, and sometimes more.)
- She reviewed products mainly from one category: kitchen items.
- She did this for a period of one year.
- She speculates that being a longtime, active Amazon member may also have something to do with it.
MakeUseOf’s Bakari Chavanu, a Vine Member since 2010, offers this advice:
- You need to have been an Amazon member for longer than 6 months.
- Write thoughtful and genuine reviews.
- Prioritize reviews of products you actually bought on Amazon. (These will be labeled as a Verified Purchase on the site.)
- Play the long game by updating your reviews after you’ve used the product for a while.
- Consider doing short video reviews as well.
- Focus on a product category associated with your profession as this can lend to your credibility and increase the likelihood of helpful votes.
Tips for Writing Reviews
The last thing to consider if you’re trying to get an invite to the Amazon Vine club is to pay attention to Amazon’s own review guidelines. This is what Amazon suggests when you’re about to write a review:
- Do explain why you liked or disliked it.
- Do compare to similar products or services and share how long you’ve used this product.
- Do identify specific attributes (e.g. comfort & fit of a shirt or the battery life of a camera) and whether they met your expectations.
- Don’t describe your seller or shipping experience (you can do that at amazon.com/feedback).
- Don’t include promotional content of any kind or reviews written in exchange for compensation.
You’re In. Now What?
Once you’re accepted as a Vine reviewer you will want to make sure you follow the guidelines of the program. You are limited to two products at a time and you must write and post your reviews of received products before you can request additional items. Be sure to leave a review within 30 days of delivery.
Only choose products you’re really interested in, and don’t feel compelled to select something just for the sake of a review. If you don’t really want or need the item, you can just skip a month or two.
You’d be surprised but as with most things online, being a top Amazon reviewer doesn’t come without risks. One Amazon reviewer reportedly gets regular hate mail, among them death threats. Other Vine reviewers say their reviews get negative feedback just because of their Vine badge. And while Amazon vowed last year to crack down on ‘incentivized’ reviews, because of a deluge of fake reviews, the Vine program has continued to operate.
A 2016 study by ReviewMeta found that, while they may not be perfect, Vine reviews are often better than incentivized reviews.
For all of the criticism that it’s received, there are some really dedicated reviewers among their ranks, including the current top-ranked Amazon reviewer, who has written 3,451 reviews and received over 84,000 votes from other Amazon users for the helpfulness of her reviews. And, you can’t disagree the value of a good review when you go shopping on Amazon.
Do you regularly write reviews on Amazon? Are you a Vine member? Can you share any tips or tricks on how to get invited into the program? What has Amazon sent you to review? Let us know in the comments.
Image Credit: zagandesign/Depositphotos
Originally written by Bakari Chavanu on Aug 4, 2010