Wal-Mart Spams Blogosphere – NYT

Wal-Mart is spamming the bloggosphere according to the New York Times.

Brian Pickrell, a blogger, recently posted a note on his Web site attacking state legislation that would force Wal-Mart Stores to spend more on employee health insurance. "All across the country, newspaper editorial boards — no great friends of business — are ripping the bills," he wrote.

It was the kind of pro-Wal-Mart comment the giant retailer might write itself. And, in fact, it did.

Several sentences in Mr. Pickrell’s Jan. 20 posting — and others from different days — are identical to those written by an employee at one of Wal-Mart’s public relations firms and distributed by e-mail to bloggers.

This is going to be a wonderful case study of how not only NOT to respond to the blogosphere, but how to create a crisis.  Edelman or not.  This reminds me of "spam as part of the system" from Shirky.  You can’t count on ethics when snarky pays better.  Example again from the NYT article:

When they learned that The New York Times was looking at how they were using
information from the retailer, several bloggers posted items challenging The
Times’s article before it had appeared. One blog, Iowa Voice, run by Mr.
Pickrell, pleads for advertisers to buy space on the blog in anticipation of
more traffic because of the article.

Given a material incentive (to sell ads) and no direct material incentive (no payment from Edelman with the exception of "access") then things will go to the dark side without journalistic integrity.  Yes bloggers SHOULD have integrity, but there isn’t exactly a certification process and nor should there be.

Now, on the flip side for Wal-Mart I can see the importance of communication with all employees and consistent messaging from communications as an adjunct to external PR.  But sending blog-sound-bytes in the form of ghost written sentences to post on your blog is a BAD PR idea.  And I suspect the NYT writer enjoyed writing the article…. just to be sure nobody thinks he is on the editorial board.

Brave New World of Security Vulnerabilities and Public Relations Responses to a Crisis

There is a new and significant security problem in the wild with Microsoft Internet explorer.  I am not writing about the security of it, rather the timeline and the public relations and crisis communications response

The first indication was NOT from someone in the Microsoft communications group, rather it was their well known blogger scoble.  From his blog on December 28, 2005

Scoblesecuritywarning Microsoft customer warning: Bad exploit in Windows

It’s interesting, I was just talking with Hitachi’s blogger and CTO about what to do in a crisis. Here’s one thing. Warn your customers. That’s what I’m doing here. We’re seeing a bad exploit being reported on blogs and other places.

and

Update: the Security Response Center is working on this. They have a blog, but haven’t posted about this issue yet.

So late last night, December 28th, I get my SANS email security alert.  (SANS is a must in the security community – your government does some things that really do help)

—–Original Message—–
From: US-CERT Technical Alerts [mailto:technical-alerts@us-cert.gov]
Sent: Wednesday, December 28, 2005 7:38 PM
To: technical-alerts@us-cert.gov
Subject: US-CERT Technical Cyber Security Alert TA05-362A — Microsoft Windows Metafile Handling Buffer Overflow

—–BEGIN PGP SIGNED MESSAGE—–

Hash: SHA1

Microsoft Windows Metafile Handling Buffer Overflow
http://www.us-cert.gov/cas/techalerts/TA05-362A.html

Just to check, I went to what I consider to be the logical place for a security update which is http://windowsupdate.microsoft.com/ and there is no update (OK, they are still working on it I guess) but most surprising is there is NO MENTION OF THE SECURITY PROBLEM.

WindowsupdatenoupdatesThe BAD news.  The main corporation is not reacting quickly or logically enough, the government was slower than a blogger issuing a relevant security alert.  Note the screen shot doesn’t just say "nothing found" it doesn’t even hint at impending doom if I don’t come back soon.

The GOOD news, the GREAT news is that Scoble works for Microsoft.  He didn’t have to ask permission, he just did the right thing and notified thousands of a potential security problem with his company’s products.  He acted with good crisis communication skills and he did it as part of the Internet conversation.  No big brother required.  This is a net positive for Microsoft in my book from a PR perspective, assuming they fix it in a timely manner.

Sony – In Desperate Need of Crisis Communications Help for Botching Brand with DRM Root Kit

Knuckle headed brand destructionSony recently purchased from a third party a "copy protection" scheme for its music that is really more of a "take over the computer and make sure they don’t do anything" scheme.  Needless to say purchasing a CD ($15 USD) isn’t quite the level where you say "OK, take over my 2k worth of hardware to protect your 10".

Now they are in crisis communications mode and in this writer’s opinion they are NOT ready.  First it has been brewing for a week now.

Here is an overview
http://www.cnet.com/4520-6033_1-6376177.html

here is a recent post
http://www.boingboing.net/2005/11/15/sony_infects_more_th.html

and here is some research on the topic reflecting the spread
http://www.doxpara.com/?q=/node/1129

Today the NYT is running the story, albeit with a gentle headline. 

CD’s Recalled for Posing Risk to PC’s

The global music giant Sony BMG yesterday announced plans to recall millions of CD’s by at least 20 artists – from the crooners Celine Dion and Neil Diamond to the country-rock act Van Zant – because they contain copy restriction software that poses risks to the computers of consumers.

The headline should have been written "Sony Tosses Privacy to the Wind and Builds a Bot Net with new DRM Scheme: Government Networks in Danger" Which would be somewhat of an exaggeration, but not much, and would be more in keeping with MSM coverage.

The reason this is such a HUGE crisis is that Sony is in our lives.  They could monitor what DVDs we watch on our DVD player. They are attacking themselves where it hurts most; trust.  The response on the Sony site is in a frame, so the search engines won’t find it, I had to launch it in a new window just to be able to give it a direct link.  What are they thinking?

What Sony SHOULD do is immediately recall all CDs regardless of the cost and hire a third party to audit how it happened and recommend clean up methods.  They need some separation to get any form of legitimacy given it was internal decision making that led them to believe taking over government and home PCs was a good idea.  That is basic crisis strategy.   Microsoft just launched live.com – get them to write a fix for it to get publicity for their new site.  There are just so many proactive GOOD things Sony could be doing about this crisis and they are not that I can tell.

Interesting Links at 6:00 AM

Can Branding differentiate? – Lipitor vs Generic – Billion-Dollar Battle Looms
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/15/business/15statin.html?th&emc=th

Wal-Mart Wants to Open a Bank – Another PR Problem for the Megachain
http://www.nytimes.com/2005/10/15/business/15walmart.html?th&emc=th

Per-Link Valuation of Blogs is Crap
http://www.internetoutsider.com/2005/10/mogul_calacanis.html

Google Adsense Makes This Guy Happy (but with 105 "employees" the math is tough)
http://calacanis.weblogsinc.com/entry/1234000403051129/