Tuesday, March 14, 2006

Big business blogs will discredit social software

The NYT has an article today about big business PR companies employing bloggers to promote their brands. From the article:

It was the kind of pro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, in fact, it did.

Several sentences in Mr. Pickrell's Jan. 20 posting — and others from different days — are identical to those written by an employee at one of Wal-Mart's public relations firms and distributed by e-mail to bloggers.

Hmmmmmm. This is dislike vehemently. It undermines the transparency which I personally believe is the bloggers credo. Publishing things fed by PR companies word-for-word and not disclosing the sources is an attempt to promote themselves as fonts of new and exclusive information rather than acting as a critical resource which challenges the decisions of such efforts.

I recently told a friend (employed by a multinational communications corporation) who is enthused about this new "social software" and keen to not be left behind in the apparent wave of uptake, that the decision of a company to use such media is one which should not be taken lightly. If these software devices are co-opted by PR and marketing folks, it will undermine the credibility of the whole phenomenon. It will turn it into a propagnada machine commoditized for the purposes of pushing products ONLY, rather than encouraging better business practices and interaction between consumer and creator.

Robin Hamman "is not offended" by this approach because he feels that it could be used to benefit grassroots and charitable organisations:
I don't find myself particularly offended by this approach, a technique I've long thought charities and grassroots political campaigners should do more of. The idea is to build relationships with friendly bloggers and feed them exclusive content, letting them use that content to build support for your cause, if not for your organisation, from the ground up. I'm thinking, for example, Amnesty making photos of an inhumane prison available to bloggers, or Greenpeace giving a blogger the opportunity to do a podcast from a anti-whaling operation.
The purpose of PRs is to get information out through the correct channels. The purpose of the critical journalist is to deconstruct this information and place it in context. If there is no disclosure about the source or if agendas are not presented up-front and are discovered later, the journalist is not doing his or her job and the action undermines the trust consumers have in the technology.

Technologists will go elsewhere and will seek out other sources which they deem appropriate to their ontology. The non-critical general public won't know the difference and may be turned off the technology all together.

Furthermore, as Sara at GU said the other evening over dinner, big businesses must be aware of what blogs and other social software technologies are there to do: to encourage interaction. How would big corporates feel about having negative news and opinions gracaing their own webpages/corporate blogs?

Tread carefully lest you step on poo.

4 Comments:

Anonymous David Brake said...

Count me as a pessimist. I think (and wrote here) 'astroturf' grassroots blogs will inevitably become a part of the blogosphere and will, I hope, induce much-needed skepticism in the public about claims that the blogosphere is intrinsically unbiased.

Tue Mar 14, 06:19:00 PM  
Blogger Aleks said...

I agree David, the blogosphere is a phenomenally biased environment, but to date I feel (perhaps naively)that it is relatively unscathed by the presence of PR bloggers who don't disclose their full intentions.

At the "Advertising meets Interactive Design" event I went to a couple of weeks ago, I found the advertisers were excited about concocting ways to "get in" on social software for their own purposes, but few saw how to do it. Unfortunately I also believe it's a matter of time, and I think that will undermine the nature of social software.

Sure, people with something to hock need to sell their products and should explore the media communications offerings which fall at their feet, but I was pleased that most of their approaches to "interactivity" involved misled campaigns which simply interrupted people from being interactive with static commercials. When I asked how they were thinking of integrating with MySpace etc, there were no clear answers. I didn't want to push it.

Just like some read The Guardian and some read the Daily Mail, people choose the blog-o-media which is most in line with their personal proclivities. However, while I frequently skip over slanted stories in some of my favourite blogs because I feel they're too flag-waving for my personal taste, I would rather skip over something that came from the heart of a blogger than from the machinimations of a corporation.

Wed Mar 15, 12:08:00 AM  
Blogger Aleks said...

I did mean "machinations".

Wed Mar 15, 12:27:00 AM  
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