Walmart uses bloggers, NYT says

Walmart is starting to use bloggers, this New York Times article says.

Um, I don’t condone this kind of work and if I find out a Microsoft employee is doing it I’ll publicly point it out.

For the record, here’s my best practices: always attribute where you got something from. Even if it doesn’t make you look good.

Second, for companies thinking of getting in this space: why don’t you just blog? That’s the best way to get your point of view out there. Hidden agendas will be found out eventually (and there are plenty of them, particularly in comment sections — how do you know that anonymous commenter wasn’t paid by a competitor of mine? You don’t.)

Another way to look at it? Join, don’t use. Ask yourself: are you communicating or trying to manipulate others into communicating?

Be skeptical! Even of me. Although I’ll always tell you where I am getting freebies, getting paid, or getting my back scratched.

Update: Richard Edelman, who runs the PR firm that was involved here, talks about this on his blog and gives good suggestions for both bloggers and PR agencies.

Update 2, Here’s some more news on this topic.

NYkette: No, I don’t blog for Walmart.
Joanna Lipari: but is it ethical?
Glenn Reynolds has a ton of links and analysis of this (must read for marketers and PR folks).

49 thoughts on “Walmart uses bloggers, NYT says

  1. My comment posted at Edelman and Kami’s blog:

    [QUOTE]

    Here I come patting Richard Edelman on the back, as my arms sally forth. Edelman is a genius gentleman of the highest moral caliber, and a marketing mind of great impact.

    I consider Edelman an ally, a friend, and a collaborator. He has contributed material to my blogs and to at least two of my upcoming books on social media topics.

    Now I have not looked into all this Walmart fussiness. I am against all “buzz agenting”. I am against Paid Opinion Blogging, in posts or comments.

    But I go to another extreme.

    I have begun to launch the lurching New Reformed Insane Blog Media Network.

    Brains, blogs, and castration blades at your service, sir (or ma’am)!

    Highly trained psycho “buzz agent destroyers” will flame mercilessly those sissypants flamers and trollers who try to damage your corporate reputation and mission.

    GUARANTEED Nervous Breakdowns: one flamer at a time.

    {END QUOTE}

  2. My comment posted at Edelman and Kami’s blog:

    [QUOTE]

    Here I come patting Richard Edelman on the back, as my arms sally forth. Edelman is a genius gentleman of the highest moral caliber, and a marketing mind of great impact.

    I consider Edelman an ally, a friend, and a collaborator. He has contributed material to my blogs and to at least two of my upcoming books on social media topics.

    Now I have not looked into all this Walmart fussiness. I am against all “buzz agenting”. I am against Paid Opinion Blogging, in posts or comments.

    But I go to another extreme.

    I have begun to launch the lurching New Reformed Insane Blog Media Network.

    Brains, blogs, and castration blades at your service, sir (or ma’am)!

    Highly trained psycho “buzz agent destroyers” will flame mercilessly those sissypants flamers and trollers who try to damage your corporate reputation and mission.

    GUARANTEED Nervous Breakdowns: one flamer at a time.

    {END QUOTE}

  3. Shel mentions someone questioned Edelman’s choice of bloggers to target: that was me, and I’m quite startled that this entire discussion, both here and elsewhere, overlooks that Edelman’s blogging work seems to reinforce the philosophical divide between pro and anti-Wal-mart groups.

    It’s not really about conversations or even sharing information: their work concentrates on providing ammo to pro-groups and denigrating anti-groups.

    Is there any room for conciliation or discussion in an environment like that?

  4. Shel mentions someone questioned Edelman’s choice of bloggers to target: that was me, and I’m quite startled that this entire discussion, both here and elsewhere, overlooks that Edelman’s blogging work seems to reinforce the philosophical divide between pro and anti-Wal-mart groups.

    It’s not really about conversations or even sharing information: their work concentrates on providing ammo to pro-groups and denigrating anti-groups.

