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October 22, 2006

Reflections: Edelman, WalMart & Flogs

By Li Evans

Edelmanengagingtheconversation The last two weeks haven't been the greatest for the Edelman PR Firm.  The revelation of their client's blogs (WalMart) being "fake", a term now coined as "Flogs" or "Flogging", and recent revelation of direct Edelman employees writing in the blogs have made it to the front page of at least one major news outlet.  There has even been a call for Richard Edelman and Steve Rubel to resign.

Personally, although there are some good points brought up on Strumpette, I'm not ready to put Richard Edelman's nor Steve Rubel's head on a pike and dance around in celebration.  I keep reading all these comments, and I just am amazed at the venom and what seems like the seething hatred.  I don't know whether it comes from hatred of the "big box store" (WalMart), or hatred of the fact that a "big company" has been caught in hypocrisy, where if it were a little guy, they'd be smooshed like bug under the heels of WOMMA.

People make mistakes, and you know what makes up companies - people.  Whether you take ownership of your mistakes and take steps to open the lines of communication, determines whether or not you learn from the mistake or your get buried by it.  Edelman is learning, even Steve Rubel is learning.

The truth is, this industry we all find ourselves in, Social Media Marketing, is so new - we are ALL learning.  We all make mis-steps, but opening ourselves up for engagement, although scary as hell for any company, it's vitally needed.  Edelman, nor Steve Rubel haven't closed up and hid away, in fact they've openly invited conversation and debate.  No one's taken comments off their blogs, no one's deleted and renamed email accounts.  They've even reached out - and yes they made calls to "big name bloggers" like Scoble, but I'm tired of hearing professionals in this industry make that be "Bad" thing. 

Instead of whining about them not reaching out to "small bloggers" - why not email them or make the comment?  Engage them in an intelligent conversation and debate, they are willing to listen.  I know this personally, because I took that step and found myself pleasantly surprised.

Sometimes as quick as the blogosphere is to judge a company's action - because of this "drive through society" we live in, we forget that companies, on a whole cannot react in the same instantaneous fashion.  Even more so, with this industry since the rules of engagement are still being defined.  Edelman was slow to respond, and wrong not to disclose the facts upfront, but they admitted their mistakes, acknowledged their wrongs, apologized, and now are engaging the conversation.  If you have issues and points to make email Edelman or Steve Rubel, I know they are listening.

I wrote in my prior post that I felt wrong that Edelman's apology was enough, that was my quick reactionary "drive through society" mind in action.  I've been thinking about that a lot this weekend.  Their apology and subsequent willingness to open dialog is more than enough for me, take that for what its worth - but in this "small blogger's" opinion, social media professionals should intelligently engage in this conversation or move on.

Related: Edelman Takes Ownership of Walmart Blogging Mess, More Walmart Flogs Written By Edelman Employees


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"People make mistakes?"! Apparently, Edelman's PR-ing this thing has had its intended effect. That's too bad.

Here, this is what should happen. Edelman needs to:

- suspend ALL blog related activity until you can ensure that best practices have been fully and publicly vetted;

- hire an independent investigator and/or audit firm to vet this event in total and publicly;

- fire those responsible no matter how high up that goes.

As I told Richard Edelman, excuse me but these things are NOT going to happen. If they were for real, they would. They’re NOT!

Listen, the key to PR is 3rd party endorsement. In the blogosphere, there is no 3rd party! As such, “influence” and “strategy” will always be surreptitious. Forgive them lightly and you are complicit, and a party to the next incident.


- Amanda Chapel

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