October 16, 2006

"Wal-Marting Across America" - Did Googlewashing Work?

The "Wal-Marting Across America" story, where a Wal-Mart PR firm sponsored a "fake" blog ("walmartingacrossamerica.com") about a couple's trip involving various Walmart stores, contains this interesting Google aspect:

It was a great way to redefine the term Wal-Marting, which is mostly used pejoratively to mean, among other things, how big box retailers mow down small businesses.

I was interested if the Googlewashing, i.e. crowding out search results, worked here. So far, all it seems to have generated is very poor results (#2 hit now). And at the cost of much negative reaction .

The idea above seemed to be, in part, to use the blog and the link behavior of bloggers to get prominent placement. But - again, so far - the blog ranks very poorly on a search for "Wal-Marting", or "WalMarting". I think what's happened is that the PR people drank the blog-evangelism Kool-Aid, and were misled by hype about blogs. Blogs can in fact be obscure in Google, especially if they are new and have few links, which was the case for this "flog" (PR blog). A-lister's blogs, established and popular, tend to rank well. But that doesn't mean any blog is going to do well, which is the sales-pitch.

Amusingly, there's the inevitable trumpeting that the failure of this stunt proves how blogs are so authentic and sincere (Scott Karp: "And because blogging is not a control-based medium, Edelman couldn't make Wal-Mart appear to be something it's not. It rang false, and they got caught."). In fact, I'd say the stunt didn't work because blogging is a very control-based medium, and you usually won't get heard unless a gatekeeper high up the hierarchy directs attention to you (I know, I say this a lot, I'm proposing it as an alternative explanation for the stunt's failure - it's not that bloggers can't be fooled, but that to fool them, e.g. you have to suck up to A-listers, not just exist).

There's a certain unfalsifiability in the reaction. Exploitations which conveniently blow-up are going to be greeted with a chorus of Transparency!, Conversation!, bloggers are just so gosh darn smart and clever and real that they can't be taken. But successful exploitations which do not fit this storyline will of course not be fodder for more delusion.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in cyberblather , google | on October 16, 2006 09:54 AM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Yessssss! Will this a be a good opportunity to truly starta discussion on ethics in the relationship between blogs and PR ?

I sure hope so

Posted by: Gianni at October 17, 2006 11:18 AM