    Is there any room for conciliation or discussion in an environment like that?

  5. It’s important for anyone commenting on this topic to read the e-mail exchange between the PR representative and the blogger, and then decide whether it is both transparent and professional.

    Until you see how the program is represented and the types of information that is exchanged, it’s impossible to draw an accurate conclusion.

    The key here is that Wal-Mart should have engaged these bloggers directly if they were so inclined. Better still, put this information up on a blog or website and let the bloggers find it themselves.

  6. It’s important for anyone commenting on this topic to read the e-mail exchange between the PR representative and the blogger, and then decide whether it is both transparent and professional.

    Until you see how the program is represented and the types of information that is exchanged, it’s impossible to draw an accurate conclusion.

    The key here is that Wal-Mart should have engaged these bloggers directly if they were so inclined. Better still, put this information up on a blog or website and let the bloggers find it themselves.

  7. I think the issue really is about Wal-Mart’s transparency and I do agree that in order for a company big/small to most effectively engage bloggers, they need to be publishing a blog themselves.

    There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to bloggers with information but there are consequences if what those bloggers do with the information is not monitored.

    Some of the bloggers who were involved left some interesting comments over at BusinessBlogConsulting.com that may provide additional insight.

  8. I think the issue really is about Wal-Mart’s transparency and I do agree that in order for a company big/small to most effectively engage bloggers, they need to be publishing a blog themselves.

    There’s nothing wrong with reaching out to bloggers with information but there are consequences if what those bloggers do with the information is not monitored.

    Some of the bloggers who were involved left some interesting comments over at BusinessBlogConsulting.com that may provide additional insight.

  9. OK. That last point is the important distinction, I think.

    I just read the PDF transcript of the conversation that Edelman had with Rob Port. I don’t see that they were trying to get him to “feed messages to his friends”, but they definitely could have been more transparent.

  10. OK. That last point is the important distinction, I think.

    I just read the PDF transcript of the conversation that Edelman had with Rob Port. I don’t see that they were trying to get him to “feed messages to his friends”, but they definitely could have been more transparent.

  11. Niall: yes, but carefully.

    Sounds like they didn’t communicate with their bloggers very well (or didn’t track them very well).

    If I give a set of bloggers some information (for instance, we have a popular Search Champs program which is mostly bloggers) then I will want them to explain how they got that information. I also watch how they use that information and make sure I engage myself too and let people know who I work for.

    Walmart used the bloggers, but didn’t appear in the community itself. It also didn’t watch to make sure that bloggers were explaining where that information came from. That gave the perception that it was astroturfing.

    Without a transparent conversation (er, Naked Conversation) people start expecting the worst. If you don’t understand that, you’ll get into PR trouble.

    Think about it another way. If someone keeps coming up to you saying “can you tell your friends that we don’t suck” but they aren’t willing to say that themselves, doesn’t that look a little weird? Wouldn’t you get tired of that kind of behavior?

    I far prefer talking to companies who actually want to have conversations rather than ones who just want me to feed messages to my friends.

  12. Niall: yes, but carefully.

    Sounds like they didn’t communicate with their bloggers very well (or didn’t track them very well).

    If I give a set of bloggers some information (for instance, we have a popular Search Champs program which is mostly bloggers) then I will want them to explain how they got that information. I also watch how they use that information and make sure I engage myself too and let people know who I work for.

    Walmart used the bloggers, but didn’t appear in the community itself. It also didn’t watch to make sure that bloggers were explaining where that information came from. That gave the perception that it was astroturfing.

    Without a transparent conversation (er, Naked Conversation) people start expecting the worst. If you don’t understand that, you’ll get into PR trouble.

    Think about it another way. If someone keeps coming up to you saying “can you tell your friends that we don’t suck” but they aren’t willing to say that themselves, doesn’t that look a little weird? Wouldn’t you get tired of that kind of behavior?

    I far prefer talking to companies who actually want to have conversations rather than ones who just want me to feed messages to my friends.

