Wal-Mart's Blogging Blunder
By Alyce Lomax (TMF Lomax)
March 7, 2006
Despite the idea that bloggers' independence from the "mainstream media" can offer a broader perspective on the news, or even break important stories, most of us know bloggers need to be watched, too. A New York Times article has underlined that idea, exposing Wal-Mart's (NYSE: WMT) efforts to use bloggers to improve its public image. Some of these bloggers have not handled the situation responsibly, and that's a big mistake for everybody involved.
The article centers on Brian Pickrell, who created a blog post condemning state legislation to require Wal-Mart to spend more on employee health care. Presenting such an opinion is fine -- there's nothing wrong with thinking the legislation might be a bad idea -- but the post apparently consisted of a whole lot of information, some of it verbatim, that had been fed to the blogger by an employee of Wal-Mart public relations firm Edelman.
Indeed, as Wal-Mart tries to head off the barrage of criticism it often faces, it has begun strategically feeding "news stories" -- consisting of positive press about its business practices -- to the blog community. The New York Times article pointed out that the company tantalizes pro-Wal-Mart bloggers with "exclusive" information as well. (Some bloggers do disclose where they're getting this information.)
....................But I can't understand why some bloggers would fail to identify where they got their information, especially when it clearly seems to have colored their opinions.
Wal-Mart's strategy to repair its public image through the blogosphere has resoundingly backfired. News like this makes the company sound sneaky and underhanded, out to launch the equivalent of a corporate propaganda campaign, which of course fires up Wal-Mart's detractors even more. Meanwhile, bloggers who don't disclose their relationships with certain entities or individuals lose a heck of a lot of credibility, tarring the entire blogosphere by association, and making blogs seem that much less reliable as a source of information.
The way I see it, lies of omission are cop-outs. Honesty makes for good ethics and good business.
People need to understand that this isn't just about racist Red State.org and their ilk. A lot of people, enthusiastic people, may well make the same mistake.
And it is a mistake.
You have to make it clear where your information comes from. And printing Wal Mart press releases is just wrong without identifying them.
Once again conservative bloggers think they have to be on the team, first and foremost, which is why sites like Kos are growing and the right wing sites are shrinking.
In the end, it's about credibility with the readers.