Blogger relations and full transparency

Shel and I had quite a robust discussion about the Wal-Mart and Edelman blogger relations campaign yesterday in show #119 of FIR: The Hobson & Holtz Report. The first time we’ve engaged in debate in the style (without the politics) of CNN Crossfire, the TV debate show that ran for nearly 20 years.

In essence, we don’t agree on the major point of whether Edelman exercised full disclsoure of their interest and relationship with their client Wal-Mart in their emails to bloggers when Edelman began the blogger outreach campaign in January. I don’t think they did at all, while Shel feels they exercised sufficient disclosure.

While our discussion may make for entertaining listening (the robust bit starts at about 38:20 into the show), the point in question is not really about disclosure in emails or who the writer works for (some PR bloggers think that’s the important thing) but about full transparency.

What that means is being wholly open in the blogosphere on what you’re doing so that there is no doubt in anyone’s mind who you are, who you represent (and so the connection you have), your role in the communication you’re embarking on and the relationships you’re trying to build.

This point is made very well indeed by Joseph Thornley in comment #10 to the notes of show #118, which came from his own post last week:

[…] I believe it’s fair game to deliver information directly to bloggers. But … and it’s a big but, true transparency requires that you should be prepared to publish for all to see anything you’re prepared to send to a selected blogger.

Blogger relations. Yes, it’s every bit as legitimate as media relations. However, the rules and conventions are not the same.

Blogs are about building a community. The point of this community is opinion and exchange. And the tactics and approaches of media relations are not strictly transferable to this community.

Emailing information directly to opinion leaders is an effective way to get it in front of them. They might not see it on your own blog. But, that brings us back to the big but: true transparency requires that you should be prepared to publish for all to see anything you’re prepared to send to a selected blogger. And to be able to do this in the blogosphere requires that you have your own blog. A place where you can post your point of view, your information, for all to see.

That’s where Wal-Mart came up short. They used their PR firm’s bloggers and the credibility those bloggers had built up to speak directly to other bloggers. But for the rest of us, people outside of their carefully targeted direct blogger pitch, we could not see what the company was up to. The fact that their activity was discovered resulted from the slipshod practices of a few bloggers who quoted verbatim from the material Edelman provided to them, without attribution.

So, true transparency was not achieved. And the resultant uproar should prove a cautionary tale for all.

The bottom line: Avoid shortcuts. If you conclude that the blogosphere is important to you, establish your own voice first. Go ahead, contact the bloggers who you think are the most influential. But let the rest of the world see that you are prepared to say in public what you private encourage an intermediary to talk about.

This is reflective of Shel’s commentary yesterday, after we recorded the show, on an organization’s right to participate in the conversation:

Organizations have every right to engage in the conversation. They are not restricted by any law, regulation, or code of ethics from using channels other than or in addition to their own blogs in order to add their viewpoints to the mix.

No disagreement there! Let the debate continue.

Neville Hobson

Social Strategist, Communicator, Writer, and Podcaster with a curiosity for tech and how people use it. Believer in an Internet for everyone. Early adopter (and leaver) and experimenter with social media. Occasional test pilot of shiny new objects. Avid tea drinker.

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