Wal-Mart: working the blogs

Retail giant Wal-Mart, home of the “everyday low prices,” is enlisting the help of bloggers to shore up its public image. Somehow, I don’t think this approach is going to help much. But it also points to the growing influence of bloggers as new avenues for entities to bypass the mainstream media. The problem for Wal-Mart, though, is that it is taking the wrong approach. Instead of working with bloggers to promote a product or service, Wal-Mart is worried only about putting a positive spin on its image, and that approach is certain to backfire in the blogosphere. As the New York Times reports:

What is different about Wal-Mart’s approach to blogging is that rather than promoting a product — something it does quite well, given its $300 billion in annual sales — it is trying to improve its battered image. Wal-Mart, long criticized for low wages and its health benefits, began working with bloggers in late 2005 “as part of our overall effort to tell our story,” said Mona Williams, a company spokeswoman. “As more and more Americans go to the Internet to get information from varied, credible, trusted sources, Wal-Mart is committed to participating in that online conversation,” she said.

Yeesh. It’s quotes like those that give us spokespeople a bad name. I don’t see a problem with PR folks working with bloggers. But I do have a problem with this approach:

In the messages, Wal-Mart promotes positive news about itself, like the high number of job applications it received at a new store in Illinois, and criticizes opponents, noting for example that a rival, Target, raised “zero” money for the Salvation Army in 2005, because it banned red-kettle collectors from stores.

Here’s one example of an exchange between the Wal-Mart PR guy, Marshall Manson, and Rob Port. (Via Wake-Up Wal-Mart Blog).

We can’t lay all the blame on Wal-Mart, or on Manson, because some of the bloggers who were regurgitating the retailer’s info didn’t cite their sources, thereby violating one of the unwritten codes of bloggery: the hat-tip, or giving credit where credit is due. (BTW, thanks to Lance for pointing me to the NYTimes article.)

As infOpinions? points out, “These are enthusiastic bloggers. They want to be evangelists for Wal-Mart.” What’s most “unfortunate,” from infOpinions’ perspective, is that Manson didn’t encourage bloggers “to reveal that they communicate with Wal-Mart or to attribute information to either the retailer” or its reps.

A couple of days ago, I posted my thoughts/review of the new book on blogging, Naked Conversations. I pointed out that the authors, Scoble and Israel, “give marketing and PR folks a rough way to go” but added that “I can’t fault them for that. For the most part, this criticism is deserved. Many marketing and PR pros are behind the curve when it comes to blogging.” Some of us are worse than behind the curve, it seems.

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Author: andrewcareaga

Higher ed PR and marketing guy. Communications director for Missouri University of Science and Technology (Missouri S&T) in Rolla, Missouri, USA. Slow runner, mediocre guitarist, lover of music and puns, and an avid St. Louis Cardinals fan. I blog and Tweet about #highered, #music, #gocards and #random stuff.

One thought on “Wal-Mart: working the blogs”

  1. Hey Andrew,

    I agree about the unfortunate use of negative comparisons with competitors. I wrote against Target’s pulling of the kettles, but for Wal-Mart to say Target didn’t raise any money for the Salvation Army is totally wrong. They actually contributed hundreds of thousands to the Salvation Army (maybe more) – and millions, in total – to all charities. Target simply banned the kettles.

    This is a little tiff for Edelman Worldwide. I was a little surprised to see Richard Edelman post about it and bring in a comparison to of FON/Sparks to balance his argument. I was hoping for a “we’ll do our best to encourage bloggers to cite sources” – and leave it at that – because that is really all they can do.

    The statement by Manson that he seemed more worried about being caught in an embarrassing astroturf effort – more than making the effort toward transparency – was troubling. But, even in that – we don’t know the whole story and the juxtaposition of the quotes made it hard for me to get a clear fix on what was going on. I can speculate, but I don’t have the inside scoop – like all that read the story.

    Just like releases to traditional media, once they have it – you don’t know what they will do with it. And, with bloggers you have even less assurance that any kind of “rules” of best practice will be followed – if any.

    Good post. Thanks.

    Robert

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