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.

  1. So what you're saying is it is good those blue rinse hair ladies under the drier don't have EVDO wifi under there and don't blog?? :D

    Ahh truth, the urban legend of the Internet.

  2. Perhaps it’s time to refresh definitions and job descriptions and assign appropriate veracity quotients.

    PR Professional
    Marketing Professional

    Or perhaps we need to accept that there are hacks in every facet of the game.

    I seem to have a foggy memory of sitting in front of my grandfather’s black and white TV listening to my dad rant that we couldn’t believe anything on TV until we read it in the newspapers. But he also thought the Russians controlled the weather until the early eighties.

  3. Don, your father was crazy. The Russians controlled the weather well into the 90s, but lost it because of global warming.

    And Jeremy, brilliant post. Reminds me of the mantra of broadcast news: Never let the truth get in the way of a good story.

  4. Hi Jeremy. Adam Osborne (remember him?) got it right in the mainstream media. He recognised that there were leaders and laggers in journalism so as long as he hit the leaders, they would become the 'truth', from which all other stories cascaded.

    These leaders were there because, generally, they were good at what they did and could be relied on. And they had their integrity to protect.

    Good journalists generally have nothing to do with advertising or even care about the business side of publishing (until they find themselves not being paid). They get out there and do what they need to do to serve their readers.

    In blogging, the leaders might have different motives. Perhaps those who kick off some of the misinformation stories are more directly motivated by advertising, high reader volumes, or both.

  5. Jeremy,

    I'm not convinced this isn't the way "mainstream" media works as well. Hey, I'm a reader.

    That doesn't make it right, of course. Blogs have the advantage of more immediate posting of corrections, alternate opinions, etc. Oh yes, and trolls.

    One point that is raised for me-- if we are judging these from a PR perspective, then the non-response of Ford, or the lack of a quick one-- and the perception that leaves-- is relevant to PR. On the other hand, should PR bloggers be fanning those perceptions or merely observing them? Blurry lines, as we are bloggers too.

    As PR blogger, we have to be careful, too, that our opinion-making doesn't come to bite us when our clients come under the gun. when the "Wal-Marting Across America" fake blog scnadal happened, where did communications people go? Micropersuaion, because we knew Steve Rubel worked for Wal-Mart's agency, even if he was not on the ccount (I actually don;t even know if he was on the account or not), as well as Richard Edelman's blog. The many days of silence (was it 7? I could be exaggerating due to faulty memory-- making your point, right?) made a lot of us howl, even if Steve was not responsible. I guess an example like that should remind us to throw stones in a more careful manner.

  6. I've only been saying this stuff for two years now.

    Nice to see that the realities of the Web are coming to light and being taken seriously.

    - Amanda

  7. Jeremy, not sure if I've ever said this about you before, at least publicly, but...this was brilliant :-)

  8. Thanks for this Post. You raise some great points.

    We can't slam bloggers too hard, but I can see how we hit publish a little too quick some times.

    Thanks again

    Collin Douma
    Social Media Group

  9. Jeremy; I can appreciate this a lot more after my interview with Pat Philbin (of the Fake FEMA press conference fame) last week. There is so much more to "truth" than the one-dimensional view that bloggers give to most subjects. The truth has quite a few more shades of gray.

    Does that make blogging and bloggers bad? I don't think so. But it does mean that before jumping on a bandwagon, one should apply a bit of critical thinking.

    Oh, and make a few phone calls too, it is amazing who will talk with you when you just ask.

  10. Great post as usual, J-Pepp. What the issue boils down to for me, and I think for you, is that PR folk need to practice themselves what they expect from journalists: Fairness.

    No (real) journalist would rush to print without fact checking. Why should we be different? Because the publish button works faster than the off-set press? We're better than that. Thanks for reminding us.

  11. You would think that some PR practitioners would be thankful that there's a news medium out there that report any and everything quickly and without facts, giving their voice more credence when they do come out with their official statement.

    Nothing works better in PR than discrediting reported information

  12. Right on Jeremy. I agree with you 100%.

    I've once screwed up too and was corrected by a top communications person from Amazon. And that was after getting my info on TechCrunch.

    The viral capabilities of the internet couple with the sometimes very strong opinions of bloggers is going to create a lot of problems.

    And it partially justifies The Cult of the Amateur.

    Wondering why Collin Douma is feels the need to protect bloggers by saying we can't slam them too hard and then minimizing the problem.

  13. @mark forman - well, the blue hairs would be more competition to Perez Hilton than me, but yes, truth does seem to be just part of an urban legend online.

    @don lafferty - yes, there will always be hacks (not the good kind) in every profession. But, that doesn't mean we need to roll over and acquiesce. We should fight and scream and rattle the cages.

    @ike - yes, never let a good meme get in the way of the truth. Ain't that the truth.

    @davidtebbutt - sorry, don't remember Adam Osborne, but did the Google search. :) But, you are right about bloggers having MUCH different motives. It goes to my great unwritten post, to be titled "transparency is bullshit."

    @doug haslam - yes, the MSM might work this way (and if it bleeds, it leads) but I think it's worse in social media because it's more search related, and more dangerous.

    Yes, Fortune 1000 companies are still learning social media, but as PR bloggers, we should be held up to a higher degree of truthiness. We can observe, but we don't have to sensationalize nor profit. Just my .02, though.

    It's okay to throw stones at Steve, though. Seriously.

    @amanda chapel - as have I, though. And, I will admit when I have been wrong (as I did in this post)

    @gary.goldhammer - LOL, thanks. Us peeps gotta stick together.

    @collin - I can slam PR bloggers as hard a great Gordie Howe boarding. Because PR bloggers need to be above the board.

    @kami huyse - I don't say social media or blogging is bad, it's just the shoot first mentality is bad, and it's going to get worse, methinks.

    @jason falls - yep, glass houses and all that fun stuff.

    @pr blog guy - I cannot agree with you on the record, but off the record, I am surprised we don't see more astroturfing than we do, and I am sure there's more that we never know about.

    @jonathan trenn - well, it goes back to trust no one. No source online or offline is ever going to be 100 percent true, but blogs are worse because at least the printed press has corrections. Do blogs? Eh, sometimes. But, it is the viral nature that bothers me the most.

  14. The good and bad thing about blogging is that information is immediate and can spread like wildfire. If you have an urgent message for a specific audience, you're only one click away from distributing the message. Unfortunately there are also times when a blogger, in a hurry to post something hot, ends up not being able to get the whole story.

  15. I think the greatest example of the gaping void between news and blog news is the story about an American airline company who was wrongly blogged about going under. The result: stocks dropped to a quarter the value in one night! Luckily, because of good PR practices, the stocks rebounded the next day once the blog entry was proven false.
    If there's anything we should take from your point (and the above story), Jeremy, it's this:

    1. Bloggers, now more than ever, have a great deal of influence and responsibility

    2. Don't take blog entries as your primary, official news source


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