Last week the trumpets were blown and bloggers rallied to defend the culture of the blogosphere....
Blogs/social media are the only marketing/business strategies, that I know, that have their roots in a culture. Therein lies the rub!
Advertising, PR, marketing research, even email and search engine optimization were developed from a need to support the ultimate business goal -- the sale.
Not so blogs. Blogs began as an innocent way to communicate online for a group of people who wanted to share ideas and information.
I'll be the first to admit that it is the marketers who are morphing the purpose of blogs into something quite different... a persuasive marketing tool. However, most marketers, who are working in this emerging industry, realize that a strong value proposition of blogs/social media is their ability to support and encourage open conversations. Most marketers are careful, if not passionate, about respecting the values of the established culture.
What is interesting, awesome, amazing and quite fascinating to me is the culture of blogs remains strong. It is said that the blogosphere self-corrects. Sometimes it seems that there are knights in shining armor standing guard to protect the essence of blogs: Honestly. Transparency. Authenticity. Passion.
When you think about it... in a world where relationships are developed virtually: Honestly, transparency and authenticity are critical. Building and maintaining trust is the cornerstone of developing an online community. No wonder bloggers are fast to draw their virtual swords when they find a blog that they consider is dishonest.
From Newsweek: On Sept. 27, 2006, a folksy blog called Wal-Marting Across America was born. It features the journey of Laura and Jim, a couple on their maiden trip in an RV (recreational vehicle), capturing lives and stories as they journey from Las Vegas to Georgia, and park for free at Wal-Mart store parking lots. Laura's first blog post features a black-and-white photograph and humbly says: "We are not bloggers, but since our lives have always been more journey than destination we are explorers at heart–. We figured we'd give it a go."
What sounded like a brilliant social media strategy was discovered to be a hoax. The bloggers were sponsored by Wal-Mart. (Wal-Mart provided the RV and picked up expenses.) "So what?" you may ask. That information was never posted on the blog nor disclosed by the bloggers. "So what?" you may ask. Therein lies the rub!
Laura and Jim may have been passionate about this project. The stories that Laura told may have been authentic. However, the lack of honesty and transparency -- two important aspects of the culture of blogs -- were ignored. How can we really trust and believe in these people? In their stories? In Wal-Mart?
Sidebar: Apparently no one trained Laura in the culture of blogs. Or clued her into the fact that blogs are more than "diaries" but the building blocks of an extended real online social community.
I've met too many people – real people, not imaginary Internet people – who've told me about all the good Wal-Mart has done. (Final Word post by Laura.)
However, who was really asleep at the virtual wheel? Was it Jim or Laura? Was it Wal-Mart? Or was it their PR/social media advisors' at Edelman, the PR firm that put the strategy into play?
Looks to me as though this is strike two for Edelman, on the Wart-Mart account, in terms of social media consulting. You may recall in March, Edelman got called on to the blogopshere carpet for not being transparent in a bloggers' relations strategy. I don't get it.
I really like Richard Edelman and the work he does on his blog. He even kindly wrote a Blogger Story. And once sent me a thank you email for a comment I posted on his blog. Richard Edelman gets it.
But Richard, there is a significant disconnect between your blog and the Wal-Marting Across American campaign. Since your firm is positioning as a leader in the social media industry, it would seem that Edelman would be one of the strongest "defenders" of the values of this new industry - which is challenged to gain acceptance as a credible business strategy.
What went wrong? Were the people on the account inexperienced with social media and did not understand the importance of respecting the culture of blogs? Did the client insist on pursuing a strategy that was not recommended?
Which brings up an interesting side topic .. when do you "fire a client?" Perhaps more of your people and your clients should be reading your blog and in particular this recent One Step Into The Blogopshere post which addresses the importance of trust.
The archives from the Wal-Marting Across America blog were pulled. With that went the stories that Laura wrote and the photos that Jim shot. (Jim's employer, The Washington Post, ordered the photos be deleted. It seems Jim went against the paper's freelancing policy. Read more at Editor and Publisher.)
In the last post by Laura she takes responsibility for not disclosing her relationship with Wal-Mart. Seems to me that Wal-Mart has made Laura the fall-woman. It was Wal-Mart's responsibility to set guidelines for their bloggers and ensure that full disclosure was posted on the blog.
I think Wal-Mart owes Laura and Jim an apology. I think the blogosphere owes Laura and Jim an apology too. Although Laura may be a talented writer, as I tell clients and people I speak to about blogging, blogs are unlike any other type of communications. The writing style and nuances are different.
Writing blogs is like playing jazz. You have to know the notes before you can create or change the music.
Therein lies the rub! Interesting that this popular quote is a misquote from Shakespeare's famous "To Be Or Not To Be" speech in Hamlet.
To be, or not to be? that is the question.
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind, to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune;
Devoutly to be wish'd. To die, to sleep;
To sleep: perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub:
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come,
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause: there's the respect
That makes calamity of so long life;
However, unlike Hamlet, who is searching for complex answers about the existence of life and what death holds, answers to corporations' questions of how to develop a blog strategy begin with a much simpler response. A blog (character, corporate, topic, business or personal) must revert to the preestablished values of blogging: Honestly. Transparency. Authenticity. Passion.
Ay, there's the rub!
Cross posted on Diva Marketing.
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