  13. I’m still a bit confused about your stance, Robert.

    Do you think companies should be contacting bloggers to tell them about their products/invite them to events/send them information or not?

  14. I’m still a bit confused about your stance, Robert.

    Do you think companies should be contacting bloggers to tell them about their products/invite them to events/send them information or not?

  15. Shel: you’re right. But big companies have a thumb on the scale working against them. They must do even better than smaller companies. Be even more transparent about what they are doing. We learned that the hard way and are still learning it.

  16. Shel: you’re right. But big companies have a thumb on the scale working against them. They must do even better than smaller companies. Be even more transparent about what they are doing. We learned that the hard way and are still learning it.

  17. Anonymous: one big difference. I don’t remember any of our words getting out without being marked as such. Second, we have more than 2,000 blogs here. How many does Walmart have?

    Dmad: >But more to the point, who elected you the blogging rule maker?

    I am not the rule maker. I’m a rule NOTICER. Why am I in that role? Name one person who talks with more bloggers than me? There might be a couple, but not many. So, I get around, figure out how bloggers think, and learn from them.

    So, when I say something I’m communicating about what will get companies in trouble.

    And, yes, I wrote a book where we interviewed 188 businesses about how they are using blogging. No one else has done that many. So, yes, I AM an authority on corporate blogging.

    Who elected you snarky naysayer?

  18. Anonymous: one big difference. I don’t remember any of our words getting out without being marked as such. Second, we have more than 2,000 blogs here. How many does Walmart have?

    Dmad: >But more to the point, who elected you the blogging rule maker?

    I am not the rule maker. I’m a rule NOTICER. Why am I in that role? Name one person who talks with more bloggers than me? There might be a couple, but not many. So, I get around, figure out how bloggers think, and learn from them.

    So, when I say something I’m communicating about what will get companies in trouble.

    And, yes, I wrote a book where we interviewed 188 businesses about how they are using blogging. No one else has done that many. So, yes, I AM an authority on corporate blogging.

    Who elected you snarky naysayer?

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  20. Robert, I just don’t see why providing information is manipulation. Richard Edelman made his rules clear: be 100% factual and accurate and without spin (all evidence suggests the emails were just a couple lines with links); disclose your relationship with the client and the goal of the campaign (the alternative to giving ‘em a free phone); ask the blogger’s permission to participate in this manner (they did); reveal any financial relationships with the blogger (there were none). Edelman’s post is quite instructive.

    I’m pitched all the time with access to beta services in the hopes I’ll blog about it. Is that unethical? Is it appropriate to suggest the company should just blog?

    And, by the way, does anybody honestly think the unions and anti-WalMart forces aren’t feeding information to anti-WalMart bloggers?

    Still, at the end of the day, employees of Wal-Mart blogging would have been a superior approach.

  21. Robert, I just don’t see why providing information is manipulation. Richard Edelman made his rules clear: be 100% factual and accurate and without spin (all evidence suggests the emails were just a couple lines with links); disclose your relationship with the client and the goal of the campaign (the alternative to giving ‘em a free phone); ask the blogger’s permission to participate in this manner (they did); reveal any financial relationships with the blogger (there were none). Edelman’s post is quite instructive.

    I’m pitched all the time with access to beta services in the hopes I’ll blog about it. Is that unethical? Is it appropriate to suggest the company should just blog?

    And, by the way, does anybody honestly think the unions and anti-WalMart forces aren’t feeding information to anti-WalMart bloggers?

    Still, at the end of the day, employees of Wal-Mart blogging would have been a superior approach.

  22. Yes there are many MS folks using blogs for PR. I agree, start pointing them out. But more to the point, who elected you the blogging rule maker? Because you “wrote” a book? Let the market decide which blogs work and which don’t. Who cares what you think about how others blog? Again, let the market decide what works.

