Having started my blog in January of 2005, I'm a relative newcomer to the blogosphere. When I first learned of this medium I was both suspicious and disdainful, thinking that it was for geeks, gamers and Trekkies.
But I quickly learned otherwise. The blogosphere is a community of individuals speaking from the heart, expressing their true voices--some not so interesting, some insane, some revelatory, some ignorant, some bigoted, some sexy, some funny, some wise but all individual. The blogosphere is democracy and freedom of speech in its purest and most robust form. In fact, technology has given "the people" the tool and the power to circumvent the corruption and dishonesty of journalism, politics and industry and bring raw truth back into the mix. It's the old town hall meeting reborn.
As our favorite ex-con would say, "It's a good thing."
The blogosphere empowers free speech as never before in world history. Virtual town meetings thrive. And media, corporations, politicians and "experts" are being held accountable as never before.
"First reported in the blogosphere" is becoming a common refrain in the news and even in Congress.
Corporate America killed investigative reporting and seriously dampened true journalism. Happily, the blogosphere has stepped in to replace it. Of course, the blogosphere is also full of crap and misinformation and journalists and readers have to sort through it and find the precious jewels--of which there are many.
I call them clogs.
Blogs, for those of us who've forgotten, is a personal journal, a web log, a blog.
What industry seems incapable of seeing is that once blog content is guided by a checkbook rather than an individual human heart, it is no longer a blog, it's a commercial journal, a commercial web log, a clog.
We've all heard of corporate employees who lost their jobs for running blogs; now corporate employees are paid to run blogs that tow a company line and represent the "voice" of teams of marketing and sales experts.
Today's Paidcontent.org exposes one of these counterfeits and reminds us that the blogosphere has many wolves in blog clothing.
"Edelman's Wal-Mart Blog Fails Transparency Test
Even in the new world of alleged disintermediation, public relations firms still want to play the gatekeeper role. Edelman PR has been one of the companies working hard to stay relevant despite the new reality in which its clients have less control over what is said publicly about it. But last week, it became clear that Edelman had pulled a classic online mistake, producing a travelogue blog for Wal-Mart without revealing who was paying for it. (The old site has been taken down except for a defensive front page. Those who want the history can thank Google Cache.) After the usual blogger outrage, Richard Edelman has now apologized on his blog. He says he accepts responsibility (”I want to acknowledge our error in failing to be transparent about the identity of the two bloggers from the outset. This is 100% our responsibility and our error; not the client’s.”), but he doesn’t explain how it happened. As with so many word-of-mouth campaigns, the people behind this pro-Wal-Mart campaign wanted to reap the benefits of an apparently unbought voice without being honest about who was buying it. The Technorati deal Jemima reported on showcases how savvy Edelman can be about managing blogs. Without evidence to the contrary, the inescapable conclusion is that the attempt to deceive was intentional. Could it be any more transparent?"
Thanks to this post I linked through to the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA) and spent a good hour shaking my head. Only in America.
WOMMA is a professional association of advertising and public relations agency professionals and major corporate representatives dedicated to turning the blogosphere from a community of individuals sharing their honest and uncensored opinions and viewpoints on everything from politics to fashion to consumer products into a for-profit global infomercial.
They done it to the press, movies, TV and even Broadway, so why not the blogs?
The well crafted WOMMA message: "WOMMA is leading the efforts to improve word of mouth marketing as an effective technique and as a core part of the marketing mix. WOMMA is making word of mouth marketing measurable and trackable to increase its usefulness and adoption by marketers."
WOMMA even posts a code of ethics, written by industry, for industry and policed by industry--and as the Edelman post highlights, policed not so well.
Word of mouth information is personal endorsement spread by independent individuals we trust as opposed to paid spokespersons. Buzz originates with individuals who speak from the heart. And most importantly, the true power and influence of word of mouth and buzz is that they are "earned" not sponsored.
It's sad to realize that the blogging community is under assault, not by government censorship and regulation but rather by corporate America. Advertising and public relations agencies and viral marketing agencies are all over the blogosphere.
Bloggers and blog readers are a savvy bunch and easily recognize fraud on the Internet. Professional marketers are brilliant at perpetrating fraud. It should prove to be an interesting competition in the months and years to come.
Tragically, what professionals and WOMMA seem to be ignoring is that the power of word of mouth and buzz is honesty. And while WOMMA promotes "honesty" throughout its website, one can't escape the fact that commercially sponsored blogs are commercially-funded websites with product marketing goals. They can't, by their very nature, be completely honest. I'm not suggesting that they are all dishonest, but they all most certainly will have a one-sided sales-oriented point of view that does not come from a single human heart but rather from a collective for profit interest.
As more and more consumers realize that commercial interests have infiltrated the blogosphere, word of mouth and buzz will become as questionable and as dull as advertising, product endorsements and infomercials.
At the end of the day, I want corporations playing in the blogosphere, delivering credible information to independent bloggers who have the freedom to judge and endorse or criticize. When the media shapes editorial to satisfy the needs of advertisers and sponsors, they betray the principles of journalism and their audience. The same basic principle should apply to the blogosphere.
This nation is being crushed by dishonesty, deception, fraud and obfuscation.
God save the blogosphere.