Looking for Truth Behind the Wal-Mart Blogs
Blogging is the art of making a blog. According to (Bartlett-Bragg 2009) a blog is a log of the web, it is an internet site that is dated, issued on the internet, and dispensed in a sequential organized format. The fundamental of blogging is that it allows an entity to progress a character of its trade name and website. Bloggers are known for their hard work and late nights in the hope of acquiring more readers. Large corporations from time to time, however, look for outside professional help and in this article, we are going to talk about how Wal-Mart did this in at least two of its bogs before its public relations firm was made to disclose the ploy.
In an article named “Corporate Blogging: Wal-Mart’s Fumbles” on www.cnnmoney.com, Fortune superior writer Mark Gunther (2006) revealed the company’s narrative in the established media with a posting. Before Wal-Mart came clean, the unconfirmed story had been going around on the originality of their blogs. Mark’s posting was this:
A blog praising Wal-Mart called “Wal-Marting across America”, ostensibly created by a man and a woman traveling the country in an RV and staying in Wal-Mart parking lots, turned out to be underwritten by Working Families for Wal-Mart, a company-sponsored group organized by the Edelman public relations firm. Not cool.
It was revealed that the woman and man were Jim Thresher and Laura St Claire. Jim was at the time a staff photographer in the Washington Post while Laura was a staff of the U.S. Treasury Department and a freelance writer. Wal-Mart wasn’t fortunate that its workers were found cheerful at each of their branches, as the company had orchestrated the whole blog from paying for the Rv renting charges, writing payments for the blog (Gogoi 2006) and gas. Wal-Mart was also aided by Edelman, a large PR firm in a section of its operation entitled “Working Families for Wal-Mart”.
“I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is 100 percent our responsibility and error, not the client’s”, Edelman Ceo Richard Edelman apologized (Gogoi 2006) as bloggers communicated their disapproval at the ploy.
The cnnmoney.com revealed the implication of Edelman’s website in an unknown article titled “PR Firm Admits it’s Behind PR Blogs”, this was two days after the Public relations firm’s Ceo had released the apology article. The RVing couple wasn’t the only lie. The unknown cnnmoney.com article read like this:
A public relations firm has revealed that it is behind two blogs that previously appeared to be created by independent supporters of Wal-Mart. The blogs Working Families for Wal-Mart and subsidiary site Paid critics are written by three employees of PR firm Edelman, for whom Wal-Mart is a paid client, according to the information posted on the sites Thursday. Before Thursday, the authors of the blogs were not disclosed. But Web critics had been skeptical of claims that the blogs were grass-roots efforts, and pushed for greater transparency.
Edelman public relations firm staffs were finally exposed to be the origin of the two more sites blogs that created appreciative Wal-Mart narratives and discredited its critics. The message below emerged on www.forwalmart.com in the middle of October of the year 2006:
In response to comments and emails, we’ve added author bylines to blog posts here at forwalmart.com. The site has been updated, but readers may have to refresh the page for the new information.
This meant that by clicking the byline of “Miranda” the following data would be observed by the reader: “Miranda Grill works for Edelman, One of her clients is Working Families for Wal-Mart.” A similar message was observed on the www.paidcritics.com site, whose tile is amusing. “Exposing the Paid Critics” in a post named “A CHANGE TO PAIDCRTICS.COM,” wrote by Brian and when clicked would display the message: “Brian McNeill works for Edelman, One of her clients is Working Families for Wal-Mart”
In regards to their site, the Edelman firm has 2220 staff member, in 46 states around the globe and invoiced $305 million in the financial year of 2006, it was named the largest PR firm in 2006 by PR week US. The information below is what is on the front page of Edelman firm’s website, www.edelman.com, and signed off by the chairman and Ceo. It is as follow:
We were the first firm to apply public relations to building consumer brands. We created the media tour, created litigation, and environmental PR were the first to use a toll-free consumer hotline and the first to employ the Web in crisis management. That’s just the beginning. Today we’re on a mission; to make public relations the lead discipline in the communications mix, because only public relations has the immediacy and transparency to build credibility and trust.
The Edelman Web site however did not indicate the Wal-Mart scenario in its “Latest Headlines” segment in the week after the story broke.
- Should Edelman have acknowledged the problem on their Web site before the Fortunes magazine reporter broke the story?
- Yes, they should have.
Should they have responded afterward?
- How common do you think Wal-Mart’s actions are?
- I think these actions are relatively common as some of their loyal customers are genuinely pleased and half of the time they do similar to what is found in the article.
Is it possible that “grassroots” fan sites are actually paid for by celebrities or their publicists, for instance?
- Yes very possible.
- If Wal-Mart is right that its critics are “paid,” does that justify paying a public relations firm to say good things about Wal-Mart?
- No, it isn’t.
- In the “marketplace of ideas” is there any place for this type of “stealth” public relations?
- No, there isn’t. It is unethical.
- How does this differ from “viral marketing” where companies try to generate “buzz” about products to bypass traditional advertising media to reach the public with a message, often paying agents in the process?
- It differs as stealth marketers often do not reveal their identities or the fact that are being paid or by the entities to advertise their goods to look like authentic reviews while viral marketing is very open.
- How does this differ from “product placement” in television or movies, where the audience is not informed if a product manufacturer paid to be on the screen?
- They do not differ as product placement in television or movies as a form of stealth marketing.
- Upon hearing of Thresher’s involvement, the post’s executive editor demanded that he pay back any money he received for the trip and remove his photographs from the blog (Gogoi 2006). Should there be any other penalties for his actions?
- Unpaid leave maybe.
Does it make a difference if he is on his own time during the trip?
- No, it was still unethical.
Does it make any difference if every posting represents his true opinion?
- No, because he accepted payment.
- Critics called for greater transparency in the blogs. Edelman claims to use “transparency to build credibility and trust.” What does transparency mean in public relations?
- It is the frankness of a product and their capacity to give assured firm information besides taking on sentiments associated with things such as ecological and collective issues
Is it different from transparency in journalism?
- No, there is no tangible difference.
Was Edelman transparent in its dealings on these two websites?
- Not quite as they only came out after being exposed.
- Barbara Ehrenreich in her book Nickel and Dimed writes a very different story about the plight of Wal-Mart workers. To get the story, she took a job in Wal-Mart and attempted to live on the income they paid. Her bestselling book was highly critical of the way Wal-Mart treats its employees. Is her work, for which she received royalties, any different than the paid Wal-Mart bloggers?
If so, in what way?
- It is different because Wal-Mart did not employ her for the sole purpose to promote their brand.
Is Ehrenreich a journalist?
Is it the role of journalism to put pressure on corporations such as Wal-Mart?
- It is one of their duties.
Bartlett-Bragg, A. (2003). Blogging to learn. The Knowledge Tree, 4, 1-12.