Thursday, October 12, 2006

A Cautionary Blogging Tale

One of the key values of blogs is their authenticity. Successful blogs are nearly always written in a personal voice.

That appeared to be true of the Walmarting Across America blog, in which Jim and Laura (no last names given) wrote about their experiences driving an RV across the country and camping out in Wal-Mart parking lots.

Except, as Online Media Daily reports, it wasn't quite that personal.  

A pro-Wal-Mart blog called "Wal-Marting Across America," ostensibly launched by a pair of average Americans chronicling their cross-country travels in an RV and lodging in Wal-Mart parking lots, has been reduced to a farewell entry. One of its two contributors was revealed to be Jim Thresher, a staff photographer for The Washington Post.

The blog, launched Sept. 27, was profiled in this week's issue of BusinessWeek, which exposed the site as a promotional tactic engineered by Working Families for Wal-Mart (WFWM), an organization launched by Wal-Mart's public relations firm Edelman. WFWM paid for the RV and all travel expenses, rerouted the trip's original plan, and plastered a logo on the RV's side. Although the blog featured a link to WFWM, it did not identify the organization as a paid sponsor.

Whoops. It's a pretty natural move for astroturf groups like WFWM, but here's the thing... when you get caught, not only is the project a disaster, but you've lessened your credibility.

Interestingly enough, the site now does say it's sponsored by WFWM... but most of the entries have disappeared. And the site has a copyright notice - the content belongs to WFWM. (There is a final entry with a bit of a rant about how "vicious" anti-Wal-Mart people are. It falls a bit flat when you know the backstory, though.

(I never saw the site before today, so I'm relying on reports about what was on it before.)

All in all, an embarrassing moment for the retailer - and for Edelman, who should have understood blogging well enough to advise against this.

No comments: