18 July 2012


So the good people at babble.com have a micro-controversy brewing.  It doesn't come anywhere close to being a crisis, but as the crisis PR guy who knows more than a few of the players involved, I think I have something to add.

First, by way of background: there's this dad blogger on babble (to protect the innocent, we'll call him "Godzilla") who does a great job promoting his blog/business, tends to push the envelope on marketing, and writes a few emotional feel-good pieces that he hopes provide inspiration to his readers.  These pieces get a lot of attention because a) they're well written and b) they're heavily promoted. 

Then there's this other dad blogger (let's call this guy "Megalon") who has had some not-so-great interactions with Godzilla and makes some reasonably credible assertions that at least one of Godzilla's feel-good pieces was a hoax.   Then Godzilla promotes this series he wrote about being rescued from a mountain, Megalon (and some others) think it's over-the-top, and a sliver of the parenting community breaks into full-blown navel-gazing  "what are we as a community" mode.  Godzilla tells this story about how he owned a mattress business or something, Megalon does the self-deprecating "don't drink and blog" thing, people take stuff way too personally, and hilarity ensues.

Liz Gumbinner, as usual, has a great perspective and kinda brings us back to earth a bit.  From my perspective, there are really two things to keep in mind as bloggers "go pro."

First, there's nothing wrong with promoting yourself and your work as creatively and aggressively as you want.  The market will decide when you've gone too far. The purpose of marketing isn't necessarily to make you feel all warm and fuzzy about a person or a topic.  The purpose of marketing is to influence you on a decision or action.   Sometimes the warm and fuzzy approach works.  Sometimes it's more effective to make people uncomfortable.  Sometimes it's even more effective to annoy people into doing something for you just so you'll go away.  In a 20-year career in politics and PR, I've been called a sell-out, a fraud, a communist AND a fascist, a racist, a hypocrite, a sycophant, and a sleazebag.  (And that's just from my friends.) "Professional" blogging is competitive, and the formulas and business models that actually make money compel you to be provocative and annoying - both in content development and promotion. 

Second, and more importantly, there's this: if something you write and promote isn't completely true, you should say so. It's not good enough to say "even if it's not completely true, that's OK if people get value from it. Even if it's "based on a true story." Even if it's a feel-good piece with a politically-correct social message.  If you state that your blog is your business, you are writing something designed to influence people in some way, and you have a financial interest in the impact of your content, you should be held to the same standards as any other business.   And if you're promoting your content in press releases, the default expectation is everything you're promoting is truthful.  Further, I see this responsibility as an individual one.  If I mess up, it reflects poorly on my employer, my partners, my colleagues. I'm responsible, not them.

Parables and fiction can teach wonderful lessons and have meaningful impact if they're well written.  But the more "true" a story is, the more force it carries.  There are so many examples of this it's impossible to count them all.  The most basic example I can think of is the Bible.  People who think the Bible is a literal record in which every word is completely true take the Bible much more seriously than those who think it's a collection of stories that highlight a good guy with some semblance of accuracy.  And those folks take the Bible more seriously than those who see no evidence that anything in the Bible ever really happened as written.

There are many more contemporary examples with a lot at stake.  Liz mentioned the tale of Amina Abdallah Araf al Omani. You can flip the argument by looking at the climate change "debate." There's a reason critics of climate science aren't putting up much of a fight in peer-reviewed academic journals but are investing heavily in popular consumer media.  The story's facts aren't changing.  But their impact changes dramatically if people don't believe the facts. 

I'd love to know other people's opinions on this. 

1 comment:

Ship said...

Agreed. Transparency is essential. If you are "bending" the truth in any way, you need to make that clear up front. If you don't, and you get caught in a lie, your audience will know that it can't trust you. Some people will simply tune you out. Others will be angry at being misled, and may actively take steps to hurt your brand -- telling friends and acquaintances to steer clear of your blog, etc.