  23. Yes there are many MS folks using blogs for PR. I agree, start pointing them out. But more to the point, who elected you the blogging rule maker? Because you “wrote” a book? Let the market decide which blogs work and which don’t. Who cares what you think about how others blog? Again, let the market decide what works.

  24. There are plenty of Microsoft people using blogs for P.R. Many you know.

    Start pointing them out!

  25. There are plenty of Microsoft people using blogs for P.R. Many you know.

    Start pointing them out!

  26. Shel: probably cause when you get a free phone in the mail it’s pretty clear who is paying for that (and it’s pretty hard not to disclose). Saying a few words are your own when they aren’t is a lot easier.

    It smells like Astroturfing, though. That’s what got them the attention.

    Personally, I’m going to tell corporate types to think about this: are you joining in the blogosphere or are you just trying to use the blogosophere to manipulate?

    If you just want to manipulate from the edge without joining in and doing the hard work, then you’ll get bashed and misrepresented.

    I searched Google for “Walmart Blog” and didn’t find one. That’s a real problem.

  27. Shel: probably cause when you get a free phone in the mail it’s pretty clear who is paying for that (and it’s pretty hard not to disclose). Saying a few words are your own when they aren’t is a lot easier.

    It smells like Astroturfing, though. That’s what got them the attention.

    Personally, I’m going to tell corporate types to think about this: are you joining in the blogosphere or are you just trying to use the blogosophere to manipulate?

    If you just want to manipulate from the edge without joining in and doing the hard work, then you’ll get bashed and misrepresented.

    I searched Google for “Walmart Blog” and didn’t find one. That’s a real problem.

  28. Astroturfing? This wasn’t astroturfing. Not by a long shot. A PR person representing WalMart approached some bloggers who seemed sympathetic to WalMart’s message. He offered to send them some information from time to time. They agreed that they’d like to get his information, and he sent it. These pieces were just part of the mix of information and resources available to them. A newspaper reporter (that is, a TRAINED reporter) would have double-checked facts, interviewed people for alternative points of view, and ultimately dismissed or accepted the information based on this evaluation. There are undoubtedly bloggers who do the same. The PR rep in this case asked the bloggers NOT to reprint the material verbatim; some did anyway. That’s laziness, not astroturfing. In fact, if it IS astroturfing, then so is every press release ever created. God knows I wrote enough press releases in my corporate communication days that were reprinted word for word by trade publications and even some regular newspapers.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Robert; developing their own blogs would have been great. At the same time, I’m untroubled by the approach taken, although I agree with someone (can’t remember who) who suggested the Edelman rep might have picked his bloggers more carefully.

    I heard no complaints, by the way, about the Nokia n90 blogger relations program, which took pretty much the same thing.

  29. Astroturfing? This wasn’t astroturfing. Not by a long shot. A PR person representing WalMart approached some bloggers who seemed sympathetic to WalMart’s message. He offered to send them some information from time to time. They agreed that they’d like to get his information, and he sent it. These pieces were just part of the mix of information and resources available to them. A newspaper reporter (that is, a TRAINED reporter) would have double-checked facts, interviewed people for alternative points of view, and ultimately dismissed or accepted the information based on this evaluation. There are undoubtedly bloggers who do the same. The PR rep in this case asked the bloggers NOT to reprint the material verbatim; some did anyway. That’s laziness, not astroturfing. In fact, if it IS astroturfing, then so is every press release ever created. God knows I wrote enough press releases in my corporate communication days that were reprinted word for word by trade publications and even some regular newspapers.

    I wholeheartedly agree with Robert; developing their own blogs would have been great. At the same time, I’m untroubled by the approach taken, although I agree with someone (can’t remember who) who suggested the Edelman rep might have picked his bloggers more carefully.

    I heard no complaints, by the way, about the Nokia n90 blogger relations program, which took pretty much the same thing.

  30. Your point about competitors posting negative comments is an important one. Comment fraud, I like to call it, and we\’ll see it more and more.

