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 â€” something it does quite well, given its $300 billion in annual sales â€” 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 canâ€™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.