The definition of phony has shifted. And that brings a warning for every business that publishes content online, especially blogs.
A print newsletter for philatelists was published by New Zealand Post a few years ago. Purportedly written by 'Uncle Fred' (I think), it discussed his life and travels as well as stamps. Nicely designed, it was unmistakeably a corporate document. Yet some people believed Uncle Fred was a real person, even replying to his letters. More fools they: that was the attitude then.
Online, readers may still get sucked in, but when they find out, their reactions are different. They aren't embarrassed. They are enraged. Readers get heavily involved with blogs. Their comments become part of the content. The story is not just what the company decides to dish out: the story is the way people react, what readers write. The readers are the story.
Two journalists travelled across the USA, overnighting in Wal-Mart parking lots, and reporting on their road trip in a blog, Wal-Marting across America. Good story. Trouble is, they concealed their identities and the fact that they were paid (doh!) by Wal-Mart. By the time BusinessWeek unmasked them, the public was engaged in the adventure.
How Wal-Mart went wrong: that's the story now! It has been summarised and analysed by scores of journalists and still it continues.
Edelman screws up with duplicitous Wal-Mart blog, but it's OK? Dave Taylor asks, for example.
Damage control by Laura St. Claire is far from convincing. Some might call it nauseating.
Oh by the way, I really, really am Rachel McAlpine.