The recent exposure of the Wal-Mart blogging hoax perpetrated by Edelman Public Relations has been a public humiliation for the agency, the client, and the phony bloggers. In his blog, Richard Edelman says, “This is 100% our responsibility and our error; not the client’s.” He continues:

Let me reiterate our support for the WOMMA guidelines on transparency, which we helped to write. Our commitment is to openness and engagement because trust is not negotiable and we are working to be sure that commitment is delivered in all our programs.

This incident brings to mind a similar incident in my community. Representatives of a developer’s PR firm were caught “astroturfing” a local mailing list. In that case the president of the PR firm took a different position, claiming, “I don’t know what the ethical standards of a chat room are.” A good rule of thumb is that the ethical standards of a “chat room” are the same as in your living room.
I’m have a report coming out on consumers’ trust in various online media. Right now, consumers’ feelings about consumer-created content are ambivalent. Blogs and public forums are not as trusted as branded media — even company sites. That’s a pretty clear signal that the potential damage to your client’s reputation by this kind of behavior is much greater than any possible gain.
Originally published on my blog at JupiterResearch.