Fury at phonies online

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.

1 comment

Nov 12, 2006 • Posted by Chris Mitchell

Great to see you in the blogosphere Rachel. The whole issue of ethics on blogs and business websites is a huge challenge.

I write my own content on my blog www.dancetours.blog.com while using an expert to write the content for my website www.dancetours.co.nz One of my recent challenges was what to do when I received a dance related newsletter in which the recipient addresses had not been put into bcc as they usually are. Here was a gift from heaven (or would it be one from hell?) What a great opportunity to immediately increase the www.dancetours.co.nz mailing list by a very signficant number. Or not? I have to admit I was very, very tempted to do so. I had to sleep on it more than one night.

I was sure that most dance enthusiasts would welcome the information and if anyone didn’t they could just ask to be deleted. Done!

However, in the end I decided to risk the business rather than risk my integrity. Even if ONE person objected they would have the opportunity to challenge my integrity in the way that the integrity of the Walmart bloggers has been. Walmart will cope. I wouldn’t. I still have the list of names but it lies dormant. I would be interested in the comments of other readers of your blog as to whether I have made the right decision or if I have been too cautious.

Chris Mitchell

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