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    What do you think about the fake Wal-Mart blogs by Edelman PR?

    by Mark Glaser
    October 20, 2006

    Right now, the most searched-for term on blog search engine Technorati is “Edelman.” Why? Usually even negative media mentions are good PR, but in this case, the Edelman PR firm has been under attack from the blogosphere for helping to run three pro-Wal-Mart blogs without being transparent about their involvement. One of those blogs, Wal-Marting Across America, turned out to be a paid gig for the “average couple” that was taking an RV tour of the U.S. and staying in Wal-Mart parking lots. Worse, the photographer half of the couple was Jim Thresher, whose day job was at the Washington Post. He was outed by the Wal-Mart Watch blog and was forced by his employer to take down his photos and return payment from the Working Families for Wal-Mart (a group set up by Edelman).

    Now Edelman admits there are two other blogs it has surreptitiously run as “flogs” or fake blogs. What do you think about this controversy? Does it call into question any pro-Wal-Mart websites out there? Does it hurt the PR industry in general and its attempt to co-opt the blogosphere, or is this just business as usual? Share your thoughts in the comments below and I’ll run the best ones in the next Your Take Roundup.

    Tagged: comments fraud walmart weblog
    • Jay

      I think it’s more telling that blogs’ utility have evolved to the point where Edelman would find creating them useful. I mean, without certain assumptions about an automatic level of traffic (hits), it would make no sense to create these. Sort of like those fake spamlogs; they are making serious AdSense money for their creators. Another light shined on the unstoppable blog trend.

    • As a PR professional I wasn’t surprised that flogs existed. I think that like the options backdating scandal or Hewlett Packards bugging scandal a lot of agencies and their clients started looking over their shoulder.

      Where Edelman could have done better was responding faster when the story broke and telling the blogosphere that they were looking into it rather than remaining silent for so long.

      The PR industry often struggles for credibility and this doesn’t help. However, I think that its unfair to come down on Edelman too hard. Its a new game and they have since tried to do the right thing.

      Would they have been caught if they had been a bit more circumspect and the client wasn’t as emotive as Wal-Mart?

      Edelman within in the industry have taken a very public pioneer position and this leaves them open to blowback.

      I think that this outrage is a sign of blogs maturing as a media, anyone remember the fury that used to accompany commerical messages posted on USENET groups or email lists?

    • The blog world meets the real world. The more things change, they stay the same.

    • I used to think I could learn to like Wal-Mart, until an editorial of mine ended-up on one of the Edelman flogs. Then I felt like, uh, a, well, a person hired to perform rude acts. And I wasn’t even paid a dime! But when I asked Edelman, on his blog on Monday of this week, to take my work off of the Georgia Families For Wal-Mart site, he immediately snapped his fingers to some minions in DC, and voila!, the darn thing vanished.

      Of course, there’s still a cached page floating around the garbage dump of cyber space, and maybe I’m floatin’ there too, but overall, it just felt dirty being an Edleman-induced Wal-Mart poster child. Think I’ll go back to creating redneck humor original content. Suits me much better.

      And FYI… I first blogged about being astroturfed/flogged on August 18th. So things took a coupla months to perculate up to the biggies in the blogosphere, although several PR bloggers were writing about the Wal-Mart flogs by that point, chiefly one firm in Australia, if I recall correctly. Then again, I never got a dime, nor an RV out of ’em, so it’s no wonder no one ever noticed Georgia Families For Wal-Mart, even during all the Andrew Young lipflap brew ha-ha.

      I told Edelman they were welcome to put my editorial back on the Georgia Families For Wal-Mart site — once it became “more transparent.” But ‘ya know, I think that PR campaign ship done sailed, as we’d say around these parts. Or sunk, rather. I expect the whole lot of the Working Families flogs will be powered-down shortly, and the Wal-Mart fleet will sail to other PR shores.

      Still, it’s good to take a look, while we can, at just what the tarty face of hard-core astroturfing looks like, just so we’ll recognize the expensive trash when we stumble into it again. And we will.

    • Oh yeah, this does hurt the PR industry, but it hurts bloggers more. Already the outside perception of us is whiny troublemakers, not we’re liars and shills for corporate America?

      It all stinks. Time to take back the honor in blogging. Try one of these badges.

      http://www.blogkits.com/bloghonor

    • Social media has essentially atomized information control – that much is obvious now, and if anything the process is accelerating. But PR is invariably about centrally controlling or influencing the meaning and flow of information. Invariably, it seems to me, this has to confront the subversive and insurgent nature of social media.

      At least for now, social media is still being seen as the great hope for information and collaboration. Revolutionary, democratizing, egalitarian and so on. While these values have been questioned, for now the politics of media are such that they are the mantra of the day. An insurgency, therefore, that is loved by the people, heralded by the traditional media, and unquestionably virtuous.

      PR has some adapting to do – a lot, and it will have to do it quickly.

    • kob

      This doesn’t hurt bloggers. The opposite is more true.

      It will be exceptionally difficult, I believe, for under-the-cover, fake PR blog to operate anonymously for long.

      Whether local blogs or topical, blogging communities share knowledge and build on it. Networking intelligence is expodential. It’s this capability that strips pretenses and grounds them up.

    • I feel old and cynical saying it, but when I first learned about what Wal-Mart was doing, I wasn’t surprised at all. I actually wondered why it was news. I assume this is happening in the blogosphere, and on the Web more generally, all the time – the “Chocolate is good for you” site secretly run by the chocolate industry, and so on. I assume this is just how public relations works, and has always worked. I’m not saying it’s ethical, but it also isn’t new.

      I think the good news is that we aren’t doomed to be duped – we just have to accept the responsibility of being critical consumers of news and information. This incident underscores the importance of media literacy – the ability for individual citizens to critically evaluate a source of information, whether it’s a news article or a blog post.

    • I for one think that fake blogs are bad for business and look bad on the company.

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