Marketers who intend to pitch blogging to their clients as a more authentic and trustworthy means of communication had better work fast before that perception evaporates. Via Slashdot, this New York Times article describes how retail mammoth Wal-Mart and PR firm Edelman persuade friendly bloggers to – I’m sorry, I can’t find a neutral way to say this just now – persuade friendly bloggers to uncritically regurgitate Wal-Mart’s corporate rah-rah on their blogs without revealing that they’re being spoon-fed this information by the company itself.
One blogger defends this practice by pointing out that many journalists don’t reveal their sources for story ideas either. This breaks my heart, because it implies that the proper response to mainstream journalists giving us press releases instead of news is not to pressure them to disclose that they’re doing so, but to imitate them ourselves.
Wal-Mart and Edelman discourage their bloggers from simply cutting and pasting the contents of the e-mails they’re sent, because the duplication of text across multiple blogs would give the game away. I think that they should also require the bloggers who sign up to drink Wal-Mart’s Kool-Aid to state in their posts that Wal-Mart gave them the information that they’re reporting.
Having said that, it’s only fair that I offer my own full disclosure: I don’t like Wal-Mart much, nor do I like shopping in its stores; and I was strongly in favor of the recent legislation that would have required it to provide health care to a greater percentage of its employees in Washington.