Friday, November 17, 2006

Corporate Blogging vs. Flogging

If you follow corporate blogging at all, you might have heard of a recent scandal involving Wal-Mart and their PR firm, Edelman. In an attempt to counter the bad press that Wal-Mart was getting about its treatment of its employees, it hired Edelman to do some blogger relations.

But Edelman's approach was to create a fake blog, now known as a "flog," about a couple who RV'd across America from Wal-Mart to Wal-Mart. The couple turned out to be a professional writer and photographer who were paid by Edelman. There's a great summary of the story on Debbie Weil's blog, along with a long list of links to other blogs and articles that tell the full story.
One major consequence of this scandal is that blog readers will start suspecting a corporate ulterior motive behind even the most apparently grass-roots blogs. That's a shame, but perhaps inevitable. Our culture is already healthily skeptical of what we see in the news and entertainment media, because we know that corporate machines can manipulate them...why not the emerging social media, too?

This brouhaha is interesting to me as someone who helps The Content Factor's clients with their corporate blogs. Where is the line between providing writing content for a client's blog, and flogging?

For us, the yardstick of integrity is: represent a real person's real message. Even if we are the ones composing the words, our clients' blogs still represent our clients' ideas accurately. We will never take on a fake persona, or intentionally fail to disclose our relationship to our client.

The Word Of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) has published a code of ethics (ironically, a code that Edelman helped create) which sums it up nicely: Honesty of Relationship, Opinion, and Identity.

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