Edelman /Wal-Mart - Lessons Learned


Curtain_up270 Curtain Up! Light The Lights! The front row seats that you and I have watching the twists and turns of the Edelman / Wal-Mart debacle/s could only happen in the blogosphere. And not only do we have a great view of this unfolding saga but we can play a role in the theatrics. On the social media stage it's called participating in the community or joining the conversation. Right Mack?

Bloggers are not shy about voicing their opinions (yeah, Girlfriend that was The understatement of the post!) but Edelman CEO Richard Edelman and VIPS Steve Rubel and Rick Murray (on the WOMMA blog that has been established to carry on this conversation) are asking for our feedback.

Edelman might have broken the trust of its client (Wal-Mart) by having employees who did not understand the social media space work on the account. But let's be fair. What does that have to do with you or me that an agency messed up with their client? Nothing.

What is important are bigger issues (how to ensure trust and ethics in a new industry) and the lessons learned. 

Richard tells us Edelman's plan for going forward.
Sidebar: Richard, it sure would be nice if you could make your training available to all. It would be a tangible, good faith gesture that might help other companies.

  • Thorough audit around the world to ensure we apply best practice guidelines to every program in every market and specialty area.
  • Requiring that all employees attend an Edelman University class on ethics in social media, hosted by members of me2revolution team as well as external experts.
  • Establishing a 24/7 hotline so our me2revolution team can review, provide counsel and apply best practice guidelines on social media programs before their implementation.
  • Creating ethics materials that will be distributed to each office and all new hires.

Bloggers' Lessons Learned

  • Blogging is personal. - It's all about the people. The more I read your blog the more I feel I know you. The more I feel I know you the more I am likely to trust you. In a strange twist Edelman's bloggers blogged so well that they achieved the pinnacle of blog success .. "relationships" with their readers,  who in turn, felt betrayed by the people they trusted.
  • Blogosphere is a culture with shared values. Bloggers take the values of honesty, transparency and authenticity seriously and will "fight to the death" to defend them.
  • Social Media is an emerging industry. The hard earned credibility of blogs / social media as a marketing strategy can be blown away by companies who don't take it seriously.
  • Guidelines including ethics need to be established and reinforced by a credible third part e.g., a professional organization. Is WOMMA up for this challenge?
  • Strategy is critical. Without a strategy that supports and integrates into a company's master marketing plan a blog or social media is a "me to play toy." The very process of creating a strategy will help ensure that tactics are on target and identify potential blogoshere land challenges.
  • PR must be transparent and honest. For some firms this may entail a change in company culture and business processes.
  • Blogger relations is increasing in importance and is influencing changes in companies internal processes.

Richard Edelman commenting on Pajamas Media - Of our own volition and because it was the right thing to do, we changed our methodology on identifying our Edelman employees on paidcritics.com. We will continue to support the WOMMA guidelines and are in the process of reviewing every one of our programs involving new media.

Sidebar: Richard and Steve perhaps you might want to enter GourmetStation's Get Out Of The Dog House MySpace Video Promotion? A year's worth of gourmet dinners could help you say you're sorry to a lot of people <wink>


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Great post...I think Edelman University should perhaps seek some outside faculty for their classes; Maybe an adjunct professor from Emory who gets it.
If there is an existing Edelman University, I think that they may need some help.


Posted by: marianne richmond on Oct 22, 2006 1:00:31 AM

Toby, this is excellent. I have not been following this story much - forgive me but, "boring!" What else can we expect from Edelman? I'm surprised, of course, because after all, they have Steve Rubel who knows better. But, in the end, as I say, boring.

I would be far more incensed and angry if, for instance, a trusted blogger like yourself or Marianne, or one of the Blogher ladies, revealed she was actually being paid to write what she writes. When a big company like Edelman screws up - well, it's actually expected now, isn't it?

This fiasco interests me because I write the Purina petblog - and get sponsorship money for it. I'm cautious about what I post, on behalf of Purina, because they are eager to learn blogging, but also worried about corporate appearance and I want to bring them into the blogosphere gently. Hence, I occasionally remind people that it's a sponsored blog, and that it's for entertainment purposes, only.

I guess I'm interested in this story now - after reading about Edelman University. I like Marianne's idea. Outside faculty. You should be one.

p.s. good show on advising Edelman to enter the Gourmet Station Get Out of the Dog House contest.

Posted by: Yvonne DiVita on Oct 22, 2006 9:14:27 AM

Thanks Marianne. Would love to be an 'adjunct' prof for Edelman U. As you alluded not only do I have extensive experience working in and speaking about social media (Click "On The Road" on the nav bar) but this is year 3 as an adjunt prof at Goizueta School of Business at Emory University in Atlanta.

An added plus .. my approach to developing social media programs is strategic which seems to be an aspect that no one at Edelman has mentioned thus far. So Richard .. let's talk!

Posted by: Toby on Oct 22, 2006 9:20:18 AM

Yvonne - thanks for your kind words. What is sad is that many have such low expectations for the 'big guns' that should be taking their leadership positions more seriously. Perhaps that is a factor of a large organization .. relate the day-to-day work to junior staff and keep your experienced people in the limelight and on biz development.

Perhaps Edelman should also bring you and Marianne in as well. You certainly could give a 'lesson' in how to do a sponsorship blog right!

Posted by: Toby on Oct 22, 2006 9:30:10 AM

Hi Toby, Great post on this.

Posted by: Kalyn on Oct 22, 2006 10:12:15 AM

I think that Yvonne expresses a sad truth- we pretty much expect the "big guns" to do something like this. It's sort of like doping in sports- you are less and less surprised each time an athlete gets caught.

It is a good point too that one would expect more from Edelman when they have somebody like Rubel. I mean, he's a somewhat "credible" blogger... which is why I think so many folks are upset by this situation and why they are getting so much heat on this. If it wasn't Edelman and if Rubel wasn't there, how many of us would really care all that much and so fervently? Really?

I am a z-lister, but my little niche blog has become successful in my niche. It would be damned near impossible for an agency to write my blog, but let's just spin this; if it came out that the blog was being produced by an agency, the readership would whither up and blow away. I put a lot of my personal passion into the blog, which is why it has worked. But if that "passion" were found to be canned, no matter how believable it was, the community of readers would rail against the blog and then vanish. Poof! Audience gone.

With transparency comes responsibility. The blogosphere is still in its infancy. So many lessons are still to be learned, especially as blogs become monetized and more marketers develop blogs for clients.

I don't think that this story is going to be unique. We'll see many, many more of these happening and unfolding. I'm sure of it.

As for Edelman/ Rubel... they need to keep pouring on the "sorry". By coming clean, with sincerity (no spin), they stand a chance to walk out of this stronger. If they spin this to try and make themselves look good, as opposed to really learning and sharing what they've learned, they'll lose a lot of credibility with folks like us who care about this. At least, that's one blogger's opinion.

Posted by: Tim Jackson on Oct 22, 2006 12:12:45 PM

Isn't this becoming a case of 'Fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me?'.

And Rubel's 'explantion' on MP was basically 'I didn't do anything wrong'.

Part of joining your community is understanding that you can't fool them and you AREN'T smarter than they are. Shortcuts WILL be found out. Each and every time.

And the bigger issue is, you should respect your community enough to be honest with them. Besides the fact that it's simply the right thing to do.

Posted by: Mack Collier on Oct 22, 2006 1:54:27 PM

When did Richard say they betrayed their client? The apology never said that. Some of us believe they were actually faithful to their client - and continue to be so by accepting all responsibility.

Projects like this get funded by people conceiving them and others approving them, unlike the average blog. Clients paid the bill for the RV, Tickets, Gas, etc. I'd wager schedules and dates and expenses and story theme lines were planned by a team and approved by lawyers - just like Reality TV, political whistle stops, and even ole Strumpette's blog. It may look easy, but it ain't cheap. And the client is surely thankful (and probably paying) to be kept out of the spotlight.

Posted by: Ed O'Meara on Oct 24, 2006 3:10:31 PM

Quoting...."I would be far more incensed and angry if, for instance, a trusted blogger like yourself or Marianne, or one of the Blogher ladies, revealed she was actually being paid to write what she writes."

Businesses are paying people that know how to write to do their blog and build their presence...as long as the information is truthful, helpful and well written, does it matter if someone was paid to do it? Just playing devils advocate here...

Posted by: Florida SEO Company on Oct 24, 2006 10:32:08 PM

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