Are bloggers the new “special interest group?”

A friend of mine recently posted a blog entry about the Motrin Moms and how “this marketing debacle validated the simple fact that social media has changed our culture.”

I commented at her post, and some of the comment is replicated here. But I also wanted to chime in with something disturbing I’ve been noticing lately: the lack of an ethics creed for bloggers and social-media types.

“Social media people” need to be careful not to become the “social media elite.” Sure, a bunch of moms got mad about something and forced a company to change course. But does that mean the Motrin Moms are right or just loud and unrelenting?

Suggesting that companies can’t do anything right if they haven’t consulted with “us” first is a bit cocky.

I can’t help but wonder if Twitter and other social media networks have become the new home for the squeaky wheel.

The old saying, “The squeaky wheel gets the grease,” is now amplified, which means the potential for knee-jerk reactions by corporations and politicians also is at an all-time high. And rarely have knee-jerk reactions ever resulted in the best strategies for anything.

I’m a firm believer in a little anarchy now and then being a good thing. But I also believe that power corrupts even those who start out with the best of intentions.

Bloggers who started out as an alternative form of media that would hold corporations’ and politicians’ feet to the fire may be on their way to becoming a special interest group that expects everyone to cater to their needs and demands.

At the same time, you have a number of people who aren’t following some of the most basic credos of journalism, such as verifying facts, being fair and balanced in their reporting, and protecting the integrity of their writing by avoiding even perceived conflicts of interest.

I pointed out at Digital Pivot the other day a story from Advertising Age that talked about one of the purveyors of the Motrin Moms’ debacle now being a WalMart supporter via Twitter. The story talks about some special treatment she’s received and how, lo and behold, she can’t stop talking about how great WalMart is. I think the title of the post I made, “Perks are pay, aren’t they?” sums up my feelings on this pretty well.

When I was a journalist, I once made the mistake of accepting a free trip, thinking I would be very objective in reporting on the new destination hotel I was reviewing. When I was finished, I even patted myself on the back for pulling it off and writing a well-balanced, conflict-free review. Then, my publisher read it and asked what we got for it. “I sure hope you got a trip or something out of that, since they should be paying for such a fluff piece,” he said.

His comment hit me right between the eyes and I never accepted anything gratis again.

I asked on Twitter the other day whether bloggers are following any kind of ethics code about not accepting freebies. One blogger commented that she never keeps anything she takes in for a review. She either gives it away as an act of charity or returns it to the manufacturer. But another person commented that several bloggers at a public-relations meeting she attended expect freebies if a company wants coverage.

As I said before, I believe in the sentiment that power corrupts. As you’ll recall, the entire phrase is “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” It’s a great phrase that bloggers and tweeters and their counterparts need to remember, lest they become blinded by their own self-proclaimed importance.

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6 comments on “Are bloggers the new “special interest group?”

  1. Pingback: Democratic America, Goverment and Election » Are bloggers the new “special interest group?”

  2. Thank you for this well written piece. Your message is one that needs to be spread far and wide, as open writing becomes more of a norm.

    In addition to following the guidelines of journalism, bloggers might want to attempt to “be impeccable with their word”. My Grandmother once said; “Never put anything on paper you are not comfortable repeating in court.” Not because she was doing anything wrong, but because being impeccable with your word means you do not slander, hurt or unjustly accuse without fact and evidence. As words get tossed through the blogosphere the potential for harm increases significantly. These words affect the lives of others as thoughts and opinions are tossed about. As we write and share, we might try imagining what an editor would say or ask ourselves; “How am I truthfully and positively contributing to the world?”

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  3. Last year, our PRSA chapter had Bob Frause, chair of PRSA’s Board of Ethics and Professional Standards (BEPS), come speak. One of the issues BEPS had brought up in the previous year was the concept of providing free services or products to reporters to get coverage. Basically, their contention was that *any* free service or product that is provided can bias the review of the product/service in a positive light, be it consciously or subconsciously. This set off a fire storm among PRSA members in the Travel and Tourism section, who typically provide free trips to their respective regions to travel writers. Essentially, the issue is that you somehow need to get a review on a product/service/vacation locale and the best way to do that is to offer a free trial of some sort. PR practitioners contend that they are not specifically asking for a positive review, just a review, and that their product/service/location will speak for itself.

    Fast forward to earlier this month. I had a similar conversation regarding bloggers who like freebies for coverage with a friend/colleague of mine who is an independent practitioner. His question was the same, “Yes, but how else do you get someone to review your product or service?” He added that he welcomes negative reviews, because it points out flaws that the client may need to work on. That may be true, and I’m sure that most practitioners are not pressuring bloggers or writers for good reviews, and most bloggers would be up in arms at the concept they could be “bought,” but the appearance of providing goods or services for good reviews remains a sticking point. At some point, freebies do influence writers even if it is to soften a negative comment. This is the tipping point we must be vigilant of. BTW, I’d be curious if other PR practitioners have found a way to get coverage for their product/service without crossing this ethical gray area.

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  4. You raise many interesting points.

    As the catalyst of the Motrin Moms I’d like to point out that bloggers are not journalists, we are neither fair, nor balanced. We all have agendas, especially those of us that don’t want to admit it, even to ourselves.

    As for Katja working for 11 moms and Walmart. Ugh, I hope she changes her mind, she’s a lovely woman and shilling for Walmart is unbecoming.

    That all being said, I’d happily shill for Barneys, Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Ave or even Nordstrom. But Walmart? Really?

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  5. Thanks for the comment Jessica. It seems that the biggest problem isn’t that bloggers aren’t following the same codes as journalists. The problem is that some bloggers are posing as journalists and think they are a new form of “the media,” when in reality they are not. They are, as you said, pushing an agenda. I suppose I’m not as concerned about the lack of a bloggers’ creed as I am the fact that many people are seeing blogging as an alternative to quality journalism, which it isn’t.

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