    And whilst I agree that having your own blog is one of the best ways of communicating with the blogosphere, why shouldn\’t a company contact bloggers and say \”Hey, we think you\’re important. We\’d like you to play with our product/come to an event/listen to our point of view.\”?

    It\’s exactly what Microsoft are doing very successfully with the launch of Windows Live in the UK, and you\’re using an external agency to do it.

  31. Your point about competitors posting negative comments is an important one. Comment fraud, I like to call it, and we’ll see it more and more.

    And whilst I agree that having your own blog is one of the best ways of communicating with the blogosphere, why shouldn’t a company contact bloggers and say “Hey, we think you’re important. We’d like you to play with our product/come to an event/listen to our point of view.”?

    It’s exactly what Microsoft are doing very successfully with the launch of Windows Live in the UK, and you’re using an external agency to do it.

  32. Mike: I don\’t condone trying to astroturf comments by using advocates who don\’t source their material (and who have the perception that they are getting paid by the company — we don\’t actually know the credibility of these people). It\’s made worse by not having a blog where people can link back to and have a direct communication with the company.

  33. Mike: I don’t condone trying to astroturf comments by using advocates who don’t source their material (and who have the perception that they are getting paid by the company — we don’t actually know the credibility of these people). It’s made worse by not having a blog where people can link back to and have a direct communication with the company.

  34. I agree with you. I think Wal-Mart should have blogged itself and entered into an open dialogue with customers/critics. If they weren\’t willing to do that, stay away. Fairly or unfairly, every single person who blogs in favor of Wal-Mart is going to be questioned from here on out.

  35. I agree with you. I think Wal-Mart should have blogged itself and entered into an open dialogue with customers/critics. If they weren’t willing to do that, stay away. Fairly or unfairly, every single person who blogs in favor of Wal-Mart is going to be questioned from here on out.

  36. What is it you don\’t condone? I agree that if you are quoting someone, you should cite – not only to be responsible but also because you can be legally liable if you don\’t!

    But what\’s the problem with Wal-Mart or Microsoft using blog spaces to improve their image? Its clearly unethical (criminal?) if Wal-Mart logged onto anything with Target or K-Mart and \”commented\” on the poor service, price, etc. But why shouldn\’t a company use the blog world for its own purposes?

    Your advice under item # 2 is spot on, however. Irrespective of ethics and legality, anything that smells bad will eventually come out and the company will suffer, even if they weren\’t the ones doing (or trying to do) something wrong.

    Everyone should read stories on both sides with some skepticism. Don\’t you think that many anti-Wal-Mart stories are one-sided? If you listened to just one side of the argument you\’d either think Wal-Mart was the utopia of corporate world or the satan of employment. If Wal-Mart paid more cost for health care, etc., that\’s got to mean higher prices for me. But do they also have a better responsibility to their employees?

    I don\’t want this to be a diatribe for or against Wal-Mart, I\’m just not sure what the delimma is.

  37. What is it you don’t condone? I agree that if you are quoting someone, you should cite – not only to be responsible but also because you can be legally liable if you don’t!

    But what’s the problem with Wal-Mart or Microsoft using blog spaces to improve their image? Its clearly unethical (criminal?) if Wal-Mart logged onto anything with Target or K-Mart and “commented” on the poor service, price, etc. But why shouldn’t a company use the blog world for its own purposes?

    Your advice under item # 2 is spot on, however. Irrespective of ethics and legality, anything that smells bad will eventually come out and the company will suffer, even if they weren’t the ones doing (or trying to do) something wrong.

    Everyone should read stories on both sides with some skepticism. Don’t you think that many anti-Wal-Mart stories are one-sided? If you listened to just one side of the argument you’d either think Wal-Mart was the utopia of corporate world or the satan of employment. If Wal-Mart paid more cost for health care, etc., that’s got to mean higher prices for me. But do they also have a better responsibility to their employees?

    I don’t want this to be a diatribe for or against Wal-Mart, I’m just not sure what the delimma is.

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