Thanks to the time constraints and laziness of both traditional journalists and bloggers, you may be quoted in a story, sometimes at length, without having been interviewed—the victim of a stealth interview. There was a big brouhaha when something similar happened to actor George Clooney recently, but it's really nothing out of the ordinary.

Like Clooney, you would definitely be quoted out of context in a stealth interview, because there is no context. The interview never happened. But you're quoted nonetheless, and you did make the statement. You just didn't think you were saying it to a reporter.

The quote could come from a forum, a blog post or comment, an exchange in a social networking forum, an article you wrote, even an email.

In Clooney's case, the Huffington Post posted a compilation of his critiques of the Iraq war from interviews with Larry King and London's The Guardian.

Chances are good that a traditional or new media reporter is looking for a quote that reinforces or gives contrast to his/her point of view, and something you once said online fit the bill. He or she may take statements of yours from separate interviews or postings and combine them as Clooney's statements were combined. Sure he said those things. Just not in that way, and not all at once. So the reader has no clue that he was, or you were, victim of a stealth interview.

Online, Content Is Forever

Many writers begin their research online. They'll type in the topic in a search engine and see what and who comes up. They'll follow links to several sites and scan the material to see whehter anything there is usable for the story. If they find names of experts at these sites, they will make note of them and then enter those names in Google's search box to see what comes up. And voila! You're a source for a stealth interview.

Online, for all the world to see, will be every post you ever made to a blog, forum, discussion group or mail list; every mention of your name on Web sites, newsletters, and blogs anywhere on the Internet; articles you have written or been mentioned or featured in; and, if they are properly search engine optimized, all the press releases you have issued.

Tracking the Stealth Interview

You should closely monitor what is being said about you and your company, or you may never even know you've been included in a story via a stealth interview. Be sure to set up free Google and Yahoo news alerts on your name, your company's name, and any relevant keywords. Also enter your name and company name into Technorati and PubSub daily so you can track what is being said on blogs.

If you are quoted incorrectly, contact the reporter or blogger and say so. Ask that a correction be made on the Web site immediately.

If you said something brilliant or something wonderful was said about you, you're in great shape. If you ever wrote an insipid or nasty comment in a chat room, or responded less than perfectly to an interviewer's question in a story that was printed, posted, or streamed online... it won't be a secret.

Because of the way search engines are set up, every citation stays in their indexes until someone at the search engine company removes them. Sites that are long gone are still indexed and still come up in search results. A site containing information about you may long ago have gone belly up, but another site, or a blogger may have included information from the defunct site in his/her site, where it will be preserved, and visible to search engines, indefinitely. Blog software automatically archives each post—and so, you better believe, posts have legs.

A journalist or blogger seeking information on you or a quote from you can easily find these entries and pick them up. Bloggers, for example, tend to quote from and comment on news stories published by other bloggers or journalists. Once something appeared that was incorrect, even if it was later corrected, it can come back to haunt you over and over.

Take very much to heart the fact that everything you write or say can come back to haunt you, especially on the Internet. Online journalists aren't the only ones using the stealth interview. Busy traditional journalists in a hurry or in another time zone are just as likely to use the technique.

So next time you're tempted to fire off a flippant comment on a blog or forum, think twice.

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B.L. Ochman is a social media marketing strategist for S&P 500 companies, including McGraw Hill, IBM, Cendant, and American Greetings. She publishes What's Next Blog and Ethics Crisis, where readers can confess their worst ethics transgressions and others can rate them on a scale of one to ten. She also blogs for MarketingProfs Daily Fix Blog.