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Fake blog? Walmart gets caught with its pants down

October 13, 2006

Picked up from Shel Holtz this morning that WalMart was running a fake blog about an average American couple traveling across the country in an RV spending each night in a WalMart parking lot.

The blog would generate great posts about the stores, their employees (“going the extra mile”) and their products (the nation’s largest supplier of organic milk”). Too bad the couple were part of promotional tactic engineered by Working Families for Wal-Mart (WFWM), an organization that appears to have been launched by Wal-Mart’s public relations firm, Edelman.

Per a MediaPost Story, “WFWM paid for the RV and all travel expenses, rerouted the trip’s original plan, and plastered a logo on the RV’s side. Although the blog featured a link to WFWM, it did not identify the organization as a paid sponsor.” A woman answering the phone for WFWM when MediaPost called said she could not be quoted but identified herself as an employee of Edelman.

Most shocking is Edelman, zealous advocates for blogging and corporate transparency, being at the heart of this fake blog. Heck, Steve Rubel, who I have the utmost respect for, serves as senior vice president in Edelman’s me2revolution practice.

And even after the blogosphere is abuzz with the story and BusinessWeek exposing the blog as a promotional tactic, nothing from Steve or Edelman. Strange.

All we have is the ‘fake blog‘ being edited and cleaned up to delete previous entries. Even includes an ‘explanation’ of how this all came about. If the explanation were sincere, why delete the earlier posts that display in a cached version of the blog?

Walmart got some bad ‘blog press’ when it enlisted Edelman to feed content to bloggers. Steve Rubel, who had just started at Edleman that week, acknowledged the situation as soon as he could.

While as a brand new Edelman employee I did not have first-hand knowledge of the Wal-Mart account team’s practices here, I have long believed that companies through their PR reps should build relationships with bloggers. As we do, our actions will inevitably bubble up to the surface as they did yesterday. PR professionals now live in glass houses. This puts it incumbent upon us to adhere to the unwritten rules of the blogosphere – to the letter. It also means that as this new form of common law shifts, so must we.

The ‘unwritten rules of the blogosphere’ have been broken here. Steve’s always been transparent about things. I look forward to his take.

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