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Friday, Jul. 13, 2007 at 6:53 am

Blogging: Who Makes Up the Rules?

By Jeffrey Eisenberg
July 13th, 2007

bridgeout.jpgOur friend Debbie Weil, author of The Corporate Blogging Book, writes that she wants to “…crawl under a rock and pretend I’ve never heard of blogging.” Why is she so distressed?

Debbie didn’t do anything wrong. She was trying to help out GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), her client, by emailing some colleagues and encouraging them to comment on their alliConnect blog. I personally think Glaxo’s moderated blog about an over-the-counter diet drug doesn’t deserve any attention. It would be a dreadful challenge to use these good ideas on how to promote the blog using word-of-mouth alone.

Who makes up these blogging rules?

Earlier this week, we heard from the ready-to-make-rules about anything he personally dislikes “Uncle” Jakob Nielsen, and now we hear whining from all those former hall monitors about how Debbie Weil helps her clients.

Let’s encourage transparency across the board — but, please, let’s not make up a bunch of stupid rules. Let’s allow people to decide with their RSS (define) readers and browsers if they’re interested in what a blog has to say.

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Comments (16)

  1. I could care less what PR shills do for their clients. I do care when they try and treat the rest of us like we’re idiots and can’t see through the ruse. That’s not a rule statement BTW.

  2. Dennis,

    I agree. We can see through shils anyway, so it backfires on them. Still, asking people to comment is not a ruse. What Debbie did was promote a new blog and encourage people to read and comment on it.

  3. I just read “Uncle” Jakob’s book Designing Web Usability where on page 256 he brings up user contributed content. The book was published last millennium in 1999 and gives a good vantage point on the origins of his disdain of an interactive web. He warns about how discussions “tend to degenerate into confusing free-for-alls.” He also mentions the high cost of maintaining user generated content… He does toss it a bone in saying that it can be “valuable in improving design and direction of a site, I warn against trying to start a dialogue with your users unless you can devote substantial resources to doing so.”

    While this is in reference to discussion boards which are not exactly today’s blog, it is clear that he is digging a trench and holding onto a position against this interactive element of the web. I think he may have to keep redigging his trench, or just surrender to the sweeping power of today’s interactive internet.

    I personally value his insight and would appreciate more objectivity in his analysis.

  4. One of the rules I have set for myself is to not do anything that others will perceive as wrong, whether it is or not. I learned this rule after the Edelman/Vista/Acer Ferrari flap. Edelman and Microsoft made a few minor mistakes, but nothing egregious. The result, though, was more focus on the laptop giveaway than on Vista. It was a valuable lesson. I can’t possibly anticipate everything the community might attack, but I can at least think through my plans and ask, “Are people going to have a problem with this?” If the answer is “yes,” and that problem will overshadow the result I’m trying to achieve, I won’t do it, regardless of whether there’s anything wrong with my plan or not.

    Also, I frankly do have a problem with Debbie’s suggestion that anybody posting to the blog not mention they know her. Hardly a shining example of transparency on a medium that is built on candor and openness.

  5. Shel,

    You make a valid point when you offer the “Are people going to have a problem with this?” rule (although I prefer it as a guideline). I know Debbie and her ethics are strong so I’m not questioning her motivation. I imagine that with hindsight Debbie might have handled this all differently.

  6. Jeffrey – you assert Debbie’s ‘ethics are strong.’ Come on – you can’t seriously expect those of us who DON’T know her to buy that.

    Who is their right mind is going to take on a gig where the company itself acknowledges that alli doesn’t pass the ‘brown trousers’ test? And through a blog? Yes – I can well see why it’s moderated.

    I’m all for making money, but when good sense goes out the window then you’ve got to ask what kind of ethics we’re talking about here? Those of the ‘I didn’t inhale’ type perhaps?

    Bottom line – this engagement is riddled with issues and how Ms. Weil missed any one of the DON’T DO IT signs is a mystery to me. But then I’m not a PR guy so I would think differently.

  7. Dennis,

    I’m not a PR guy either. As I said before, hindsight would have probably changed Debbie’s actions; although I haven’t asked her. This diet pill is not a product I would have wanted to help market since it doesn’t withstand transparency well. However, I do know Debbie and therefore I happily give her the benefit of the doubt. You are welcome to disagree and based on what you could know of her I wouldn’t think less of you. I do like your blog. Holy crap! Did I just say that? ;-)

  8. I am a PR guy, Jeffrey, which is why I object to Weil’s tactic. “Astroturfing” — which is what Weil was fishing for — is a PR tactic many of us feel is unethical.

    And, no, it is not about making “rules for bloggers”. Astroturfing was made a fine art by the Nixon White House, long before email and websites.

  9. Allan,

    I’m not familiar with the term. What is astroturfing?

  10. Wikipedia definition of astroturfing: “Astroturfing is a term for formal public relations campaigns in politics and advertising that seek to create the impression of being spontaneous, grassroots behavior. Hence the reference to AstroTurf (artificial grass) is a metaphor to indicate fake grassroots support.”

    I create blogs for corporations too, and I tell them, right up front that if every post and comment has to be vetted by legal or PR, don’t blog.

    In fact, I told that to Glaxo Smith Kline when I was paid to do a “brain dump” to bring them up to speed on blogging.

    The first slide in my presentation says “Message control is, and always has been, an illusion.”

    They didn’t hire me.

  11. The Icky Side Effects of MyAlli’s Blog…

    Blogger Debbie Weil, author of The Corporate Blogging Book, has gotten herself in a bit of a mess. She was hired by Glaxo Smith Kline to create and edit a blog about the company’s over-the-counter weight loss product, My Alli (pronounced My Al-eye). I…

  12. Jeffrey,
    Being one of the recipients of Debbie’s email, I agree with you about her sense of ethics. I also agree with Shel that in hindsight she would have handled things differently in a more transparent manner. Corporate blogging requires acceptance of total transparency and authenticity

  13. I’m late to the table on this but this is an ongoing issue, so here goes… I was one of the folks Debbie wrote to. I saw nothing wrong with her note. I was happy to hop over to the blog and comment. Unfortunately, the blog was not really worthy. I commented because it was Debbie. AND, I decided maybe I’d give it the benefit of the doubt… it was new, and Debbie was working with them so… it could work out in the end. I asked for an interview and… well, I never did interview anyone. They wanted to control the questions. That’s not how I do it. Sorry.

    I hope Debbie has recovered. As someone who writes a blog that is sponsored by a big company, I feel for her. Luckily, I made it clear that I would not be policed. We (the company and I) agreed on guidelines, which are posted right on the blog, and I am free to write as I please. So far… it’s AOK.

  14. Yvonne, It’s never “too” late. Welcome to this conversation. You did the right thing on the interview.

    Your sponsor should be admired for their commitment to openness.

  15. #

    it is not about making “rules for bloggers”. Astroturfing was made a fine art by the Nixon White House, long before email and websites.

  16. Also, I frankly do have a problem with Debbie’s suggestion that anybody posting to the blog not mention they know her. Hardly a shining example of transparency on a medium that is built on candor and openness.

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Jeffrey Eisenberg, founder of FutureNow, is a professional marketing speaker and the co-author of New York Times and Wall Street Journal bestselling books Call to Action and Waiting For Your Cat to Bark. You can friend him on Facebook.

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