Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Truth versus Blogosphere Truth

The Internets can always be amusing, or interesting or just plain frustrating. It really just depends on what side of the fence you are, on any given subjects.

Today, I was reading some of my Twitter stream when a few came across about Ford Motor Company and Cafe Press, and a calendar. Okay, not exactly ground breaking, blogworthy news, but some people already jumped on a bandwagon so I had to check it out. Full disclosure: I was born in Detroit, and we had a Mustang, and I've bought stuff on Cafe Press.

This reminded me of a conversation I had a few weeks back with a well-respected reporter: there's truth, and then there's blogosphere truth. And, rarely do they meet. (Hey, look at my great graph illustrating it).

What do I mean? What happens usually in the blogosphere is that something is glommed onto as truth, and that might not be the full truth or even the half truth. But, with the blogosphere, things can spiral out of control quickly, and then the blogosphere truth will be so far away from the truth that it's laughable ... but it's not because the blogosphere truth will be held up as authoritative because of how Google works.

Here are four simple examples: Kryptonite Locks, FedEx Furniture, Staples and Ford. Each of these have been wrong information that has continued to spread out there, and for some reason, PR people like to bring some of these up as examples of why social media is so important.
  • I'm going to start with Kryptonite, and a full mea culpa. I jumped on the bandwagon as well, and I was wrong. The back story is that you could break open the old Kryptonite lock with a Bic pen, yada yada (good information when you wanted to get free candy, btw). The blogosphere truth was that Kryptonite ignored the blogosphere, and did its crisis communications wrong. The truth is that Kryptonite did do the right type of outreach for a crisis - they followed the rules of the game - but the game had changed. It went from billiards to soccer, or some random sports analogy. Kryptonite was reaching out to its core audience of bike message boards, and getting the message out there to the core audience.

    But, well, that doesn't make for a good case study for PR people to push forward their own agendas on getting clients to bring out the wallet for more social media ... and the fact that PR people are still using this as a case study means it's time to move on and find a more relevant and truthful example.

  • FedEx Furniture was a great little example of how one kid can take a bunch of boxes for free (yah, sending out that many FedExes while he couldn't afford furniture is SOOOOO true) but no one wanted to dig. As PR people - come on, we're PR people before PR bloggers, it was not hard to call up FedEx and ask them questions (like, I admit, I shoulda done with Kryptonite). Hey, wait, there WAS a blogger that called FedEx and got their side of the story ... me. The truth was that there was more of a story here than the blogosphere wanted to know, or tell. But, not to place the blame just on the blogosphere ... mainstream media ate up the story as well, with no real digging or due diligence.

  • Boing Boing rushes out a post that claims that Staples charges for virus scanning. A PR blogger jumps on the story, and then realizes that he is just one of the fools that wrote up the story ... without getting the full story. But, hey, he gets to commend Staples for being on top of the blogosphere ... but doesn't see that blogging on blog truth instead of the real truth is just the bigger part of the problem.

  • So, today's Ford story. In the world of blogs, it is not okay to protect your brand, I guess. Or content (just ask Lane Hartwell). You can read the rehash of the story on the above link, but it's only a one-sided story, until the company itself comments on the post (which does say they are monitoring the conversation). But, as a PR blogger, once again, don't we have a higher sense of truthiness (or, heck, professional courtesy) to verify information before we hit publish? Call up the PR person? Send an email? I dunno - worked for me with FedEx.
The problem with PR blogging and blogging is that often, there is very little grey in the world. Bloggers rush out to push publish without getting the whole story, and that just brings half the truth (or blog truth) to the forefront. As PR professionals, none of us would want this done to our clients, but we rush to judgment for that bump in traffic, to be first. And, well, first is not always best.

Rushing to publish just makes a blogger part of the lemmings that fall for the bait of other bloggers. And to perpetrate the blogosphere truth, rather than the truth.

The irony, of course, is that we all counsel clients, and one of the things I would note when there was a fire drill is that the blogosphere tends to be self-correcting. And, often, it is, and that's a great thing.

But in some cases, the blogosphere truth becomes the gospel, and no amount of praying to anyone is going to help change that.

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